Five Women Artists in the Collection: Tabitha Kinsey

Foot logs provided by nature across fir bordered trout brook, 1926. Photo by Darius Kinsey, hand-tinted by Tabitha Kinsey, Whatcom Museum #1981.53.10.

The Whatcom Museum is featuring five women artists from its collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month—in conjunction with the #5WomenArtists campaign, organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This week we highlight Tabitha Kinsey, whose original hand-tinted work is currently on display in the Old City Hall exhibit Kinseys in Color.

Tabitha May Pritts was born in Waverly Mills, Minnesota, on May 24, 1875, the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth (Berg) Pritts. She and her five siblings came west with their parents, who homesteaded in Nooksack, Whatcom County, Washington.

In 1896, Tabitha married Darius Kinsey, a commercial photographer who taught her the darkroom techniques of developing negatives and making prints. While Darius Kinsey’s exceptional camera work has a deserved and prominent legacy, Tabitha’s role was just as vital to the 45-year business that they ran together. They were a husband and wife photographic team.

While Darius took the photos, it was Tabitha who processed the black & white negatives, created the prints, including burning and dodging, and made the critical aesthetic decisions on final quality. The clarity and detail that the photographs are known for came from making contact prints off large negatives, including glass plates up to 20 x 24 inches.

Studio portrait of Tabitha Kinsey by Darius Kinsey, c. 1896 / Photo by Darius Kinsey, Whatcom Museum no. 1978.84.3763

Page from Kinsey sales catalog. Collection of the Whatcom Museum.

The distinctive hand-written caption and Kinsey name on the bottom of 11 x 14 prints is Tabitha’s handwriting. Written in black ink on the front of nitrate negatives, it would appear as white script on each subsequent print.

It was also Tabitha who introduced the option of custom-tinted pictures; a process in which a black & white, fiber-based photo is meticulously painted with “the best quality of water colors” to create a color photograph. Her extra work doubled the print’s retail value. Each hand-tinted photograph is a unique work of art. Even prints made from the same black & white negative, once tinted, will not be exactly alike.

The luminous effect of tinting tends to be more idealized than realistic, vacillating between intense and subdued. Some describe them as dramatic, others say romantic. It was documented that Darius preferred darkened tones, while Tabitha sought to brighten the mood of photos.

You can read more about Tabitha and Darius Kinsey and view a selection of Kinsey photographs in this online virtual gallery.

-Written by Jeff Jewell, Photo Archives Historian

Five Women Artists in the Collection: Helmi Dagmar Juvonen

Helmi Juvonen; Untitled (Eskimo Adam & Eve), Tempera; 13″ x 10″. Gift of Ron Kellen.

Helmi Juvonen, Vantage, circa 1975-1976; Gouache on rice paper. Gift of Dr. Ulrich & Stella Fritzsche.

The Whatcom Museum is featuring five women artists from its collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month—in conjunction with the #5WomenArtists campaign, organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This week we highlight Helmi Dagmar Juvonen, whose work was last exhibited in the Lightcatcher in 2015.

Helmi Dagmar Juvonen (1903-1985), known in her day simply as Helmi, was a Seattle-based artist who found success capturing the culture of Native American tribes across the Pacific Northwest. She was a persistent artist who strove to create art in a time where being a female artist was tough. Even as she struggled with poverty and mental illness, Helmi continued to create art until her final days.

Drawn to Northwest Coast native culture, she developed a rapport with the Lummi, Swinomish, Makah, and Yakama chiefs, who invited her to participate in their ceremonies. Aboriginal art and ritual nurtured Helmi’s creative spirit, empowering her to transcend gender bias, poverty, and decades confined to an asylum for mental illness.

Mary Randlett, Photograph of artist Helmi Juvonen, 1983. Whatcom Museum #1986.0017.000001.

With an avid interest in anthropology, Helmi believed in the importance of documenting Native American spiritual life. As a result, she forged a unique style, merging Northwest aboriginal culture with modern art. The artist also conjured “imaginary things,” and many of her works reflect both the dark and light sides of the human psyche.

In many ways, Helmi was ahead of her time and her graffiti-like abstraction, mixed-media compositions, and paper cutouts relate to trends in contemporary art.

The Whatcom Museum’s collection of her work, which numbers 250 objects, includes some of her finest pieces, such as paintings of petroglyphs from Central Washington, watercolors of Lummi masked dancers, and linocut prints based on the Makah Wolf Dance experienced at Neah Bay. You can view a selection of her work in this online virtual gallery and read more about her life on the Museum’s blog.

Compiled from curatorial narrative and research by Barbara Matilsky.

Five Women Artists in the Collection: Lesley Dill

The Whatcom Museum is featuring five women artists from its collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month—in conjunction with the #5WomenArtists campaign, organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The Museum highlights women artists whose artwork spans a variety of media, genres, and eras. We hope you will share our #5WomenArtists on social media, and celebrate the important contributions these women have made to the arts.

Lesley Dill; Shimmer, 2005 – 2006; Wire, metal foil, 12 ft. x 60 ft. x 15 ft. Whatcom Museum # 2015.17.1

Lesley Dill
Shimmer, 2005 – 2006
Wire, metal foil
12 ft. x 60 ft. x 15 ft.
Whatcom Museum # 2015.17.1

The work of contemporary American artist Lesley Dill combines imagery and language, fine art and poetry, and allegory and metaphor throughout her body of work. In this piece, entitled Shimmer (2005 – 2006), Dill uses metal and wire to create an allegorical sculpture that resembles human hair and incorporates imagery and poetry. The piece emerges from a body of work that explores the motif of waterfalls using materials such as wire thread, gauze, cut metal figures, and words that stretch across and down a wall.

Composed of two million, one hundred, ninety thousand feet of fine wire, Shimmer was originally inspired by the dazzling reflection of light on the Atlantic Ocean. Forming an immense, silvery curtain, a 60-foot-cascade descends from a fragment of a mystical poem by the Catalan poet Salvador Espriu (1913 – 1985):

“You may laugh, but I feel

within me, suddenly, strange

voices of God and handles,

dog’s thirst and message of

slow memories that disappear across a fragile

bridge.”

Artist Lesley Dill.

Nature and the divine mingle in the artist’s work, as does the link of the human form to nature. Dill fashions tiny foil figures that cavort among words of poetry spread across the wiry “falls” that stretch downward. Dill notes, “In its silver, Rapunzel-like way, Shimmer, the sixth and last in a series, emerged from decades of making white thread water fall pieces…it captures light, not gravity-bound, implies energy, and feminine virility-like hair.”

Shimmer was exhibited at the Museum’s Lightcatcher building in the show, Lesley Dill’s Poetic Vision: From Shimmer to Sister Gertrude Morgan, October 23, 2011 – March 4, 2012 and was curated by Barbara Matilsky. Learn more about this exhibition and read the Lesley Dill Exhibition Catalog.

About Lesley Dill:
Born and raised in Maine, Dill received her Master of Arts from Smith College in 1974, and her Master of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art in 1980. In pursuit of a career in painting, the artist moved to New York after graduation. Her eyes were opened to new modes of expression and she soon emerged prominently as a sculptor and multi-media artist. Her interest in language and allusions to strong feminine identity reflect her friendship with the late artist, Nancy Spero (1926 – 2009), who used text and depictions of the female form, often appropriated as classical goddesses, in her scroll paintings. Dill’s artworks are in the collections of more than fifty museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.