Personal Memories on the 30th Anniversary
by Missy Saxton

Molly Faust, Ken Baumert, Dr. Martha “Missy” Hutson-Saxton

What a pleasure it is to celebrate thirty years of the Kress Society at AAM. It is wonderful to recollect so many experiences and good times with friends over the decades. As a longtime Trustee of AAM, and one who had the opportunity to chair the Kress Society, I have a library of memories to draw on. I remember the Board meeting in 1990 when Al Douglass presented the idea of forming a group that would enjoy special recognition at the Museum and help support yearly operating expenses. It would acknowledge the most generous donors to the Museum as well as bring in new supporters at an annual minimum of a thousand dollars. Even though there were other nonprofits with such associations in the Lehigh Valley, this was a new concept at the Museum. Little did we realize then how important the Kress Society would become to meeting the operating expenses of the Museum.

Al Douglass

This group was to be called the Kress Society to honor Samuel H. Kress, who was born in the Lehigh Valley and donated an outstanding collection of European art to the Museum. Al Douglass became the first chair of the Kress Society and asked for volunteers to hold dinners outside of the Museum. My husband, Sam, and I volunteered to hold the first Kress dinner at our home. It included members of the Board of Trustees and other major donors—approximately thirty-six people who received a tour of our American paintings. That evening became the model for Kress dinners over the next seventeen years.

“I remember one very rainy, wet evening when the annual dinner was hosted by Jamie Musselman and Jim Edwards and a lot of people got stuck in the mud or made deep tire tracks in their lawn!”—Gary Millenbruch

In addition to the annual fall dinner, special Kress Society openings were held before every new major exhibition opening. We organized behind-the-scenes tours inside the Museum as well as trips outside the Museum. We visited art galleries, artist studios, auction houses, private collections, and other museums. There were day trips as well as overnight trips. We traveled repeatedly between Boston and Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Long Island. Our Executive Director was often with the group, making it possible for a more informal opportunity to know him well. Each Executive Director brought his own ideas and contacts to enrich the opportunities for the Kress Society. The overall message in every endeavor was: This is a special occasion shared with friends with similar interests in learning more about art and its importance to our Museum. The conviviality was high and the laughter vivacious. It was like being at a great party that ran for hours in different venues with lecturers and gourmet delights.

“My favorite Kress Society trip was to the Hamptons on Long Island in Fall 2005. We visited artist Audrey Flack’s studio and Jack Lenor Larsen’s home and property. It was a beautiful fall weekend. We spent a night in Southampton with dinner at a lovely restaurant. Pat Sherman orchestrated a very memorable weekend for all.”—Penny Holman

Pat Sherman and Tom Fuller

As the group grew in numbers, Al Douglass leaned more and more on the help of Pat Sherman, who eventually became a member of the Board and chair of the Kress Society. Pat was brilliant at adding members, and her knowledge of the community and as a member of SOTA made her dedication to Kress remarkably successful. I had been working with the Kress Society for several years and ultimately became chair with Pat. By 2007 the Kress Society had grown to more than two hundred members and become the financial backbone of the Museum’s operating expenses, which made it possible for the Museum to spend funds on other needs.

Kress Society and Circle 31 mixer at the studio of Emil Lukas, 2019

Being able to help support the Museum and its endeavors not only enriches us but hopefully the community at large. Kress Society membership also gives us access to places we normally would not have. Going to artist studios, the NB Center for American Automotive Heritage, and such are extraordinary perks that we delight in attending. The informative presentations at the Museum also engage and add value to a Kress membership!”—Donna Leibensperger

Until 2008, the Kress dinner had been held in a private home or venue with often a tent placed nearby for the tables.  There was usually an art collection to visit and the Executive Director’s remarks to update the membership on what would be happening in the Museum.  With the advent of the recession it was decided to move the Kress Society’s annual dinners into the Museum, where they have continued since, now in a cocktail party format. During the recession years it became apparent how loyal the members were to the Kress Society.  They did not falter in their financial support of the Museum even when there were so many other monetary pressures. And the Board of Trustees did not fail them. They continued in their efforts to redesign and enlarge the Museum, which reopened to outstanding reviews in 2012.

Ted Rosenberger and Heather Rodale

“I truly enjoy participating in the Kress Society, as while I am supporting the Allentown Art Museum in the continued efforts to inspire and teach and expand the arts in the community, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunities to attend Kress gatherings at the Museum with many other long-time friends.”—Mary Gedney

It is truly difficult for me to choose my favorite experience with the Kress Society. I am impressed now at how much we did both inside the Museum, in the Lehigh Valley, and on trips outside of the area. I appreciate particularly the hospitality offered by the artists, private collectors, art dealers, and museum curators and directors to our members. As chairs, Pat and I would report at the Kress annual dinner what had been accomplished in the past year and what our aims were for the upcoming year. It was an evening to celebrate friendships formed over years. I want to thank Kress members for all those good times together. It was my pleasure to work for them and to be part of such an interesting group of lovers of art.

Like SOTA, the Kress Society brings a special focus on education in the arts and financial support for the Museum. It is my greatest wish that there are many more lovers of the arts who will join the Kress Society and make the next thirty years even more successful.

Missy Saxton, Honorary Trustee