Shimmer in the museum collection

Building a Museum Collection

In the 10 years since the Whatcom Museum opened the Lightcatcher building, we’ve welcomed hundreds of works into the permanent collection. Now, we’re excited to share a selection of these stunning works with the public in our upcoming exhibition Anatomy of a Collection: Recent Acquisitions & Promised Gifts.

This exhibition showcases nearly 70 works, many of which are on view for the first time at the Museum. In addition to acknowledging long-standing relationships with area artists and patrons, it also shows how the collection has expanded and changed over the years.

So, what goes into building a museum collection? Here, we’ll touch on the ways these works enter the collection and highlight eight pieces on view in Anatomy of a Collection. We hope you’ll come see them after we reopen Sept. 19.

The Whatcom Museum Collection

As the Whatcom Museum approaches its 80th year as a museum, its capacities have been expanded in many ways, including increasing collection storage. Works generally enter the collection through private donors, organizations, or the artists themselves.

Many recent acquisitions and promised gifts expand existing holdings of significant works by artists of the Pacific Northwest. Other acquisitions are tied to important solo exhibitions hosted by the Museum that delve into an artist’s career, such as those about the art of Ed Bereal and Lesley Dill. 

Read on to learn about some of these exciting artworks and artists.

Building relationships: Works tied to past exhibitions

Shimmer, 2005-2006, by Lesley Dill

Wire, metal foil; Gift of the artist

In 2011, the Museum organized the touring exhibition Lesley Dill’s Poetic Visions. The exhibition featured large-scale installations of metallic, silhouetted figures intermingled with expressive phrases of poetry.

Dill is among the most prominent contemporary artists working at the intersection of art and language. She experiments in a wide range of tactile materials to create mixed-media works that fuse poetry and image. After her exhibition finished touring, the artist gifted the large installation Shimmer to the Whatcom Museum in 2015. Its re-installation in Anatomy of a Collection is the first showing since its acquisition into the collection.

With this work, Dill wishes to capture the play of silvery light reflecting off the ocean. To accomplish this, she spent more than 300 eight-hour days with the help of assistants, winding 2 million feet of fine wire to form the 60-foot-long silvery curtain. It cascades down the wall resembling tendrils of hair or, in the artist’s words, “a kind of electrical waterfall.”

Shimmer by Lesley Dill

Untitled, 1961, by Ed Bereal

Mixed media, paper, and pigment; Collection of Chuck and Dee Robinson

In 2019, the Whatcom Museum mounted the exhibition Wanted: Ed Bereal for Disturbing the Peace, a retrospective of the work of nationally known, Bellingham-based artist Ed Bereal. The exhibition featured works across six decades of the artist’s career, including drawings, paintings, assemblage, and large-scale installations.

This drawing is from Bereal’s early career when he was an up-and-coming artist in Los Angeles. Exhibited last year in the retrospective, it helps chart his explorations from drawing to collage and eventually to assemblage.

Amy Chaloupka, Curator of Art at the Museum, worked closely with Bereal in developing his retrospective.

Wanted was incredibly well-received by our audiences,” Chaloupka says. “Many in the community expressed the impact Bereal’s work had on them and mentioned the importance of  his work being represented in the collection, so we are thrilled that two of the artist’s works have been promised to the Museum.”

Recently, Bereal’s career and work was featured in an article by Hyperallergic.

Untitled by Ed Bereal

Recent Acquisitions from the Washington Art Consortium

Several works in Anatomy of a Collection bear the following credit line on their label: “Gift of the Washington Art Consortium through gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of Liberty Mutual Group.” The Whatcom Museum was a member of the Washington Art Consortium, which was founded in 1975. The cooperative of seven museums shared a goal of making world-class art accessible to regional audiences.

The Consortium promoted a spirit of collaboration through the shared responsibility of the collection by member institutions. In addition to the Whatcom Museum, its members included the Tacoma Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Western Gallery, Museum of Art at Washington State University, and the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington.

In 2009, the Consortium facilitated the distribution of more than 800 works from the Safeco Art Collection, one of the most renowned corporate collections of Northwest art. When the Consortium disbanded in 2017, the works were distributed among the partner institutions, including the Whatcom Museum.

Untitled (Eastern Washington Landscape), 1936-40, by Z. Vanessa Helder

Watercolor on paper; Gift of the Washington Art Consortium through gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of Liberty Mutual Group

Born in Lynden, Zama Vanessa Helder went on to study at the Art Students League in New York.

In 1937, Helder was employed by Washington’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) art program. Through this, she depicted urban and rural scenes from across the region. She worked in a realist style and used hard lines, stark shadows, and precise depictions of architecture and landscape to create moody scenes not typically expressed through the medium of watercolor.

One of her greatest achievements is a series of 22 watercolors from 1939-1941 detailing the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. Helder is one of Washington State’s most distinguished artists from the early 20th century.

Landscape art

Whispers, 1989, by José Luis Rodríguez Guerra

Lithograph; Gift of the Washington Art Consortium through gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of Liberty Mutual Group

José Luis Rodríguez Guerra was born in Sabinas, Coahuila, México, and had a talent for drawing and painting from childhood.

In 1969, his family immigrated to the United States to live in Oregon. There, Rodríguez Guerra became a farm worker, studying English and drawing in his spare time. In 1978, Rodríguez Guerra chose to focus more fully on his art and moved his family to Mexico City. While there, he found what he described as a rich fountain of inspiration in the Mexican muralists, the emerging avant-garde, as well as the cultural traditions of his ancestral homeland.

Returning to the states a year later, the artist began developing a body of work exploring human behavior through expressive paintings and prints that translated his visual observations, dreams, and the subconscious. He currently lives in Seattle.

Interior, 1941, by Gwendolyn Knight

Gouache; Gift of the Washington Art Consortium through gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of Liberty Mutual Group

Gwendolyn Knight was born in Barbados and moved to the United States at the age of 7. In the 1920s and 30s, Knight lived in Harlem at the height of its cultural renaissance and met icons like Langston Hughes. While in Harlem, Knight was mentored by Augusta Savage, and through the Works Progress Administration she worked with muralist Charles Alston. It was at Alston’s workshop where she would meet her future husband, artist Jacob Lawrence.

Knight painted Interior in 1941, the year she met and married Lawrence. The painting shows a quiet and comfortable domestic scene. While Knight focused mainly on portraiture and the figure in her work, this scene implies its inhabitants through the warmth of a stove and clothes causally draped over a chair and nearby hook. The scene is an unpretentious view of a home’s interior.

In 1970, Lawrence accepted a position at the University of Washington’s School of Art, and the couple settled in the Seattle area. While Lawrence found recognition early in his career, Knight gained attention much later in life. Her first museum retrospective was at the age of 89 at the Tacoma Art Museum.


Gifts from Private Donors

Many works enter the Museum collection through gifts by private donors. With funds for acquisitions limited, the Museum is grateful for the generosity of those who support its collection and exhibitions through donations and promised gifts.

Night Sky, 1991, by Philip McCracken

Maple and mixed media; Collection of Tim and Gail Bruce

Born in Bellingham in 1928, Philip McCracken attended the University of Washington and later studied sculpture with the British artist Henry Moore. His diverse works embrace both abstraction and realism and span traditional materials like bronze as well as new media like epoxy and resin.

Nature is the central inspiration for the artist as he explores witty visions of the animal world, such as his bronze Heron (1977) which sits behind the Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall. Works like Night Sky express the wonders of the cosmos as interpreted through carved and painted wood.

Chaloupka says the Museum’s sustained relationships with donors and supporters such as Tim and Gail Bruce are essential.

“Collectors like the Bruces have a passion for art and often provide unique insights from their years of living with an artwork,” she says. “Often, they have personal connections with the artists whose work they collect.”

For example, Tim and Gail Bruce have close ties with McCracken and his wife Anne and have a deep knowledge about his work through their years of acquaintance.

Weyerhaeuser Mill at Everett, Washington, no date, by Victoria Savage

Gouache and mixed media; Gift of Charles and Nancy Bagley

While little has been written about Victoria Savage or her artwork, this donation to the Museum is a significant one. The painting allows us to dig deeper into the artwork and life of an artist who made significant contributions to a Northwest regionalist style of painting in the early- to mid-20th century.  

Born and raised in Spokane, Savage graduated from Washington State University with a degree in fine arts. She moved to Seattle in the late 1950s, embedding herself in the arts community.

Savage was a longtime member of the Northwest Watercolor Society and an active member of the Women Painters of Washington. Her first major solo exhibition that brought her regional attention was at the Frye Art Museum in 1964.

This painting gives a glimpse of mid-century industry in the region, depicting one of the active Weyerhaeuser mills in Everett. Savage incorporates aspects of cubism in her interpretation of the buildings, water towers, and smokestacks. Lyrical, dynamic brush strokes infuse the structures with the energy reflective of the activity of production.

Painting of a mill

Diving Loon, 1994, by Tony Angell

Belgian marble; Gift of Charles and Nancy Bagley

Tony Angell is a naturalist who has studied birds his entire life. Despite never formally studying art, Angell was a constant drawer and observer from a young age. He trained and rehabilitated falcons and hawks and closely studied their physical features. He has written and illustrated more than a dozen books about nature.

In the late 1960s, Angell discovered sculpture as a medium. Many are familiar with Angell’s sculpture of two ravens that greet visitors at the entrance to Mount Baker Ski Area.

Diving Loon describes the movement and form the loon takes as it dives for fish. Charles Bagley commissioned the piece as a gift for his wife in the mid-1990s. Now, the collectors wish for the piece to be appreciated by a wider audience.

Chaloupka says the Museum is “grateful to have these inspiring gifts of art presented in the exhibition and looks forward to building programming around the many ideas these works generate.”

To experience these works and more, visit Anatomy of a Collection when we reopen. We can’t wait to welcome you back on Sept. 19, 2020. Learn about what to expect during your visit on our COVID-19 response page.

Loon sculpture

Virtual programs keep Museum and community connected during closure

When the Museum closed its doors in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff knew they’d need to get creative to stay connected to the community. Over the past few months, staffers have been hard at work transitioning some in-person offerings to virtual programs.

Here’s a look at a few upcoming virtual programs for summer 2020.

Virtual programs

Of the three virtual programs slated for this summer, two are access programs that were originally offered in person. The Museum began piloting Low Sensory Sundays and Museum in Mind in 2019. Museum Educator Chelsea Macias says the programs arose from ongoing discussions about how to make the Museum more accessible to members of the community.

Macias says one of the biggest challenges transitioning these programs to virtual is that staff must learn new digital tools, such as Zoom, as well as teach participants to use them.

On the other hand, going virtual helps the Museum stay connected to the community and provides a safe way to bring the Museum into the home.

Low Sensory kit with instructions and materials

A physical Low Sensory Sunday kit comes with instructions and materials for an activity.

Low Sensory Sunday

The first virtual program for summer is Low Sensory Sunday on July 26. Low Sensory Sundays are designed for children ages 12 and younger with autism spectrum and other sensory-processing disorders.

The in-person program provided a dedicated morning for kids and their families in the Family Interactive Gallery (FIG). Children could participate in low-sensory activities, and tools such as noise-canceling headphones and sensory maps were available.

Now, the program is all about how to best serve families remotely.

That means creating an activity kit and a pre-recorded story time with interactive prompts rather than a live Zoom book reading, for instance.

“It’s not always easy to keep little ones focused on a screen,” Macias admits. “This change offers more freedom and flexibility for families.”

July’s program will feature the book Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul. In addition to the story time, the virtual program includes a digital low-sensory kit and a limited number of physical kits. The physical kit includes a resource guide and materials for a low-sensory craft. It is available for pickup at the Museum.

Kaileigh Hubbard, Family Interactive Gallery (FIG) Curriculum Specialist, develops the low-sensory activity for the kits. Each activity kit aligns with the book reading. To do this, Hubbard reads the book multiple times to get a sense of the lessons and content.

For Allie All Along, Hubbard describes the activity as a “sensory tube.”

“It’s a multisensory activity,” Hubbard explains. “It’s about sight, sound, and touch.”

While Hubbard says the transition to a virtual program involves more activity development, she enjoys reaching community members in their homes. She says pre-recording the story time offers more flexibility for parents and allows kids to work at their own pace.

Museum in Mind

Painting of two jugs on the floor

This work is one of three featured in August’s Museum in Mind. Norman Lundin; “Studio Floor: Two Jugs,” 1981; charcoal, pastel, dry pigment on paper; 37 x 52 in. Gift of the Washington Art Consortium through gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of the Liberty Mutual Group

Next up is virtual Museum in Mind. The program is designed for those with early-stage memory loss or dementia and their care partners. The next virtual program via Zoom is on Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 1pm.

The one-hour program consists of a conversation-based virtual gallery tour followed by an art-making activity that can be done at home with guidance from a museum educator. To register for the paid program, click here.

Offering this program online allows the Museum to safely interact with a group that is especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

The focus of each Museum in Mind changes based on the exhibitions currently on view at the Museum. The last virtual program incorporated art from Conversations Between Collections.

For August, the program will focus on three pieces that will be on display in the upcoming exhibition Anatomy of a Collection: Recent Acquisitions and Promised Gifts.

The works by artists Susan Bennerstrom, Norman Lundin, and Gwendolyn Knight all feature rooms and an illusion of light.

The first virtual program was attended by individuals as well as a group from the Silverado Memory Care Community in Bellingham in June and was well-received by participants. Moving forward, Macias says the Museum can offer private versions of the program to interested groups.

Washington’s Undiscovered Feminists with Mayumi TsutakawaMayumi Tsutakawa

On Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 6pm the Museum will offer a virtual talk by independent writer and curator Mayumi Tsutakawa. Originally scheduled for March, the event commemorates the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Attendees will hear about five “women warriors” in the arts and journalism from the past century.

Tsutakawa will highlight pioneering photographer Imogen Cunningham, Black American jazz musician Ruby Bishop, Chinese American artist Priscilla Chong Jue, Leftist journalist Anna Louise Strong, and Native American linguist Vi Hilbert.

Above all, she will explore how these women inspired others and changed our state and our society.

In addition to the talk via Zoom, there will also be a Q&A session with the audience.

The talk is part of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau program.

For more information about these virtual programs and to register, visit the Museum’s event calendar here. We look forward to welcoming you back in person once our doors re-open!

Screenshot of Bill James weaving

Lummi hereditary Chief Bill James leaves lasting impact on Whatcom Museum

Screenshot of Bill James weaving

On June 1, Tsi’li’xw Bill James, a master weaver and hereditary chief of the Lummi Nation, died at age 75. We at the Whatcom Museum, along with many others, are deeply saddened by his passing.

Born on Oct. 20, 1944, James was appointed hereditary chief in 2010 for his life-long work teaching Lummi history, culture, and language.

James was incredibly generous with his time and had a deep knowledge of tribal history and language. He left a lasting impact on the Museum through his involvement developing exhibitions about the local Native American experience.

Bill James and the Whatcom Museum

Victoria Blackwell, Director of Exhibitions & Programming, consulted with James on the Museum’s People of the Sea and Cedar exhibit. The ongoing exhibit in the Lightcatcher building offers a journey through the tribal cultures and history of the Northwest Coast.

The exhibit blends both historical and contemporary perspectives. It features Coast Salish artwork and carvings, woven blankets – including one created by James – cedar hats, and more.

As part of the exhibit, James worked with the Museum and the City of Bellingham to produce Beyond the Blanket, a video about the traditions of Lummi weaving.

“His life was education and teaching the young people their culture and language,” Blackwell says. “People came to him for advice and wisdom. He was incredible.”

Mary Jo Maute, former educator and program coordinator for the Museum, worked with James often before she retired in 2017.

The Museum sought James’ input during the conception and planning of People of the Sea and Cedar.

“It was an honor and deep learning experience to facilitate some programming with Bill James for the Whatcom Museum,” Maute wrote on Instagram. “His spirit will live on through those he mentored who are keeping Lummi traditions alive through their weaving, Lummi language teaching, storytelling, and stewardship of the ancestral lands.”

Maute says James appreciated that the Museum was focusing on local tribes and including a language component.

For the Museum, it was important that the exhibit show a living, vibrant culture. Having discussions and relationships with James and other tribal members reinforced that the Museum was on the right track.

“He had a deep understanding of his role as a keeper of the Lummi tradition and stories,” Maute recalls. “I found him to be extremely humble considering all he had accomplished during his life.”

A love of language

James devoted much of his life to education and sharing the Lummi language.

Smak i’ ya’ Matt Warbus credits James with instilling in him a love of the Lummi language. The two met during James’ time teaching Lummi language classes at Warbus’ high school. Later, James got Warbus involved with Lummi language research, putting him on his career path.

Warbus, a Lummi language instructor at Ferndale High School, was instrumental in creating the language interactive in People of the Sea and Cedar.

James encouraged his participation in the Museum’s exhibit, which includes Lummi language recordings by Warbus’ students.

Warbus says James applied the Lummi language to real life, bringing the language alive.

