5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: Doris Totten Chase

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ challenge, “Can you name five women artists?” the Whatcom Museum is continuing the tradition it started last year and highlighting five female artists whose work is featured in our collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month. Follow us on social media and share our posts with your followers, or tell us your favorite women artists. Don’t forget to tag your posts #5WomenArtists.

Doris Totten Chase; Sun Disc, 1980; Silkscreen print, 22 x 30 in. Gift of Doris Totten Chase, Whatcom Museum # 2003.51.12.

Artist #3: Doris Totten Chase 

Doris Totten Chase was an influential figure in early computer-generated art. Her early experimentations helped defined the future of the medium and expressed themes about the lives of women.

Chase was born in Seattle on April 29, 1923. In 1941 she graduated from Roosevelt High School and began to study architecture at the University of Washington. It wasn’t long after this that she met Elmo Chase, a lieutenant in the US Navy, and dropped out in 1943.

Chase’s introduction to the art world came after the birth of her first child. After suffering from an emotional breakdown, Chase decided to explore new interests and discovered a talent for painting.

She originally studied oil panting under prominent Northwest artists like Jacob Elshin, Nickolas Damascus, and Mark Tobey. She found her first success in 1948 when one of her paintings was accepted into the Seattle Art Museum’s Northwest Annual Exhibition.

Chase continued to work in the Pacific Northwest and make a name for herself, coming up against many biases that affected Northwest women artists at the time. Gradually, she shifted mediums, going from oil painting to cement work to outdoor sculptures. Her artwork began to include interactive elements that invited viewers to move the art around for further exploration. One of her more recognized pieces was the sculpture Changing Form, in Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. The sculpture, which was made at a time when sculpting was considered a man’s art, became one of Seattle’s most widely recognized pieces of art.

Doris Totten Chase; Late Autumn, 1997; Glass and metal, 14.75 x 20 x 2 in. Gift of the artist in honor of Mr. & Mrs. Arch Talbot, Whatcom Museum # 2003.51.9.

In 1969, acclaimed dancer Mary Staton used one of Chase’s circular sculptures in a dance routine. This inspired Chase to collaborate with Boeing on a project dealing with a medium she had never used before: video. Using Boeing’s mainframe super computer, Chase created Circles, a video depicting multiple multi-color hoops transforming and multiplying on a black background. Later, she used parts of the original video to create Circles 2, which depicted a woman rolling around in multiple multi-color hoops while classical music played in the background. Circles 2 garnered acclaim at the 1973 Sundance Film Festival.

Wishing to focus further on her video work, Chase moved to New York City in 1972 and rented room 722 at the Chelsea Hotel. The room is notable because it had been the residence for many famous artists and authors dating back to 1883, including Janis Joplin, Jasper Johns, Mark Twain, and Dylan Thomas. During her time in New York, Chase continued to work on computer-generated videos. Most of her early work in the medium involved integrating dancers with her sculptures, then using computer-generated effects to create a dreamlike atmosphere.

During this time, Chase helped introduce the Northwest School art movement to the East Coast. The movement emphasized the use of symbols of nature and earth tones in art.

Chase also created videos that explored themes such as feminism. One of her most widely regarded works, By Herself (1985), is a series of 30-minute video dramas regarding older women’s autonomy. Other works exploring similar themes include Table for One (1985), Dear Papa (1986), and Sophie (1989). Dear Papa won first prize at the Women’s International Film Festival in Paris in 1986.

In 1989, Chase came back to Seattle and created more works. She continued to create videos until she passed away on December 13, 2008.

Chase left a lasting legacy in the world of art. Her early explorations of computer-generated video art helped pave the way for future artists, and her hard work surely inspired other women to enter the art world.

 

 

 

 

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