Local History with a Waterfront View

Learn about Bellingham’s history from the waterfront perspective.

By Christina Claassen and Colton Redtfeldt

This summer hundreds of people will be boarding the 100-foot Victoria Star boat for the Whatcom Museum’s 35th annual History Sunset Cruises. Everyone aboard will learn about the history of Bellingham from a waterfront perspective, courtesy of two local historians who weave stories and serve as hosts extraordinaire—Doug Starcher and Brian Griffin.

During the cruises, participants get great close-up views of parks, businesses, industry, and neighborhoods from Bellingham Bay. Starcher and Griffin will tie their knowledge of local history with up-to-date facts about bay side activities. Their narrative of history, trivia, and current events makes cruise guests feel they are becoming experts on their community, and gives new understanding of the area to both locals and visitors. Read more

Whatcom’s Newspaper War  

By Colton Redtfeldt

The years from the 1890s to the 1910s were a turbulent time for America’s journalism industry. William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were in a fierce circulation war that had pushed the United States into the Spanish-American War. But journalism’s mighty waves weren’t a faraway thing. In fact, Bellingham was the scene for its own circulation war.

From 1903 to 1911, two of Bellingham’s largest newspapers, The American Reveille and The Bellingham Herald, were in a seven-year circulation war that cost their owners, two wealthy publishing tycoons, tens of thousands of dollars.

 

Background

On June 15, 1883, Will Jenkins and Thomas Nicklin published the first edition of the Whatcom Reveille. On March 11, 1890, William Vissener, a Kentucky-born Civil War Colonel, and E. G. Earle, a local business man, printed the first edition of the Fairhaven Herald.

The two papers were in different towns at the time, the Reveille in the Sehome area, and the Fairhaven Herald in Fairhaven, but it wouldn’t be long before the two worlds collide.

Early office of the Reveille Printing at C and Dupont Streets

Both papers served the community without much competition. The economic boom in the area ensured that both papers were prosperous. The good times didn’t last, though, and all the papers in Whatcom felt it. By the beginning of 1891, Fairhaven’s economy began to crash and the newspapers in Fairhaven took most of the financial blow. This depression allowed the Fairhaven Herald, which had fared better than other papers, to buyout some small papers in the area.

As the economy improved, both the Fairhaven Herald and the Daily Reveille survived the depression and continued printing daily papers. A thriving economy brought the towns of Sehome and Whatcom closer together and talk of unification started. This meant that the paper’s markets started to merge. The stage was set for a show-off between the papers. All it took was the money and drive from two wealthy men to set it off.

Read more

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. Read more

5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: Dale Gottlieb

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Dale Gottlieb; Tuskegee Airmen, 1995; Hand-knotted wool rug, 8 x 5 ft. Purchased with funds donated by Chuck and Dee Robinson, WM #2004.28.1

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 #4: Dale Gottlieb

Dale Gottlieb was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1952. From an early age she was frequently exposed to the art world. Almost every Saturday morning she would go to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It was at this museum that Gottlieb became heavily inspired by African art. She also drew inspiration from her environment growing up. Raised in Brooklyn during the 1950s, Gottlieb was constantly surrounded by people from a diverse range of religious beliefs, races, and sexual orientations.

Up until the 8th grade, she attended Brooklyn’s Ethical Culture School. This alternative school emphasized a curriculum based on philosophy and humanitarianism.

Gottlieb attended the School of Art and Design at Alfred University, in New York, in the 70s. At the age of 20, she postponed her studies for a couple of months to travel to India and stay at a Hindu ashram. While in India, she was deeply touched by the spiritual rituals and considered staying in India, but eventually decided that continuing her work as an artist was her true calling. She returned to Alfred University and finished her degree with honors in 1975.  Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more

5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: Ella Higginson

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 #1: Ella Higginson

Whatcom Museum #1968.24.208

Ella Higginson was a prominent Bellingham author whose books, essays, and poems are regarded as iconic to early Pacific Northwest literature. Her writing, which detailed the vast wilderness landscapes and inherent beauty of the region, introduced many readers to the Pacific Northwest for the first time.

Higginson was born in Council Grove, Kansas, however her family soon afterwards moved to Oregon. As a young girl, Higginson showed a talent for the written word. When she was 14, she published her first piece of work and by her late teens her work was being published in newspapers around Portland.

In 1885 she married Russell C. Higginson, and in 1888 they moved to Bellingham. Soon after they moved, Higginson began to make a new literary life for herself. In 1889 some of her poetry was published in national magazines such as Collier’s Once a Week and Harper’s Magazine.

Her career really started to take off in 1894 when she won McClure’s Magazine’s writing contest for her short story, “The Takin’ In of Old Mis’ Lane.”

Following the contest, Higginson released multiple books of poetry and continued to write until her declining health slowed her down. Some of Higginson’s most significant works include A Bunch of Western Clover (1984), When the Birds Go North Again (1902), Mariella of Out West (1902), and The Vanishing Race and Other Poems (1911).  Read more

Long-time Educator, Mary Jo Maute, Retires After 21 Years

For 21 years, Mary Jo Maute taught the history of the Northwest Coast people to thousands of Whatcom County school children, brought art to families experiencing homelessness, inspired high school students to consider careers in the arts, and taught adults painting and art techniques through various workshops. Last month, Maute, an education and program coordinator at the Museum, retired from her position, but her legacy will remain. Before leaving, Maute reflected on her time and experiences at the Museum.

How long have you worked at the Whatcom Museum, and what role(s) have you had?
Twenty one years ago, we moved to Bellingham from Montana, where I had served as the Curator of Education at the Yellowstone Art Museum. We were drawn here for this job at the Museum.

Maute teaches an ArtFUNdamental program to elementary school children at the Museum’s 2017 “Images of Resilience” exhibition.

My role has been planning and presenting programs that relate to the permanent and special exhibitions, most often working with school groups to enhance the school curriculum. The school program that has kept me the busiest since day one is the People of the Sea and Cedar tour and workshop. Pretty much every 3rd grader in Whatcom County and many from Skagit, Snohomish, and Island Counties benefit from this program. One would think that running this remarkable program for 21 years would become tiring, but I love working with children and everyone has a good time. Teachers praise the program and return each year because it fits so perfectly with the Washington State education standards and provides an authentic quality experience that is not replicable in classrooms.

I’ve also coordinated a variety of public programs, including talks by artists, curators, and historians, Family Activity Days (now Community Art Museum Day), Brown Bag lunch programs, Artful Pairings (opportunities for adults to get creative and learn interesting techniques while sipping wine), and concerts, which provide the community with opportunities to engage with our local arts and culture.

I can say with certainty that Mary Jo is a beloved art teacher, a well-respected colleague and friend of this community! –Susanna Brooks, Whatcom Museum Director of Learning Innovation

This past spring marked the 20th anniversary of the high school Art Career Day, a special project of mine. Art Career Day builds the next generation of artists, educators, and lifelong creative learners. This conference brings together 130 Whatcom County high school students and their art teachers for a day at the museum meeting with regional artists and college art department representatives.

I’ve also been the education department’s liaison with the museum intern program through Western Washington University’s (WWU) Anthropology Department.  It’s been a real joy to give college students a taste of what it’s like to work in a museum and engage with school groups and the public.  Read more

Partnership between Whatcom Museum and Bellingham Public Library Lets Anyone Enjoy Art, Nature, and Northwest History

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

The Whatcom Museum and the Bellingham Public Library (BPL) have teamed up to offer complimentary Museum passes to library card holders as a community resource.

