History of the Bosque Arts Center

The Building — Donated by C.E. “Pat” Olsen

  • Clifton Lutheran College founded in 1896.
  • Clifton Lutheran College administration building erected in 1923.
  • Fire on March 8, 1942, destroyed the college leaving behind the administrative building, now The Bosque Arts Center.
  • Clifton Lutheran College closed its doors in 1954; memories are still alive and well. Gearench moved in.
  • Pat Olsen donated building in early 1980s.

The Bosque Arts Center — Joan Spieler

  • Early 1950s, Joan Spieler moved to Clifton and sought out to fulfill the needs of Bosque County with a multi-purpose fine arts center with the help of Pat Olsen's generous donation.
  • In May of 1981, the IRS certified the Bosque County Conservatory of Fine Arts (BCCFA) as a Non-Profit as the result of Joan Spieler and hundreds of volunteers.
  • 1982, the BCCFA was officially dedicated and doors opened. Its name was shortened to Bosque Conservatory in the late 1990s, and was changed again, to the Bosque Arts Center, in 2009.
  • A 1995 Interview with Joan Spieler.

The Roland Jones Memorial Gallery

One of the state's most unique yet little known art galleries is housed in the Arts Center. The Roland Jones Memorial Gallery was opened in 1989 in memory of Roland Jones's father. The John Stephen Jones Award is a purchase from the Art Council's national art show and sale, which becomes part of the permanent collection for the Arts Center.


History of the Bosque Arts Center

Written by Bryan Davis

For more than 40 years and three generations, the Bosque Arts Center has been a location for all facets of the arts under a single umbrella in rural Bosque County, Texas. The not-for-profit fine arts organization continues making dreams a reality for young and old alike in a historic setting with a modern twist.

Housed primarily in the former three-storied Clifton Lutheran College administration building, built in 1923 and designated a Texas Historic Landmark in 1975, Bosque Arts Center (BAC) sits high atop a hill overlooking Clifton and the beautiful Bosque River valley. BAC had its origins in the dreams and foresight of Joan Spieler (1925-1997). The Abilene native was a photographer and artist who moved to Clifton in 1956, where she operated a photography studio and frame shop. Spieler lamented the fact there were no art classes being taught in a single Bosque County school at the time, thus beginning her mission to do something about it.

Spieler set the wheels in motion, and along with numerous other local visionaries helped acquire from C.E. (Pat) Olsen, the donation of the former college property, which had been home to the Gearench manufacturing plant for 27 years following closure of the college and its merger with Texas Lutheran College in Sequin in 1954. Clifton Lutheran College was established at this location in 1896 as a place of higher learning in the predominantly Norwegian and Lutheran community which settled the area in the early 1850s. Much of the original campus burned in a 1942 fire. Spieler saw promise in the old building which remained as a site for an all-encompassing art complex, “under the same roof.”

In 1981, The Bosque County Conservatory of Fine Arts (as BAC was originally known through the late 1990s) received certification of incorporation from the State of Texas and a non-profit, tax-exempt status from the IRS. Official dedication of the BCCFA followed in 1982. Almost 30 years after the closing of the “the college on the hill,” the site was once again a location of enlightenment and learning for area youth and those of all ages seeking inspiration through the performing and visual arts. The dream of Joan Spieler had become a reality for not only her, but multitudes of those who might otherwise have no outlet for their talents and love of the arts in such a rural setting. Subsequently, the BCCFA would have a name change to The Bosque Conservatory in the late 1990s. In 2009, the name was officially changed to Bosque Arts Center.

In 1982, the Tin Building Theatre was organized in the old structure with a metal facade to the west of the main brick structure. This building was the primary site of the Gearench manufacturing plant. Since the TBT’s first theatrical outing that August, the group has presented some 120 stage productions over the past 30 seasons. The group’s season typically includes two to three main stage shows complete with dinner performances. TBT’s plays have ran the gamut from classic comedies such as “The Odd Couple” and “Arsenic and Old Lace,” to period dramas like “Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Miracle Worker,” and “Diary of Anne Frank.” The always popular TBT musicals have ranged from “Godspell,” and “Grease,” to the storied lives and music of Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. The all-volunteer theater has also presented countless summer melodramas and children’s productions.

