Students and faculty of the former summer School of Creative Arts on West Chop are having a reunion on the Vineyard, from August 20 to 22. Now in their 40s, 50s and 60s, participants will visit the school sites and reminisce about their summers spent at the school on the Island. They will also teach and participate in arts classes and perform for and with each other.

The school was founded by Kathleen Hinni in Westport, Conn. It opened in Oak bluffs in 1949 with 20 girls, ages six through 16. Later it moved to the former Whitney House, Hedge Lee, on Main street in Vineyard Haven, where it was for four additional years (1950-1953). During those years Regina Woody, children’s author, wrote Ballet in the Barn, a young people’s story based on the school. After her book was published, students enrolled from Argentina, France, England, Egypt, Australia and Haiti.

In 1954, the school was housed at Luce’s Antiques, the house across from the former Tashmoo Inn, now a nursing home. At that time, Miss Hinni bought the former YMCA Camp, and in 1955 the school moved farther north on Main street. In its 14 years on the cliffs of West Chop, enrollment averaged 90 to 100 resident students and 25 day students who took individual classes or were full-time day campers at the school. The arts faculty grew to about 12.

Miss Hinni was not interested in training professional artists. The school’s philosophy was to promote and support “creative self expression through the arts.” In the early years, classes in modern dance, drama, music, crafts or art and swimming were offered. As the school grew the curriculum was expanded, and in its final years modern dance, ballet, music, art, ceramics, creative writing, French, drama, ensemble and folk dancing were taught. In addition, private piano, harp and instrumental music, as well as sailing, tennis and horseback riding, were offered.

KT, as she was affectionately known to school children and faculty, wanted the school children to experience high quality performing artists. Regular short term teachers included Pearl Primus (African dancer), Merce Cunningham (modern dancer), Tom Two Arrows (Indian dancer), the Ballet Celeste, Lotte Lenn (soprano), Robert Schrade (pianist), Hortense Kooluris (Duncan dancer), Burl Ives (folk singer and writer), David Crohan (pianist) and Capitola Dickerson (contralto), to name a few. These artists also gave free concerts at the school for Island residents. Margaret Bourke White also spent several summers at the school while writing her last book. She joined the dance classes and played jacks with the children to increase her mobility, as she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease at that time.

Miss Hinni also wanted children to give to children less fortunate than themselves. School children annually performed for and planned an afternoon of games for the Cerebral Palsy Camp (now Camp Jabberwocky) and the Fresh Air Fund Children who came from New Bedford for a day each summer. In addition, they danced at benefits for the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the Episcopal Church, the Hebrew Center Bazaar and the Methodist Fair. One summer they danced at a religious service in the Episcopal Church. During the 14 years on West Chop, each faculty discipline (drama, ballet, modern dance, music) planned a Sunday evening with children and/or faculty performing. An art show of children’s work accompanied one of these Sunday performances.

At the end of each summer, parents came to the Island for a weekend of sharing with their children. They observed classes and joined in folk dancing and swimming. At the end of the weekend students performed a major production, usually at the Vineyard Haven elementary school. This final production integrated all the arts and included every student. Sometimes these productions were well known (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Peter Pan, Snow White, The Chimney Sweep by Benjamin Britton); others were written by staff or students (Island Myths).

Kathleen Hinni began her career as a Duncan dancer and teacher in the New York and New Jersey area. She had studied with Irma and Anna Duncan, adopted daughters of Isadora Duncan. She founded the American Dance Group that performed primarily Duncan choreography. Later she studied with Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Martha Graham, Pearl Primus, Michael and Maryanne Herman and others. Her students at the school and in her winter classes were enriched by her eclectic dance style base.

Miss Hinni died in April, 1995, in Bradenton, Fla., where she had gone to retire.

Reunion planners are hoping to make the weekend a tribute to Miss Hinni. All would agree that she enriched their lives as young women. She also brought the arts to Vineyard summer residents and gave numerous hours to planning and executing programs for the benefit of many Island organizations.

While about 140 SOCA people have been found, there are many still lost. For further information about the reunion, write to reunion chairman: Lana Gerhardt, 15 Priscilla Lane, Standish Shore, Duxbury, MA 02332-5101. Island committee members include Cynthia Vanderhoop Akins, Gillian Lamb Butchman, Kathleen Joyce Costanza and Susie Kanowith-Klein.