“Being influenced by Bill is probably the greatest thing to ever happen to me,” Warbus recalls. “This is my language, my culture, my history. One of the greatest things we can do is know who we are and where we come from.”

Warbus says James was such a great teacher because of his patience and ability to put people on the right path.

“His life was about patience and understanding,” Warbus says. “It wasn’t about him. It was about the language and culture and making sure information was passed on.”

A broad impact

Bill James’ impact extends far beyond the Museum.

In a written statement, the Lummi Nation describes James and his legacy.

“He dedicated his life to learning from his elders about our history, language, and culture,” the statement reads. “He knew the importance of capturing the life experience and knowledge of our ancestors.”

James also left his mark on other museums, including the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.

According to a Seattle Times article, Bill James provided the words that frame the entrance to the Burke cultural gallery exhibit: “Xechit-en schaleche l’en-tengexw: Know your relatives and where they are from.”

In a written statement, Gov. Jay Inslee spoke of James’ impact.

“Bill helped young people in tribal communities to have a deeper connection to their ancestry and their cultures. He raised awareness of Native art and language and his legacy will live on for generations.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Image credit: Bill James weaves in this screenshot from Beyond the Blanket.

Art conservation

Spotlight on art conservation with Lisa Duncan

When the Whatcom Museum curatorial team recently wanted to have several artworks cleaned and assessed for stability to exhibit and possibly go on tour, they turned to art conservator Lisa Duncan.

Thoroughly assessing an artwork’s general condition is an essential part of preparing for any exhibition. It is especially important for a touring exhibition that can last years.

While a registrar or collections curator performs the initial assessment, it may be necessary to call in an art conservator if artwork seems especially fragile, damaged, or soiled.

Duncan, based in Seattle, has years of experience in the art conservation field. So, what do art conservators do? Here, she offers some insight.

Her background

Duncan holds a Master of Science in art conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She is also a Professional Associate of the American Institute of Conservation.

She says many art conservators arrive at the career from one of three paths: chemistry (science), art history, or studio art. For her, it was science.

After graduating with a bachelor’s in chemistry from Occidental College in 2002, Duncan says she was trying to figure out what she wanted to do.

“I wasn’t feeling the normal chemistry path,” she recalls. “I kept circling back around to my other interest, art.”

Her first job in art conservation came in 2005 in Salt Lake City. Working as a conservation technician at the J Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah, Duncan helped conserve newspapers.

Now, 15 years later, Duncan continues to conserve works on paper.

Art conservation

Art Conservator Lisa Duncan works on a painting in the Whatcom Museum’s collection.

Art conservation

The American Institute for Conservation describes art conservation as “the profession that melds art with science to preserve cultural material for the future.”

Duncan says conservators often specialize in a specific area. Common classes of specialization include books and paper, photographic materials, wooden artifacts, paintings, textiles, and more.

Her specialization is the consultation, treatment, and assessment of photographic materials and works on paper.

She says she gravitated toward specializing in paper because she was interested in photography growing up.

“Photography and paper tend to travel together because they are both usually paper based,” she explains.

With conservation, Duncan says the aim is to improve the condition of a piece without altering it. That means stabilizing physical problems and fixing surface damage in a way that maintains as much original material as possible.

“With conservation, most of your thoughts are about stabilizing the piece for the future,” she says. “You want to make the piece last into the next lifetime.”

With restoration, Duncan says sometimes material must be replaced so a piece more closely resembles how it looked when it was produced.

She describes preservation as being more about the bigger picture. It involves taking steps to prevent damage and reduce deterioration.

Art conservation

Lisa Duncan works to touch up a photograph.

The art conservation process

The amount of time spent on each piece varies based on the extent of damage.

Duncan says her process involves an initial assessment and condition report, then a proposal for the work. She says an assessment, photographs, proposal, and the work itself usually runs between five and 10 hours.

Treatment can involve washing, cleaning, and mending works.

“Sometimes all I have to do is clean photographs with erasers,” she says. “Others need to be washed and bleached and taken off the mount. That could be a 20-hour treatment.”

Treatment protocols are specific to each piece of art because there are so many factors.

For example, only certain media can be washed. In general, washing paper involves bathing it in different waters, such as distilled water or chemically treated water. If it can’t be washed, she says she’ll use tools to work on sections.

If an artwork is set to be on view, she says she’ll often mend tears or holes. Whenever possible, she says conservators add materials that can be removed if needed.

Common problems

Damage can often be the result of storage. Duncan says works stored in basements or attics will often have water stains. Works stored in a high-humidity environment may have brown spots, known as foxing. Stains such as these can be removed using conservation-quality bleaches.

Another common problem is flaking. With watercolors, for example, Duncan says some artists apply thick coats of paint to the paper’s surface. That tends to increase flaking.

“We have to essentially figure out how to glue those flakes into place,” she says. “It’s necessary so the artwork can travel and be on view.”

Pastels are another challenge because they are friable. That means the media is fragile and can start to fall away.

“You can’t wash them. Sometimes you can’t even touch them,” she says of these fragile works. “Storage and display are difficult.”

To see how fragile a work is, Duncan will often test the media to see if she can pick up any pigment with a dry brush. That helps determine how carefully the painting needs to be handled.

Work like Duncan’s is important for the Museum as we prepare several works to go out on long-term loan. Some works will eventually head to the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of a collaborative exhibition to share important works of American art.

The first phase of this five-year partnership with the Smithsonian is on view through the end of the year in our exhibition Conversations Between Collections.

Museum Store employee

Museum Store aims to serve during closure

Learn how the Whatcom Museum Store is adapting during our closure in this guest post by Purchasing Specialist Stephanie Douglas.

Reimagining the Museum Store

Museum Store merchandise

Games for kids available at the Museum Store.

For the last month, like most of us, I’ve had to completely rethink how to do my job. Four days a week I come into the Museum Store, working alone, and dig into projects. I set up window displays for passersby to enjoy and work with our marketing team to figure out how to create a compelling virtual space.

Of all the changes in my workday, I miss the satisfaction and joy of interacting with community members the most. I’ve had a lot of time to think about my goals and the role of the Museum Store in particular.

Yes, I’m frustrated by the constraints and isolation we’re all experiencing right now, but I’m more aware than ever of who and what are most important to me, as well as to our community. I’m grateful to be part of an organization that is so vital and important to the people of Whatcom County.

Mission-driven service

Since we are a nonprofit, mission-drive store, we aren’t in service to a bottom line. We exist for YOU, our visitors and community members. My main goal is not to sell as many products as I can. It’s to build community, to support local art and history, and to connect visitors and families to each other and the world around them. I choose every item with our mission statement in mind.

I stock family games that you can play on the living room floor. Journals that remind you to sit down and reflect on your day. Field guides that help you appreciate the plants and creatures around you. Local art made in your community, maybe even by your friend or neighbor.

Despite the current physical limitations, we’re still in a position to take an active role in supporting each other. I have spent these last few months curating a store full of items I believe to be the best of the best.

When you buy something from the Museum Store, the money you spend goes directly towards our educational programs and exhibitions. My intention is that you will experience as much joy from your purchase as I did choosing it, if not more. Plus, you invest in the future of the Whatcom Museum, ensuring that the incredible staff we have here can bring to life all of the amazing projects they have been working hard to share with you when our doors re-open.

How to order

Check out our Museum Store page, which features an expanded gallery of product images. We are taking phone orders for mail delivery Tuesday – Friday, 10am-5pm. Call 360.778.8975 to support the Museum.

Our Mission 

The Whatcom Museum provides innovative and interactive educational programs and exhibitions about art, nature, and Northwest history. We seek to stimulate curiosity about our changing cultural, natural, and historical landscapes, for the youngest to the oldest minds, and to inspire preservation of and creative contributions to our region and beyond.



Sports photo Baseball players

From the Archives: Sports photos through the years

With sporting events canceled due to COVID-19, we’re taking this opportunity to bring sports (photos) to you! Below, you’ll find a selection of sports photos from the Whatcom Museum Photo Archives. The photos cover a wide variety of athletic pursuits, from bowling to lacrosse and basketball. While many are posed team shots, some capture the athletes in action!

Sports photos through the years

Photos progress by year, starting in 1891 and ending at 1983. Have a favorite sports photo or recognize a face? Let us know in the comments. Now, let the games begin!

The 1890s

Wheelmen Ride Bicycles, June 22, 1891

The 1880s saw invention of the “Safety,” a bicycle that featured front and rear wheels of moderate and relatively equal size. Safety models were enthusiastically adopted in Bellingham Bay towns where penny-farthings, with a huge front wheel and tiny back wheel, were anything but safe on mud-rutted streets.

The “wheelmen” pictured here were part of a parade welcoming the first Canadian Pacific train’s arrival in New Whatcom. They took his portrait at the Dobbs & Fleming studio on Holly Street to commemorate the event.

The New Whatcom Wheelmen, a cycling organization “open to ladies and gentlemen,” formed in the 1890s to lobby for good roads and raise funds for a bike trail out to Lake Whatcom.

📷: Dobbs & Fleming | Gift of Gordon Tweit

Sports photo from 1891

Early 1900s

Diamond Cutters, 1903

When Whatcom High School opened on Halleck Street in 1903, it celebrated its inaugural year by fielding these dug-out dandies. 

In the front row (left to right) are Earnest Tafel, first base; Roy Brown, catcher; Page Fowle, manager; Homer Dean, team captain; and Charles Peters, short stop. Back row (l to r): Errol McLeod, pitcher and third base; Will Butler; George Simmons, right field; Arthur McCoubrey, left field; Hugh Rickerson; and Glen Barlow, second base. 

Homer Dean, Whatcom’s star pitcher, must have forgotten his uniform on picture day as the school initials appear tacked to his shirt in this sports photo.

📷: J.W. Sandison | Whatcom Museum Archives

1903 baseball photo

Lacrosse Clubbers, August 26, 1906

The Bellingham Lacrosse Club pioneered the sport locally when it formed in 1905.

Dan Murray played for and managed the team, which mostly found competition across the border against British Columbian squads. Home games were a streetcar ride away on the Silver Beach baseball grounds at Lake Whatcom.

In the front row (left to right): W. Knight, O. Pearson, Ed Decker, J. Chisholm, Frank Robbins, captain; Dan Murray, manager; and C. Rickerson. Standing (l to r) are Jim Craske, J. Lewis, the “substitute”; C. Walling, Bob Tate, goalie J. Larson, E. Brown, and H. Carswell, club secretary.

The Bellingham club, which disbanded in 1908, saw its greatest triumph on May 24, 1907, when they defeated Chilliwack in an away game.

📷: Gift of Minnie Johnson via Darla Castagno | Whatcom Museum Archives

Lacrosse sports photo

The 1930s

Triumphant Sticklers, 1930

This Whatcom High field hockey team celebrated their third straight championship in 1930. They captured the top title as surprising sophomores, repeat juniors and undefeated seniors. The squad saw only one goal scored against them during their last season.

In the front row (left to right) are Ethel Jacobsen, captain Pearl McFarland, and Violet McDonald. In the second row (l to r) are Esther Hovde, Irene Sulton, Lois Magnuson, and Eloise Rankin. Back row, (l to r) standing are Elizabeth Korthauer, Helen Howell, Iola Grue, Doris Benedict, and Ernestine Dix.

Field hockey, exclusively a girls’ game, was introduced at Whatcom High in 1925. The sport’s last year at the school came in 1932 before being slashed from the district’s Depression-era budget.

📷: J.W. Sandison | Whatcom Museum Archives

Field hockey team

The 1940s

Gritty Gridiron Action, October 22, 1948

The Whatcom Junior High Warriors struck early when Bill Tarr went on a 34-yard gallop at Battersby Field against South Everett. Coached by Frank Geri, Whatcom went on to win 32-0. 

Battersby Field at Girard and F streets was a muddy mess during football season, serving as home turf to Whatcom Junior High, Bellingham High and Western Washington College of Education. The dirt doubled as a baseball infield in another season, leaving it especially sloppy. This led players and fans to nickname the field “Battersby Bog.”

 📷: Jack Carver | Whatcom Museum Archives

Football players

Close Play at First, May 8, 1949

Bellingham Bells’ player Tom Jones stretches for the bag in a home game against the Seattle Elks at Battersby Field. 

Seattle’s shortstop had bobbled Jones’ grounder and Jones was safe despite Elks first baseman Warren Parkhurst’s reach for the late throw. Bellingham went on to win 3-2. 

The semi-professional Bells first took to the diamond in 1940 but didn’t hit their stride until after the boys returned from World War II. Under manager Joe Martin, the team won 20 State Championships between 1946 and 1973.

📷: Jack Carver | Whatcom Museum Archives

Sports photo Baseball players

The 1950s

Abrupt Change in Strategy, April 5, 1957

Sedro-Woolley High School’s Gary Moon soars over the final barrier in the 120-yard high hurdles just as his teammate Jeff Heverling stumbles and relinquishes the lead. 

Moon won the race with Bellingham High’s Larry Clevenger (left) coming in second. Heverling wasn’t hurt and returned to win the 200-yard low hurdles later in the day. 

Despite losing a few races, Bellingham won the season’s opening track meet hosted by Sedro-Woolley.

📷: Jack Carver | Whatcom Museum Archives

Man jumping a hurdle

Battle Under the Basket, January 14, 1955

The Viking men’s basketball team dominated the backboards against rival Eastern Washington during a Friday night game on Western’s home court in this January 1955 sports photo.

In this tangled tussle, Western center Bob Forbes (at left) wasn’t about to relinquish the ball as he was swarmed by (left to right) Ken Hill, Bob Underwood and Will McGillivray. Western won the contest 73 to 54.

📷: Jack Carver | Whatcom Museum Archives

Basketball players

The 1960s

Timber Tumblers Get Trophies, 1960

Whatcom Junior High’s girls’ bowling team pose with their trophies at 20th Century Lanes on State Street.  

Pictured (left to right) are Carla Anderson, Linda Thomas, Linda Allen, coach Agnes Tweit, Kim McCullough, and Sharon Chandler. 

Whatcom first offered bowling as an off-campus sport in 1958. The boys met once a week to play at Park Lanes and the girls at 20th Century. 

Agnes Tweit, math teacher by day, was one of Bellingham’s best bowlers and could provide the girls’ team of 35 “timber tumblers” with plenty of pointers. In 1945, Tweit rolled a three-game series score of 648. In 1947, she won the Class “A” Women’s Singles Championship of the Northwest International Bowling Congress.

📷: Jack Carver | Whatcom Museum Archives


The 1970s 

Unforeseen Champions, 1970

In August 1970, Bellingham roller hockey team the Bruins returned from Lincoln, Nebraska, having won the national championship. Without fanfare, the team had traveled without coach or manager, battled in a tournament of 17 teams and come away victorious. 

Pictured on their home rink in the Armory on State Street are (front row, left to right) Mickey Strickler, goalie Ron Perry, and Mark Friedl. 

Standing (l to r) are Jim Stevenson, Craig Angell, Rich Tawes, Ray Moore, and Bruce Ingells. Moore scored 14 goals during the competition and Stevenson had scored 10, including the game winner in the sudden-death final.

📷: Jack Carver | Whatcom Museum Archives

Roller hockey team sports photo

The 1980s

Duck and Cover, June 4, 1983

A base runner for Joe’s Drive-In ducks to avoid possibly getting hit with a ball during a softball game at Geri Fields.

📷: Tore Ofteness | Whatcom Museum Archives

Softpall sports photo

We hope you’ve enjoyed this roundup of sports photos from our archives. You can see more photos and items from our collection by viewing our Virtual Exhibits web page.

Bonnie MacLean poster

Five Women Artists – Bonnie MacLean

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum will highlight five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read this final piece in the series to learn about artist Bonnie MacLean.

Bonnie MacLean – early years

Bonnie MacLean poster

Bonnie MacLean; The Yardbirds, The Doors, 1967; offset lithograph; 21 ¼ x 14 in. Publisher: Bill Graham Presents, San Francisco

Bonnie MacLean was born in Philadelphia in 1939 and grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. She attended Penn State University, graduating with a degree in French in 1961.

After college, MacLean moved to New York City. While there, she started taking drawing classes at the Pratt Institute in the evenings. Then, in 1963, MacLean moved to San Francisco. It’s there that her art career would get its start.

Upon arriving in San Francisco, MacLean started an office job at Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company. There, she met her future husband Bill Graham, who would go on to become a noted concert promoter. When Graham left to work for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, MacLean went with him.

There, the couple worked together to promote concerts, often at the Fillmore Auditorium. According to a Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco web page, MacLean initially handled administrative tasks such as obtaining permits. At the time, posters with “psychedelic” lettering were used to promote some of the concerts.

One of the primary poster designers was Wes Wilson. When Wilson and Graham had a falling out in 1967, Bonnie MacLean stepped in to design posters.

Her work

MacLean designed more than 30 posters for the Fillmore. She quickly developed her own style, incorporating gothic elements and drawing faces and figures.

The New York Times describes her work at the time as standing “with the best of psychedelic poster art.”

“If she is sometimes left off the list of pioneering poster artists from that moment in time, it is in part because that world was dominated by men and in part, as she acknowledged, because her output and tenure were limited,” the article states.