The Museum pass, which are available for free to library patrons, allows entry for up to four people into all of the Museum’s buildings, including Old City Hall, the Lightcatcher building, and the Family Interactive Gallery (FIG). While there, visitors are able to take advantage of the exhibitions and programming that regular admission offers, including special presentations, and FIG workshops that are happening that day.

Bethany Hoglund, Head of Youth Services for the Bellingham Public Library believes that this partnership is important because it removes the roadblocks that prohibit some people from accessing arts and creative spaces in Bellingham. She also believes it helps further the library’s vision of being a place where all people, from babies to seniors, are able to find engaging activities and offerings.

“I love that this partnership with the Museum can be a natural extension of the public library, and vice versa,” said Hoglund. “Both have resources and materials to ignite creativity, challenge perceptions, and to explore.”

Last year, BPL distributed more than 380 Museum passes to people throughout the community, and the Museum welcomed roughly 650 visitors from those passes. The program has been expanded for 2018, with passes offered on all days that the Museum is open, Wednesday through Sunday. The Whatcom Museum and the Bellingham Public Library look forward to another successful year of the program.

“The more agencies within a community work together, the stronger the network of support and services for citizens becomes,” said Hoglund. “Partnerships such as this provide the opportunity for agencies to learn more about each other and learn from each other.”


For Those Interested:

To get one of these passes, library patrons will need to go online and register from the library’s website. Each family is allowed one set of passes every 60 days, and the passes are available only on the day selected by the person registering. There are only a limited number of passes available per day. Additional information can be found on the library’s website: https://www.bellinghampubliclibrary.org/.

To sign up, go to the link below and select “Register Online.” From there, select the day you’d like to visit the Museum from the calendar. After that, fill out the form at the bottom of the page. You’ll be sent a confirmation email. Bring your confirmation—either printed or as an email on your phone or tablet—to the museum and show it at the welcome desk for entry.

https://www.bellinghampubliclibrary.org/using-the-library/free-passes-to-whatcom-museum

 

Community Partnership: Audubon Society

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Sometimes two organizations come together to better achieve their missions. The Whatcom Museum and the North Cascades Audubon Society (NCAS) are an example of this. Through an ongoing partnership, both the Museum and NCAS have produced a variety of events, and most recently an exhibit, that have informed and inspired people throughout Whatcom County to explore the natural world around them.

The partnership began in 2013 when the Museum opened an exhibit in the Syre Education Center that showcased the Museum’s collection of taxidermy birds and Native American artifacts on a limited basis (two to three times a year for 2-6 weeks at a time). Shortly after the exhibit opened, Museum staff invited NCAS to help assist with education programs about the birds. NCAS agreed and representatives from the Society spent time each month volunteering to be present in the exhibit to answer questions and engage in conversations about birds with Museum visitors.

A collage of birds set up in the “John Eden Hall of Birds” exhibit.

More recently, when the Museum decided to move its founding collection of taxidermied birds in 2016-17 from the Syre Education Center to Old City Hall and create the John M. Edson Hall of Birds, which is open year-round, NCAS played a key role in the exhibit development.

“When planning began for moving the birds to Old City Hall, knowledgeable NCAS birders joined in and we discussed key birds to move (ultimately they were pretty much all moved!), and important themes for the exhibit. These became foundational to the new exhibit,” said Chris Brewer, a previous Museum educator involved in getting Audubon active at the Museum, and the current Audubon Board Education Chair.

The Hall of Birds showcases more than 500 mounted birds and provides opportunities for guests to learn about migration, conservation, birds in peril, and the importance of studying bird specimens today. The NCAS is still involved with the Hall of Birds exhibit. Every fourth Sunday of the month from 1:30-3:30pm is “Audubon at the Museum,” where volunteer experts from the Society are available to answer questions that guests might have about the exhibit or birds in general.

The NCAS uses the Rotunda Room of Old City Hall as the venue for its monthly meetings and educational presentations on the fourth Tuesday of every month, 7-9pm. The public programs are open to the public, and highlight a diverse range of topics, from bird habitat to the effects of climate change on migration patterns to highlights on specific bird species.    Read more

The History of Old City Hall

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Reaching into the sky with its four spires and clock tower, Old City Hall is one of Bellingham’s most iconic landmarks. Everyone in Bellingham has seen the building and many have been inside when they visit the Whatcom Museum, but fewer people know the long and interesting history behind it — and the many secrets that it holds.

Interior of Comptroller’s Office, c. 1913 Photographer Unknown: Whatcom Museum #1988.16.19

The story of Old City Hall starts more than 100 years ago. Prior to 1891, the New Whatcom City Council had been housed in the Oakland Block at the corner of Champion and Holly Street. However, as the government grew, it became evident that the City Council, which had shared the space with a clothing store, a music dealer and a hotel, needed something bigger. They asked local architects to submit plans for a new city hall and in November the council accepted a design from local architect Alfred Lee.

Lee, a self-taught architect, pulled the designs for the late-Victorian building from various catalogues and combined different plans together.

The council purchased a plot of land on a bluff overlooking Bellingham Bluff for $5000 and construction started in February 1892. Construction was wrapped up quickly when an economic depression in 1893 caused funds for the project to disappear, leaving the second and third floor interiors unfinished. One side effect caused by this abrupt stop was that the clock faces that had been installed didn’t actually work. Instead, the city moved the hands on the clock to permanently read seven o’clock. These didn’t last long, however, as strong winds eventually knocked out the clock faces and the city, not having the funds to replace them, simply left them as gaping holes.

The city did install a large, three-feet-in-diameter bell in the tower, which was rung to alert the volunteer fire department whenever there was a fire in the city. The height of the building made it easy to see any fires in the area.

Read more

Supporting Our History and Mission

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

If you’ve been thinking about supporting the Whatcom Museum this year, Tuesday, November 28th is a great time to do it! Non-profit and charitable organizations around the world, including the Whatcom Museum, are taking part in #GivingTuesday.

#GivingTuesday is a global movement that celebrates generosity and kindness by giving financial support to nonprofit organizations across the world. After

Thanksgiving, many people are quick to descend upon Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals as a way to kick off the buying season, but philanthropy organizations across the world want to kick off the season by reminding people of the importance of giving to non-profits.

In this spirit, the Whatcom Museum encourages you to take part in this movement and support the important work we are doing in our community.

“While many people are aware that the Museum is a part of the City of Bellingham network, few know that a large portion of our budget is raised through the non-profit Whatcom Museum Foundation,” said Althea Harris, Whatcom Museum’s Development Manager. “Through contributions from our community, the Foundation provides the majority of funding for exhibits, programming, and the popular Family Interactive Gallery (FIG).”

Museums are one of the few places that brings people together to learn, and have fun, and the Whatcom Museum’s exhibits and programming are designed with the mission in mind—providing innovative and interactive educational programs and exhibitions about art, nature, and Northwest history to people of all ages.

Without the generous support of our patrons and community, we simply wouldn’t be able to realize this mission. Donations made on #GivingTuesday will provide our community with the unique experiences in history, nature, and art that we have been providing for more than 75 years.

Thank you for supporting the Whatcom Museum and the work that we do!

Holiday Shopping at the Museum Store

Boxed card sets by MoMA and Pomegranate.

