5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: 3. Elizabeth Colborne

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.

Sunset Over the Elizabeth Colborne; Bellingham Bay, c.1930; Color woodcut, 9 x 6.75 in. Gift of the Bellingham Public Library, 1976.62.103.

Artist #3: Elizabeth Colborne

The Whatcom Museum holds the largest collection of work by Elizabeth Colborne (1885 – 1948), heralded as one of  Pacific Northwest’s greatest print makers. This birds-eye view of Bellingham Bay, at its most seductive time of day, 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 magnificently detailed drawings. She often poignantly portrays the intrusion of the human footprint by strategically focusing on old growth stumps in the forest. Colborne’s work can be appreciated 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 maternal 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, which nurtured her career as a graphic artist. Colborne developed a reputation for children’s book illustrations and landscape views that catered to New Yorkers’ interest in the beauty of the Northwest.

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 quickly 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.

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