MacLean designed posters until 1971.

The Whatcom Museum has a selection of MacLean’s poster prints in our collection. Among them are The Who, Loading Zone, 1967; Eric Burdon and the Animals, Mother Earth, Hour Glass, 1967; and The Yardbirds, The Doors, 1967.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York also has the prints in its collection.

Her work has been shown in multiple venues, including the Whitney and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Later in life, after divorcing Graham and remarrying, MacLean developed a career as a fine art painter focusing on landscapes and nudes.

Bonnie MacLean died on Feb. 4, 2020, at the age of 80.

Sources: Bahr Gallery website, The New York Times, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco web page, The Key

Mixed-media art by Marita Dingus

Five Women Artists – Marita Dingus

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum will highlight five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is part of the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read on to learn about artist Marita Dingus.

Mixed-media art by Marita Dingus

Marita Dingus; Green Leaves, 2001; Leather, aluminum, wire, duct tape, fabric, bell, and mixed media; gift of Safeco Insurance

Marita Dingus – Education and background

Marita Dingus was born in Seattle in 1956. Her interest in art started early.

“When I was a little girl, I drew all the time,” she recalls in a video for KCTS Television. In high school, she says she began drawing portraits using National Geographic magazines as inspiration.

After high school, she studied at Tyler School of Art at Temple University. There, she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts, graduating in 1980. She later earned her master’s at San Jose State University.

During a summer studying art in Morocco, she was moved to learn more about African cultures and art history. Since then, much of her relates to African traditions and material culture.

In addition to African art, Dingus also finds inspiration in discarded objects.

“My art draws upon relics from the African Diaspora,” she writes on the Travor Gallery website. “The discarded materials represent how people of African descent were used during the institution of slavery and colonialism then discarded, but who found ways to repurpose themselves and thrive in a hostile world.”

From trash to art

Before going to grad school, Dingus served as a road crew supervisor for the Department of Ecology in King County. The crew picked up trash along state highways, and that experience continues to inform her art process today.

“I seek to use recovered materials, reconfiguring and incorporating them into pieces of art where possible and appropriate, and to mitigate waste and pollution in all my work,” she writes.

Bottle caps, telephone wire, fabric scraps, and keys are just some of the materials she uses to construct her figural sculptures and installations.

“Using things people no longer see value in, that’s important to me,” she says in the video.

Dingus uses found materials in her metalwork as well. She draws inspiration from the intricate work once created by Africans enslaved in the South. It was while studying slavery in southern cities such as New Orleans on a Guggenheim Fellowship that she first became familiar with the metalwork.

Her career

That fellowship is just one of the many accolades and exhibitions Dingus has under her belt. Most recently, she was a recipient of the Irving and Yvonne Twining Humber Award in 2018.

Numerous organizations hold her work in their collections, including the Seattle Art Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum. She has also been featured at the Whatcom Museum in multiple shows, including Northwest Women Artists : 1880 — 2010, and The Art of Recycling.

The Museum also holds her piece Green Leaves (2001) in its permanent collection. The mixed-media work reflects her response to her time living in East Texas. While there, she missed the lush green of the Pacific Northwest and turned to creating works that celebrated natural motifs.

Dingus currently resides in Auburn, Washington. Her next show will be held this summer at Traver Gallery in Seattle.

Susan Bennerstrom, expect to wait

Five Women Artists – Susan Bennerstrom

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum is highlighting five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read on to learn more about artist Susan Bennerstrom.

Susan Bennerstrom – the early years

Susan Bennerstrom, expect to wait

Susan Bennerstrom; Expect to Wait.

Bellingham-based artist Susan Bennerstrom’s love of art started early. “It’s really all I ever wanted to do,” she recalls. Born in Seattle in 1949, Bennerstrom drew inspiration from her grandmother, an artist working in Chicago. “She was my hero and role model. She showed it was possible to be both a woman and active artist.”

In 1967, she enrolled at Western Washington University in Bellingham to study art. She completed three-and-a-half years before deciding to drop out and hitchhike through Europe pursuing her other passion, travel.

“It was a great art education,” she recalls of the trip. “All the art history I’d been studying came alive.”

After returning to the U.S., Bennerstrom got married and moved to Berkeley, California. She says her intention was to continue her art education, but the young couple couldn’t take on the financial burden. Instead, she got a job and continued to make art as a hobby. She considered being a ceramic artist or weaver before fully immersing herself in chalk pastels.

It wasn’t until her return to Bellingham in 1975 that she embraced 2-D works. Then, in the late 1980s, she began to show her pastel work in Seattle, gaining recognition for her art exploring and depicting light.

Her career

Bennerstrom’s work has been exhibited widely, including at the Whatcom Museum. Her piece Haystacks in Balkan Landscape was previously on view in Show of Hands and Just Women. She has also had two solo shows at the Museum, most recently a 2002 retrospective titled Existing Light.

Throughout her career, Susan Bennerstrom has received numerous awards, including a Pollock-Krasner Award in 2004. Of her accolades, she describes the Ballinglen Art Foundation Fellowship, a two-and-a-half-month residency in Ireland, as a highlight.

“The landscape was shockingly beautiful,” she recalls. “There was very dramatic light.”

Light has always played a role in her art. Today, Bennerstrom says she places more emphasis on light as the subject of her work rather than place.

“I rarely put figures in my paintings, as I find that they tend to take over; I prefer to let light and shadow imply the narrative and carry the emotional weight,” she states on her website.

In addition to focusing more on light itself, Bennerstrom’s tools have also changed over the years. In 2008, she moved from chalk pastels to oil paint. She credits local artist Barbara Sternberger with inspiring her to move away from messy, less portable chalk.

She also recently checked a goal off her list – finishing her degree at Western. “I didn’t need a degree, but I wanted it,” she says. So, nearly 50 years later, she returned to Western to complete her last class. She graduated with her Bachelor of Fine Art in December 2018.

Today, her recent works draw inspiration from the light in Morocco. They are set to be shown at the Woodside Braseth Gallery in Seattle. Her work will also appear in Anatomy of a Collection, an upcoming exhibition at the Whatcom Museum.

Victoria Adams waterfall painting

Five Women Artists – Victoria Adams

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum is highlighting five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read on to learn more about artist Victoria Adams.

Victoria Adams’ early years

Victoria Adams waterfall painting

Victoria Adams, High Falls, 1988; woodcut on paper; Whatcom Museum Collection, Gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of the Liberty Mutual Group, and Washington Art Consortium.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1950, Victoria Adams received her bachelor’s in English Literature from Ohio State University. After moving to the Pacific Northwest in her 20s, she started taking art courses for fun at a small school in Seattle. Eventually, that hobby turned into a passion. She describes her path as a shift “toward visual fiction from literary fiction.”

Adams later went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the University of Washington (UW).

“I had no idea I would end up doing this professionally,” Adams recalls. “It seemed out of the question for me.”

While at UW, Adams studied under renowned painter Jacob Lawrence. She says his one-on-one critiques helped her build confidence as an artist.

One of her early works, a woodblock print from 1988 titled High Falls, is on view in the exhibition Conversations Between Collections. The exhibit runs through Jan. 3, 2021, in the Lightcatcher building.

The piece presents a scene of high drama and chaotic movement. Light appears to bounce and reflect off the turbulent spray of a waterfall. The high horizon line gives the feeling that the falls loom above the viewer, causing tension and an awareness of the forces of nature. Adams is purposeful in the way she constructs this composition.

Her later works

Based on Vashon Island, Victoria Adams now works in the tradition of early luminist landscape painters. This painting style highlights the effects of light in the landscape, projecting a sense of quiet contemplation.

In contrast to her earlier, more abstract, works such as High Falls, Adams’ work has become more realist and representational.

“I want my skies to be spatial and luminous,” she writes. “I strive for the land or water in the foreground to invite the viewer into a state of meditative stillness. Since I don’t include any evidence of human occupation, my scenes can be viewed as being outside of historical time.”

One such work is Treeline Shoreline, a 2018 oil on linen. The painting features a luminous sky with soft light reflecting on the surface of a body of water.

“There is a powerful magnetic sense in landscape that compels us to stop and take a good long look,” she writes on her website.

She hopes her work prompts viewers to engage with the natural world and become interested in it.

“We can’t take for granted that the landscapes are always going to be here,” she says.

Most recently, Adams’ art was on display in a solo exhibition in Seattle titled Light Horizons. Her work has also been exhibited widely at galleries from New York to Seattle.

Yvonne Twining Humber painting

Five Women Artists – Yvonne Twining Humber

During the month of March, the Whatcom Museum will highlight five women artists whose work is featured in our collection. The project is inspired by the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ “Can you name #5WomenArtists?” campaign. Read on to learn about artist Yvonne Twining Humber.

Life of Yvonne Twining Humber

Yvonne Twining Humber painting

Yvonne Twining Humber; Ruin, c. 1948; oil on masonite; gift of David F. Martin and Dominic A. Zambito in memory of Yvonne Twining Humber

Yvonne Twining Humber was born in New York City in 1907. After studying at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League, she found job security as a woman living independently through the Great Depression by working as an artist in Boston for the Works Progress Administration.

Over time, Twining Humber became known for painting American urban and rural landscapes in a hard-edged realist style. Her art served to illustrate the working class in hopeful depictions.

In 1943, Twining Humber moved to Seattle with her new husband. There she continued to paint and had a successful solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum in 1946. Yet her social realist style was at odds with the sensibilities of “Northwest Mystics” Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, and Morris Graves that characterized the Pacific Northwest.

In recent years, her works have been reexamined and exhibited as an important contribution to the region’s mid-century art scene. From September 2007 to January 2008, the Frye Art Museum in Seattle held an exhibition titled Yvonne Twining Humber: Modern Painter. Her work has also been on view at the Whatcom Museum’s 2016 exhibition Just Women and in the 2010 exhibition Show of Hands: Northwest Women Artists 1880-2010.

Twining Humber continued to paint into her 90s. Prior to her death in 2004 at the age of 96, she donated $250,000 to Artist Trust. The contribution funds the annual Twining Humber Award, which honors women over 60 in Washington who have been making art for at least 25 years.


Twining Humber’s painting Ruin (c.1948) is included in the Whatcom Museum’s collection. In the work, she expresses a magic-realist spirit that shifts away from her more literal pictorial scenes.

Most of her genre paintings capture the bustling activities of daily life from farther vantage points. In contrast, this work shows a more intimate approach. Humber’s crumbling brick arcade appears to reference the remnants of a lost civilization consumed by nature’s cycle of reclamation. Though painted 72 years ago, the image feels fresh in its contemporary unease, as if painted within the last decade.

Ruin is currently on display in the Lightcatcher building as part of the exhibition Conversations Between Collections.

Ruin, c. 1948, is an oil on masonite. It is a gift of David F. Martin and Dominic A. Zambito in memory of Yvonne Twining Humber

Headdress with coins

Inside “The Global Language of Headwear”

A Kayapo/Mekranoti headdress from Brazil made of feathers, cotton, and reed. A Shinto Priest’s Hat from Japan made of silk, wood, and metal. A Woman’s Skullcap from Afghanistan is made of cotton, metal, and coins. These are just a few of the stunning headdresses on display in The Global Language of Headwear, on view in the Lightcatcher building Feb. 1 – April 26, 2020.

This exhibition features 87 headdresses curated from Stacey W. Miller’s private collection of more than 1,300 extraordinary pieces of international headwear. The pieces hail from 42 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and South America.

As an independent curator of ethnographic headwear, Miller has spent decades collecting and researching headwear. For her, headwear offers a window through which to learn more about other cultures. Beyond being wearable works of art, each piece has profound significance, often reinforcing spiritual and social values.

The Global Language of Headwear

The Global Language of Headwear is on tour in collaboration with International Arts and Artists, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing cross-cultural understanding and exposure to the arts internationally.

Visitors to the Whatcom Museum will notice the exhibition is organized into five themes: cultural identity; power, prestige, and status; ceremonies and celebrations; spiritual beliefs; and protection. While the pieces on display are visually and culturally diverse, most are from the mid-to-late 20th century.

In touring these diverse headdresses, Miller and International Arts and Artists are hoping to encourage “an awareness of cultural differences and an appreciation of basic human commonalities.”

Headwear with colorful pompoms
Quechuan Wool Hat, Peru, wool, glass beads.
Headdress with colored feathers
Cameroon Bamileke JuJu Headdress (Tyn) late 20th century, fiber, feathers, string.

How it started

Miller started collecting global headwear somewhat unintentionally. In 1979, while living in Spain after college, Miller joined a group of strangers on an overland trip to India. It was on that journey that her collection began.

“I bought my first hat in Istanbul, an inexpensive souvenir that disappeared into my backpack but evokes memories of Turkey,” she recalls.

She purchased more hats during that trip, and her collection grew as she became fascinated by the variety of designs and materials.

“Through research, I was increasingly aware that each country has traditional headwear that is unique and meaningful to its cultures and its people.”

As an avid traveler, Miller picks up many of the headdresses herself. She estimates that about one-third are directly from her trips.

Other pieces come to the collection from friends and family who seek out hats during their travels. “They often report back that the search was one of the highlights of their trip.”

Miller also uses the internet and social media to track down hats, often connecting with strangers across the globe. “The internet has been a godsend for both finding hats and conducting research.”

Contributions from the Whatcom Museum

In addition to the headwear from Miller, the Whatcom Museum is contributing at least seven pieces from its permanent collection, including Northwest Coast cedar bark hats.

Victoria Blackwell, director of exhibitions and programming, says the headwear exhibit is the perfect time to showcase some of the Museum’s lesser-known pieces. That includes two Victorian hats — a wedding cap and mourning cap — as well as a tatami kabuto helmet from Japan.

Blackwell says the kabuto helmet pre-dates the samurai class in Japan and have been dated back to the fifth century. The samurai later took up wearing these types of helmets. The one on display from the Museum’s collection would have been worn by lower-ranking foot soldiers.

The helmet was gifted to the Museum in 1971. “We’d never get to exhibit this otherwise,” she says. “This is our chance.” 

Blackwell says she sought to link the Museum’s pieces to some of the themes in the exhibit. The Victorian hats relate to ceremonies and celebrations, while the tatami kabuto is for protection.

“There aren’t that many opportunities to reflect cultures on a global level,” Blackwell says. “While many of these hats aren’t specific to the Pacific Northwest, the themes they represent are universal.”

Beyond the hats, there will be multiple interactive opportunities. A 6-foot-long magnetic map will encourage visitors to match hat silhouettes to their country of origin. The exhibition also features several touch stations. The stations will allow visitors to feel materials used in some of the hats, from karakul wool to cowrie shells.

The Museum will host two related events: a felted hat workshop with Flora Carlile-Kovacs and a lecture with millinery designer Wayne Wichern.

Kabuto helmet
Tatami kabuto helmet from the Museum's collection.
Mourning headdresses
Victorian headdresses from the Museum's collection.

The future

At home in Rochester, New York, Miller has about 150 hats on display throughout her house. Moving forward, her goal is to write a book about her collection. She wants to continue to share her stories of headwear, people, and places with a wider audience.

“It’s really easy to look at some of these and think ‘I can’t believe people wear these,’” she says. “I think they are a temptation to judge people just because they’re unfamiliar. But what may look odd to one person isn’t odd to everyone. They really represent something that everyone has in common.”

5 Whatcom Museum staff members

Meet the Whatcom Museum’s newest staff members of 2019

We’ve added some new faces to the team in the second half of 2019. As the year comes to a close, here’s a brief introduction to the newest Whatcom Museum staff members. Be sure to say hello if you see them on campus!

New staff members at the Whatcom MuseumNew Museum staff members

Susan Buck, Family Interactive Gallery (FIG) Supervisor

As the Family Interactive Gallery Supervisor, Susan Buck ensures a safe, welcoming, and educational space for our guests. This includes managing Museum staff and working with the educational team to support programs and curriculum in the FIG.

Before joining the Museum, Susan worked in education. She originally studied Communications at the University of Georgia. After a few years in corporate communications, she decided to go into education. She received her teaching degree at Metropolitan State University of Denver and her Master’s in Elementary Mathematics at Walden University.

Before settling in Bellingham, Susan lived throughout the country, including Fresno, California; Rochester, Minnesota; Austin, Texas; Marietta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado, and more.

Moving forward at the Museum, she says she’s excited to see the FIG evolve with the needs of the community. She also looks forward to seeing the Museum’s new exhibits.

When she’s out of the office, Susan enjoys going to the theater, gardening, kayaking, and hiking with her family.


Maria Coltharp, Curator of Collections / Registrar

As the Curator of Collections and Registrar, Maria Coltharp is responsible for the development, care, and safekeeping of the Museum’s collections and all objects borrowed in the course of producing exhibitions. She works closely with the Curator of Art and the Director of Exhibitions to handle exhibition planning and logistics.