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

With the holidays quickly approaching, you may be wondering what gifts you’re going to give your friends and family this year. Look no further than the Whatcom Museum’s Store inside the Lightcatcher building. The Museum Store has an assortment of items to fit anyone’s tastes and budget. Here are a variety of featured items you should consider for your next holiday gifts. Members receive 10% off purchase, and don’t forget, memberships make great gifts, too!  Read more

5th Annual Deck the Old City Hall a Great Way to Get into the Holiday Spirit

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Some of the many trees on display at the Old City Hall during Deck the Old City Hall

If you’re looking to get into the holiday spirit, look no further than Whatcom Museum’s Deck the Old City Hall. From November 24 to December 31, Old City Hall will be decked for the holidays for its fifth annual celebration. More than 20 decorated trees will be on display, along with garlands, wreaths, and more. There will be a variety of events to participate in as well, such as a holiday cocktail party and visits with Santa.

Admission to Deck the Old City Hall is by donation (regular admission applies to the Museum’s Lightcatcher building). The Museum offers admission by donation as a seasonal gift to the community, so there’s no need to worry if your wallet is a little slim from holiday shopping! Proceeds from donations benefit Museum programs and exhibitions.

Families interested in visiting with Santa can see him at Old City Hall on Sat., Nov. 25, Sun., Nov. 26 or Sun., Dec. 3, 12:30-2:30pm in the Rotunda Room. Visitors can take photos with Santa by the big holiday tree, and bring their wish lists to find out if they’ve been naughty or nice. This event is included with donation.

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A Closer Look at Art of the American West

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

When you first walk into Art of the American West: Highlights of the Haub Family Collection from the Tacoma Art Museum at the Lightcatcher building, you’re met with a brilliant, colorful painting depicting a Native American man. As you look to your left, your gaze falls upon a portrait of another Native American man painted in 1851 by Paul Kane. But if you look more closely at this painting something else may catch your gaze: two large medals that are affixed to the sash on the chief.

A patron looks at “Portrait of Maungwudaus,” c.1851 by Paul Kane (1810-1871). Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. Courtesy of the Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub.

This seems like a peculiar sight. “Medals?” You may ask. “What are these medals for and who awarded them?” The answers to these questions are quite interesting.

The man depicted in this painting is Maungwudaus, meaning the great “hero” or “courageous,” (known by his English name, George Henry). Maungwudaus was born circa 1807 on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario and was an Ojibwa interpreter, performer, and Methodist mission worker. In 1844 he formed a travelling Native American dance troupe, which included members of his own family and several Walpole Island Ojibwa. They traveled to Britain, France and Eastern North America to perform, and the show gained quite the reputation. Maungwudaus had the opportunity to perform for royalty such as the Duke of Wellington, King Louis Philippe of France and the king and queen of Belgium. The group continued to perform for several years in Canada and the US after leaving Europe.

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Making Faces: Masks and Masquerading Around the World

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Author Marty Rubin once said that, “behind every mask there is a face, and behind that a story.” These stories allow us to see the world in a better light. The Whatcom Museum invites you to join us as we explore masks and the stories behind them.

Masks carved by Native American artists from the Northwest will also be on display, presenting a

Tsonokwa Mask, carved by Scott Jensen

modern take on traditional masks from tribes around the region. At the event, you can learn how Pacific Northwest tribes used masks in their celebratory and religious ceremonies. Guests will also be able to try on several hands-on masks made in traditional Northwest Coast Native styles and make their own three-dimensional masks.

“Masks have played an important role in many tribal traditions throughout the world. They’re used for so many things, from ceremonies to ensure a good harvest or successful hunts and fishing,  to scaring away demons and curing illness. For some northernmost Native American tribes, masks hold sacred meaning and are used to convey ancient stories.” said Susanna Brooks, the Director of Learning Innovation at Whatcom Museum.

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Transcending Boundaries: Becoming Helmi

The Whatcom Museum’s online virtual exhibitions feature a variety of historic photographs, artwork, and ephemera that visitors can view at their leisure. Recently, the Museum has uploaded a new virtual gallery that showcases a sampling of artwork by Helmi Juvonen (1903-1985), which can be viewed HERE. Scroll down to learn more about the life Helmi.

Helmi Juvonen, Vantage, circa 1975-1976;
Gouache on rice paper. Gift of Dr. Ulrich & Stella Fritzsche.

Transcending Boundaries: Becoming Helmi

Helmi Dagmar Juvonen (1903-1985) was a Seattle-based artist who found success capturing the culture of Native American tribes across the Pacific Northwest. She was a persistent artist who strived to create art in a time where being a female artist was tough. Even as she struggled with poverty and mental illness, Helmi continued to create art until her final days.

Finding Her Love and Audience

Born in Butte Montana in 1903, Helmi found her love of art at a young age from her father, a Finnish immigrant, who made pencil sketches and watercolor paintings for her and her sister. When she was 15, her family moved to Seattle. During the time that she attended Queen Anne High School, Helmi sold handmade rag dolls and greeting cards at a local department store.

After graduating high school, she worked as a seamstress for a local company and took on small side jobs to pay her way through art school at Seattle Art School. Through these side jobs, Helmi established a line of connections that included affluent citizens and successful artists. In 1929, through one of these connections, Helmi got a scholarship to attended Cornish School (now Cornish College of the Arts) in 1929 where she studied puppetry and lithography. In 1930 she was hospitalized with manic-depressive illness (now known as bipolar disorder) and spent three years at Northern State Hospital.

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Drawing Practice: Bellingham National Juried Art Exhibition and Awards

Kelly Bjork; Tiger Overhead, 2016; Gouache and pencil on paper, 19 x 15 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Reposted from June 20th, 2017 Seattle Art Museum Blog

Catharina Manchanda, the Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, juried this year’s Bellingham National Juried Art Exhibition and Awards, on view now through September 10 in the Lightcatcher building. Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art at the Whatcom Museum, describes the biennial art exhibition and award as relatively new. “The Whatcom Museum’s first biennial was inaugurated in 2015. Patricia Leach, the Museum’s director, envisioned Bellingham National as a way to bring the rich variety of art created around the country to our region. Although the Museum is committed to supporting Pacific Northwest art, it has increasingly embraced a wider, cultural scope,” says Matilsky. “Bellingham National has attracted the attention of Washington artists, which means that their work is well represented here. Community reaction has been as varied as the works of art on display. One thing that I have noticed: The exhibition challenges people to think about art in new ways, which is ultimately a good thing. It also offers the invited curator a unique opportunity to explore ideas related to a particular theme or medium of her/his choice.” Read more

La Calavera Catrina: Mexico’s Eternal Feminine Muse

José Guadalupe Posada, (1852-1913), Mexico City, Mexico; La Calavera Catrina (The Grand Dame of Death), 1913. Etching on zinc. Courtesy of The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, CA.

