5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: Mary Randlett

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

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

This is the final installment of #5WomenArtists, inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ challenge, “Can you name five women artists?” The Museum featured five female artists from its collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month. Share our posts with your followers on social media and tag your posts #5WomenArtists.

Artist #5: Mary Randlett

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s the case, Mary Randlett has spoken hundreds of thousands of words about the Pacific Northwest and the people in it. Through her powerful photography, Randlett has captured the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Born in Seattle on May 5, 1924, art has always played a central role in Randlett’s life. Her mother was active in the arts and crafts movement and Randlett had contact with early Northwest artists such as Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, and Mark Tobey from a young age. At the age of 10, she received her first camera, a small Kodak, and within a few years had produced her first photo album. She continued to take photographs throughout high school at Queen Anne High.

It wasn’t until college that Randlett really developed her photography skills. In the basement of Whitman College’s darkroom, Randlett experimented with different development techniques. In 1947 she graduated with a bachelors in political science.

Following graduation, Randlett worked at a small Seattle store. She was fired after she spoke up about female wage discrimination and demanded a pay raise. After this, she apprenticed with fashion photographer Hans Jorgensen in Seattle. In 1949, Randlett took photographs of Slo-Mo-Shun IV, the world’s fastest boat at the time. The photos gave her a great deal of publicity and helped launch her career as a professional photographer.

Mary Randlett; Photograph, 1968. Whatcom Museum #1976.0022.000001.

In 1963, Randlett started a project taking portrait photographs of Northwest artists. During the project, she photographed Theodore Roethke, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and University of Washington professor. Her photos of Roethke were the last photos taken of him before he died two weeks later from a heart attack, and gave her further acclaim, securing her career.

A year later, in 1964, Randlett entered an agreement with the University of Washington Press, where she would take photos focused on Pacific Northwest landscapes, art, artists, and architecture for their publications.

“I still get chills when an image appears and I’m able to catch it on film,” said Randlett in an article on Whitman College’s website. “I suppose I like to shoot landscapes most of all. The coastal light in the Northwest ¬— there’s nothing like it.”

Throughout her life, Randlett also took photos of artists such as Morris Graves, Mark Tobey, Jacob Lawrence, and George Tsutakawa, as well as writers such as Tom Robbins, Henry Miller, and Colleen McElroy.

Through dedication and her creative spirit, Randlett forged a prolific career in photography. So prolific in fact, that Don Ellegood, former director of the University of Washington Press, called her “beyond question the leading photographer in the Northwest.”

Randlett’s photography will live on in history, showing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the artists who were inspired by that beauty. But above all, like many other female artists, she has fought the discrimination that has been prevalent in the workplace and art world. She challenged the status quo and demanded an equal place.

Female artists have played a vital role in the formation of art throughout history. Often those contributions are forgotten or overshadowed. It’s important to remember the contributions of women artists—their work serves not only as a history lesson, but as inspiration for many young women now, and into the future.

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