Prior to joining the Museum, Maria spent four years as the Curator of Collections and Registrar at the University Art Museum at California State University (CSULB), Long Beach. There, she had the chance to coordinate conservation projects aimed at preserving the mid-century sculpture collection. Prior to CSULB, she worked at the Broad Art Foundation for six years and traveled the world as a courier for the Foundation’s contemporary art collection. She also worked as an exhibition registrar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

She says she’s excited for exhibition rotations, from dispersing and collecting loans to installations and planning. “The energy, adrenaline, and teamwork it takes to tear it down and start again with something new is a really rewarding part of this job – it’s a cycle that never allows boredom to creep in.”

Originally from Long Beach, California, Maria studied Art History at UC Berkeley before interning at the Berkeley Art Museum, the Long Beach Museum of Art, and others.

While Maria can’t pick a favorite artist, she says she loves Sophie Calle and Cecily Brown. In her spare time, Maria enjoys hiking with her family.


Stephanie Douglas, Museum Store Purchaser

Stephanie Douglas is the newest Museum staff member to join the team. As the Museum Store Purchaser, she works with vendors and local artists to bring in all the merchandise and artwork sold in the Museum Store. Before joining the Museum, she worked at Village Books/Paper Dreams as a buyer and bookseller and previously worked for two libraries.

Stephanie has a degree in English with a Creative Writing focus from Western Washington University. As a self-professed bookworm, she’s looking forward to expanding the Museum Store’s selection of local guides and books. She’s also excited to connect with local artists and provide another space for the public to discover their work.

Although Stephanie was born in Longview, she spent most of her life in Anacortes before moving to Bellingham in 2010. When she’s not sourcing merchandise, she and her husband play in a band called Separatr. She is also a voracious reader, usually reading more than 100 books every year.  


Katherine Everitt, Education and Engagement Manager

Katherine Everitt recently joined the Museum staff as the Education and Engagement Manager. In that role, she manages the Museum’s docent program and works with the education team to develop engaging, innovative programming for children and adults. Katherine says she’s eager to see the three pieces on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “We have put a lot of work into programming surrounding these three masterpieces, so seeing them in real life will surely be a breathtaking moment.”

Before joining the Museum, Katherine worked as a teacher at the Annie Wright School in Tacoma where she taught courses on global politics, US history, world history, and Model UN. She earned her BA in Government and History at Georgetown University before earning her Master of Science in Global Politics from the London School of Economics.

Originally from Los Angeles, Katherine moved to Vashon Island at the age of 16. She now lives in Bellingham and is an avid reader, kayaker, and pianist.


Marianne Graff, Digital Marketing & Administration Manager

Marianne Graff joined the Museum in June as the new Digital Marketing & Administration Manager. In this role, Marianne oversees the Museum’s social media channels, website, and general email marketing. She also handles administrative duties for the Museum and assists Executive Director Patricia Leach. She’s excited to continue to grow the Museum’s social media accounts and promote exciting programs and exhibitions, such as “The Global Language of Headwear.”

Before joining the Museum, Marianne spent seven years as an editor at the daily Skagit Valley Herald in Mount Vernon, Washington. It was there she honed her skills in social media management, design, and communications. Marianne holds a degree in Journalism from Western Washington University.

Originally from Tacoma, Marianne now lives in Bellingham with her husband and their socially awkward cat. When she’s not working, Marianne enjoys hiking, photography, and getting lost in a good book.

Trees at Deck the Old City Hall 2019

A guide to Deck the Old City Hall 2019

The holiday season is in full swing at the Whatcom Museum! Now in its seventh year, our annual Deck the Old City Hall celebration offers fun for all ages. Here’s everything you need to know about this special time of year.

Deck the Old City Hall

From Nov. 29 to Dec. 29, (Wednesdays-Sundays) our historic building is decked out with holiday trees, garlands, and more. In addition to the dazzling décor, we offer a variety of events. From our annual holiday cocktail party to visits with Santa and weekly crafts, you won’t want to miss Deck the Old City Hall.

The trees

This year, we have 16 themed holiday trees on display. Trees are decorated by individuals and community organizations in a style of their choosing.

Interested in a nautical theme? Check out the trees by Schooner Zodiac or the Community Boating Center. If you’re a fan of “Alice in Wonderland,” you’ll be enchanted by the Mad Hatter’s Holiday Tree by Karen Sage-Stockwell. Like elves? The Assistance League of Bellingham’s “helping the community” tree embraces elves as a symbol of helpfulness.

Museum Advocate co-chair Cherie Walker says some organizations and individuals have been participating for multiple years. Walker herself has been involved with Deck the Old City Hall since the beginning, when she helped to create it.

While trees come and go, the Museum Advocate tree is a constant presence. Decked out in more traditional decor, it towers above the other trees and serves as a backdrop for photos with Santa.

The Advocates tree at Deck the Old City Hall
A nautical-themed tree at Deck the Old City Hall 2019
A nautical-themed tree at Deck the Old City Hall.
Trees at Deck the Old City Hall 2019
A Mad Hatter tree (right) is seen at Deck the Old City Hall.


Visits with Santa

Grab your camera and wish list! Santa’s making a stop at Old City Hall on Saturday, Nov. 30 & Sunday, Dec. 1, from 12:30 to 2:30pm. The jolly old elf has an uncanny resemblance to our very own preparator Paul Brower. Photos are self-serve in the Rotunda Room.

Holiday cocktail party

Kick off the holiday season in style at our cocktail party on Friday, Dec. 6, from 5:30 to 8pm. Break out your holiday attire and enjoy appetizers and drinks, dancing, and more. This year we’re happy to announce we’ll have live music by the Thomas Harris Sextet.

Tickets are $35 and are available at Must be 21+ to attend. Sponsored by Lori & Scott Clough.

Weekly crafts

New for 2019 is weekly holiday crafts! Each Saturday afternoon in December we’re holding craft workshops where visitors can create unique projects to take home. All activities are drop-in from noon to 4pm. and are suitable for all ages. We’ll provide the supplies. Here’s the lineup:

Dec. 7: Paper ornaments

Dec. 14: Sock snowmen

Dec. 21: German paper Scherenschnitte

Dec. 28: New Year’s noise makers

Admission to Deck the Old City Hall

Admission to Deck the Old City Hall is by donation (regular admission applies to the Lightcatcher building). The Museum offers admission by donation as a seasonal gift to the community.

Walker says Deck the Old City Hall helps build community, highlights the Museum’s diverse offerings, and provides fun for all ages. Proceeds from donations benefit the Museum’s programming and exhibitions.

Come see the magic for yourself.

Old City Hall jail cell

Haunted Old City Hall: Tales from the Jail

Is Old City Hall haunted? Some have asked this question, and with good reason. The building, which is now part of the Whatcom Museum, once housed criminals and the accused in its basement jail cells. If you venture into the rooms today, you’ll find prisoners’ names etched into the walls. So, who spent time in the basement jail? Read on to find out.

Haunted Old City Hall

Many suspects went in and out of the jail cells in the basement of Old City Hall. The following brief stories are summarized from the Murder in the Fourth Corner book series by local author and Whatcom Museum Visitor Services Attendant Todd Warger. Want to learn more? Pick up a copy of Warger’s books in the Museum Store.

Ben Worstell

Ben Worstell was a sometime barber living in Bellingham in the 1920s and 1930s. He lived with his domineering mother, and he may have suffered some developmental disabilities. He was committed for a time to a mental hospital, but by 1933 he was back living with his mother.

One morning that year, his mother threatened to have him recommitted because he wasn’t living up to her moral standards. In a fit of madness (or rage), he strangled her. He was quickly apprehended and placed in the padded jail cell. While there, the jailers report he was joyful to be out from under his mother’s thumb.

Eventually he was tried for murder and found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was committed to Walla Walla and moved to the Eastern State Hospital a year later. He died at that institution in 1945.

August Friedberg

In 1907, Russian sailor August Friedberg found himself on shore leave in bustling Bellingham. Looking to have some fun, he and a friend sought entertainment in the Red Light District. By the early afternoon they were drunk and observing the dancing of Odia Briscoe, also known as Snowball Wallace, an African-American performer.

After an hour of dancing, Ms. Briscoe was worn out and decided to take a break. In a drunken rage, Friedberg demanded she continue dancing. When she refused, he took out a gun and told her he would show her how to dance. Friedberg then fired twice, hitting Ms. Briscoe in the abdomen. The men were quickly taken into custody, and Ms. Briscoe passed away a few hours later.

Friedberg’s defense was that he had drank so much he had no idea what he was doing. The jury convicted him of manslaughter rather than murder. Within a few years, Friedberg was out on parole.

Guisseppe Stumpo

In 1914, the Bellingham & Northern Railway crew noticed one of their number, Guisseppe Stumpo, was acting a bit odd, eventually walking off the job. The foreman, knowing Stumpo had frequent bouts of conflict with his wife, decided to check at their home.

As he approached the Stumpo homestead, he heard the wailing of children. His knock at the door went unanswered. As he walked around the perimeter, he spied through the kitchen window Dominica Stumpo lying in a pool of her own blood. All three Stumpo children were in the room, the two youngest crying uncontrollably and the oldest staring silently.

Mrs. Stumpo had been slain with a firewood ax. Stumpo was quickly found and admitted to the crime. He later changed his tune and attempted to fight the charges to no avail. He was sentenced to life for first-degree murder. After 15 years, Stumpo began suffering from delusional paranoia. He eventually passed away in state custody at the Eastern State Hospital in 1943.

Hugh Finnian

In 1909, four lumbermen were playing cards late into the night. Words were exchanged and tempers flared. Hugh Finnian, a 56-year-old wiry mill hand, felt wronged by George Shoemaker.

Thrown out by the barkeep, Finnian and Shoemaker took their exchange outside. Here accounts differ, but the results are agreed upon: George Shoemaker was stabbed to death with a rusty pocketknife. Finnian was arrested.

At his trial, Finnian said he was acting in self-defense because Shoemaker was following him and harassing him. The jury agreed with his account, and Finnian was found not guilty. A few years later he committed suicide.

Newell Barr

In 1893 John Erickson, a Swedish laborer new to the area, was looking for a place to rest after work. Lacking funds, he saw a cabin that appeared abandoned. He pried off the boards over the door and started to make his way in when BANG. He was shot dead.

The cabin’s owner, Newell Barr, had set a trap to deter vandalism while he was away on a week-long hunting trip. Barr boarded the place up and set up a gun to fire when the door opened. Barr was found guilty of manslaughter and sent to Walla Walla. He was pardoned by the governor one year later.

Old City Hall jail cell
A prisoner's name on the wall of a jail cell in the basement of Old City Hall.
Inside of the padded jail cell
The inside of the padded jail cell.
Ed Bereal

The making of “Wanted: Ed Bereal for Disturbing the Peace”

Bold. Relentless. Provocative. These are some of the words that describe the exhibition Wanted: Ed Bereal for Disturbing the Peace.

The exhibition opened in September 2019 and is the first museum retrospective for 82-year-old Bellingham-based artist Ed Bereal. The show spans six decades of art, from assemblage to radical street theater and oil paintings. Bereal’s more recent works examine racial inequity, gun violence, corporate greed, and political power.

RELATED: Wanted: Ed Bereal for Disturbing the Peace

Although the idea for the exhibition had been floating around for a couple of years, it wasn’t until 2019 that it took shape. When Amy Chaloupka joined the Whatcom Museum as Curator of Art in January, she dove into planning the exhibition. She says it helped that she has known Bereal for two decades, ever since she took several of his art classes at Western Washington University.

So, how does a show like this come together? The carefully curated gallery in the Lightcatcher building is the product of months of effort. Here’s a peek at how it happened.

The process

Chaloupka says one of the first steps is having a conversation with the artist to identify key works. Fortunately, many of the pieces were in Bereal’s archives, but some proved difficult — or impossible — to track down.

She and others spent months going through art at Bereal’s Whatcom County farm. “We kept finding new work he didn’t realize he had,” Chaloupka says. To borrow other pieces, the Museum reaches out to potential lenders, including institutions and private collectors.

The next step is creating loan agreements for pieces that will be exhibited. Chaloupka says the Museum must adhere to certain standards for handling, lighting, and conservation in order to display the art. For works on paper, lighting must be below certain lumen and heat levels. “That’s why when you walk into the gallery it may seem like the lighting is a bit dim,” she explains.

Chaloupka then mocks up a map that shows where each piece will be displayed. She says the layout plays an important role in a visitor’s experience. “It’s about the way you want to tell a story and direct the flow of traffic through the gallery. All of that has to be considered.”

Ed Bereal exhibition challenges

Tracking down several key works from Bereal’s early years proved to be difficult. “Some works were lost or stolen, or sold to private collectors who we couldn’t locate,” Chaloupka recalls. “It was a bit of a scavenger hunt.”

They spent a lot of time reaching out to private lenders to convey the importance of the exhibition. One piece they were never able to acquire was Junker Ju, which was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2014. Despite their efforts, they were unable to connect with the buyer. The piece was last on public display in 2012. Now, its whereabouts are unknown.

Another challenge was digitizing some of Bereal’s work. Photographers/videographers David Scherrer and Steve Johnson were instrumental in compiling clips and creating a video of Bereal’s street performances.

“A football team of volunteers made this exhibition possible,” Chaloupka says. “It was amazing how many people rallied to get this show installed.”

Bereal agrees. Many people had a hand in the process, from preparators to volunteers who assembled the art, painted words on the walls, contributed catalogue content, and more.

Part of Ed Bereal's Exxon: Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse"
A letter from Exxon: The Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Working on Ed Bereal exhibiiton
Preparator Paul Brower (left) helps install a piece of art.


“Exxon: The Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

On display for the first time, Exxon: The Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a 40-foot-long installation that combines assemblage and projection. Five figures spell out the word “Exxon,” and each represents a horseman of the apocalypse.

Bereal has been working on the piece on and off for about eight years. Much of the work took place in his two-story barn in Whatcom County. “The reason it took so long was because I gradually let it come together; I didn’t force it. It was a true evolution.”

He says the narrative behind the piece changed over the years. He originally wanted to spell out “Texaco,” but that was slightly too long. “I thought about the statement I wanted to make and that’s where the idea of the four horsemen of the apocalypse came in.”

With four horsemen and five letters, he had to get creative. That’s when predatory capitalism became the fifth horseman.

To create the piece, Bereal found objects and scraps of metal. “The nice thing about assemblage is the world is your resource,” he says with a laugh. He scoured the county to find the perfect scythe for the “death” horseman, finally locating it in a rummage store in Ferndale.

When it came to installing the horsemen, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The gallery’s high ceilings meant the team had to be strategic with lighting and hanging projectors above each horseman to illuminate holographic imagery.

Museum preparators Paul Brower and David Miller spent long hours assisting with the installation of the piece, as well as with the rest of the exhibition.

“We build so much of the work on site,” Brower says. “This work (The Five Horsemen) didn’t really exist in its entirety in his studio. We did a lot of adjustments.”

Looking back and looking forward

Ed Bereal admits his feelings about the exhibition are complicated. “It’s a bit overwhelming. I’m dealing with my history. I have an emotional reaction to each piece because I go back to what was going on when it was created. Some of those were not comfortable periods in my life. There’s no direction I can look to rest emotionally.”

Despite this, he says it turned out well, and he’s pleasantly surprised by the positive reception.

Chaloupka says Bereal’s work is especially important today. The exhibition provides an opportunity for people to directly engage with art and its messages. “Politics and social justice issues are front of mind for many these days. Ed’s compelling work provides a forum for provoking conversation.”

Bereal hopes visitors leave with the desire to think critically.

“You can’t accept anything on face value, and certainly not my work,” he says. “People are always trying to sell ideas, and people need to deconstruct what they’re being asked to buy. We live in a world where you’ve got to think critically.”

Painting words
Lesley Broadgate paints Ed Bereal's handwriting on the wall in the gallery.
Ed Bereal in the gallery
Artist Ed Bereal works to install Miss America: Manufacturing Consent: Upside Down and Backwards.

Featured image (top of page): Ed Bereal in his studio. Photo by David Scherrer.

Collecting minerals in the Pacific Northwest: Quartz

Ask an expert: Collecting minerals in the Pacific Northwest

Those looking to try their hand at collecting minerals in the Pacific Northwest will find a wealth of opportunities. From the North Cascades to the Columbia Basin, collectors can find everything from amethyst to agates.

Toby Seim, president of the Friends of Minerology – Pacific Northwest Chapter, has been an avid mineral collector for the past five years. Here, he shares photos, personal stories, and tips for those just starting out.

Toby collecting minerals in the pacific northwest
Friends of Mineralogy - Pacific Northwest Chapter President Toby Seim holds a smoky quartz specimen in Idaho.
Left to right: Collectors Brandon Boyd, Nick Valdez, Toby Seim, and Cory Torpin in Idaho.

How he got started

Seim’s path to collecting minerals arose out of a desire to get into the outdoors. “I was spending too much time on social media, watching too much TV,” he says.

He started hiking, but it wasn’t exactly the right fit. “I’d get to a destination and look at the view, but it didn’t capture me,” he recalls. So, he turned to a childhood hobby: collecting rocks.