Written by Susanna Brooks, Director of Learning Innovation, for our exhibition, Images of Resilience: Chicana/o Art & its Mexican Roots

A wide-eyed lady skeleton donning a large, lace brimmed hat festooned with flowers and feathers flashes a broad toothy grin. The smiling dandified dame is La Calavera Catrina, a corpse with a lively aristocratic air and fashionable dress to match. Oblivious to the current state of her demise, she clutches nonchalantly to her long lost human existence. When artist, illustrator, and satirist José Guadalupe Posada (1852 – 1913) created this droll caricature, the Mexican revolution was in full swing. For Posada and his countless disenfranchised countrymen and women, champions of the rebellion, the humorous image of La Calavera Catrina symbolically, and derisively, served as an epitaph for the wealthy privileged classes. Her stylish appearance and amusing, naïve sensibility endeared her to the disgruntled masses, and she quickly became a satirical emblem of the sins of vanity and greed and the folly of government corruption that had long held sway over Mexico’s impoverished, hard-working citizens. Read more

Focus on 50 Celebrates History of Whatcom Community College

Written by Bob Winters, Arts & Humanities Division Chair, Whatcom Community College

The Whatcom Museum is pleased to present Focus on 50, an exhibition dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Whatcom Community College. A stroll through the exhibition on the first floor of Old City Hall tells the story of how the country’s first “college without walls” grew to become a college without limits, now ranked among the top 150 community and technical colleges in the United States.

The exhibit features a photo archive of the college’s experimental roots: classes held in an abandoned supermarket on Marine Drive; a tin shed in Boulevard Park turned “crafts studio” (the current site of Woods Coffee); the “Whatcom on Wheels” bookmobile that toured the county. Included are artifacts from the college’s past: the first computers introduced to the college almost 40 years ago; early examples of Whatcom’s course catalogues and advertising; the original hand-carved wooden signs that identified Whatcom’s rented spaces from Blaine to Bellingham. With its mission to provide access to a college education to everyone in Whatcom County, and its promise to always put the student first, Whatcom Community College evolved from its decentralized “satellite centers” to a beautiful 72-acre campus in Bellingham’s Cordata neighborhood. Come see and hear the stories of the creative educational pioneers whose vision guided the college from a radical concept to a nationally recognized center for innovation in liberal arts, technology, and professional fields. Read more

5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: 5. Sheila Klein

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 artwork is featured in our collection throughout the month of March (Women’s History Month). This is the last one of the series! Follow us on social media and share our post with your followers, or tell us your favorite women artists. Don’t forget to tag your posts #5WomenArtists.

Sheila Klein; Stand, 2000; Nylon, Lycra, spandex and steel, 13 x 13 x 9 ft. Whatcom Museum, gift of the artist.

Artist #5: Sheila Klein

Sheila Klein fearlessly defies prevailing styles and trends. Acclaimed nationally for her public art installations, including Underground Girl (2000, Hollywood-Highland Metro Station, Hollywood, CA) and Comfort Zone (2004, Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, WA), she has devoted her career to transcending the boundaries of art. Her smaller-scaled artworks deserve greater recognition, and the Whatcom Museum’s sculpture, Stand, highlights this other side of the artist’s practice.

Stand was the first artwork to be exhibited in the courtyard of the Whatcom Museum’s new Lightcatcher building as part of the exhibition, Show of Hands: Northwest Women Artists, 1800-2010. Klein’s interactive sculpture, which forms gigantic pairs of men’s stretch pants, invites visitors to explore an unusual portal into space and the artist’s imagination.

Photo by Clara Senger.

Inspired by an experimental approach towards materials and ideas, the artist welcomes the unexpected. Recognizing her unique vision, Klein was recently awarded the 2017 Arts Innovator Award, funded by the Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation. The artist has exhibited at a wide range of venues, including  PS 1/Institute for Art and Urban Resources, New York; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and the Museum of Art and Design, New York.

Born in Pittsburgh, Klein is a self-taught artist who moved to the Skagit Valley in 1976. During the 1980s, she worked in Los Angeles as a member of A2Z, an award-winning, collaborative art and architecture firm. She returned to Washington in 1995 and has since been living on a farm outside the town of Edison with her artist-husband Ries Niemi. Her large studio is a melting pot of ideas for grand projects as well as more intimately-scaled objects.

5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: 4. Mary Henry

Mary Henry; Linear Series #5, 1966; Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 72 in. Gift of Suzanne and John Rahn, Whatcom Museum 2010.57.1.

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 artwork 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 #4: Mary Henry

Barbara Matilsky, our Curator of Art said, “I sometimes wonder about the kind of recognition the artist Mary Henry (1913-2009) might have received had she chosen a different path at a critical junction in her career.” After studying with the pioneering Bauhaus modernist Lazlo Maholy-Nagy (1895-1946) at Chicago’s Institute of Design in 1945, she was invited to join the faculty, the first women to be so recognized. Instead, she chose to follow her husband and relocate to Arkansas.

Mary Henry, after receiving the Twining Humber Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, 2006. Photo by Alice Wheeler.

Divorced in 1964, Henry returned to her native Northern California, where she painted bold, hard-edge, geometrically constructed compositions inspired by her mentor. She was among a small group of women, including British artist Bridget Riley, who contributed to the movement that came to be known as Op (Optical) Art. For Henry, geometry was not purely aesthetic, but was pursued to invoke the spiritual in art. She excelled in graphically conjuring distinctive patterns in black and white, as in Linear Series #5, as well as brightly colored shapes that often evoke landscape elements.

In 1968,  Henry’s paintings displayed at San Francisco’s Arleigh Gallery were nationally noted in Artforum magazine. She moved to Washington State in 1976 to be near her daughter, and lived on Whidbey Island from 1981 until 2009. The Whatcom Museum organized the first solo museum exhibition of Mary Henry’s artworks, curated by John Olbrantz, in 1988. By the time of the artist’s death at the age of 95, other Pacific Northwest museums had introduced her work to an appreciative public. Her outstanding contribution to abstraction has yet to be nationally acknowledged.

5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: 3. Elizabeth Colborne

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 artwork 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.

Sunset Over the Elizabeth Colborne; Bellingham Bay, c.1930; Color woodcut, 9 x 6.75 in. Gift of the Bellingham Public Library, 1976.62.103.

Artist #3: Elizabeth Colborne

The Whatcom Museum holds the largest collection of work by Elizabeth Colborne (1885 – 1948), heralded as one of  Pacific Northwest’s greatest print makers. This birds-eye view of Bellingham Bay, at its most seductive time of day, directly confronts the duality of nature’s majesty with the economic realities of the logging industry. With smoke stacks rising up in the foreground, the abstract compositional influence of Japanese prints is apparent.

Living alone in a cabin, Colborne studied both man-made and natural landscapes in magnificently detailed drawings. She often poignantly portrays the intrusion of the human footprint by strategically focusing on old growth stumps in the forest. Colborne’s work can be appreciated for both its artistry and as a chronicle of the region’s history.

Elizabeth Colborne at 23 years old, featured in the article, “Women of Genius,” 1908.

Born in South Dakota and orphaned at a young age, she moved to Bellingham to live with her maternal aunt. She lived alone in Whatcom County most of her life, except for attending Pratt Institute and spending part of the year in New York City, which nurtured her career as a graphic artist. Colborne developed a reputation for children’s book illustrations and landscape views that catered to New Yorkers’ interest in the beauty of the Northwest.

Colborne’s work was rescued from oblivion by her sister, who donated a treasure trove of material to the Bellingham Public Library. In 1976, this work was transferred to the Whatcom Museum and supplemented by later Museum purchases and private donations. It was not until 2011 that the Museum featured a retrospective exhibition, Evergreen Muse, The Art of Elizabeth Colborne, curated by David F. Martin, and accompanied by a publication that quickly sold out. National media coverage quickly followed, assuring Colborne’s rightful place in art history. The Whatcom Museum will be lending six fabulous Colborne drawings to the new Cascadia Art Museum in Edmunds for an upcoming exhibition, Botanical Exuberance: Trees and Flowers in Northwest Art.

