“Northwest Design at Mid-Century” at Cascadia Art Museum features the works of artists working in photography, painting, sculpture, fiber art, ceramics, sculpture, fashion, furniture, jewelry and glass.
Originally published February 5, 2018 at 7:00 am from The Seattle Times, Written by Michael Upchurch, Special to The Seattle Times
Seattle curator David F. Martin is a longtime champion of brilliant Pacific Northwest talents who haven’t gotten their due. But over the past year at the Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds, Martin has looked beyond individual artists to deliver broader takes on our region’s aesthetic flavor.
Last year’s group show, “Territorial Hues: The Color Print and Washington State, 1920-1960” surveyed the work of Northwest printmakers, with special attention to brothers W. Corwin Chase and Waldo S. Chase whose color experiments were full of surprises.
Now, in “Northwest Design at Mid-Century,” Martin opens up the field to dozens of artists working in photography, painting, sculpture, fiber art, ceramics, sculpture, fashion, furniture, jewelry and glass. All the pieces were created between 1948 and 1966. In his curator’s statement, Martin notes, “It was an exciting time and the exhibition captures the energy and excitement of that distinctive era.”
Several artists work in more than one medium. George Tsutakawa, best known for the fountain sculpture he created for the Seattle Public Library in 1960 (the bronze maquette for it is included in this show), is represented by bamboo lamps and subtly stylish wooden furniture he created in the 1950s, and a striking oil-on-board self-portrait from circa 1948. Margaret Tomkins, too, is represented both by the abstract expressionist painting she’s known for (an eerie egg-tempera-on-panel titled “Fragrance of Fear”) and her work in furniture, furnishings and ceramics.
Many pieces are one-of-a-kind furnishings that lend the functional some artistic flair. A handsome fireplace screen created by printmaker Glen Alps for artists William and Ngaire Hixson in the mid-1950s, for instance, is a spare, airy exercise in floating/bending geometry on wire mesh.
Next to it is William Hixson’s moody oil-on-canvas portrait of his wife. The whole show evokes a sense of connection between families, friends and community. Martin emphasizes the stylistic influence of Scandinavia and Japan on Pacific Northwest sensibility. While he doesn’t comment on it overtly in his introduction to the show, a strong Native American influence is present too.
In a few instances, he creates eye-catching installations using unlikely materials: a selection of handmade block-printed ties, sashes and belts by husband-and-wife team Fay and Priscilla Chong, and a trio of printed-fabric dresses designed by Russell Day and married couple Danny Pierce and Julia Rasmussen Pierce.
Martin doesn’t overlook commercial art, including the fashion photography of Hans Jorgensen and the Frederick & Nelson cartoon ads of Bob Cram (my favorite: three sailors competing for female attention with some acrobatically offered bottles of perfume).
There are also some fine-art surprises, including an arresting, semiabstract tempera cityscape by John Matsudaira (“The City & The Water”) and a trio of works by painter Tatiana M. Roats (her untitled watercolor of Native Americans smoking salmon, with fugue-like variations of hues and shapes, is especially fine).
Next to Matsudaira’s painting are four stunning black-and-white photographs by his father Thomas Matsudaira, three of them untitled shots of fireworks and one a still life in which window blinds and tropical house plants are strangely interwoven. The sense of hidden histories that Martin has uncovered is palpable.
Some big names turn up in “Northwest Design,” including paintings by Guy Anderson, Paul Horiuchi and Kenneth Callahan. (Callahan’s tempera study for a Capitol Dome mural in Olympia, with its ecstatic William Blake flavor, is the most unusual. Too bad it wasn’t chosen for the dome.)
Still, it’s the less well-known figures who offer the thrill of discovery.