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 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