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


Steve McCurry; Afghan Border, Pakistan 1984. Haunting eyes and a tattered garment tell the plight of a girl who fled Afghanistan for a refugee camp in Pakistan.

Steve McCurry; Afghan Border, Pakistan 1984. Haunting eyes and a tattered garment tell the plight of a girl who fled Afghanistan for a refugee camp in Pakistan. Courtesy of National Geographic.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Bellingham, WA, September 1, 2016—On Saturday, October 1, 2016, the Whatcom Museum will open a major traveling exhibition National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Photographs, in the Lightcatcher building. The exhibition, which showcases some of National Geographic’s most compelling photographs, runs through January 15, 2017. From Steve McCurry’s unforgettable Afghan girl to Nick Nichols’ iconic image of Jane Goodall with a chimpanzee to Thomas Abercrombie’s never-before-seen view of Mecca, the exhibition includes some of National Geographic magazine’s most-remembered and celebrated photographs from its more-than-120-year history. The Whatcom Museum will be this traveling exhibition’s only West Coast stop of the national tour.

In addition to seeing the photographs as they appeared in the magazine, visitors to the exhibition will learn the stories behind the photos through text panels and video interviews with the photographers. For some images, visitors will be able to see the “near frames” taken by the photographer: the sequence of images made in the field before and after the perfect shot. The exhibition is based on the popular iPad app released by National Geographic in 2011 and featured by iTunes as an iPad “App of the Week.”

“Many people learned about the world from the stunning photographs featured in National Geographic. They vicariously experienced the elation of mountain climbing in the Himalayas, looked in awe at Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, felt the pain of animal poaching in Africa, or the horror of burning oilfields in Kuwait during war,” said Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art at the Whatcom Museum. “The photographers, who often put their lives on the line to capture these images, continue to contribute to the legacy of National Geographic through the magazine, internet site, television channel, and films. This exhibition is a must-see for both young and old, from all walks of life, as it raises important questions about humanity’s future on Earth.”

About National Geographic Traveling Exhibitions
The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations and one of the world’s leading organizers of large-scale, traveling exhibitions. Since it launched Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs in 2004, National Geographic has organized two more Egyptian-themed exhibitions, Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs and Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt. Other exhibitions National Geographic has organized include the four-city US tour of Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul. National Geographic also offers a broad selection of stunning photography exhibitions to museums and venues around the world. For more information, visit

The member preview reception, which will also highlight the exhibition Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates by Susan Middleton, takes place Friday, September 30, 5 – 7pm in the Lightcatcher, 250 Flora Street.


Puget Sound King Crab, Susan Middleton, 2014.

Puget Sound King Crab, Susan Middleton, 2014.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Bellingham, WA, August 24, 2016—Marine invertebrates make up more than ninety-eight percent of the known animal species in the ocean, yet they remain elusive to most of us. This fall, the Whatcom Museum presents a photography exhibition that offers a rare glimpse into their mysterious world, Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, by pioneering nature photographer Susan Middleton. The exhibition, and accompanying book, with a foreword by renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle, will be showing at the Lightcatcher building Sept. 17 – Dec. 31, 2016.

Middleton blends science and art to reveal the hidden beauty and remarkable biodiversity of sea creatures without backbones. The result of several years of fieldwork across the Pacific Ocean, and showcasing the photographic techniques Middleton has developed over the past three decades, this exhibition shows rarely or never-before-seen ocean dwellers. Many of the creatures inhabit northwest waters and were photographed at Friday Harbor Marine Lab on San Juan Island. Middleton visually isolates each creature she photographs against a white background, creating a stunning image.

“I try to convey that sense of intimacy through the photograph,” writes Middleton in her artist statement. “Since I can only hint at the complexity, intricacy, and mystery of what I photograph, I concentrate only on the creature by removing all visual distractions and any trace of context. I attempt to reveal what is implicit through the explicit while inspiring curiosity and reverence for the unseen.”

Susan Middleton is an acclaimed photographer, author, and lecturer specializing in portraiture of rare and endangered animals, plants, sites, and cultures. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009, for many years she was the chair of the Department of Photography at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, where she currently serves as research associate. Her photographs have been exhibited worldwide in fine art and natural history contexts and are represented in the permanent collections of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Gallery of Art. The author of Evidence of Evolution (Abrams) and co-author of several other books, Susan Middleton lives in San Francisco.

Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates will be on exhibition in conjunction with National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Photographs, which opens October 1, 2016 in the Lightcatcher building, 250 Flora Street. One of Middleton’s photographs is included in the National Geographic traveling exhibition. The member preview reception for both photography exhibitions takes place Friday, September 30, 5 – 7pm in the Lightcatcher. Susan Middleton will attend the opening reception. She will also give a lecture about her work and process on Saturday, October 1, 2pm in the Rotunda Room of Old City Hall. The presentation is a $5 suggested donation/Museum members free.