Northwest artists share their travels in Cascadia exhibits

The “Modern Alaska” and “Travelogue” exhibitions at Cascadia Art Museum have never-before-seen art.

This article was originally published by the Everett Herald on Thursday, April 5th, written by Gale Fiege.

EDMONDS — Cascadia Art Museum is still on a roll, showing first-of-its-kind exhibits of never-seen-before work from Northwest artists who flourished in the early to mid-20th century.

That so much wonderful artwork was produced and not well recognized in our region continues to be a revelation.

Curator David Martin hits another home run with “Modern Alaska: Art of the Midnight Sun, 1930 to 1970,” and the accompanying “Travelogue: Views Beyond the Northwest.” These exhibitions open today to the public. “Modern Alaska” is shown through July 1 and “Travelogue” is up through the end of the year.

Just in time for travel season, visitors can see Alaska through the eyes of Tacoma photographer Virna Haffer (1899-1974), Kent painter Danny Pierce (1920-2014), Pierce’s University of Alaska print students Bernard Katexac (1922-1997) and Joseph Senungetuk (born 1940), and Steven Fuller (1911-1999), who taught at the University of Washington.

Museum founder and president Lindsey Echelbarger notes that Washington and Alaska have had a close relationship for more than 100 years, and that Alaska was an obvious choice for travel for Puget Sound-area artists.

Martin suggests that museum visitors start in the room farthest from the entrance where 30 vintage photographs by Haffer are hung.

“I think Virna was the most innovative photographer to come out of the Northwest,” Martin said. “She worked in different print processes and, in Alaska in the late 1930s, covered environmental issues, gorgeous landscapes and the native Alaskans so well.”

Haffer, born Virna Hansen, grew up in one of the Utopian colonies of the Northwest and had a creative life, Martin said. She was a professional photographer at age 16 and a member of the prestigious Seattle Camera Club. But like most Northwest artists of the time (with the exception of the likes of Mark Tobey) she kept a low profile. To fund one of her trips to Alaska, she took portraits of local people in the hotel where she stayed.

In the middle room, see modernist works by Pierce, who started the art department at the University of Alaska. Especially beautiful are the paintings that cover subjects such as ice fishing, a yo-yo game, birds in flight and a canoe. Watch the nine-minute film of Pierce at work, and see his prints, such as the one of ptarmigans. Notice that next to his signature, Pierce always imprinted a circle with the initials JA for his wife Julie Ann.

“Danny once told me that he would never have been able to create without her support,” Martin said.

Color woodcuts, etchings and lithographs are shown in the first room, primarily from Steven Fuller and Pierce’s Alaskan students.

The “Travelogue” exhibit includes a famous modernist painting by Seattle artist Louise Crow (1890-1968) titled “Eagle Dance, San Ildefonso” from her 1919 extended trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Take note of the different perspectives, the bright color and appealing light presented in the painting, which was the first internationally exhibited painting by a Washington-born artist, shown to great acclaim at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1921.

Crow was part of Seattle Mayor Robert Moran’s family (Moran State Park on Orcas Island). She was from a well-to-do family, but was buried in an unmarked grave in San Francisco. Incidentally, Martin holds Crow in such high esteem that he bought a headstone for the artist.

Other featured artists include Paul Morgan Gustin (1886-1974) who worked in Europe in the 1920s producing oil paintings, watercolors and etchings, and Frances Blakemore (1906-1997), who began her career while attending the University of Washington in the 1920s. After graduation she lived in Japan and produced an impressive body of work in painting, illustration and printmaking.

One of the purposes of the exhibition is to establish that Northwest regional artists were able to make significant contributions to an international view of the Northwest cultural identity beginning in the early 20th century, the curator said.

Martin, who has been researching Northwest art for more than 30 years, was friends with many of the exhibition artists or their children. In addition to what hangs on the walls, Martin always adds displays of letters, sketches and more in display cases. Don’t miss these.

An interesting side note: The “Modern Alaska” exhibition is sponsored by the Elizabeth Ruth Wallace Living Trust. Wallace’s brother Emil Stadler moved to Alaska in 1936 immediately following his graduation from Edmonds High School and lived there for 70 years.


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