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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

bridge.”

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.

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: 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: 2. Vanessa Helder

The Whatcom Museum is highlighting five female artists from our collection throughout the month of March (Women’s History Month). Next up is Z. Vanessa Helder. Follow us on social media and tell us your favorite women artists. Don’t forget to tag your posts #5WomenArtists.

Z. Vanessa Helder (1904-1968) Eastern Washington Landscape, 1936-40; Watercolor on paper, 19 x 23 in. Gift of the Washington Art Consortium through gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of the Liberty Mutual Group.

Z. Vanessa Helder

The Whatcom Museum recently acquired a watercolor by Z. Vanessa Helder (1904-1968). This enigmatic work, featuring abandoned buildings with no signs of life, suggests the economic hardships of depression-era America.

Helder was born in Lyndon to one of the earliest pioneer families in Whatcom County and attended Bellingham High School.

Z. Vanessa Helder (1904-1968), ca. 1940. Courtesy Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane, WA.

Nationally recognized in the 1930s and 1940s for her magic realist drawings, she was selected to participate in the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal exhibition, American Realists and Magic Realists (1943), alongside luminaries such as Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. However, once Abstract Expressionism seized the limelight, her work was largely forgotten. In 2013, the Tacoma Art Museum organized an exhibition of Helder’s work, reintroducing it to the public.

Helder is best known for a series of watercolors (at Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, Spokane) that interpret the building of the Grand Coulee Dam. She also painted several murals for public buildings that have not survived.

The Whatcom Museum owns one of her watercolors, which are quite rare. Unfortunately, the art in her estate was privately sold. There is no trace of the buyers’ identities.

To date, the majority of her works have not been found. The Museum’s drawing is especially significant to its collection because Helder probably studied with Bellingham-based artist Elizabeth Colborne (1885-1948).

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.