Starting on Thursday, March 9th , we invite you to chuckle at the humor and admire the creativity of the napkin art on display at the Kelley House Museum’s new napkin art exhibit. During the 1970s-1980s, the Sea Gull Bar & Restaurant was a community hub and the birthplace of Sunday afternoon Napkin Art gatherings. These sessions brought together local illustrators and sketchers, creating a true artists’ colony and producing wonderfully unique pieces centered on different themes.

Colorfully decorated artistic napkin

Napkin art by an unknown artist, from the Sea Gull Napkin Art collection donated to the Kelley House Museum by David and Cathy Jones.

Although the Napkin Art gatherings had a core of local artists, everyone was welcome and encouraged to participate. The exhibit reflects this with its wide array of pieces of all skill levels by a variety of artists and restaurant goers of all ages. Thanks to the generous donation of David and Cathy Jones, you’ll find hundreds of different creations by dozens of artists who utilized pen, ink, paint, collage, quilting, and even rusty nails! Among the most interesting media were a photo negative inserted into the napkin and a plastic straw protruding from a nostril drawn on the napkin.

My favorite napkin in the exhibit is a simple design with a quote in black ink, “We don’t want cake, we want the whole fucking bakery!” This civil rights protest slogan has continued political relevance today. (And of course, who doesn’t love a good pastry reference?) The wide variety of napkins in the exhibit ranges from trenchant social commentary to simple and fun doodles. The exhibit takes a brief look at the history of napkin art from its first wave during the Italian Renaissance to its role as a form of protest art in contemporary times.

These singular creations will be complemented by prints of James Maxwell’s storybook characters paintings, originally created for the Sea Gull Cellar Bar. Blank napkins and markers will be supplied so visitors can create their own art to add to the exhibit.

Doin’ a Little Doodlin’: Napkin Art from the Sea Gull Cellar Bar will be on display from March 9th, 2023, until May 29th, 2023. The Kelley House Museum is open from 11AM to 3PM Thursday through Monday. If you have a question for the curator, reach out to to make an appointment. Walking tours of the historic district depart from the Kelley House regularly.