MCA’s 69th & Final Holiday Bazaar: A Memphis Tradition


By Marilyn Koester

Despite its scheduled closure in May 2020, Memphis College of Art (MCA) passionately marches on. One of the longest traditions of the college – the Annual Holiday Bazaar – returns in full-force this November for its sixty-ninth and final year to celebrate the history of the institution’s commitment to showcasing student and local artists. 

Early MCA History

MCA’s history is also one of Memphis landmarks. The college traces its roots to 1914 when Memphis artist Florence McIntyre founded the Memphis Art Association, which began offering free art classes in 1922 at the Nineteenth Century Club under her direction. After Rosa Lee deeded her homes to the City of Memphis for the Art Association’s classes, the James Lee Memorial Academy opened at 690 Adams Ave. and soon expanded next door.

A dramatic split occurred when faculty, students, and trustees walked out on Ms. McIntyre over her refusal to accept modernism in 1936, and The Memphis Academy of Arts was chartered as a result. First housed in a fire house and then in the Board of Education building, the Academy returned to the James Lee house in 1942, after the Lee family evicted Ms. McIntyre, whose enrollment had dwindled.

Rust Hall decked out for the Holiday Bazaar (MCA)

Finally, in 1959, the Academy (the institution’s name was changed to Memphis College of Art in 1985) moved into its current home, the award-winning building created by Roy Harrover in Overton Park. A matching south wing, including the entry gallery, library, and auditorium, was completed in 1967, followed by the sculpture and shop annex in 1975 and two pre­-fabricated buildings on the north side of the main building in 1986-87, resulting in what is known today as the iconic Rust Hall.

History of the Holiday Bazaar

The history of the Holiday Bazaar falls within these moves. Acclaimed sculptor Edwin “Ted” Rust began his tenure as the fifth Director of the Memphis Academy of Arts in 1949, which lasted twenty-six years until his retirement in 1975. It was during the start of his tenure that the Holiday Bazaar was born. While a few student and faculty works were sold during the holidays of Rust’s first year in 1949, it was in 1950 that the Academy announced plans for its first official Christmas Bazaar, which would quickly become a highly-anticipated annual tradition. Student and faculty artworks, including drawings, paintings, woodcuts, sculpture, jewelry, and more, were offered to buyers that first year.

Holiday shoppers in the early days (courtesy MCA)

In 1951, the Bazaar also included a group of manufactured “useful” products chosen by Ted Rust and faculty member Nadine Parker from local stores around town. Rust had seen a similar idea at a Museum of Modern Art show, and he and Parker shopped around Memphis to find quality objects under $25 to augment the offerings. The “useful objects” section of the Bazaar continued until the mid-1950s when there were enough student and faculty works to fill all of the Bazaar space. The 1957 Bazaar helped support the move to the new building in Overton Park, with posters advertising that “all proceeds donated by students and faculty to the new building fund,” while the 1958 Bazaar was the last held in the Adams Avenue building before the move to its current location.

Vintage 1957 Holiday Bazaar poster (MCA)

The Holiday Bazaar Today

Now in its 69th and final year, the Holiday Bazaar not only features the best original artwork and unique gift items in Memphis, but its bustling and merry atmosphere ushers in the holiday spirit by supporting local and student artists. “Holiday Bazaar holds a special place in the hearts of MCA and our greater Memphis community. It’s an annual tradition that brings together two of the best things: art and giving. We are proud to continue the tradition this holiday season and welcome everyone to experience this beloved event,” says MCA President Laura Hine.

This is the only show in MCA galleries where attendees can literally walk up and take art off the walls. See a piece you like? Just walk up, grab it, and head to check out.

“See a piece you like?” A pre-Thanksgiving feast for the eyes – the decorated walls of art at the MCA Holiday Bazaar. (photos Mark Fleischer, 2018)

One of the highlights will be the walls of high-quality paintings, prints, and photography, from the likes of local artists Susan Maakestad, Carl E. Moore, Toonky Berry, Vanessa Gonzalez, Erika Roberts, and more. Over 120 artists are participating in this year’s show, including local favorites like Nikkila Carroll (babycreep), Clare Freeman (Pretty Useful Co.), Tylur French (Young Blood Studio), Kristen & Lindsey Archer (Arch’d), and Leandra Urrutia – with products ranging from jewelry and ceramics to pins and t-shirts.

“Although our final Bazaar, the diverse range of artists and makers represented remains steadfast as new names mingle with old favorites to energize the event this year,” says Coordinator of External Engagement Olivia Wall, who spearheads the Bazaar and other gallery events. “The variety of creative minds and unique wares in one place is inspiring. I see the Bazaar as an annual culmination of the creative and entrepreneurial scenes in Memphis, bringing disparate makers together to celebrate the rare talents and honed crafts of makers both young and young-at-heart.”

Longtime artist and MCA Professor Emeritus Dolph Smith will have his sought-after handmade books for sale at the Bazaar. Each book will be displayed on a stand, which comes with the book when purchased. Dolph creates his books with a variety of materials and visible stitching, resulting in, as he says, “A perfect illustration of the old adage: Form follows Function.” Don’t miss your chance to experience these beautiful works.

Holiday ‘elves’ assist shoppers. (MCA)

This year’s Bazaar also features StoryBoard’s Midtown 2020 Visions Map created by five MCA-affiliated artists, current students T’Merius Bell, Cambria Howard, and Grace Siler, and alumnae Emily Martinez and Laura Lester. The commemorative map, previewed in StoryBoard’s one year anniversary edition, will be revealed in its full form at the Bazaar.

The Midtown 2020 Visions Map will be ready in time for the Holiday Bazaar

“The hand drawn illustrations combine with lush coloring to capture the spirit of Midtown as it is now,” says Lead Artist Emily Martinez. The Midtown 2020 Visions Map will be available for purchase in multiple sizes, including limited-edition large prints and a few signed by the artists.

The Bazaar really is a one-stop shop for holiday gifts, including bath and body products, jewelry and wearables, stationery and cards, furniture, ceramics, paintings, photographs, prints, and MCA swag, like t-shirts and water bottles. During the Bazaar, the hardworking “elves,” mostly made up of MCA students, busily replenish the walls and tables as items sell. Large rooms off of the galleries house stacks of extra works by participating artists so that the galleries are never empty. So don’t worry if you can’t make it until later on Saturday – there will be plenty waiting for you.

Join MCA in making this holiday tradition one to remember and help support local artists. Event details as follows:

  • Friday, November 22 from 5pm-10pm, Preview & Purchase Party, Tickets $50.
  • Saturday, November 23 from 10am-5pm, Open Market, free to the public.
  • More information, along with Preview & Purchase Party tickets, available at

Questions? Contact Coordinator of External Engagement Olivia Wall at See you at the Bazaar!

Shoppers with their one-of-a-kind finds. (MCA)

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