5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: Maria Frank Abrams

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.

Artist #2: Maria Frank Abrams

Maria Frank Abrams, (1924-2013); Untitled, 1977; Graphite on paper, 13.25 x 21.25 in. Whatcom Museum #2008.78.3. Gift of the artist.

Maria Frank Abrams’ life was one of tragedy, perseverance, and beauty. Her powerful paintings were seen by people around the world and touched the hearts of those in the Pacific Northwest

Born in 1924 to a Jewish family, Abrams grew up in Debrecen, Hungary. At five years old, she began to paint. However, her life was forever changed when, at the age of 19, her family was taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in 1944.

According to the Washington Jewish Museum, during her time in the concentration camp, Abrams was able to find pencils and paper, and women in the camp would ask her to draw what they looked like before the war. From this experience, she said she was able to find some sort of reality in the “unreal tortured world that we lived in.” By the end of the war, she had lost 33 relatives; only one cousin had survived.

Abrams immigrated to the United States in 1948. Continuing her work as an artist before World War II, she decided to study art at the University of Washington (UW) on a Hillel scholarship. It was during her time at UW that she developed her artistic style. Oil paintings were her preferred medium and the cool hues of paint that covered her canvases often depicted landscapes and geometric patterns.

Following graduation from the university, Abrams created a successful career for herself. The Otto Seligman Gallery, a former Seattle-based gallery, invited Abrams to show her work. Her art was particularly sought after by distinguished members of the local art community including her early mentor, Mark Tobey, and Richard Fuller, the founder of the Seattle Art Museum.

Maria Frank Abrams, (1924-2013); City Structures, 1959; Tempera and ink on paper, 21 x 24 in. Whatcom Museum #2008.78.2. Gift of the artist.

During her career, Abrams received numerous awards and showcased her artwork in exhibitions at the Seattle Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Oakland Municipal Art Museum, and many others.

In both 1966 and 1975, Abrams was included in the Governor’s Invitational Exhibition, which was shown in Kobe, Japan and throughout the State of Washington. She died in 2013, at the age of 88.

Abrams drew inspiration from the Northwest landscape, expressing the beauty of her new homeland, but she also combined imagery and family ephemera into her art, representing her Holocaust survival and experience. According to her obituary in the Mercer Island Reporter on April, 8, 2013, Abrams once explained that her much of her inspiration came from the “subtle, ever-changing hues of the light over Lake Washington.”

“The Northwest affects my work very, very much,” she said. “Most of my work is inspired by the landscape around me, and by the colors around me.”

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