📷 Dick Whitney photo

By Sarah Champagne, Managing Editor

The Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities is a good neighbor in Southern Worcester County. The organization provides free art classes to children in the summer, offers free exhibits open to the public several times a year, and has numerous other offerings to enrich both artists and art appreciators.

Those familiar with the organization and its programs often refer to the group’s stately home simply as “the arts center.” “Quinebaug Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue in conversation, after all. The standard acronym for the organization, QVCAH, is more familiar to many, but might not stick in the memory too well, or be much less cumbersome than the whole name of the group.

As a result, the organization has decided to rename its headquarters at 111 Main Street in Southbridge “The Ruth Wells Center for The Arts.” The name is a nod to the late Ruth Wells, who was influential in creating several cultural institutions in the region, including Old Sturbridge Village, Capen Hill Nature Sanctuary and The Optical Heritage Museum (see also Dick Whitney’s article here at The Citizen Chronicle describing Ruth Wells’ life and local legacy).

Wells was selected because of her unmistakable influence on the arts organization in its earliest years. Before her death in 1989, she had arranged to donate the property at 111 Main Street to The Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities.

The impressive house was one of the benefactor’s residences during her lifetime. Set back from the road not far from the rotary, the large white building was once known as “Ammidown Castle” in reference to its first owner, Ebenezer D. Ammidown. When it was built in 1830, it was the largest single residence in Southbridge. At other times, it has been known as “The Pines” – a reference to hemlock trees on the property, which are in the pine, or Pinaceae, family,

Planners hope the new name will sit more comfortably in the consciousness and the memory of area residents than its previous title.

Social media followers of QVCAH may notice the change first in the next few months, as the organization applies the new name to their Facebook account and other communications. The changes will likely emerge gradually as the rebranding effort moves forward.

“Things might seem a little disjointed at first, as they often do in these matters,” remarks board president Mara DeWitt.

The gradual changes will amount to a cohesive whole though, which will emerge in time, according to DeWitt.

“2019 will be the year of The Ruth Wells Center for the Arts,” she remarks.

Eventually, the organization’s website and logo will also undergo an overhaul, with the help of Elise Capillo of Epic Marketing Solutions. Capillo is the daughter of the late Joe Capillo of Southbridge and a member of the board at the Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities.

For legal purposes, the organization itself will retain the name the Quinebaug Center for the Arts and Humanities. However, its headquarters will be renamed The Ruth Wells Center for the Arts. After the digital redesign and rebranding are complete, online searches for “QVCAH” or “Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities” will redirect to the new website or social media pages for the newly minted Ruth Wells Center for The Arts.

As Southbridge and the surrounding communities which attend the nonprofit organization’s programs settle into the warmer welcome of The Ruth Wells Center for The Arts, donations by check can still be made out to QVCAH or Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities because that remains the legal name of the organization.

According to an introduction to “The Wells Family: Founders of The American Optical Company and Old Sturbridge Village,” published privately in 1979 by Ruth Wells, the Wells family shied away from recognition despite their significant and lasting local philanthropy.

Henry Sewell Moorbridge states in the introduction to the book, “No monument, no company, not even their creation – Old Sturbridge Village – carries the Wells name. They felt deeply their work should speak for itself – and never of them.”

However, when you consider the decades of community arts programming that the now-named Ruth Wells Center for The Arts has provided to people in Southern Worcester County, it seems profoundly appropriate to name the operations at 111 Main Street after Ruth Wells. Just as a large portrait of Ruth Wells hangs in the dining room of the arts center named for her, her influence and lasting contribution to the history and psyche of Southbridge looms large, even decades after her passing. A more appropriate renaming would be hard to imagine.

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