The motion picture industry employed rudimentary sets since the beginning of film, but the term Art Director was first used in 1914 by Wilfred Buckland, an early pioneer of the craft and a member of the Art Directors Guild Hall of Fame. In addition to their artistic functions, most of these men (and they were invariably men) performed the duties now done by construction coordinators, location managers, and production managers. These early Art Directors, like similar groups of artists as far back as the Middle Ages, sought to band together to maintain professional standards and to improve their financial and creative status.
The earliest such group in the motion picture industry was founded in 1924 as the Cinemagundi Club, with Leo “K” Kuter (Key Largo) as its founding president. The name was derived from the Salmagundi Club, a sketching society formed in New York City in 1871, which had recently purchased a brownstone clubhouse on lower Fifth Avenue. Kuter and the Cinemagundi Board bought their own clubhouse, and held regular meetings, hosted life-drawing workshops, and drank a lot. It was, at its heart, a social club for Art Directors, and it continued until 1937. The clubhouse, a residence on lower Beechwood Drive, still stands.
In 1929, the Art Directors League was formed, as a true craft guild, to improve wages and working conditions for Art Directors. The Depression undercut the League almost as soon as it was formed and Art Directors, happy to have any kind of steady work in those difficult times, abandoned all thought of collective action.