Bonnie MacLean poster

Five Women Artists – Bonnie MacLean

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum will highlight five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read this final piece in the series to learn about artist Bonnie MacLean.

Bonnie MacLean – early years

Bonnie MacLean poster

Bonnie MacLean; The Yardbirds, The Doors, 1967; offset lithograph; 21 ¼ x 14 in. Publisher: Bill Graham Presents, San Francisco

Bonnie MacLean was born in Philadelphia in 1939 and grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. She attended Penn State University, graduating with a degree in French in 1961.

After college, MacLean moved to New York City. While there, she started taking drawing classes at the Pratt Institute in the evenings. Then, in 1963, MacLean moved to San Francisco. It’s there that her art career would get its start.

Upon arriving in San Francisco, MacLean started an office job at Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company. There, she met her future husband Bill Graham, who would go on to become a noted concert promoter. When Graham left to work for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, MacLean went with him.

There, the couple worked together to promote concerts, often at the Fillmore Auditorium. According to a Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco web page, MacLean initially handled administrative tasks such as obtaining permits. At the time, posters with “psychedelic” lettering were used to promote some of the concerts.

One of the primary poster designers was Wes Wilson. When Wilson and Graham had a falling out in 1967, Bonnie MacLean stepped in to design posters.

Her work

MacLean designed more than 30 posters for the Fillmore. She quickly developed her own style, incorporating gothic elements and drawing faces and figures.

The New York Times describes her work at the time as standing “with the best of psychedelic poster art.”

“If she is sometimes left off the list of pioneering poster artists from that moment in time, it is in part because that world was dominated by men and in part, as she acknowledged, because her output and tenure were limited,” the article states.

MacLean designed posters until 1971.

The Whatcom Museum has a selection of MacLean’s poster prints in our collection. Among them are The Who, Loading Zone, 1967; Eric Burdon and the Animals, Mother Earth, Hour Glass, 1967; and The Yardbirds, The Doors, 1967.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York also has the prints in its collection.

Her work has been shown in multiple venues, including the Whitney and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Later in life, after divorcing Graham and remarrying, MacLean developed a career as a fine art painter focusing on landscapes and nudes.

Bonnie MacLean died on Feb. 4, 2020, at the age of 80.

Sources: Bahr Gallery website, The New York Times, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco web page, The Key

Mixed-media art by Marita Dingus

Five Women Artists – Marita Dingus

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum will highlight five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is part of the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read on to learn about artist Marita Dingus.

Mixed-media art by Marita Dingus

Marita Dingus; Green Leaves, 2001; Leather, aluminum, wire, duct tape, fabric, bell, and mixed media; gift of Safeco Insurance

Marita Dingus – Education and background

Marita Dingus was born in Seattle in 1956. Her interest in art started early.

“When I was a little girl, I drew all the time,” she recalls in a video for KCTS Television. In high school, she says she began drawing portraits using National Geographic magazines as inspiration.

After high school, she studied at Tyler School of Art at Temple University. There, she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts, graduating in 1980. She later earned her master’s at San Jose State University.

During a summer studying art in Morocco, she was moved to learn more about African cultures and art history. Since then, much of her relates to African traditions and material culture.

In addition to African art, Dingus also finds inspiration in discarded objects.

“My art draws upon relics from the African Diaspora,” she writes on the Travor Gallery website. “The discarded materials represent how people of African descent were used during the institution of slavery and colonialism then discarded, but who found ways to repurpose themselves and thrive in a hostile world.”

From trash to art

Before going to grad school, Dingus served as a road crew supervisor for the Department of Ecology in King County. The crew picked up trash along state highways, and that experience continues to inform her art process today.

“I seek to use recovered materials, reconfiguring and incorporating them into pieces of art where possible and appropriate, and to mitigate waste and pollution in all my work,” she writes.

Bottle caps, telephone wire, fabric scraps, and keys are just some of the materials she uses to construct her figural sculptures and installations.

“Using things people no longer see value in, that’s important to me,” she says in the video.

Dingus uses found materials in her metalwork as well. She draws inspiration from the intricate work once created by Africans enslaved in the South. It was while studying slavery in southern cities such as New Orleans on a Guggenheim Fellowship that she first became familiar with the metalwork.

