“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.
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.”
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.
Written by Rebecca Hutchins, Curator of Collections
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.
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 and its popularity 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.
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.
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 is the final week to celebrate and we highlight 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 (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 immediate 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 the colossal forests of the Washington Coast, trees became central to Loggie in her later work, but her initial interests in art centered on portraiture.
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, and where 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 throughout the 1920s where she sketched bustling city scenes with a focus on capturing the complex architectural details. But the Pacific Northwest called her home, and it was back to Bellingham where she settled in 1927 and found what she called “a clarity of vision” within the landscape and culture of her childhood.
Her practice was to draw outdoors from nature during the spring and summer months, on Orcas Island, where she spent most summers, or in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Using her drawings as her source imagery, she worked on her etchings during the fall and winter months 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 and took three to five years to complete. The dense, overall composition and areas of beautifully scribbled, calligraphic marks and vertical texture make it one of the more abstract works of all her etchings 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
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.
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 thirty-five years. Tremblay continues to write poetry, curate, and create contemporary artworks in the Pacific Northwest and resides in Olympia, Washington.
Since the 1980s, Tremblay has been weaving film baskets made from scraps of 35mm and 16mm film culled 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 that she uses. 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.
Like her visual art, 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 the construction of the 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
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 Tabitha Kinsey, whose original hand-tinted work is currently on display in the Old City Hall exhibit Kinseys in Color.
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 Nooksack, Whatcom County, Washington.
In 1896, Tabitha married Darius Kinsey, a commercial photographer who taught her the darkroom techniques of developing negatives and making prints. While Darius Kinsey’s exceptional camera work has a deserved and prominent legacy, Tabitha’s role was just as vital to the 45-year business that they ran together. 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 that the photographs are known for came from making contact prints off large negatives, including glass plates up to 20 x 24 inches.
The distinctive hand-written 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.
It was also Tabitha who introduced the option of custom-tinted pictures; a process in which a black & white, fiber-based photo is meticulously painted with “the best quality of water colors” to create a color photograph. Her extra work doubled the print’s retail value. Each hand-tinted photograph is a unique work of art. Even prints made from the same black & white negative, once tinted, will not be exactly alike.
The luminous effect of tinting tends to be more idealized than realistic, vacillating between intense and subdued. Some describe them as dramatic, others say romantic. It was documented that Darius preferred darkened tones, while 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
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 Helmi Dagmar Juvonen, whose work was last exhibited in the Lightcatcher in 2015.
Helmi Dagmar Juvonen (1903-1985), known in her day simply as Helmi, 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, Helmi 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 Helmi’s creative spirit, empowering her to transcend gender bias, poverty, and decades confined to an asylum for mental illness.
With an avid interest in anthropology, Helmi 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,” and many of her works reflect both the dark and light sides of the human psyche.
In many ways, Helmi was ahead of her time and her graffiti-like abstraction, mixed-media compositions, and paper cutouts relate to trends in contemporary art.
The Whatcom Museum’s collection of her work, which numbers 250 objects, includes some of her finest pieces, such as paintings of petroglyphs from Central Washington, watercolors of Lummi masked dancers, and linocut prints based on the Makah Wolf Dance experienced at Neah Bay. 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.
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.
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 throughout her body of work. In this piece, entitled Shimmer (2005 – 2006), 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 two million, one hundred, ninety thousand feet of fine wire, Shimmer was originally inspired by the dazzling 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
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’s Lightcatcher building in the show, Lesley Dill’s Poetic Vision: From Shimmer to Sister Gertrude Morgan, October 23, 2011 – March 4, 2012 and was curated by Barbara Matilsky. Learn more about this exhibition and read the Lesley Dill Exhibition Catalog.
About Lesley Dill:
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), who used text and depictions of the female form, often appropriated as classical goddesses, in her scroll paintings. Dill’s artworks are in the collections of more than fifty museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The artist lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant
On a Thursday afternoon in October David Miller, the Museum’s Preparator, sat at his desk in the attic of Old City Hall and thumbed through the many binders full of his old paintings.
He was in search of a piece he had created many years ago. With each turned page he uncovered a new prehistoric creature like some sort of artistic archeologist. Every so often he would come across a work that piqued his interest and he would make a quick comment or two about its history.
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 re ally shows you the immensity of the creature,” Miller said as he mused over the piece. 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, however. In 2004 he took the piece to the Paleo Art Show at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and the piece was awarded Best 2D Artwork.
Quetzalcoatlus isn’t Miller’s only painting depicting a dinosaur. In fact, much of his career as a professional artist has been centered around creating scientifically-accurate depictions of prehistoric animals. Read more
By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant
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. With those two facts in mind, it’s no surprise that many years later she would be creating art that highlights the plight of endangered and extinct animals.
Von Foerster has built a career out of commenting on the role humanity plays in the destruction of animal species through her paintings. Two of her paintings, Carnival Insectivora and Reliquary for Rabb’s Frog, can be found in the Museum’s exhibition Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity, now showing at the Lightcatcher building.
Carnival Insectivora highlights endangerment of the infamous Venus flytrap, and 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 said in an interview with the Museum. Read more
By Christina Claassen and Colton Redtfeldt
This summer hundreds of people will be boarding the 100-foot Victoria Star boat for the Whatcom Museum’s 35th annual History Sunset Cruises. Everyone aboard will learn about the history of Bellingham from a waterfront perspective, courtesy of two local historians who weave stories and serve as hosts extraordinaire—Doug Starcher and Brian Griffin.
During the cruises, participants get great close-up views of parks, businesses, industry, and neighborhoods from Bellingham Bay. Starcher and Griffin will tie their knowledge of local history with up-to-date facts about bay side activities. Their narrative of history, trivia, and current events makes cruise guests feel they are becoming experts on their community, and gives new understanding of the area to both locals and visitors. Read more