5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: 1. Anne Eisner

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 artwork 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. We start this challenge on March 8, International Women’s Day, to celebrate the contributions of women in the arts.

Anne Eisner; Two Mbuti Pygmies, 1956; Oil on canvas, 40 x 25 in. Gift of the Estate of William J. Eisner, 1975.110.12.

Artist #1: Anne Eisner

The Whatcom Museum houses several paintings by Anne Eisner (1911-1967), an under-recognized artist who made an important contribution to both art and anthropology.

Anne Eisner Putnam painting in the Congo.

In 1946, Anne Eisner journeyed from New York City to the former Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), where she painted, transcribed more than 200 legends, and maintained ethnographic notes on the Mbuti Pygmies. The first white woman to live in Pygmy camps, Eisner introduced  the anthropologist Colin Turnbull to the people portrayed in his widely-read book, The Forest People (1961). Although he used Eisner’s notes (with her permission), Turnbull rarely mentioned her in his writings. Lost to history, the artist finally came to light in 2006, when Harvard University’s Houghton Library featured 9 years of her work in an exhibition, Images of Congo: The Art and Ethnography of Anne Eisner Putnam, 1946-1958, which was accompanied by a publication.

It is a mystery how the Whatcom Museum received Eisner’s work, which was donated by her father, also an artist. William Eisner was one of the first manufacturers of wax paper and director of New York City’s Art Students League. The Whatcom Museum owns work by Eisner’s father as well as her sister, Dorothy, an accomplished painter in her own right. An added bonus in this bequest was a drawing by Diego Rivera of Two Workers, which was inscribed to Anne Eisner by the artist in 1938. This drawing is featured in the Whatcom Museum’s current exhibition, Images of Resilience: Chicana/o Art and its Mexican Roots.

Vibrant Hues Color the Lightcatcher for One More Week

Katy Stone & Ashley Blalock installations in the Colorfast exhibition. Photo by David Scherrer.

Katy Stone & Ashley Blalock installations in the Colorfast exhibition. Photo by David Scherrer.

Essay excerpted from Colorfast: Vivid Installations Make Their Mark exhibition catalog by guest curator Amy Chaloupka. The exhibition closes Sept. 18, 2016.

Artists Ashley V. Blalock (California), Elizabeth R. Gahan (Washington), Damien Gilley (Oregon), and Katy Stone (Washington) understand the elemental impact of color and wield it in their work with striking effect for the exhibition Colorfast: Vivid Installations Make Their Mark. These artists visited the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher building throughout the year to develop their design concepts in relationship to the architectural spaces of the building. Using a variety of media and processes, the four artists in this exhibition express how color and improvisation fuse with intuitive response and open space.  Read more

Introducing the Lightcatcher’s Newest Docents

A group of museum docents after training in preparation for touring the Philip McCracken exhibition in the spring 2016.

A group of museum docents after training in preparation for touring the Philip McCracken exhibition in the spring 2016.

If you’ve visited the museum recently you’ve probably noticed some new faces leading gallery tours.  In November seven trainees joined the docent ranks and are eager to share information, ask and answer questions, and provide insights into Lightcatcher exhibitions. These accomplished docents come from diverse backgrounds and careers, from teaching to neuroscience to design work, but the one common interest that drew them was their love of art. Learn a little more about our newest docents:

Phyllis Self says she became a docent to become more deeply involved with the museum and to broaden her understanding of art. Since moving here in 1988 she has assumed many civic roles including chairing the task force for restoring the Mount Baker Theatre together with her husband and serving as a Whatcom Community College trustee and chairing its foundation. She is currently on numerous non-profit boards in the community. Phyllis is an accomplished pastel landscape artist, and she recently received the Mayor’s Arts Award.

Antonella Antonini, PhD, is a retired neuroscientist who worked at the University of Pisa and the University of Verona before coming to the US. At the University of California’s San Francisco Center for Integrative Neuroscience she continued her research until 2003 when she and her husband retired to Bellingham. She has pursued her passion for the arts by completing a Bachelor of Art in Art History at Western Washington University and volunteering at the Western Gallery. For years Antonella has practiced Nui-do, traditional Japanese silk embroidery, and studied pietra dura mosaic techniques in Florence, Italy. Read more

Be My Historic Valentine

Handmade valentine, circa 1870s. Whatcom Museum #1982.20.11. Gift of Mrs. Charles Holston Ludgwig

Handmade valentine, circa 1870s. Whatcom Museum #1982.20.11. Gift of Mrs. Charles Holston Ludgwig

Valentine’s Day is nearing and as we shop for gifts and cards, it’s fun to reflect on the traditions of the past. The custom of making and sending cards for this holiday has been around for more than 150 years. The Museum’s own collection features more than 65 unique handmade and vintage Valentine’s Day cards created and sent around the turn of the century, with the earliest dating back to the 1850s. From cards made out of doilies and lace, to a printed card featuring a duck asking, “Waddle I do to prove my love?” images from this collection can be viewed on our virtual exhibit online.

The History Behind Valentine’s Day
Much legend and lore surrounds the origin of St. Valentine’s Day. Historians generally agree that this celebration of love and devotion borrows elements from both ancient Roman and early Christian traditions. The holiday became popular in the early seventeenth century in Great Britain and is now celebrated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.  Read more

Tom Sherwood Tells Us More About His Life & Artwork

The Assistants, 2010; Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel. Collection of Ron and Pam Binns.

The Assistants, 2010; Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel.
Collection of Ron and Pam Binns.

On May 14th, local artist Tom Sherwood spoke about his artwork in a retrospective and walk-through of the exhibition, Tom Sherwood: A Golden Perspective, at the Lightcatcher building. If you missed the chance to participate, here’s another opportunity to learn more about Sherwood, his background, and his artwork.

Whatcom Museum (WM): When and how did you first become interested in creating art?

Tom Sherwood (TS): Like most children—should they be presented with materials and opportunity—I drew at a very early age (starting in the years of the Second World War) and my parents, as parents now and then do, retained some of my childhood drawings. What they kept, they passed on to me and from that record, and from my own professional survey of child art, and I can assure you that I showed no particular talent or aptitude for creating artwork. My parents both had begun their careers as musicians and while they did not forcefully press their musical penchants on me, they did in one way or another encourage my escape into picture-making and other forms of “play acting.” Still, they believed in the doctrines of liberal education and doubted the viability of a solid, middle-class, remunerative career in “the arts.” I suppose, as a youngster, I found “being an artist” was a sort of useful posture and I continued to strike the pose whenever it seemed to set me apart in what I perceived to be some socially or personally advantageous way.

I carried this pose about with me even into graduate school—the “go to” guy for any cartoons or posters about upcoming academic events.  And after I had been admonished by student colleagues that I should get out of academe and “go be an artist” (and after I had done another stint in an art school and returned to graduate school) I was usually called out for advertising purposes or to show others some of the ropes to which I had been pushed in the course of my little “side show.”  It wasn’t until I was fired from my rather more professionally respectable position as a college professor that my wife, of all people, suggested I retreat to my makeshift attic studio on Liberty Street in Bellingham and “create art.” If I have accomplished anything since that moment, it has been born upon the backs of my wife Dorothy’s thrift and patience and the remarkable nonchalance of our sons, Talley & Jud. Read more

All the Rage: Cycling Photography and Stereoscopic Cameras

CAMERAS OWNED BY DARIUS KINSEY have been added to Big Cameras, Big Trees. While researching cameras in our collection recently, I discovered that we hold two that were previously owned by Darius Kinsey.  These two cameras, each of which is amazing in its own right, are now installed in Old City Hall. The first is a stereoscopic camera (#1978.84.2) and is actually pictured with Kinsey in one of the murals. The stereoscopic cameras took two images simultaneously from slightly different angles to create 3D images when viewed through a stereoscope. The taking and viewing of stereoscopic images was all the rage in the latter half of the 19th century.