Her career

That fellowship is just one of the many accolades and exhibitions Dingus has under her belt. Most recently, she was a recipient of the Irving and Yvonne Twining Humber Award in 2018.

Numerous organizations hold her work in their collections, including the Seattle Art Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum. She has also been featured at the Whatcom Museum in multiple shows, including Northwest Women Artists : 1880 — 2010, and The Art of Recycling.

The Museum also holds her piece Green Leaves (2001) in its permanent collection. The mixed-media work reflects her response to her time living in East Texas. While there, she missed the lush green of the Pacific Northwest and turned to creating works that celebrated natural motifs.

Dingus currently resides in Auburn, Washington. Her next show will be held this summer at Traver Gallery in Seattle.

Susan Bennerstrom, expect to wait

Five Women Artists – Susan Bennerstrom

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum is highlighting five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read on to learn more about artist Susan Bennerstrom.

Susan Bennerstrom – the early years

Susan Bennerstrom, expect to wait

Susan Bennerstrom; Expect to Wait.

Bellingham-based artist Susan Bennerstrom’s love of art started early. “It’s really all I ever wanted to do,” she recalls. Born in Seattle in 1949, Bennerstrom drew inspiration from her grandmother, an artist working in Chicago. “She was my hero and role model. She showed it was possible to be both a woman and active artist.”

In 1967, she enrolled at Western Washington University in Bellingham to study art. She completed three-and-a-half years before deciding to drop out and hitchhike through Europe pursuing her other passion, travel.

“It was a great art education,” she recalls of the trip. “All the art history I’d been studying came alive.”

After returning to the U.S., Bennerstrom got married and moved to Berkeley, California. She says her intention was to continue her art education, but the young couple couldn’t take on the financial burden. Instead, she got a job and continued to make art as a hobby. She considered being a ceramic artist or weaver before fully immersing herself in chalk pastels.

It wasn’t until her return to Bellingham in 1975 that she embraced 2-D works. Then, in the late 1980s, she began to show her pastel work in Seattle, gaining recognition for her art exploring and depicting light.

Her career

Bennerstrom’s work has been exhibited widely, including at the Whatcom Museum. Her piece Haystacks in Balkan Landscape was previously on view in Show of Hands and Just Women. She has also had two solo shows at the Museum, most recently a 2002 retrospective titled Existing Light.

Throughout her career, Susan Bennerstrom has received numerous awards, including a Pollock-Krasner Award in 2004. Of her accolades, she describes the Ballinglen Art Foundation Fellowship, a two-and-a-half-month residency in Ireland, as a highlight.

“The landscape was shockingly beautiful,” she recalls. “There was very dramatic light.”

Light has always played a role in her art. Today, Bennerstrom says she places more emphasis on light as the subject of her work rather than place.

“I rarely put figures in my paintings, as I find that they tend to take over; I prefer to let light and shadow imply the narrative and carry the emotional weight,” she states on her website.

In addition to focusing more on light itself, Bennerstrom’s tools have also changed over the years. In 2008, she moved from chalk pastels to oil paint. She credits local artist Barbara Sternberger with inspiring her to move away from messy, less portable chalk.

She also recently checked a goal off her list – finishing her degree at Western. “I didn’t need a degree, but I wanted it,” she says. So, nearly 50 years later, she returned to Western to complete her last class. She graduated with her Bachelor of Fine Art in December 2018.

Today, her recent works draw inspiration from the light in Morocco. They are set to be shown at the Woodside Braseth Gallery in Seattle. Her work will also appear in Anatomy of a Collection, an upcoming exhibition at the Whatcom Museum.

Victoria Adams waterfall painting

Five Women Artists – Victoria Adams

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum is highlighting five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read on to learn more about artist Victoria Adams.

Victoria Adams’ early years

Victoria Adams waterfall painting

Victoria Adams, High Falls, 1988; woodcut on paper; Whatcom Museum Collection, Gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of the Liberty Mutual Group, and Washington Art Consortium.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1950, Victoria Adams received her bachelor’s in English Literature from Ohio State University. After moving to the Pacific Northwest in her 20s, she started taking art courses for fun at a small school in Seattle. Eventually, that hobby turned into a passion. She describes her path as a shift “toward visual fiction from literary fiction.”

