Pastel Society of the West Coast: Brief History and Purpose

by © 2009 Margot Schulzke, PSWC founder

Margo Schultze's pastel paintingThe Pastel Society of the West Coast was effectively “born” in 1984, when I attended an Albert Handell workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area. Smitten by the medium, I suggested to him that there should be a society for pastel artists in the western United States. He replied that if I were to get the ball rolling, he would help in any way he could. With the help of other dedicated artists, we did, and he was good for his word.

By fall of 1985, PSWC was under way. Our first meeting was held at the studio of Sally Lyon Smith, in Folsom, California. Over fifty people attended. Soon after that, we had a little publicity in American Artist Magazine, and membership applications began to roll in. Within a few months, our membership soared to about 300, with members in over twenty states. Growth continues. Despite the development of many other pastel societies in the years since, our membership now runs in the 400 range.

We have focused our attention where we feel it benefits our members most. Artists want to paint, to compete and test their work. And since PSWC represents artists from a wide area, we limit our meetings in order to emphasize quality competitions. We believe the best use of our volunteer force, which resides primarily in the Northern California area, is in providing information via our newsletter and in promoting exhibitions, since there is no shortage of workshops available in this area—without consuming the time and energy of our volunteers. The result of that focus is what many consider, second only to PSA’s open exhibition at the National Arts Club, the most prestigious annual international open exhibition in the world of pastel, Pastels USA, as well as the finest membership shows. Pastels USA is always held in either fine museums or in high-sales commercial exhibition venues—and it has probably the most professional and beautifully designed catalogs of any society outside New York. The annual membership show is keyed to two levels, the associate/non-signature member level, and signature members. Awards are dedicated for both categories.

PSWC believes in operating from high ground. We are grateful and proud of the caliber of people who have served and continue to serve on the PSWC Board of Directors.

We have done everything in our power to ensure that competitions are judged fairly. We want a level playing field. That’s why we have three jurors of selection, two of them from outside the pastel medium, and why three copies are made of awards lists, to ensure no changes are made between judging and presentation of awards. When you get a PSWC signature, it is entirely based on three acceptances into Pastels USA – by jurors who are unlikely to know you as an individual. You know the honor is for the quality of your work, not for who you know. A Pastel Society of the West Coast signature is cited more often in bios and on websites than that of any other regional society.

Painting above courtesy PSWC Distinguished Pastel artist and former PSWC president Margot Schulzke

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