Darius Kinsey American, 1869–1945 Crossing a glacier near Monte Cristo, 1902 Black-and-white stereograph Whatcom Museum, 1978.84.6417

Darius Kinsey
American, 1869–1945
Crossing a glacier near Monte Cristo, 1902
Black-and-white stereograph
Whatcom Museum, 1978.84.6417

Advertisement for the Cycle Poco camera, 1899 Rochester Camera & Supply Company

Advertisement for the Cycle Poco camera, 1899
Rochester Camera & Supply Company

The second is a camera that was specifically designed to be transported and used on a bicycle called a Cycle Poco (#1978.84.4) – combining the two predominate leisure activities of the time, cycling and photography.

These cameras are also beautiful pieces of craftsmanship with then state-of-the-art optical components, mahogany interiors, brass fixtures, Russian red leather bellows and small ivory details.

John Edson, His Birds, and His Museum

Written by Paul Woodcock, Vice President of the North Cascade Audubon Society, with research collaboration from Jeff Jewell, Whatcom Museum Photo Archives Historian.

AT THE END OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY THE ART OF TAXI­DERMY WAS A FAD. Mounted birds and other animals were used as home decor and most naturalists, amateur and pro­fessional alike, collected and mounted specimens. As such, the Whatcom Museum’s Edson-Edson-Booth Bird Col­lection of over 600 mounted birds is an important cultural and historical artifact. But it is much more than that.

It is also an irreplaceable educational and scientific treasure, a testament to early Whatcom County ornithology and the impetus for the very existence of our outstanding com­munity museum.

The man responsible for the majority of the collection is John Milton Edson who personally collected them over more than fifty years starting in the early 1890s. Another Edson, Edward, not related to John, was a long-time mayor of Lynden where he operated a drug store on Front Street which housed his collection of sixteen mounted owls. Ed­ward Edson donated his collection to John Edson on his death in 1944. Though John Edson reportedly spent his later years doing research on and writing about taxidermy most of the two Edsons’ birds were mounted by Belling­ham taxidermist Edward Booth. Booth’s personal collec­tion was donated to the museum when he died in 1959, completing the Edson-Edson-Booth Bird Collection. Read more

How Your Museum Protects the Collections

THIRTY THOUSAND OBJECTS.  170,000 PHOTOGRAPHS.  16,000 ARCHIVAL ITEMS. These numbers make up the Whatcom Museum Collection and Curator of Collections, Becky Hutchins, is in charge of protecting each piece from harm. Threats are as small as the powderpost beetle and as large as a fire or flood.

For the smallest variety of threat, Hutchins employs an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach as an environmentally friendly way to monitor and regulate the bug factor throughout Museum facilities.

Using sticky traps, we can determine if our collections are in danger. Caught specimens are examined, and, depending on their numbers and where they are in their lifecycle (larvae or adult), we can determine how hospitable our environment is to them and what their food sources might be. By changing the temperature and maintaining moisture levels, monitoring our collections and keeping the museum spaces well maintained, we’re able to create an unfriendly environment for pests, and protect treasures like historic maps of Bellingham Bay and 100-year old women’s finery.

But who are these unwanted visitors? Turns out museum collections are at greatest risk from a few common insects, Hutchins explains, because these pests have favorite food sources as well as preferred habitats that are often found in our collections and storage spaces. Read more

Sneak Peek at Famous Peak

HOORAY! The manuscript for the Vanishing Ice catalogue was emailed to the editor thirty minutes ago. Here is a sneak peek at one of my favorite artworks in the exhibition:

Thomas Hart Benton, Trail Riders, 1964-1965, oil on canvas, 67 ½ x 85 3/8 in(171.5 x 217 cm), National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Gift of the artist, 1975.42.1

Thomas Hart Benton, Trail Riders, 1964-1965, oil on canvas, 67 ½ x 85 3/8 in(171.5 x 217 cm), National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Gift of the artist, 1975.42.1

Thomas Hart Benton’s (American, 1889-1975) journey to the Canadian Rockies inspired Trail Riders, a sweeping, cinematic view of Mount Assiniboine. The artist faithfully documents the landscape setting and the mountain’s conical shape resembling the famous Matterhorn in the Alps. (According to the U.S. Geological Survey, glaciers on Mount Assiniboine have decreased 820 feet in twenty-three years, an average of more than 35 feet per year.)

Casting a nostalgic look at American history, Benton presents an unusual mid-twentieth century interpretation of Manifest Destiny. The artist, a grandnephew of a prominent, populist Missouri senator who helped shape the policies of American expansionism, harks back to a time when trailblazers settled the American West. Throughout his life, he mythologized this theme, beginning with early paintings like The Pathfinder (1926) and culminating in the grand-scaled mural, Independence and the Opening of the American West (1959-62), commissioned for the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. In the 1930s, such themes earned Benton recognition as a “regionalist” artist who celebrated Middle American values by depicting rural culture.

Trail Riders also draws upon classic Hollywood Westerns that celebrated the loners and nomads along pioneer trails. The artist’s gigs in Hollywood for Life magazine and Walt Disney enabled him to see first-hand the creation of these idealized heroes.

In this painting, Benton mediates on his personal relationship to the land: The protagonists riding along the trail represent the artist and his friend, who explored the Banff region on horseback in 1963. Benton turned to the mountains for solace after his regionalist aesthetic was scorned by an art world enamored with another movement, Abstract Expressionism, in the 1950s. The landscape assuaged the artist’s loneliness and distaste for America’s increasing urban culture.

—Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art

Art Meets Science Meets Hollywood Meets…Bellingham!

Alexis Rockman Adelies, 2008 Oil on wood 68 x 80 inches

Alexis Rockman
Adelies, 2008
Oil on wood
68 x 80 inches

WHAT BETTER WAY to launch the Whatcom Museum’s blog than to feature a fabulous artwork featured in our upcoming exhibition, Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, by an artist currently in the national limelight?

Alexis Rockman, who painted Adelies, was commissioned by film director Ang Lee to contribute imagery for Life of Pi. The artist’s sketches for the newly-released movie inspired a dream sequence experienced by the hero and his tiger companion during a spiritual voyage of discovery. See the New York Times Magazine article here.

Rockman’s fantasy-like paintings are based on actual expeditions. His portrait of Adelies penguins emerged from a 12-day trip Antarctic adventure on board a Lindblad Expedition Cruise ship. The artist explored the landscape and got up close and personal with wildlife in kayaks and zodiacs. Enchanted by the ice that glowed “luminous like jewelry,” Rockman creates a towering blue ice cube, the feeding platform for the penguins featured in Adelies. They appear to drift in isolation without sight of the mainland.