Adams later went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the University of Washington (UW).

“I had no idea I would end up doing this professionally,” Adams recalls. “It seemed out of the question for me.”

While at UW, Adams studied under renowned painter Jacob Lawrence. She says his one-on-one critiques helped her build confidence as an artist.

One of her early works, a woodblock print from 1988 titled High Falls, is on view in the exhibition Conversations Between Collections. The exhibit runs through Jan. 3, 2021, in the Lightcatcher building.

The piece presents a scene of high drama and chaotic movement. Light appears to bounce and reflect off the turbulent spray of a waterfall. The high horizon line gives the feeling that the falls loom above the viewer, causing tension and an awareness of the forces of nature. Adams is purposeful in the way she constructs this composition.

Her later works

Based on Vashon Island, Victoria Adams now works in the tradition of early luminist landscape painters. This painting style highlights the effects of light in the landscape, projecting a sense of quiet contemplation.

In contrast to her earlier, more abstract, works such as High Falls, Adams’ work has become more realist and representational.

“I want my skies to be spatial and luminous,” she writes. “I strive for the land or water in the foreground to invite the viewer into a state of meditative stillness. Since I don’t include any evidence of human occupation, my scenes can be viewed as being outside of historical time.”

One such work is Treeline Shoreline, a 2018 oil on linen. The painting features a luminous sky with soft light reflecting on the surface of a body of water.

“There is a powerful magnetic sense in landscape that compels us to stop and take a good long look,” she writes on her website.

She hopes her work prompts viewers to engage with the natural world and become interested in it.

“We can’t take for granted that the landscapes are always going to be here,” she says.

Most recently, Adams’ art was on display in a solo exhibition in Seattle titled Light Horizons. Her work has also been exhibited widely at galleries from New York to Seattle.

Yvonne Twining Humber painting

Five Women Artists – Yvonne Twining Humber

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum will highlight five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read on to learn about artist Yvonne Twining Humber.

Life of Yvonne Twining Humber

Yvonne Twining Humber painting

Yvonne Twining Humber; Ruin, c. 1948; oil on masonite; gift of David F. Martin and Dominic A. Zambito in memory of Yvonne Twining Humber

Yvonne Twining Humber was born in New York City in 1907. After studying at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League, she found job security as a woman living independently through the Great Depression by working as an artist in Boston for the Works Progress Administration.

Over time, Twining Humber became known for painting American urban and rural landscapes in a hard-edged realist style. Her art served to illustrate the working class in hopeful depictions.

In 1943, Twining Humber moved to Seattle with her new husband. There she continued to paint and had a successful solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum in 1946. Yet her social realist style was at odds with the sensibilities of “Northwest Mystics” Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, and Morris Graves that characterized the Pacific Northwest.

In recent years, her works have been reexamined and exhibited as an important contribution to the region’s mid-century art scene. From September 2007 to January 2008, the Frye Art Museum in Seattle held an exhibition titled Yvonne Twining Humber: Modern Painter. Her work has also been on view at the Whatcom Museum’s 2016 exhibition Just Women and in the 2010 exhibition Show of Hands: Northwest Women Artists 1880-2010.

Twining Humber continued to paint into her 90s. Prior to her death in 2004 at the age of 96, she donated $250,000 to Artist Trust. The contribution funds the annual Twining Humber Award, which honors women over 60 in Washington who have been making art for at least 25 years.

Ruin

Twining Humber’s painting Ruin (c.1948) is included in the Whatcom Museum’s collection. In the work, she expresses a magic-realist spirit that shifts away from her more literal pictorial scenes.

Most of her genre paintings capture the bustling activities of daily life from farther vantage points. In contrast, this work shows a more intimate approach. Humber’s crumbling brick arcade appears to reference the remnants of a lost civilization consumed by nature’s cycle of reclamation. Though painted 72 years ago, the image feels fresh in its contemporary unease, as if painted within the last decade.

Ruin is currently on display in the Lightcatcher building as part of the exhibition Conversations Between Collections.

Ruin, c. 1948, is an oil on masonite. It is a gift of David F. Martin and Dominic A. Zambito in memory of Yvonne Twining Humber