After some research, he bought tools and set out on his own. While he originally did most of his collecting solo, he found like-minded friends through the Facebook group NW Rockhounds and later became involved with Friends of Mineralogy. Now, he often collects with four friends.

Seim says the goal of Friends of Mineralogy is to spread interest in minerals and related activities.

RELATED: What Lies Beneath: Minerals of the Pacific Northwest

Collecting minerals in the Pacific Northwest

Those looking to start collecting minerals will need to gear up, research locations, and learn how to properly pack and clean what they find. Here are some tips.

Tools of the trade

First, you’ll need the tools of the trade. While some locations are fine for surface collecting, or simply picking through loose dirt and rock debris by hand, others will require some elbow grease.

Basic tools for collecting minerals include a hammer, chisel, shovel, gloves, and protective glasses. A sifter or pry bar can also come in handy at some locations.

Locations in Washington

Collecting minerals in the Pacific Northwest can seem overwhelming. Where should you begin? In Washington, Seim recommends two locations for those starting out: Walker Valley in Skagit County and Hansen Creek near Snoqualmie Pass.

Hansen Creek is an easy hike on a well-maintained trail. It’s great for those who want to surface collect and find quartz, including amethyst.

Quartz is also found in Walker Valley, along with agates and calcite. Seim says this location may require hammers and chisels. “If you want the really, really good stuff, you’ll have to move rocks,” he says.

When looking for minerals, Seim says to look for signs such as iron staining (orange) on rocks or rock folds that could indicate mineral deposits.

“Often, you’ll leave empty-handed,” Seim says. “But you’ll still get something out of it because you now know where not to go.”

Some lands are off limits. Collecting rocks, minerals, and fossils is generally prohibited in national parks.

Collecting minerals in the pacific northwest
Quartz from the Snoqualmie area in Washington.
Man with pacific northwest mineral
Brandon Boyd holds a specimen collected from the Snoqualmie area.

Packing and cleaning minerals

After finding a specimen, it’s time to transport it. To protect it, Seim suggests wrapping it in bubble wrap, newspaper, clothing or even clean diapers.

Also, resist the urge to clean all the dirt off the specimen right then and there. A bit of dusting is fine, but you should wait to clean it thoroughly. The dirt acts as a protective buffer that can prevent damage during transport.

When you’re ready to clean it, you can soak it in muriatic acid, a strongly acidic chemical compound. Iron Out is good for removing stains.

Muriatic acid is best used for minerals other than calcite or to remove calcite from a specimen. It can be found at Home Depot.

“I’ve soaked something in the wrong acid before and it just dissolved the crystal,” Seim recalls.

Storing specimens

Seim says some minerals may need to be protected from light or they will lose their color or luster. An example is realgar, a red mineral that can be found in King County. Realgar also contains arsenic and is somewhat toxic. Seim says those who handle this specimen should thoroughly wash their hands afterward.

Collectors should also catalogue their specimens. A list will help prevent information from being lost.

Smoky amethyst
Toby Seim's favorite specimen he collected isn't from the Pacific Northwest. This large smoky amethyst is from Petersen Mountain near Reno, Nevada.
mineral in hand
Cory Torpin holds a Japan Law Twin quartz specimen from Washington.

Stories from the field

While Seim’s favorite specimen he collected from the field is a football-sized smoky amethyst from Petersen Mountain near Reno, Nevada, he spends much of his time exploring Washington.

Many collectors go to great lengths (and heights) to collect minerals, and Seim and his friends are no exception. On a trip to Mason County, he and his fellow collectors noticed a pocket of natrolite — a mineral that forms in clusters and resembles white, puffy balls — high up in a rock face.

“We could see this big, open hole, and we knew there was something in there,” he recalls. “We didn’t have a rope or ladder, so we improvised. My collecting partner stood on my shoulders.”

Their effort was a success, but not all outings go as planned.

Seim said rock collectors are no strangers to injury. On a trip to Devil’s Canyon in King County, his friend was injured by a flying shard of quartz that was dislodged during the collection process. The shard hit his friend in the eye, resulting in a trip to the hospital.

Moral of the story? Always wear proper safety gear.

Moving forward, Seim said his goal is to one day find his own locality in Washington. “I just want to find a really nice, undiscovered area,” he says.

A selection of specimens, including some collected by Seim, can be seen in the exhibit “What Lies Beneath: Minerals of the Pacific Northwest.” The exhibit runs through Feb. 2, 2020, in Old City Hall.

RELATED: Video of Cory Torpin extracting a specimen.

Man repelling down cliff
Lukas Ris rappels down a cliff in Chelan County.
Specimens on bubble wrap
Specimens ready to be packed.
Man standing on another man's shoulders to collect minerals
Cory Torpin stands on Toby Seim's shoulders to reach a pocket in Mason County.
Two men collect minerals
Cory Torpin (top) and Toby Seim collect quartz in the Middle Fork area of Washington.
Raya Friday glass flame sculpture

Spotlight on Lummi glass artist Raya Friday

“People of the Fire” by Lummi Nation glass artist Raya Friday glows as if it has a life of its own.

The glass sculpture was recently installed in the lobby of the Lightcatcher building at the Whatcom Museum, and it commands attention as soon as you enter the room. With a series of flames standing between 3 to 6 feet tall, you’re first confronted with its size. Next, you notice the faces.

Raya used sand casting to create each flame, then hand-carved faces into the surface. She says the piece represents the spirituality of the elements. “The thing I really wanted to explore in my own culture was this idea that everything in the natural world has its own energy, its own spirit,” she says.

She decided to explore that idea through the elements, starting with a smaller sculpture called “People of the Water” to see if her idea would work visually and functionally. Once she committed to creating a large-scale work of glass, she went all in.  

“I mustered my courage, took out all the loans that I could and just set out to do this thing,” she recalls. “It felt very much like swimming out into the ocean and seeing how far you could get without knowing if you could get back to shore.”

She credits Italian glass artist Narcissus Quagliata, whom she met at Pilchuck Glass School, with inspiring her to take on her project. His determination to see a multi-year project through prompted her to think of doing something bigger.

SEE ALSO: “People of the Sea and Cedar”

Raya Friday cleaning sculpture
Raya Friday cleans her sculpture after installing it in the Lightcatcher building.
Raya Friday cleaning glass sculpture
Raya Friday puts the finishing touches on her piece "People of the Fire."

The process

It took Raya about eight months to create the 2,700-pound sculpture of glass and bronze set into a pedestal of stone. She completed the piece in 2007. Raya says the piece took a small village to create. “There were a lot of meals for friends, six-packs of beer,” she recalls.

Raya was involved with each element, from mixing the bronze to cutting the stone to pouring the molten glass. “The glass is like cold honey,” she says of how it slowly spreads into the casts. The flames get their color from frit, or concentrated crushed glass. This gives the unpolished sides a slightly rough appearance.

Her biggest challenge, she says, was cold working, or polishing, the surface of the glass. The size of the piece and high cost of equipment meant she couldn’t have it professionally polished until years later.

Now, she tries to tweak the piece a bit each time she installs it. “It’s such a beast, so changes are small,” she says. “I can’t make huge drastic changes.”

Her background

With nearly 25 years of glass experience under her belt, it’s no surprise Raya was interested in art at a young age. But her first love wasn’t glass. It was ceramics. She loved working with glaze — the more the better to achieve that glossy look. Then, at 11, she discovered glass.

“You take glass for granted, you don’t think about it,” she says. “You drink out of it every day and just live with it all the time. Then you actually see people manipulating it. I just had no idea.”

At 17 she started taking weekly classes but soon realized they weren’t enough. Before long she was moving on to production glass work in Seattle. Seven years later, she left for New York to continue her education at Alfred University. It was in New York that “People of the Fire” was born.

Recently, Raya was involved in the Tacoma Museum of Glass exhibition “Translations: An Exploration of Glass by Northwest Native Carvers and Weavers.”

Now, she’s turning her attention to pursuing studies in art conservation for indigenous art. “It’s important that we be stewards of our culture,” she says.

“People of the Fire” by Raya Friday will be on display in the Lightcatcher lobby through early October. The work is the first in our “In the Spirit of the People: Native Contemporary Artists” series.

Raya Friday with her sculpture
The artist stands with her piece "People of the Fire."

Orrery on Display for Moon Landing Anniversary


Orrery; Brass, wood, paper; The Trippensee Manufacturing Company, Detroit, Michigan, Patented 1908. Collection of the Whatcom Museum X.2233.1

An orrery from the Museum’s collection will be on display July 20, 2019 at the “Firsts in Flight: A Hidden History” exhibit at Old City Hall, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

The mechanical model of the solar system shows the relationships between celestial bodies and works by simulating the orbits and speeds of planets, the moon, and the sun.

The history

Humanity’s early fascination with the heavens is well documented and continues to endure. Around 600 B.C., Greek philosophers began to focus on the laws of nature and the universe to explain the world around them. Thales of Miletus (c. 620 – 546 B.C.) is credited by some with predicting the solar eclipse on May 28, 585 B.C. Some consider this prediction to be the beginning of science and the study of astronomy.

Through the years, philosophers, mathematicians and astronomers used drawings and models, sometimes called planetariums or orreries, to help describe and understand planetary movement and relationships. In Greek Society, the earliest such model is attributed to Archimedes (c. 287 – c. 212 B.C.). Later, Campanus of Novara (1220–1296) described a planetary model in his publication Theorica Planetarum and included instructions on how to build one.

Astronomy continued to be a changing science and the historic planetary models reflect the growth of understanding in the field. Most early astronomers such as Plato (428-348 BCE), Aristotle (384–322 BCE) and Ptolemy (90–168 AD), favored the concept of a geocentric solar system. In that system, Earth was the central and unmoving center of all other orbits.

Copernicus (1473-1543) and later Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), developed and published works that described the solar system as heliocentric, or centered around the Sun. Galileo is also credited with creating the first detailed drawings of the Moon and describing its specific orbit around Earth. With the invention of the reflecting telescope by Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and his publication of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687, heliocentrism was no longer up for debate.

The rise of the orrery

The public discourse that followed this publication inspired people to learn more about this “new” heliocentric solar system. In 1704, two London clock makers, George Graham and Thomas Tompion, began making affordable solar models. These models had hand cranks and moving orbs representing the Earth, Moon, and Sun. As a result, complex phenomena was turned into mechanical models that became fixtures in households and classrooms.

The orrery gets its name from the fourth Earl of Orrery, Charles Boyle, who commissioned his own model in 1713. These models inspired continued exploration of the solar system and helped predict day and night, seasons, eclipses, and more. The orrery at the Museum is an example of a common model used at home or in the classroom at the turn of the century.

–Written by Rebecca Hutchins, Curator of Collections

Other programming

In addition to the orrery, the Museum has other special programming planned to celebrate the Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary. Join us for a screening of the new Smithsonian Channel movie The Day We Walked On the Moon. The screening will take place Saturday, July 20 at 1pm in the Rotunda Room of Old City Hall. The screening is included with admission and free to members.

Kids ages 8-14 can take part in a rocket-making workshop at the Lightcatcher building. In addition to making and firing rockets, students will learn how chemical reactions work. The workshop takes place Saturday, July 20, from 10am – noon. Registration is $25 for Museum members and $30 for the general public. Register here by July 17.

Five Women Artists in the Collection: Helen A. Loggie

Helen A Loggie; Hemlock Forest, ca. 1955; Etching. Whatcom Museum no. 1976.8.1

The Whatcom Museum is featuring five women artists from its collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month—in conjunction with the #5WomenArtists campaign. The campaign is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This week we’re highlighting Helen A Loggie, whose work was last exhibited in the Whatcom Museum’s 2016 show, Just Women, as well as in the 2010 exhibition Show of Hands: Northwest Women Artists, 1880-2010.

Helen A Loggie early years

Helen A Loggie (1895–1976) was best known for her etchings depicting the Pacific Northwest landscape of the early- to mid-twentieth century, and particularly the trees that occupied her surroundings. Loggie’s family settled in Bellingham the year she was born to operate a lumber mill at the mouth of Whatcom Creek. Surrounded by the lumber industry and forests, trees became central to Loggie in her later work. But her initial interests in art centered on portraiture.

Portrait of Helen A Loggie, 1913. Whatcom Museum no. 1995.0010.000013.

In 1916 she moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League where she took her first formal courses in drawing and painting. It was there she learned the etching process that would later become the basis of her life’s work. Travels and interest in Renaissance art took her to Europe numerous times during the 1920s where she sketched bustling city scenes. But the Pacific Northwest called her home. She settled in Bellingham in 1927 and found “a clarity of vision” within the landscape and culture of her childhood.

Life in Bellingham

Her practice was to draw outdoors during the spring and summer on Orcas Island or in the mountains. Using her drawings as her source imagery, she worked on her etchings during the fall and winter in her studio in Bellingham, though it was not uncommon for her to draw in nature even in the coldest months. Many of her images are of specific places and even specific trees, which she infused with anthropomorphic qualities. For instance, a gnarled and twisted juniper tree she often depicted, which was located on a small island off the coast of her Orcas Island home, was called King Goblin. A version of Goblin resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hemlock Forest was one of the last etchings that Loggie completed before her death. It took her three to five years to complete. The dense, overall composition and areas of scribbled, calligraphic marks and vertical texture make it one of the more abstract works and conveys a certain spiritual quality. As in this and many other works, Loggie’s trees are both intimate portraits and elaborate cathedrals of the natural world.

-Compiled and written by Amy Chaloupka, Curator of Art

Five Women Artists in the Collection: Gail Tremblay

Gail Tremblay (b. 1945); An Iroquois Dreams That the Tribes of the Middle East Will Take the Message of Deganawida to Heart and Make Peace, 2009; 16mm film, leader, rayon cord, and thread.

The Whatcom Museum is featuring five women artists from its collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month—in conjunction with the #5WomenArtists campaign, organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This week we highlight Gail Tremblay, whose work was last exhibited in the Whatcom Museum’s 2016 show, Just Women as well as in the 2010 exhibition Show of Hands: Northwest Women Artists, 1880-2010.

Gail Tremblay

Born in Buffalo, New York in 1945, Gail Tremblay is an artist, writer, and activist of Onondaga and Mi’kmaq ancestry. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon and has taught English, Native American Studies, Art, and Art History at Evergreen State College for more than 35 years. Tremblay continues to write poetry, curate, and create contemporary artworks in the Pacific Northwest and resides in Olympia, Washington.

Gail Tremblay. Photo from Froelick Gallery.

Since the 1980s, Tremblay has been weaving baskets made from scraps of 35mm and 16mm film. She culls the film from a variety of sources, including old movie trailers and outdated educational documentaries. To add variations of pattern and color, Tremblay incorporates leader film, which is often of a white, black, blue, green, or vibrant red tone. The titles of her works reference the original film sources.

Of this series the artist writes, “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 and sweetgrass baskets.”

Employing the skills and visual language of her ancestry, Tremblay retains tradition through process while proposing a contemporary critique through her media which often reflects issues of appropriation and misrepresentation.

Tremblay’s poetry speaks to modern indigenous experiences of isolation and loss when lands and identities are overwritten. For example, in her poem Meditation on the Dalles Dam, she reflects on the disappearance of the history, peoples, and ecology of Celilo Falls. A once-bustling fishing and cultural hub, and the oldest indigenous settlement in North America, Celilo Falls and village were flooded to make way for a hydroelectric dam.

Meditation on The Dalles Dam

for Lillian Pitt

Electricity is humming in a spider web of lines
as copper wires cased in rubber cross the land;
what sorrow builds in this sound that only whines

Where the thunder of water no longer combines
with a wild rush of salmon so close at hand?
Electricity is humming in a spider web of lines.

Where fish runs were rich, everything declines.
No one explains how a body can withstand
The sorrow that builds in this sound that only whines.

Fishermen stood on scaffolds amid the steep inclines
of rock; water foamed before the flow was dammed
so electricity could hum in a spider web of lines.

Rocks watched while men made strange designs
To swell the river to places no rush of water planned.
What sorrow grows when the new sound only whines?

The bodies of old ones wash out of ancient shrines—
how can the spirits of the dead learn to understand
the electricity that hums in a spider web of lines.
What sorrow builds in this sound that only whines?


-Compiled and written by Amy Chaloupka, Curator of Art

Five Women Artists in the Collection: Tabitha Kinsey

Foot logs provided by nature across fir bordered trout brook, 1926. Photo by Darius Kinsey, hand-tinted by Tabitha Kinsey, Whatcom Museum #1981.53.10.

The Whatcom Museum is featuring five women artists from its collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month—in conjunction with the #5WomenArtists campaign. The campaign is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This week we highlight Tabitha Kinsey, whose original hand-tinted work is currently on display in the Old City Hall exhibit Kinseys in Color.

Tabitha Kinsey

Tabitha May Pritts was born in Waverly Mills, Minnesota, on May 24, 1875, the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth (Berg) Pritts. She and her five siblings came west with their parents, who homesteaded in Whatcom County, Washington.

In 1896, Tabitha married Darius Kinsey, a commercial photographer. He taught her the techniques of developing negatives and making prints. While his exceptional camera work has a deserved legacy, Tabitha’s role was just as vital to their 45-year business. They were a husband and wife photographic team.

While Darius took the photos, it was Tabitha who processed the black & white negatives, created the prints, including burning and dodging, and made the critical aesthetic decisions on final quality. The clarity and detail of the photographs came from making contact prints off large negatives, including glass plates up to 20 x 24 inches.

Studio portrait of Tabitha Kinsey by Darius Kinsey, c. 1896 / Photo by Darius Kinsey, Whatcom Museum no. 1978.84.3763

Page from Kinsey sales catalog. Collection of the Whatcom Museum.

The distinctive caption and Kinsey name on the bottom of 11 x 14 prints is Tabitha’s handwriting. Written in black ink on the front of nitrate negatives, it would appear as white script on each subsequent print.

Her custom-tinted photos

Tabitha introduced the option of custom-tinted pictures. In this process, a black & white, fiber-based photo is meticulously painted with “the best quality of water colors” to create a color photograph. This extra work doubled the print’s retail value. Each hand-tinted photograph is a unique work of art.

The luminous effect of tinting tends to be more idealized than realistic. Some describe them as dramatic, others say romantic. While Darius preferred darkened tones, Tabitha sought to brighten the mood of photos.

You can read more about Tabitha and Darius Kinsey and view a selection of Kinsey photographs in this online virtual gallery.

-Written by Jeff Jewell, Photo Archives Historian

Five Women Artists in the Collection: Helmi Dagmar Juvonen

Helmi Dagmar Juvonen; Untitled (Eskimo Adam & Eve), Tempera; 13″ x 10″. Gift of Ron Kellen.

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

The Whatcom Museum is featuring five women artists from its collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month—in conjunction with the #5WomenArtists campaign. The campaign is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This week we highlight Helmi Dagmar Juvonen, whose work was last exhibited in the Lightcatcher in 2015.

Helmi Dagmar Juvonen

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 strove to create art in a time where being a female artist was tough. Even as she struggled with poverty and mental illness, she continued to create art until her final days.

Drawn to Northwest Coast native culture, she developed a rapport with the Lummi, Swinomish, Makah, and Yakama chiefs, who invited her to participate in their ceremonies. Aboriginal art and ritual nurtured her creative spirit, empowering her to transcend gender bias, poverty, and decades confined to an asylum for mental illness.

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

With an avid interest in anthropology, she believed in the importance of documenting Native American spiritual life. As a result, she forged a unique style, merging Northwest aboriginal culture with modern art. The artist also conjured “imaginary things.” Many of her works reflect the dark and light sides of the human psyche.

In many ways, Helmi was ahead of her time. Her graffiti-like abstraction, mixed-media compositions, and paper cutouts relate to trends in contemporary art.

The Museum’s collection of her work numbers 250 objects. It includes some of her finest pieces, such as paintings of petroglyphs from Central Washington and watercolors of Lummi masked dancers. You can view a selection of her work in this online virtual gallery and read more about her life on the Museum’s blog.

Compiled from curatorial narrative and research by Barbara Matilsky.

Wire, metal foil work by Lesley Dill

Five Women Artists in the Collection: Lesley Dill

The Whatcom Museum is featuring five women artists from its collection throughout the month of March—Women’s History Month—in conjunction with the #5WomenArtists campaign, organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The Museum highlights women artists whose artwork spans a variety of media, genres, and eras. We hope you will share our #5WomenArtists on social media, and celebrate the important contributions these women have made to the arts.

Lesley Dill

Lesley Dill; Shimmer, 2005 – 2006; Wire, metal foil, 12 ft. x 60 ft. x 15 ft. Whatcom Museum # 2015.17.1

The work of contemporary American artist Lesley Dill combines imagery and language, fine art and poetry, and allegory and metaphor.

Born and raised in Maine, Dill received her Master of Arts from Smith College in 1974, and her Master of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art in 1980.

In pursuit of a career in painting, the artist moved to New York after graduation. Her eyes were opened to new modes of expression and she soon emerged prominently as a sculptor and multi-media artist.

Her interest in language and allusions to strong feminine identity reflect her friendship with the late artist Nancy Spero (1926 – 2009). Spero used text and depictions of the female form, often appropriated as classical goddesses, in her scroll paintings.

Dill’s work

In her piece Shimmer (2005 – 2006),  Lesley Dill uses metal and wire to create an allegorical sculpture that resembles human hair and incorporates imagery and poetry. The piece emerges from a body of work that explores the motif of waterfalls using materials such as wire thread, gauze, cut metal figures, and words that stretch across and down a wall.

Composed of more than two million feet of fine wire, Shimmer was originally inspired by the reflection of light on the Atlantic Ocean. Forming an immense, silvery curtain, a 60-foot cascade descends from a fragment of a mystical poem by the Catalan poet Salvador Espriu (1913 – 1985):

“You may laugh, but I feel

within me, suddenly, strange

voices of God and handles,

dog’s thirst and message of

slow memories that disappear across a fragile


Artist Lesley Dill.

Nature and the divine mingle in the artist’s work, as does the link of the human form to nature. Dill fashions tiny foil figures that cavort among words of poetry spread across the wiry “falls” that stretch downward. Dill notes, “In its silver, Rapunzel-like way, Shimmer, the sixth and last in a series, emerged from decades of making white thread water fall pieces…it captures light, not gravity-bound, implies energy, and feminine virility-like hair.”

Shimmer was exhibited at the Museum in Lesley Dill’s Poetic Vision: From Shimmer to Sister Gertrude Morgan. The show ran Oct. 23, 2011 – March 4, 2012 and was curated by Barbara Matilsky. Learn more about this exhibition and read the Lesley Dill Exhibition Catalog.

Dill’s artworks are in the collections of more than 50 museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Museum Preparator David Miller installs a story pole

Museum Employee and Professional Artist David Miller Brings Prehistoric Creatures to Life


David Miller, American, b. 1957; Quetzalcoatlus, 2002; Oil and acrylic on illustration board, 16 x 12 in. Courtesy of the New York State Museum, Albany.

On a Thursday afternoon in October, Museum Preparator David Miller sat at his desk in the attic of Old City Hall and thumbed through the many binders of his old paintings.

He was searching for a piece he had created many years ago. With each turned page he uncovered a new prehistoric creature like some sort of artistic archaeologist.

Finally, he came across the piece he was looking for. It depicted the prehistoric flying beast Quetzalcoatlus as it soared above a North American forest millions of years ago. The piece, titled Quetzalcoatlus after the creature it depicts, was notable because one block away a reproduction was on display at the Lightcatcher building as part of the Museum’s exhibition Endangered Species: Artists on the Frontline of Biodiversity.

“I think it’s an effective drawing. The forced perspective really shows you the immensity of the creature,” Miller says.

Getting the immensity of the creature was essential. Quetzalcoatlus, with an imposing 52-foot wingspan, was the largest flying animal to ever exist, after all.

Miller originally painted Quetzalcoatlus in 2002 for a book on Pterosaurs. The painting ultimately didn’t get published. In 2004, he took the piece to the Paleo Art Show at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where the piece was awarded Best 2D Artwork.

Bringing creatures to life

Quetzalcoatlus isn’t Miller’s only dinosaur painting. In fact, much of his art career is centered around creating scientifically accurate depictions of prehistoric animals.

His interest in painting prehistoric animals goes back to his childhood. When he was younger, he drew dinosaurs and World War II fighter planes. After high school, he attended Montserrat School of Visual Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, and the Art Student’s League.

“When I was in school I thought I was going to be a so-called fine artist,” Miller says. “But I quickly discovered that I didn’t have much to say; there were people that were better that could say what had to be said. So, I wanted to serve science as an illustrator.”

His first step into the world of prehistoric painting began after he found an anthology on vertebrate paleontology. The book described the taxonomy of different animals and showed illustrations of their skeletons. Miller says he became interested in the prehistoric fish and took a shot at painting them. Those paintings were included in a book called Discovering Fossil Fishes published in 1995. After that, everything fell into place.

David Miller works on a drawing in his workshop in the Whatcom Museum.

Miller says scientific accuracy is his primary goal. In this work, it’s everything.

To illustrate his point, Miller recounted the story of a painting he created for the Florida Museum of Natural History in 2004. The museum flew him to Florida so he could snorkel in the environment he would be painting. Afterward, he spent hours working with an expert on mollusks to make sure every detail was correct.

“The level of accuracy was exacting,” Miller says. “Everything had to be right. I can’t tell you how many scans I sent to him and how many times they came back with red ink.”

David Miller joins the Museum

In 1992, Miller moved to Bellingham with his wife. The next year, he began working with the Whatcom Museum after he offered to paint a dinosaur for an exhibit.

The Museum continued hiring him for projects over the years, including two massive 80-foot murals. One, created in 2001, depicts African, Asian, and American rainforests. The other, created in 2006, depicts marine and harbor habitats.

David Miller installs a piece in the Family Interactive Gallery.

In 2012, he joined the Museum full time as a preparator. In this role he handles everything from hanging artwork to creating object mounts, painting backgrounds and lighting displays.

“[The most satisfying part of the job is] being alone in the shop working on a project that I helped conceived of or am really passionate about that takes problem-solving skills and attention to detail,” Miller says.  “To me, I can’t think of a better job. If I’m not painting, I’d rather be doing something like that.”

Miller still spends much of his personal time drawing but doesn’t currently do contract work. He says he doesn’t have the time for it.

He then grabbed another binder from the corner of his desk and cracked it open.

“I just seem to keep having to draw,” Miller says. “I miss those days where you get in the car going out to FedEx, and in the back of your car is a painting that you’re going to send out and get paid for.”

Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Woman standing in front of a painting

Madeline von Foerster: Painting Humanity’s Role in Species Destruction

In fourth grade, Madeline von Foerster was asked to do a report on an animal for class. She opted to do her report on an extinct animal. At the time she was also developing a passion for art. So, it’s no surprise that years later she would create art that highlights the plight of endangered and extinct animals.

The work of Madeline von Foerster

Von Foerster has built a career out of using her paintings to comment on the role humanity plays in the destruction of animal species. Two of her paintings, Carnival Insectivora and Reliquary for Rabb’s Frog, were included in the Museum’s exhibition Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity.

Carnival Insectivora highlights endangerment of the infamous Venus flytrap. Reliquary for Rabb’s Frog highlights the extinction of the Rabbs’ fringe-limbed treefrog.

“In both cases, I wanted to create a tribute or a shrine to threatened or extinct species, and also address humanity’s role in their fate,” von Foerster says.

The Venus flytrap is being petitioned for endangered status. It grows in the Coastal Plain and Sandhills of North and South Carolina. These habitats are quickly being destroyed by fire suppression techniques, commercial logging, and residential development, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The Rabbs’ fringe-limbed treefrog became extinct in 2016 after the last known specimen of the species died at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Von Foerster’s painting honors that final frog by placing it in an ornate silver and gold container.

Von Foerster says the container is meant to resemble a monstrance. The Roman Catholic Church uses the highly decorated container to display the wafer a priest or bishop has blessed.

“I want my paintings to make visible the consequences of our actions/inaction. They are meant to inspire a different worldview, one of reverence for and partnership with the natural world,” von Foerster says. “Our lives are so enmeshed with the destruction of nature that it is scarcely visible to us. It will be very apparent to future generations, however, who must live with the results.”

The Mische technique

Von Foerster works in a painting style called the Mische technique. The style was developed more than 500 years ago by Flemish painters and requires the application of many alternating layers of oil and egg tempera. The tempera allows her to paint fine details while the oil layers help with blending.

According to von Foerster’s website, “the two media offer unparalleled luminosity, as light travels through the oil glazes and reflects off the highly opaque tempera beneath.” A demonstration and basic walk-through of the technique can be found on her website.

“It permits the finest of detail,” von Foerster says. “Oil glazes in combination with the tempera under-painting create a luminous ‘glow’ unmatched in other media.  It’s laborious, but I love it.”

Von Foerster isn’t kidding when she says the paintings were laborious. Each of the two paintings took more than two months to create.

The hardest part was the metal container in the Rabb’s frog painting. She describes it as her “problem child.” Her initial idea was to paint it gold. But after painting a large portion of it, she realized the brown tones in the gold made the frog disappear. Because of this, she repainted it silver. In the end, von Foerster says the painstaking process was worth it.

The preliminary drawing and sketch of Reliquary for Rabb’s Frog is now part of the Museum’s collection. Learn more about Madeline von Foerster at

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Image credit: Madeline von Foerster stands next to her painting, Carnival Insectivora.

The making of Reliquary for Rabb’s Frog. Photos courtesy of the artist.

A sketched outline of the piece.

Applying layers of tinted egg tempera to the painting.

More layers of egg tempera and local glazes.

Applying final details with oil paint.



Cruise ship at sunset

History Sunset Cruises: Local History with a Waterfront View

This summer, hundreds of people will board the 100-foot Victoria Star for the Museum’s 35th annual History Sunset Cruises. Those aboard will learn about the history of Bellingham from a waterfront perspective thanks to local historians Doug Starcher and Brian Griffin.

History Sunset Cruises

During a cruise, attendees get great views of parks, industry, and neighborhoods from Bellingham Bay. Starcher and Griffin tie their knowledge of local history with up-to-date facts. Their narrative of history, trivia, and current events gives guests a new understanding of the area.

Griffin is an active participant and supporter of local art and history. Recently, he sat down to talk about his time volunteering for the Museum, including the History Cruises, which he has hosted for the past 10 years. Griffin said he enjoys telling people about local history while cruising on a boat because of the visual nature of the experience.

“I am able to point to things as I tell the story. It’s easier to tell a story when it’s in front of you,” Griffin said.

Local historian Brian Griffin narrates a History Sunset Cruise.

Griffin has authored multiple books highlighting local history including My Darling Anna, Treasures from the Trunk: The J.J. Donovan Story, Boulevard Park, and Fairhaven: A History, which are available at the Museum Store. After staff read his books, the Museum invited Griffin to narrate the history cruises. In addition to volunteering his time to host the cruises, Griffin is also a volunteer docent at the Museum. In that role, he leads tours of Old City Hall and the People of the Sea and Cedar exhibit at the Lightcatcher building. He also served as a member on the Whatcom Museum Foundation Board of Trustees.

In 2013 Griffin helped curate an 11-month-long museum exhibition about local businessman J.J. Donovan called Treasures from the Trunk: The J.J. Donovan Story. He later went on to write a book about Donovan, inspired by the exhibit.

The Museum appreciates Griffin’s storytelling and looks forward to another year of history cruises together.

The details

Cruises take place Tuesdays, July 10 through September 11. San Juan Cruises’ Victoria Star leaves from the Bellingham Cruise Terminal in Fairhaven, 355 Harris Ave. The boat has indoor and outdoor seating on two levels, a snack bar, and a full bar with a selection of beers, wines, and cocktails. Restrooms are available on board. Guests are welcome to bring food and beverages (non-alcoholic) for a picnic-style dinner while cruising. Each sailing boards at 6:15pm, with a prompt 6:30pm sailing, and an 8:30pm return.

Tickets are $35 general; $30 for Museum members; $28 per person for groups of 8 or more people (registered together). Purchase at, by calling 800/838.3006 ext. 1, or by visiting the Museum Store located at 250 Flora St. Proceeds benefit Whatcom Museum exhibitions and educational programs. For more information about the history cruises visit

–Written by Christina Claassen and Colton Redtfeldt

Whatcom's newspaper war

Whatcom’s Newspaper War  

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 newspaper 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.


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 was in the Sehome area and the Fairhaven Herald was 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 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.

Whatcom’s Newspaper War

The first signs of conflict came in August 1903 when Samuel A. Perkin, publisher of The Tacoma Daily News and Ledger, saw the chance for profit in Bellingham. He bought a majority of the Fairhaven Herald’s stock. With a majority share, Perkins was able to call the shots. During the buyout, the paper’s name was change to The Bellingham Herald.

Perkins wasn’t the only man to see an opportunity for profit in Bellingham’s newspaper market. In September 1904, the founder and publisher of The Seattle Times, Joseph Blethen, formed the American Printing Company in Bellingham. On Sept. 10, he published the first edition of the Puget Sound American. In an editorial, Blethen wrote that the Puget Sound American would be a “larger and more aggressive newspaper than was ever published in any similar city in Washington State.”

The Fairhaven Herald Building, built 1890 at the southwest corner of Larrabee and 14th Streets, Fairhaven.

So ensued a long battle between the three newspapers. Every so often, each paper would change their masthead slogans with phrases that asserted themselves as the best paper in Bellingham. A March 17, 1906 slogan from the Puget Sound American read “The American is the Only Bellingham paper that dares to print the news.”

In December 1906, the Puget Sound American bought The American Reveille for $100,000.

The newly consolidated paper ran under three different names. The morning edition was called The Reveille, the evening edition was called the Evening American, and the weekly publication was called The American Reveille.

The two remaining papers, both backed by funding from their wealthy owners, fought for dominance of the newspaper market. Often, both papers were running at a deficit. However, their owners kept investing to keep them operating.

On June 14, 1908 the Reveille, in an attempt to secure its legitimacy, called on its long history in the Bellingham community by printing its Silver Anniversary edition to celebrate 25 years of operation. The special edition included phrases that called for hope of a better future in Bellingham. Twenty-thousand copies of the newspaper were printed and distributed, costing the company $2,000 (about $49,825 today).

In response, The Bellingham Herald printed a special 76-page Christmas edition that December.

On May 23, 1909, the Reveille moved into the Triangle Building on the corner of Magnolia, Commercial, and Champion streets. Then, on Jan. 1, 1910, the Herald succeeded in obtaining the franchise for the Associated Press Sunday morning news. This, along with other factors, spelled the end for the Reveille, and the end of the newspaper war.

Decline & Aftermath

On Nov. 22, 1911, Blethen sold the Reveille to a syndicate of local businessmen. In an editorial written in the last edition of the paper, he said he had hoped the paper would have turned a profit sooner. There is some speculation about why the businessmen purchased the newspaper. The common consensus is that the acquisition of the paper was part of a large plan to spur Bellingham’s economy by making it the terminus of a rail line.

The syndicate of businessmen made Frank I. Sefrit — a previous manager of papers in Portland and Salt Lake City — publisher of the paper.

Whatever the reason for the sale, many people in the community here happy that the newspaper war was over. The war had given Bellingham a bad image.

In a statement, Sefrit explained how “for years Bellingham has suffered immeasurably from the strife that has been engendered by, and between, the daily newspapers of this city. This warfare had given the impression…that the people of this city and county are hopelessly divided on everything tending to the up building of the community.”

In a Nov. 22 editorial in The Bellingham Herald, the editors wrote that the “newspaper war has become a stench in the nostrils of everybody.”

On March 13, 1927, the Herald ran a story reporting that the Reveille was being absorbed and the paper would “commence an ‘all-day’ service consisting of morning (except Mondays), evenings and Sunday edition superior in character to those which The Reveille has ever attained.”

The history of Bellingham’s early newspapers is full of competition and acquisitions. But it was the feud of two major newspapers, each backed by wealthy outside men, that divided the community, just as the feud between Hearst and Pulitzer divided the nation.

Sources & Further Reading:

Cutter, William Richard. American Biography. Pub. under the Direction of the American Historical Society, 1916.

National Register of Historic Places, Bellingham Herald Building, Bellingham, Whatcom County, Washington, National Register Number #13001032

Sampler, Rhio. “Bellingham.” Bellingham Newspapers, 12 Apr. 2008,

Van Mierte, E Rosomende Ellis. The Abstract + Brief Chronicles of Bellingham Bay WA. 1st ed., Threshold Documents, 2012.

“VII: The History of Newspapers.” History of Whatcom County, by Lottie Roeder. Roth, W.C. Cox Co., 1974, pp. 584–590.

About the Writer

Colton Redtfeldt is an intern at the Whatcom Museum. He is also a student at Western Washington University where he studying journalism. This piece is part of a larger research project.


Photo by Mary Randlett

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

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

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.

Mary Randlett early years

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. Within a few years she 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.

Her career

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. They gave her further acclaim, thus securing her career.

A year later, Randlett entered an agreement with the University of Washington Press to 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.

Her impact

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. But above all she 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. Yet their work serves not only as a history lesson but as inspiration for many young women now and into the future.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

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

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 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.

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 with a 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. She considered staying, 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.

Her art

Using what she had learned from her experiences, Gottlieb began to paint. As time went on, she refined her style and discovered new mediums. In 1990, Gottlieb met a Tibetan Buddhist named Lobsang Tenzing. He and his family create hand-knotted rugs using a traditional Tibetan carpet technique. In 1993, the two began collaborating to make a variety of artistic rugs. Gottlieb would create the designs, and Tenzing and his family would weave the rugs and send them to Gottlieb. The entire process could take up to three months.

“It blew my socks off!” Gottlieb said when she saw the first rug, according to the book Story Rugs: Tales of Freedom. “I thought they were wizards—it was so beautiful…when you know that you’re looking at eighty knots per square inch, and then you look at how large an eight-by-ten-foot rug is, it’s amazing to realize the effort and skill that’s gone into it.”

The collaboration between Gottlieb and Tenzing continues today, more than two decades later.

In addition to her Story Rugs and paintings, Gottlieb has also written, as well as illustrated, 28 children’s books. She has created illustrations for publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Sports Illustrated and Esquire.

In 2003, the Whatcom Museum curated the exhibition Story Rugs: Tales of Freedom: the work of Dale Gottlieb. Gottlieb lives in Bellingham and continues to create her art and rug designs. Her pieces tell a story of happiness, pain, and triumph that extends through history. They demonstrate cooperation and collaboration. Above all, they depict the human experience for all that its worth.

For more information about Gottlieb’s work, visit her website,

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

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

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

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

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 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




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

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. Read on to learn about 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 early years

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 5 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, Abrams was able to find pencils and paper during her time in the camp. 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. The cool hues of paint that covered her canvases often depicted landscapes and geometric patterns.

Her career

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 many 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 others.

In both 1966 and 1975, Abrams was included in the Governor’s Invitational Exhibition, which was shown in Kobe, Japan, and throughout 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.”

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Ella Higginson

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

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 Ella Higginson.

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, but her family soon 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.

Her career

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).

In 1931, the Washington State chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs named Higginson the first honorary poet laureate of Washington State, securing her legacy in Northwest literary history.

Outside of her literary accomplishments, Higginson was a strong supporter of the arts, education, and women’s rights. Through her efforts, she helped establish the city’s first library. She also helped elect the first woman to the Washington State House of Representatives, Frances Axtell.

Higginson’s impact on the Bellingham community is still felt by many people today, and it distinguishes her as one of Bellingham’s most successful female literary artists.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant


Four-Leaf Clover

I know a place where the sun is like gold,

And the cherry blooms burst with snow,

And down underneath is the loveliest nook,

Where the four-leaf clovers grow.

One leaf is for hope, and one is for faith,

And one is for love, you know,

And God put another in for luck—

If you search, you will find where they grow.

But you must have hope, and you must have faith,

You must love and be strong – and so—

If you work, if you wait, you will find the place

Where the four-leaf clovers grow.


Published in When the Birds Go North Again (The Macmillan Company, 1898). It is in the public domain.

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 children, brought art to families experiencing homelessness, inspired high school students, 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.

Q&A with Mary Jo Maute

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.

Mary Jo Maute teaches an ArtFUNdamental program to elementary school children.

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.

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.

What has been one of your favorite programs offered at the Museum?
I like most when I can use the exhibitions as a springboard for a creative collaborative project. A few examples are:

  • Kuntz and Company dance inside the Lightcatcher gallery featuring Leslie Dill’s installation, 2012.

    Partnering with Pam Kuntz, WWU Dance faculty and artistic director of Kuntz and Company during the Leslie Dill installation in 2012. Together we explored the idea of creating a dance performance in the gallery. There were many fascinating rehearsals as the site-specific dance was choreographed. The result was two sold out, spine-tingling performances with an original score and outstanding cast of student and community dancers.

  • Being part of the Vanishing Ice exhibition planning team with our Curator of Art, Barbara Matilsky, and educator, Chris Brewer, as well as numerous community organizations who offered an array of programs on art and science all helping to expand awareness of climate change during the Vanishing Ice exhibition in 2012-13. I invited WWU fiber arts professor Seiko Purdue to come up with a project. The result was a beautiful display of hand-dyed bibs with heart-felt messages that fluttered on the courtyard wall during the exhibition.
  • Make.Shift Art Space provided a venue for regional artists to riff off a theme from a few Whatcom Museum exhibits. I thought it would be cool to invite artists to create a unique piece inspired by work from the Museum’s photo archive collection. Jessyca Murphy at Make.Shift agreed and the result was the juried exhibition Making History: Art from the Archive. Many artists enjoyed the challenge and had a great time perusing the photo collection with Jeff Jewell.

How has the education program changed through the years at the Museum?

Hand-dyed bibs with heart-felt messages fluttered on the courtyard wall during the “Vanishing Ice” exhibition in 2013.

The new People of the Sea and Cedar exhibition is an excellent example of how educators and community members can support exhibition planning and design to make the museum experience accessible to all ages, backgrounds, and learning styles. With thanks to Lummi and Nooksack elders, the exhibit includes language interactives and videos showcasing Lummi and Nooksack weavers and carvers, and it presents the tribes as vibrant, living cultures.

Visual literacy and creativity are 21st century skills that have changed through time. Museum educators must engage young people in activities that empower them to respond in their own way to the art and artifacts they find in the galleries.

Could you guesstimate how many Whatcom County school children you’ve interacted with through the years?
More than 100,000 students, parents, and teachers from every corner of Whatcom County and beyond.

Mary Jo Maute talks about birds with local elementary school students in the Syre Education Center.

What will you miss most about working at the Museum?
I will miss delving into new exhibitions and developing programs for school kids and adults that teach art skills, visual literacy, and instill the pleasure and excitement of learning in a museum setting. It feels good to know you’ve ignited a spark in some young person that might set them on a lifelong journey as an artist, historian, bird-lover, or culture vulture. I’ll miss working as a team with the education, curatorial, marketing, development, and information attendants to plan cool programs and welcome the community into this wonderful, warm, inspiring place of lifelong learning.

“Interning for Mary Jo gave me a chance to gain skills in building avenues for young people to experience art and culture. Mary Jo has a talent for creating opportunities for people to connect with art on a uniquely personal level.” –Lily Dittrich, former Museum intern

Do you have a favorite story about a visitor or student?
Occasionally a teacher will share, “While you were teaching, I observed a child who has shown little interest in school and has rarely raised their hand. During this experience, I see them thrive.” I know the meaning of that experience. That spark was ignited for me when I first visited the Albright Knox Art Gallery and had an AHA! moment looking at Seurat’s Etude pour “Le Chahut,” with its distinct dabs of oil color creating form and emanating light energy. These moments are why I am here today.

Mary Jo Maute (center) with her daughter, Iris Maute-Gibson (left) and retired Museum educator Chris Brewer (right). They are in costume for the Museum’s Victorian Secrets program in 2013. Photo by Roger Dollarhide.

What do you look forward to in retirement?
I look forward to traveling, auditing classes in other subjects of interest, working out at the YMCA, walking the many community trails, and volunteering for community nonprofits. I also look forward to continuing my professional arts career.

Would you like to add any other thoughts or comments?
I feel so fortunate to have found a career that weaves together several of my passions, as art, museums are a place of lifelong learning, and enrich the lives of our youth and community. After 28 years in the museum education field, it is time to pass the torch on to the next generation of educators. I cherish the friends that I have made at the Whatcom Museum including fellow staff, volunteers, interns, teachers, artists, musicians, history buffs, and bird-lovers.

Kids painting at tables in the FIG studio

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

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

About free Museum passes

The Museum passes are available for free to library patrons. A pass allows entry for up to four people into all of the Museum’s buildings. That includes Old City Hall, the Lightcatcher building, and the Family Interactive Gallery (FIG). While there, visitors can take advantage of the exhibitions and programming that regular admission offers.

Bethany Hoglund, Head of Youth Services for the Library, says the partnership is important because it removes the roadblocks that prohibit some people from accessing arts and creative spaces. She says it helps further the library’s vision of being a place where everyone can 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,” Hoglund says. “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. From those passes, the Museum welcomed about 650 visitors. Passes are now 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.”

Get a pass

To get one of these passes, library patrons will need to go online and register from the library’s website. Each family can receive one set of passes every 60 days. The passes are available only for the day selected during registration. There are a limited number of passes available per day. More information can be found on the library’s website:

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

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Guests read about the Hall of Birds

Community Partnership: Audubon Society

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, the Museum and Audubon Society have produced a variety of events, and an exhibit, that have informed and inspired people throughout Whatcom County.

Museum and Audubon Society form partnership

The partnership began in 2013 when the Museum opened an exhibit in the Syre Education Center that showcased its collection of taxidermy birds and Native American artifacts on a limited basis. Shortly after the exhibit opened, Museum staff invited NCAS to help assist with programs about the birds. NCAS agreed, and representatives spent time each month volunteering in the exhibit to answer questions.

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

Then the Museum decided to move its founding collection of taxidermy birds from the Syre to Old City Hall in 2016-17 to create the John M. Edson Hall of Birds. The North Cascades Audubon Society 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 and important themes for the exhibit. These became foundational to the new exhibit,” said Chris Brewer, a previous Museum educator involved in getting the Audubon active at the Museum.

The Hall of Birds showcases more than 500 mounted birds and helps visitors learn about migration, conservation, and more. The North Cascades Audubon Society 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. There, volunteer experts from the Audubon Society answer questions about the exhibit and birds in general.

Beyond the Hall of Birds

The North Cascades Audubon Society holds monthly meetings in the Rotunda Room of Old City Hall. Educational presentations are on the fourth Tuesday of every month. The programs are open to the public and highlight a diverse range of topics.

NCAS has also been a key financial contributor to many of the Museum’s programs. It helped fund four summer camps in 2015 and 2016, providing scholarships for four children as well as purchasing materials. NCAS also co-sponsored two presentations by well-known bird photographer Paul Bannick. During the Vanishing Ice exhibition in 2013-14, NCAS helped facilitate family educational events.

The Audubon Society does a lot of work for the community outside of the Museum. It continues to support scientific research about local wildlife and the environment. It has also provided grants for more than 30 college students who have completed work on 31 research projects. NCAS also served as Whatcom County Coordinator for a five-year, state-wide study on seabird mortality. Through all of these actions, the Audubon Society continues to provide opportunities for the public to engage with the natural world.

“Audubon is not only a birding organization, but an educational and conservation oriented [organization] as well,” said Pam Borso, current president of the North Cascades Audubon Society. “The Museum has provided us the opportunity to further our presence in the community.”

The Whatcom Museum thanks the North Cascades Audubon Society for their contribution to the community, and to our visitors.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant


The History of Old City Hall

Reaching into the sky with its four spires and clock tower, Old City Hall is one of Bellingham’s most iconic landmarks. Most have seen the building and many have been inside during a visit to the Whatcom Museum. But fewer people know the history behind it — and the many secrets it holds.

History of Old City Hall

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 streets. The City Council shared space with a clothing store, a music dealer and a hotel.

However, as the government grew, it became evident that the City Council needed something bigger. They asked local architects to submit plans for a new city hall. 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 beginning

The council purchased a plot of land on a bluff overlooking Bellingham Bluff for $5,000. Construction started in February 1892. Construction 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. 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.

City Hall is finished

As money slowly trickled in, construction continued on the building. The second and third floors’ interiors were finished in 1910. In total, the entire project costed $50,000 (about 1.3 million dollars today). City Council and other city employees slowly began to occupy the various rooms in the building. Today, visitors to Old City Hall can see where these officials worked by looking at the small black text panels that are next to select doors.

Charred tower, 1962: Photo by Galen Biery, Whatcom Museum #1996.10.2245

When New Whatcom and Fairhaven combined to form one town on Bellingham Bay in 1904, the New Whatcom City Hall on Prospect Street became the city hall for Bellingham. It continued to serve as city hall until the local departments physically outgrew the space. A newer, larger, and more modern city hall was built on Lottie Street in 1939, which still serves as Bellingham’s city hall.

Old City Hall sat empty for most of the 1939. There were calls from city councilmen to demolish the building. But the building was saved in November of that year when a group of volunteers led by John M. Edson established the Bellingham Public Museum Society and committed to occupy the building under a five-year lease. The museum officially opened on January 23, 1941.

The Museum

In 1962 a fire caused by faulty wiring ran through the top section of the building and left the main tower and much of the roof a charred frame of what it once was. Many thought that the building would be closed for good as it was no longer suitable for exhibition. A 12-year fundraising drive commenced.

Blueprints for the clock tower portion of the building no longer existed, so builders had to use photographs and sketches to recreate that section of the building. In 1974 the museum was finally reopened to the public. A bedsheet with the words “We Did It” was raised on the flag pole at the top of the tower.

Rebuilding tower, 1974: Photo by Galen Biery, Whatcom Museum #1985.70.8 b

Remnants of the history of Old City Hall can still be seen today. In the basement of the building, which used to serve as the city’s police station, the remains of jail bars over some doors and a padded jail cell can still be seen.

In the first floor photo gallery that is directly in front of the stairs, which used to be the city’s comptroller’s office, the outlines of what was once the comptroller’s vault can be faintly seen in the wall, covered by paint and a photograph. Behind the attendant’s desk, the remnants of the treasurer’s vault can be seen.

If you look up at the clock tower, there is a chance that the hands still read seven o’clock. The clock mechanism was never installed, so occasionally museum staff will climb up to the clock tower and move the hands.

Come discover the history of Old City Hall for yourself! Take a docent-led tour on Sunday afternoons at 12:30pm for more tales from the past.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Kids working with yarn

Supporting Our History and Mission

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!