The idea for the painting was based, in the artist’s words, on ideas of “fragmentation and scarcity.” * Although not intentionally referenced, the painting calls to mind the massive ice shelves that have dramatically broken off from the continent due to warming oceans. Recognizing that these unique creatures are threatened by climate change, the artist devises an unusual composition to suggest their precarious status.* (The Adelies population surrounding nearby Anvers Island has declined by 85% in the last 35 years and could face regional extinction within the next decade. Warming oceans have shrunk the population of krill upon which the penguins and other life depend. ”

Born and raised in New York City, Rockman frequented the American Museum of Natural History where he studied the renowned painted diorama displays. He was also attracted to the Hudson River School landscape painters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which nurtured his sense of the sublime. Although engaged in field observations and drawings, he does not consider his work “scientific.” Instead, he aims to make “art about the history of science.”

— Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art

* (All quotes from an interview with the artist in September 2012.)

The Bell Show: Bellingham’s First Movie House

The Bell Show was featuring a crime drama, The Tong Man, when commercial photographer J. W. Sandison took this photo of the pioneer movie house. To promote the film, which played at the theater July 7-9, 1921, manager Al Finkelstein had Chinese lanterns strung along both sides of Holly Street between Cornwall and Railroad avenues. From the Whatcom Museum’s J. W. Sandison Collection

The Bell Show was featuring a crime drama, The Tong Man, when commercial photographer J. W. Sandison took this photo of the pioneer movie house. To promote the film, which played at the theater July 7-9, 1921, manager Al Finkelstein had Chinese lanterns strung along both sides of Holly Street between Cornwall and Railroad avenues.
From the Whatcom Museum’s J. W. Sandison Collection

THE BELL SHOW opened at 111 E. Holly in July 1908 as Bellingham’s first theater dedicated exclusively to the showing of motion pictures. Located in what had been Edward Gott’s pharmacy, the Bell was what came to be known as a “store show” or storefront theater. A five-cent “nickelodeon” ticket got you a triple-feature of one-reel movies, each roughly ten minutes long.

Initially financed by two California investors, the Bell Show was purchased in 1910 by Wilfred S. Quinby, who equipped the theater with a sloping floor to give the audience a better view of the screen. He had a $3,000 Kimball pipe organ installed in 1913 and Professor Darwin Wood, organist extraordinaire, played accompaniment to the silent films. By 1918, Quinby owned three Bellingham theaters, the Bell Show, Dream and Liberty, causing the local press to declare him “Movie King of Holly Street.” Quinby’s three theaters were all located within a three-block span on the same side of the street.

The Bell was leased in late 1920 to the Seattle theater chain of Jensen & Von Herberg. The firm’s Bellingham manager, Al Finkelstein, booked first-run films and spent lavishly on promotion. The Bell was one of the first local theaters to show “serials” when it played the 15 episodes of The Lost City over the last six weeks of 1920. In August 1921, the Bell hosted the Bellingham debut of Chaplin’s The Kid. The Bell Show was remodeled and reopened as the Rialto Theatre in Nov. 1921. Bellingham Theaters Inc. bought the Rialto in August 1922, only to close it permanently a short time later. The building was converted into Harry Dawson’s Cafe, one of a few restaurants that would occupy the space over the years, including the Horseshoe Cafe since 1958.

–Jeff Jewell, Whatcom Museum Photo Archives

McNeil Wedding Dress, Whatcom Museum Collection

Wedding dress from the Whatcom Museum collection;

Wedding dress from the Whatcom Museum collection;

DELICATE AND GRACEFUL, this wedding dress is composed of cream-colored lace with peach satin-covered buttons extending down its back. The gathered skirt and flared sleeves create a medieval silhouette—a style likely inspired by Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923 when she married HRH the Duke of York. Hallmarks of the era include the scalloped, dropped waist and relatively unshaped bodice with a low, sweetheart neckline, and ankle-baring hemline. Worn by Josephine McNeil, the garment was styled simply with a veil, bouquet, and prayer book for her walk down the aisle.

Harkening to the onset of a new, liberated era in regard to women, the dress could represent the liveliness and dynamism of the period. A barrage of socio- economic changes following World War I (1914-1918) forever changed the roles and rights of women in society and produced the iconic flapper image. Both the wild rebel of the night as well as the fashionable figure of the modern woman, the flapper is the dancing, fun-loving woman whose cropped hair and variable hemline are archetypal of the Jazz Age. Less complicated in construction and style, the simplicity of the flapper dress rendered it more accessible to women of all classes. In addition, the more “masculine” or unisex fit of the dresses—loose and angular rather that fitted and contoured—appealed to the growing equality between the sexes, championed by women’s rights advocates.

Fully embracing of all things modern, the 1920s woman woke to a world full of choices. She was free of corsetry, restricting layers, and many of the corresponding social barriers that kept her in the domestic realm. Women gradually joined the workforce, played sports, and traveled where their Edwardian mothers had been more associated with the previous century than the vivacious spirit of the 20th. This wedding dress embodies many of these ideas in style, while the elegant, handcrafted form is truly a work of art.

— Emily Zach, Western Washington University Curatorial Intern

Lake Whatcom Washington, Elizabeth Colborne

Elizabeth Colborne; Lake Whatcom Washington, circa 1929; color woodcut, 16x11 inches; gift of the Bellingham Public Library.

Elizabeth Colborne; Lake Whatcom Washington, circa 1929; color woodcut, 16×11 inches; gift of the Bellingham Public Library.


AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART, NATURE & HISTORY
Elizabeth Colborne divided her time between New York and Washington state during the 1920s, but work waned after the 1929 stock market crash. She came back to Bellingham and spent from May through October of 1933 in a cabin on Lake Whatcom to paint. From her journals we might conclude that 1933 was also an El Nina year; rain and chilly weather dominated many entries such as this one from May 8:

“I now find that since it remains so cold I have a schedule to stay late in bed reading science and planning, even to near noon. There’s a fire and lunch and paint inside while it is still warm. Then go out if it is not actually raining. This saves the eternal stoking of the fire. I said to myself that I did not come down here to burn up trees but to paint them. But it rains, so I have to burn.”

However, there is hope! On Wednesday, June 28, 1933 she wrote the following:

“The day ended in a glorious cloud show over the mountains across the lake, like a dramatic backdrop of stage scenery in its   dramatic glory. I have never seen it the least bit like that before. The sun must have set intensely to throw such a refection on the heavy clouds that floated about the top of the mountains immediately opposite. It was repeated, though with more depth of value in the lake beneath. All that was unusually blue was deep, dusky purple tinged to salmon color in the lighter part. The trees shone a yellow-green.”

Small Curtain, Michael Brophy

Michael Brophy Small Curtain, 1999, oil on canvas, 49 1/4 x 37 1/4 inches

Michael Brophy
Small Curtain, 1999, oil on canvas,
49 1/4 x 37 1/4 inches

ART IS A VISUAL MEANS of communication, but often what is not seen is as important as what is seen. Michael Brophy’s painting Small Curtain is an excellent example of how artists often suggest a narrative but leave the meaning ambiguous or hidden. Brophy sets up a mysterious scene that asks more questions than it answers. It makes us think.

Our eyes first see a red velvety curtain and a fallen tree stump. Behind the curtain is a forest. Is the curtain in the forest or is the forest on a stage? If the forest is on a stage, why? Perhaps the artist is suggesting that the audience (or viewers) are watching nature but not in it. Or – maybe that we see nature, as represented by the forest, as something to admire from a distance, something to entertain us, to add drama to our lives.