The Clifton area has long been known as an artist’s mecca. This began with the arrival of noted western artists James Boren and Melvin Warren in the 1960s. Among the many other nationally recognized Bosque County artists represented in the BAC Gallery’s permanent collection are Clifton native Martin Grelle, as well as fellow Cowboy Artist of America member Bruce Greene, Tony Eubanks, George Hallmark, George Boutwell, and more than 20 other working artists and sculptors who now call Bosque County home. Largely due to the influence of BAC, Clifton was included in the 1998 travel guide text, “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America” by John Villani.

Another BAC mainstay since the early 1980s is the Art Council, which boasts an impressive permanent and rotating art collection on the second floor of the main college building. The Roland Jones Memorial Gallery, dedicated in 1989, houses an impressive collection of western art, for which the area is known, as well as a contemporary art collection unmatched by any rural art complex in Texas. The Art Council, governed by a 12-member board, has also hosted for 30 years the Annual Bosque Art Classic: A National Judged and Juried Art Show and Sale. The bulk of the art collection comes from pieces acquired by the Art Council at the Bosque Art Classic each September, as well as the John Steven Jones Purchase Award, a cash prize presented annually by long-time art benefactors Joyce and Roland Jones, Jr.

Other group’s comprising the BAC umbrella include the Bosque County Art Club, also established in the early 1980s and composed of area artists who enjoy painting and working together for enjoyment and inspiration. The group holds workshops and various special events throughout the year. Their major art show is held every 3rd weekend in October in conjunction with Clifton’s FallFest. The Photography Guild, also formed in the early days of the organization, help to promote the art of photography in Bosque County through their annual photography contests each March: The Bosque County Photo Show & The Bosque County Student Photo Show. The Bosque Civic Music Association is one of the newer sub-groups of the BAC. Organized in 2009, the BCMA offers opportunities for all ages to participate in, or simply enjoy, music in all its forms. The group sponsors the Bosque Chorale, which typically offers two concerts per season, such as Handel’s Messiah during the holiday season.

Still other groups comprising the Bosque Arts Center include the Artisan/Pottery Guild, established in 2008 and including a variety of craftsmen specializing in a multitude of handmade goods and members with a passion for clay; the Bosque Book Club; the Bosque Garden Club; and the Culinary Club.

These primary sub-groups are complimented by a myriad of workshops, classes, and special offerings which change from year to year. These include book reviews, and classes ranging from yoga, to karate, weaving, crochet, jewelry making, water color, pottery, guitar and piano. The Imagination Factory, a summer camp for children, has been held for two decades. The CMA hosts a summer camp for youth as well, known as Music Madness. Seasonal events include the annual Arts of Christmas, held each December when the spirit of the season is ushered in with the beauty of handmade crafts, foods, and holiday ornaments and tablescapes, as well as special entertainment. Also held throughout the year are variety show fundraisers, which benefit the scholarship programs of BAC, awarding thousands of dollars each spring to deserving graduating high school seniors.

Funding for BAC comes from patron memberships, a gift shop, fees from workshops and classes, but largely from proceeds of the annual Big Event, an auction held for 30 years each April, which serves as the primary fundraiser for the fine arts organization. The Bosque Arts Center is governed by a 13- member volunteer board of directors, with BAC employees being led by Managing Director Jane Scott since 2006.

But majority of magic which makes the Bosque Arts Center the remarkable organization it is has always come from the untold hundreds of volunteers who spend thousands of hours each year working on behalf of BAC. These volunteers hail from Clifton and throughout Bosque County. Their talents and passion run deep within the variety of sub-groups and offerings which make the Bosque Arts Center the truly unique organization it has become.

During an interview shortly before her death, BAC founder Joan Spieler stressed the importance of volunteers in the success of the organization. “I think the things we do voluntarily to make this a better place to live are the things that we do best, not the things we get paid to do in life,” said Spieler. “Most everything a community has to be proud of comes from volunteers working together…to make this world a better place for those who follow.”

During at least each decade of BAC’s existence, major fundraisers and generous donations from benefactors throughout the state and the community have preserved the historic main building, as well as funded numerous improvements and physical additions to the fine arts complex. Long-range plans include further renovation and preservation of the historic former college building, including restoration of the fondly remembered third-floor auditorium to its former glory.

Ever-evolving, always enlightening, the Bosque Arts Center has proven to be a cultural oasis in the heart of rural Central Texas for more than 30 years. With a deep and abiding respect for its past, and a keen eye focused on its future, those who have made the Bosque Arts Center a reality are determined to grow and improve it even more in the years to come.

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Where We Are

P.O. Box 373
215 College Hill Drive
Clifton, Texas 76634

Mon-Fri: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday: Special Events Only

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