Inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ challenge, “Can you name five women artists?” the Whatcom Museum is highlighting five female artists whose work is featured in our collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month. Read on to learn about Doris Totten Chase.
Doris Totten Chase early years
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. Soon after, 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. 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.
Her video work
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 video to create Circles 2. It depicted a woman rolling around in multiple multi-color hoops while classical music played. The video garnered acclaim at the 1973 Sundance Film Festival.
Wishing to focus more on her video work, Chase moved to New York City in 1972 and rented room 722 at the Chelsea Hotel. The room had been the residence for many famous artists and authors, including Janis Joplin, Mark Twain, and Dylan Thomas.
During her time in the city, Chase continued to work on computer-generated videos. Most of her early work involved integrating dancers with her sculptures, then using computer-generated effects to create a dreamlike atmosphere.
Chase also created videos that explored themes such as feminism. One of her most widely regarded works is By Herself (1985). The piece 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 returned to Seattle. She continued to create videos until she passed away on Dec. 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.
–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant