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, The Art of Recycling, and Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea (opening March 19, 2022).

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.

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