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Decorated Christmas trees

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


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 Nov. 24 to Dec. 31 2017 Old City Hall will be decked out 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.

Deck the Old City Hall

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 Saturday, Nov. 25, Sunday, Nov. 26 or Sunday, Dec. 3, 12:30-2:30pm in the Rotunda Room. Visitors can take photos with Santa and bring their wish lists to find out if they’ve been naughty or nice. This event is included with donation.

To kick off December, the Museum will host the Deck the Old City Hall Holiday Cocktail Party on Friday, Dec. 1, 5:30-8pm. Guests can dress up for the evening and enjoy wine and appetizers and dance to the beats from the DJ’s playlist. The event is 21 and over, and tickets are $50 per person, available online at:

“Many people come back (after the party) and bring their families the following week,” said Lori Clough, Museum Advocates co-chair and a co-sponsor of the cocktail party. “That makes me feel like we are doing our part by showing off this iconic historical masterpiece that keeps our history and artifacts safe.”

She adds this is her fourth year as a sponsor, and she feels she and her husband are “making a difference one party at a time.”

People gather during Deck the Old City Hall’s 2016 Cocktail party.

A few other family friendly activities include a children’s holiday tree for decorating and visits with Wally the Museum Mouse, the beloved mascot. Take photos with this big, friendly mouse in the Rotunda Room on Saturday, Dec. 2 or 9, 12:30-2:30pm.

Deck the Old City Hall is open Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 24 – Dec. 31, noon – 5pm at Old City Hall, 121 Prospect St. Admission is by donation.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

A Closer Look at Art of the American West

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. Next, your gaze falls upon a portrait of another Native American man painted in 1851 by Paul Kane. If you look closer, something else may catch your gaze: two large medals 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.

Art of the American West

The man depicted in this painting is Maungwudaus, meaning great “hero” or “courageous,” (known by his English name, George Henry). He was born circa 1807 on the shore of Lake Ontario and was an Ojibwa interpreter, performer, and Methodist mission worker.

In 1844, he formed a traveling Native American dance troupe. The troupe included members of his family and several Walpole Island Ojibwa. They traveled to Britain, France and Eastern North America to perform. Maungwudaus had the chance to perform for royalty such as King Louis Philippe of France and the king and queen of Belgium.

During the troupe’s 1845 performance for King Louis Philippe I, Maungwudaus was given a gold medal. Five years later, he was awarded a silver medal from U.S. President Zachary Taylor.

More medals

But the portrait of Maungwudaus isn’t the only one of a Native American man with medals. A nearby portrait shows a Native American man in ceremonial dress. He is holding a feather-endowed pipe, with three peace medals hanging around his neck. The man in the portrait is Naw-Kaw, a Winnebago chief. The portrait is circa 1832 by artist Henry Inman.

Peace medals were awarded by the U.S. government throughout the early colonization of the Americas up until the late 1800s. The medals were awarded to Native American tribes or individuals after almost every formal interaction with the government. The medals served as a way of promising the prospects of peace and trade. For many tribes, being awarded a medal held great pride. These medals were sometimes passed down from generation to generation.

While the medals conveyed a sense of importance and respect, controversy surrounds their use in building relations between the U.S. and Native Americans. Some tribal leaders were critical of US peace medals and their effectiveness in negotiations.

The portraits are only one piece of Art of the American West exhibition. The exhibition gives you a vivid look into the diverse land of the American West.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Making Faces: Masks and Masquerading Around the World

Author Marty Rubin once said that “behind every mask there is a face, and behind that a story.” We invite you to join us as we explore making masks and the stories behind them.

Making Masks

Masks carved by Native American artists from the Northwest will be on display, presenting a modern take. At the event, you can learn how Pacific Northwest tribes used these facial coverings in their celebratory and religious ceremonies. Guests can try on several made in traditional Northwest Coast Native styles.

“Masks have played an important role in many tribal traditions throughout the world. They’re used for many things, from ceremonies to ensure a good harvest to 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.

There will also be activities demonstrating traditional Japanese Noh Theater Masks. Japanese Noh Theater has been performed since the 14th century. Noh Theater Masks are used to enhance the emotions that a character is feeling.

“Masking your Feelings” will address mask-wearing as a coping mechanism for children experiencing anxiety in social situations. Children can explore and express a wide range of feelings in this activity.

Guests can learn how museums acquire their collections, what kinds of objects they accept (accessioned) into the collection, and more. If you’ve ever had any questions about how a museum operates, this is the presentation for you. With Halloween just around the corner, this is the perfect time to learn about the history and art form behind masks.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Program descriptions and schedule of events:


Noon-1pm: Children’s face painting inside the FIG Studio.

2-4pm: Masking your Feelings with Metaphorical Masks

LCB Art Studio

Noon-4pm: Ongoing mask demonstrations and workshops in the Lightcatcher Art Studio.

  • Noh Theater Masks of Japan
  • Transformation Masks

LCB Lobby

1:30-2pm: Interactive Theater for all ages

Noon-1pm and 2:30-3:30pm: Museum collections and exhibits 101—Get all these answers and more!  Experience handling a work of art, while you learn how a museum collection inspires its exhibitions.

Lightcatcher Galleries

1:30-2:30pm Docent-led gallery tour of Art of the American West: Highlights of the Haub Family Collection from the Tacoma Art Museum

2:30-3:30pm Docent-led gallery tour of People of the Sea and Cedar: A Journey Through the Tribal Cultures and History of the Northwest Coast


Helmi Juvonen Winter Dance Lithograph

Transcending Boundaries: Becoming Helmi

The Whatcom Museum recently uploaded a new virtual gallery that showcases a sampling of artwork by Helmi Juvonen (1903-1985). It 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, her father made pencil sketches and watercolor paintings for her and her sister. When she was 15, her family moved to Seattle. During her time at Queen Anne High School, Helmi sold handmade rag dolls and greeting cards at a local department store.

After graduating, she worked as a seamstress and took on small side jobs to pay her way through Seattle Art School. Those side jobs helped her establish 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). It was there she studied puppetry and lithography. The next year, she was hospitalized with manic-depressive illness (now known as bipolar disorder). She spent three years at Northern State Hospital.

After being released, Helmi lived on the edge of poverty as she struggled to make a living. Helmi continued to take on art-related jobs and create drawings that she sold for 50 cents each. Her talents were well-recognized and her works were purchased by many important Seattle collectors. During this time, Helmi made connections with Chief Shelton of the Lummi Tribe, Chief Colowash of the Yakama tribe, and White Eagle of the Chippewa.

Capturing the Spirit of Native Americans

Over the course of two decades Helmi continued to build a rapport with tribes across the Pacific Northwest. She got the chance to participate in religious ceremonies across the state. Helmi later illustrated many of these ceremonies and captured the emotions that surrounded them. Examples of tribes she interacted with include the Lummi, Swinomish, Yakima, and Makah.

In 1953, she attended the “Treaty Day” ceremonial dances in La Conner. She also produced hundreds of drawings of Native American artifacts in the Washington State Museum.

Helmi Juvonen; Untitled (Eskimo Adam & Eve), Tempera; 13″ x 10″. Gift of Ron Kellen.

Trying Times

During the 1950s, a period of suppression and conformity, a woman living alone as an artist proved difficult. Helmi’s eccentricities, including living with dozens of cats, alarmed neighbors and family. For a time, the artist’s obsession with Mark Tobey, the most renowned of the Pacific Northwest mystic painters, embarrassed Tobey.

Helmi was mistakenly diagnosed with schizophrenia (now recognized as manic-depression). As a result, she was committed against her will to Oakhurst Convalescent Home in Elma, Washington. She lived there for the final 26 years of her life. While there, she continued to make art and welcome artists and supporters. These supporters organized exhibitions, including her 1985 retrospective at the Whatcom Museum.

The Whatcom Museum’s collection of her work, which numbers 250 objects, includes some of her finest pieces. Some of those include paintings of petroglyphs from Central Washington, watercolors of Lummi masked dancers, and more. This virtual gallery gives a small sampling of the complexity of Helmi’s vision.

Helmi’s life is one of great trials. Even in the face of mental illness and poverty, Helmi continued to produce art until her final days. Through her tireless work, she forged a unique style that merged aboriginal Northwest culture with modern art.


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.

Bellingham National article reposted from June 20, 2017, Seattle Art Museum Blog

Bellingham National

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 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.”

A focus on drawing

This year’s call for submissions focused on drawing, an activity and mode of expression that seems overdue in light of our ever-increasing attachment to electronic devices. Catharina Manchanda’s interest in exploring how contemporary artists are approaching the medium is at once a reaction to new media art forms and an acceptance of drawing that utilizes new media.

“As we are clicking and tapping away, drawing and writing are becoming increasingly rare. Drawing has an immediacy and material quality that registers differently under these digital conditions. Its very ‘slowness’ becomes significant at a time when a flood of imagery and information keeps shortening our attention spans. From a more linguistic and conceptual vantage point, drawing connections, drawing on memory and history, and drawing understood as notation and trace, opens distinct possibilities for artists,” Manchanda states. “Not surprisingly, artists submitted work in a variety of mediums—from pencil drawings to annotated collages, videos, and sound recordings.”

Matilsky embraced what visitors may find a somewhat unorthodox perspective on drawing. “I share Catharina’s expansive view of drawing and was delighted that she was able to identify artworks that further pushed the boundaries of the medium. The sound and video pieces that she selected surprised me and added to the complexity of the exhibition.”

Featuring more than 60 works from 29 artists around the country, below Catharina Manchanda offers a glimpse into a selection of the works on view. Get yourself to the Museum and see this spectrum of artistic positions with, and about, drawing.

Margie Livingston, Seattle, WA; Dragged Blue Drawing, 2016; Watercolor and mixed media on paper, string. Courtesy of the artist.

Margie Livingston, Seattle, WA

The artist arrives at these lyrical compositions with controlled chance operations. Heavy sheets of paper are tinged with color and then dragged on the studio floor or the street where the movement creates a chance image. Embedded in the surfaces are dust and dirt, portions are rubbed and worn and yet the overall drawings have a quiet lyricism.


Kelly Bjork, Seattle, WA; Splayed Produce, 2016; Gouache and pencil. Courtesy of the artist.

Kelly Bjork, Seattle, WA

Kelly Bjork’s quiet interiors are beautifully rendered with an eye for crisp color and form. Embedded in her compositions and titles is a sparkling sense of humor—Tiger Overhead and Splayed Produce project an element of danger and adventure that’s there for you to discover.


Lou Watson, Portland, OR

The artist takes the most ordinary traffic patterns and movements as occasion for artistic intervention. For Bellingham National, she chose a spot along I-5 and ascribed a musical note to each of the lanes. Every time a car went past a traffic sign, it triggered a tone—a little car a short note, a long truck a longer one. With this, she composed a minimalist score from the monotonous back and forth of highway traffic. The movement of the cars along the road is linear like a drawing and her paper prints give insights into her process.


Masha Sha, Boulder, CO; New Now, 2017; Colored pencil on tracing paper. Courtesy of the artist.

Masha Sha, Boulder, CO

Sha’s vivid, large-scale pencil or crayon drawings spell out phrases that invite free association. Whether you see her bright red  “New Now” today, tomorrow, or in ten years, it will always be the now of the moment. Drawn with intensity, we may interpret that now in personal, communal, social, or political terms and it will mean different things to each of us.


Kirk Yamahira, Seattle, WA; Untitled (stretched); 2017. Acrylic, pencil, unweaved, deconstructed on canvas, 67 x 67 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Kirk Yamahira, Seattle, WA

Kirk Yamahira deconstructs the fabric of a canvas—he carefully lifts individual threads—to arrive at abstract lines and patterns that read like three-dimensional drawings. In some instances an additional tilt of the stretcher results in objects that are utterly transformed.

Alter with painted skulls for Día de Los Muertos

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.

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.

La Calavera Catrina

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 disenfranchised countrymen, the humorous image of La Calavera Catrina served as an epitaph for the wealthy privileged classes.

Her stylish appearance and amusing, naïve sensibility endeared her to the disgruntled masses. She quickly became a satirical emblem of the sins of vanity and greed and the folly of government corruption. La Calavera Catrina was among the first of many animated skeleton characters Posada created to populate his tongue-in-cheek, pro-revolutionary illustrations. She was also the most popular and enduring. The chic, chapeau-wearing lady skull became a kind of national folk icon.

While Posada’s skull figures cleverly and comically mocked the social and political venality of the time, La Calavera Catrina took center stage and led a nationalistic parade celebrating the tiny sliver of thread that holds sway over life and death. With La Calavera Catrina at the helm, Posada’s charming corpses danced and sang their way into the hearts of Mexico’s working classes. They also took a prominent place on altars during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities.

These whimsical animated skeletons occupy a surreal space between life and death. Their message espouses that no matter how much wealth and power people achieve during life, it’s meaningless in the afterlife. Rich or poor, all people meet death equally and alone.

Her origin

When Posada conceived his elegant skull lady he named her La Calavera Garbancera. This was a derogatory term for Mexicans who rejected their indigenous roots and passed themselves off as hailing solely from European pedigree.

For poor, indigenous Mexicans repressed by President Porfirio Diaz’ regime, La Calavera Garbancera both eased and stirred their disdain. Under the prolonged presidency of Porfirio Diaz (1830 – 1915), the Mexican government basked in fields of wealth alongside privileged landowners. The vast social class divisions and unfair distribution of wealth collided head on, culminating in the 1910 revolution, around the time Posada renamed and published his skull La Calavera Catrina.

The origin of Posada’s skeletal dame is rooted in Aztec mythology. La Calavera Catrina draws inspiration from Mictecacihuatl, the goddess of death and guardian of human remains in the underworld. Centuries ago, this goddess presided over annual Aztec festivals honoring the dead. This was long before Mexico adopted the calaveras designed by Posada that are attached to Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations.

Learn more about the influence of Posada’s Calavera Catrina on Mexican and Mexican-American artists such as Diego Rivera and Alfredo Arreguín in our Images of Resilience: Chicana/o Art & its Mexican Roots gallery guide, available at the Lightcatcher.

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

Whatcom Community College faculty photo

Focus on 50 Celebrates History of 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 exhibit tells the story of how the country’s first “college without walls” grew to become a college without limits. Now, the school ranks 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” (now Woods Coffee); the “Whatcom on Wheels” bookmobile that toured the county.

It also includes artifacts from the college’s past, from the first computers to early examples of the course catalogs. There’s also 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, Whatcom Community College evolved from decentralized “satellite centers” to a beautiful 72-acre campus in Bellingham’s Cordata neighborhood.

Come see the stories of the educational pioneers whose vision guided the college from a radical concept to a nationally recognized center for innovation.

If you live in Whatcom County, the odds are strong that either you or someone you know has been touched by Whatcom Community College. The college has been transforming lives and building our communities for 50 years. Come share the story of the college’s remarkable journey and celebrate a half-century of turning dreams into reality.

The exhibition will remain at Old City Hall through May 31. It then moves to Whatcom Community College’s campus. Learn more about WCC’s year-long 50th anniversary celebration at

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

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

The Whatcom Museum is highlighting five female artists from 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.

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. The interactive sculpture forms gigantic pairs of men’s stretch pants. It invites visitors to explore an unusual portal into the artist’s imagination.

Photo by Clara Senger.

Inspired by an experimental approach towards materials and ideas, the artist welcomes the unexpected. Recognizing her vision, Klein was awarded the 2017 Arts Innovator Award, funded by the Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation.

Klein 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.

A self-taught artist, Klein 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 now lives on a farm outside 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.

The Whatcom Museum is highlighting five female artists 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.

Mary Henry

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. She was the first women to be so recognized. Instead, she chose to follow her husband and relocate to Arkansas.

“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,” says Museum Curator of Art Barbara Matilsky.

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

After her divorce in 1964, Henry returned to her native Northern California. There, she painted bold, hard-edge, geometrically constructed compositions inspired by her mentor. She was among a small group of women who contributed to the movement known as Op (Optical) Art.

For Henry, geometry was not purely aesthetic. It 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 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 1981-2009.

The Whatcom Museum organized the first solo museum exhibition of Mary Henry’s artworks. The exhibition was curated by John Olbrantz in 1988. By the time Henry died at 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

The Whatcom Museum is highlighting five female artists whose artwork is in our collection throughout the month of March (Women’s History Month). Artist number four is Elizabeth Colborne. 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.

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

Elizabeth Colborne

The Whatcom Museum holds the largest collection of work by Elizabeth Colborne (1885 – 1948). Colborne is one of the Pacific Northwest’s greatest print makers. Her piece “Sunset over the Bay, Bellingham” offers a birds-eye view of Bellingham Bay at its most seductive time of day. This 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 detailed drawings. She often portrays the intrusion of the human footprint by strategically focusing on old growth stumps in the forest. You can appreciate Colborne’s work 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 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. There, she developed a reputation for children’s book illustrations and landscape views that catered to New Yorkers’ interest in the Northwest’s beauty.

Whatcom Museum

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 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

At the end of the 19th 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

Old City Hall maritime exhibit

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, and 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

Photo of 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

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