Two large trees in the foreground seem to be protective of the fallen tree. The fallen tree and the two strong vertical tree trunks just behind it visually block us from entering further into the scene. To the right, an opening exists for the viewer to enter and when we do we are pulled back by an S shape of light toward a distant background space that is full of backlit trees. If we could walk back into that space, what would we find? What would it smell like? What sounds might we hear? Or would there be only silence?

Is the curtain going up or coming down (on nature)? Is the play beginning or ending? Will we walk into the scene and become part of the play, or will we stay removed, waiting for the next act?

To me, the best art engages the viewer on many levels – sensory, emotionally, and intellectually – and is open to multiple interpretation. What’s your interpretation of Small Curtain?

— Mary Jo Maute, WM Education & Public Programs Coordinator

Union, Diem Chau

Diem Chau, Vietnamese-American, b. 1979; Union, 2008; Porcelain cup, silk, and thread. Gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of the Liberty Mutual Group, and Washington Art Consortium, 2010.53.11.

Diem Chau, Vietnamese-American, b. 1979; Union, 2008; Porcelain cup, silk, and thread. Gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of the Liberty Mutual Group, and Washington Art Consortium, 2010.53.11.

CLEARLY THE SMALLEST piece in the New Gifts and Acquisitions exhibition, Diem Chau’s Union, a tiny (just over 2 inches high) tea bowl holds its own amid much larger, bolder and more colorful works. Perhaps its minute size and simplicity is part of the attraction.

Attached atop the rim of the porcelain bowl, clay from the earth tested by fire and heat, is a scrim of sheer organza with hand-embroidered images of two hands — one male, one female — joined by a loop of red thread.

What does it mean? Diem Chau has created a tactile memory piece referencing her Vietnamese culture, her family history and the univer- sal importance of connectedness. As refugees to the United States in 1986, her family kept memories and traditions alive by storytelling and sharing contemplative moments over tea.

What makes it art? Art is always about something. If the metaphor or message intended by the artist resonates both emotionally and intellectually with the viewer the object has achieved its goal. Art does not have to be beautiful or even recognizable, but it must make a connection with the viewer.

Do you respond to this piece? Does it awaken memories of shared family times; the importance of taking tea and time with loved ones? Who might the two hands represent? Do you own a cherished keep- sake that carries special memories of places or people in your life?

David Ireland, Untitled

David Ireland, Untitled, circa 1970, Sculpture, 3 x 12 x 10 in.

David Ireland, Untitled, circa 1970, Sculpture,
3 x 12 x 10 in.

WHAT MAKES IT ART? That’s the first question one might have when seeing this untitled sculpture by David Ireland. How can a vintage book with rough lumpy concrete bookends possibly be art?

David Ireland is presenting us with intriguing questions. What does the book contain? Where did it come from? What are the world’s greatest events and can they possibly be encompassed in one small book? And why place it between concrete bookends? To me the bookends suggest either construction — like mortar holding bricks together — or like seeing the rough, usually unseen, structure of a building.

The artist is surely offering viewers a lovely contrast in textures. Nothing feels quite like an old worn leather book to our touch. To have it supported by such unromantic gritty mounds of industrial concrete creates a playful counterpoint. Might he also be poking fun at the grandiose pronouncement of the book’s title by nestling it between two pieces of the world’s grittiest material?

Mr. Ireland, who died in 2009, is best known for transforming a run-down Victorian house in San Francisco’s Mission District into a home that was also a work of art. As he peeled back layers of materials, he exposed the story of the home and its former inhabitants, venturing into the nature of time and ordinary life as he went, with materials as mundane as wallpaper scraps, wire, brooms and rubber bands. Ironically, the pieces themselves become art in the process — offering a peek at the artist’s quiet sense of humor and Zen-inspired perspective. This sculpture, part of the Whatcom Museum’s permanent collection, takes on more meaning in this context. Perhaps the book came from that house?

Over time, he became well-known and respected for his work, which was exhibited in prominent institutions such as the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Center in Washington, D.C., and Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and collected by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. We love the fact that Ireland was born (1930) and raised in Bellingham, attending Campus School, Bellingham High School and Western Washington University.

— Mary Jo Maute, Education & Public Program Coordinator

An Iroquois Dreams That the Tribes of the Middle East Will Take the Message of Deganawida to Heart and Make Peace, Gail Tremblay

Gail Tremblay An Iroquois Dreams That the Tribes of the Middle East Will Take the Message of Deganawida to Heart and Make Peace

Gail Tremblay
An Iroquois Dreams That the Tribes of the Middle East Will Take the Message of Deganawida to Heart and Make Peace

GAIL TREMBLAY’S SCULPTURE, featured in Show of Hands: Northwest Women Artists 1880-2010 and a recent addition to the Whatcom Museum collection, interprets diverse cultural influences with results that are both striking and complex. The artist, also a writer and activist of Onondaga and Mi’kmaq ancestry who teaches at Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA), cleverly recycles and reconfigures 16mm film to create unique works of art that merge traditional and contemporary ideas.

In An Iroquois Dreams That the Tribes of the Middle East Will Take the Message of Deganawida to Heart and Make Peace, Tremblay updates traditional Native American basketry and critiques a global political issue by incorporating documentary film footage from the region in question. The artist creates surprising textures and patterns with colors that reference the flag of Israel and the Kaffias (scarves) worn by Palestinians.

“I enjoyed the notion of recycling film and gaining control over a medium that had historically been used by both Hollywood and documentary filmmakers to stereotype American Indians. I relished the irony of making film take on the traditional fancy stitch patterns of our ash splint and sweet grass baskets.” — Gail Tremblay

Tremblay brings layers of content and design together in a seamless and original style that can be appreciated both formally (artistic elements) and conceptually (theme and subject matter). She invokes a hero of Native American history, Deganawida (also known as “The Great Peacemaker”) who united warring tribes and formed the Iroquois Confederacy to comment on today’s ongoing conflict in the Middle East. All of these aspects build upon and play off one another, contributing to a compelling visual and thematic work of art.

— Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art

Angle, Drizzle and Dot, Margie Livingston

Margie Livingston,  Angle, Drizzle and Dot

Margie Livingston, Angle, Drizzle and Dot

WHEN LINES AND COLORS come together in unexpected ways, the mind often recognizes something unique. In this case, what’s surprising is not only the composition itself — which is quite intricate — but the way in which it was formulated and the fact that the artist did so outside the confines of a traditional canvas.

Margie Livingston’s unusual painting is a complex web, a network of loopy, colored lines that merge and intersect at rhythmic angles. Think about a nest, a dance, an explosion…

The title, Angle, Drizzle and Dot, suggests the artist’s process, the spontaneous motion of making this work by drizzling colors to make lines that create angled patterns and finally large, layered compositions. Why is this significant?

Every so often, an art critic claims that “painting is dead,” that it can’t be pushed any further – there’s nothing new to explore. Livingston’s work says otherwise, both in the way she experiments with paint and the compositions that result.

Certainly Livingston is not the first to explore this process, which can be traced to Jackson Pollack’s famous skeins of paint. But, whether consciously or not, the way she builds on the idea is noteworthy.

These paintings make me smile. It is fun to see ropes of color directly on the wall without a canvas support. Livingston’s activated lines cling tightly to the wall to be appreciated as pure design and texture.

How we perceive art depends on our culture and individual frames of reference. There is no right or wrong, but instead information, knowledge, and experience. As with all types of activities, the more you have, the more discerning you become. In other words, the more you look at art, the more you see.

— Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art