Written by Connie McDougall. Published by MyEdmondsNews October 28.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for 20 years,” said Curator David Martin about a first-of-its-kind exhibit that just opened at the Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds. “It’s about my tribe, a gift to myself.”

“The Lavender Palette: Gay Culture and the Art of Washington State “ runs through Jan. 26, 2020.

Featuring the 20th-century work of gay and lesbian artists, the show seeks to illustrate how these men and women influenced the cultural identity of the Northwest.

“There have been shows by gay artists but not how their work shaped culture,” said Martin. “Museums have generally ignored or sanitized their personal lives.”

In his role as curator, Martin conceived of the idea, assembled the exhibition, and searched far and wide for the art. Most of this exhibition has never been seen by the public, drawing from family collections, national and local private collections as well as major institutions including the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“I’ve written many books about Northwest artists, promoting the art of women and minorities in the Northwest, mainly from the 1900s to the 1950s, but this is the first time I’ve focused on this topic,” Martin said. He credits the Cascadia Art Museum with giving him free rein to pursue the project. “Everyone has been very supportive,” he said. As for other museums he’s approached in the past, Martin noted, “Let’s just say other museums didn’t want to do it.”

The exhibition Includes works from what became known as The Northwest School, gay artists such as Mark Tobey, Morris Graves and Edmonds-born Guy Anderson. “It also reintroduces extraordinarily talented but lesser-known figures,” Martin said.

These artists worked at a time when being gay was illegal. To illustrate that point, the exhibit opens with a grid of mugshots, gay men arrested for their orientation. “It serves to show what it was like to be gay back then,” said Martin.

In spite of the risk, many artists were remarkably up front. “I was shocked to find how open many of these artists were about their orientation, and yet I think they had to turn inward rather than outward. They read widely, traveled and were exposed to international art. They brought these styles back to the Northwest,” he said.

Martin admitted to being nervous before the show opened. “I didn’t sleep the night before. What if nobody showed up? But we had a big turnout. In fact, it was the biggest opening we’ve ever had.”

In December, Martin has a book coming out based on the exhbition, also titled “The Lavender Palette: Gay Culture and the Art of Washington State.” The museum will be hosting book signings, to be announced when it’s released, and he also leads guided tours of the exhibit. “What people really want to know about is the gossip,” he laughed. “Of course I have plenty of that to share.”

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