If you’ve visited the museum recently you’ve probably noticed some new faces leading gallery tours. In November seven trainees joined the docent ranks and are eager to share information, ask and answer questions, and provide insights into Lightcatcher exhibitions. These accomplished docents come from diverse backgrounds and careers, from teaching to neuroscience to design work, but the one common interest that drew them was their love of art. Learn a little more about our newest docents:
Phyllis Self says she became a docent to become more deeply involved with the museum and to broaden her understanding of art. Since moving here in 1988 she has assumed many civic roles including chairing the task force for restoring the Mount Baker Theatre together with her husband and serving as a Whatcom Community College trustee and chairing its foundation. She is currently on numerous non-profit boards in the community. Phyllis is an accomplished pastel landscape artist, and she recently received the Mayor’s Arts Award.
Antonella Antonini, PhD, is a retired neuroscientist who worked at the University of Pisa and the University of Verona before coming to the US. At the University of California’s San Francisco Center for Integrative Neuroscience she continued her research until 2003 when she and her husband retired to Bellingham. She has pursued her passion for the arts by completing a Bachelor of Art in Art History at Western Washington University and volunteering at the Western Gallery. For years Antonella has practiced Nui-do, traditional Japanese silk embroidery, and studied pietra dura mosaic techniques in Florence, Italy. Read more
Valentine’s Day is nearing and as we shop for gifts and cards, it’s fun to reflect on the traditions of the past. The custom of making and sending cards for this holiday has been around for more than 150 years. The Museum’s own collection features more than 65 unique handmade and vintage Valentine’s Day cards created and sent around the turn of the century, with the earliest dating back to the 1850s. From cards made out of doilies and lace, to a printed card featuring a duck asking, “Waddle I do to prove my love?” images from this collection can be viewed on our virtual exhibit online.
The History Behind Valentine’s Day
Much legend and lore surrounds the origin of St. Valentine’s Day. Historians generally agree that this celebration of love and devotion borrows elements from both ancient Roman and early Christian traditions. The holiday became popular in the early seventeenth century in Great Britain and is now celebrated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. Read more
On May 14th, local artist Tom Sherwood spoke about his artwork in a retrospective and walk-through of the exhibition, Tom Sherwood: A Golden Perspective, at the Lightcatcher building. If you missed the chance to participate, here’s another opportunity to learn more about Sherwood, his background, and his artwork.
Whatcom Museum (WM): When and how did you first become interested in creating art?
Tom Sherwood (TS): Like most children—should they be presented with materials and opportunity—I drew at a very early age (starting in the years of the Second World War) and my parents, as parents now and then do, retained some of my childhood drawings. What they kept, they passed on to me and from that record, and from my own professional survey of child art, and I can assure you that I showed no particular talent or aptitude for creating artwork. My parents both had begun their careers as musicians and while they did not forcefully press their musical penchants on me, they did in one way or another encourage my escape into picture-making and other forms of “play acting.” Still, they believed in the doctrines of liberal education and doubted the viability of a solid, middle-class, remunerative career in “the arts.” I suppose, as a youngster, I found “being an artist” was a sort of useful posture and I continued to strike the pose whenever it seemed to set me apart in what I perceived to be some socially or personally advantageous way.
I carried this pose about with me even into graduate school—the “go to” guy for any cartoons or posters about upcoming academic events. And after I had been admonished by student colleagues that I should get out of academe and “go be an artist” (and after I had done another stint in an art school and returned to graduate school) I was usually called out for advertising purposes or to show others some of the ropes to which I had been pushed in the course of my little “side show.” It wasn’t until I was fired from my rather more professionally respectable position as a college professor that my wife, of all people, suggested I retreat to my makeshift attic studio on Liberty Street in Bellingham and “create art.” If I have accomplished anything since that moment, it has been born upon the backs of my wife Dorothy’s thrift and patience and the remarkable nonchalance of our sons, Talley & Jud. Read more
CAMERAS OWNED BY DARIUS KINSEY have been added to Big Cameras, Big Trees. While researching cameras in our collection recently, I discovered that we hold two that were previously owned by Darius Kinsey. These two cameras, each of which is amazing in its own right, are now installed in Old City Hall. The first is a stereoscopic camera (#1978.84.2) and is actually pictured with Kinsey in one of the murals. The stereoscopic cameras took two images simultaneously from slightly different angles to create 3D images when viewed through a stereoscope. The taking and viewing of stereoscopic images was all the rage in the latter half of the 19th century.
The second is a camera that was specifically designed to be transported and used on a bicycle called a Cycle Poco (#1978.84.4) – combining the two predominate leisure activities of the time, cycling and photography.
These cameras are also beautiful pieces of craftsmanship with then state-of-the-art optical components, mahogany interiors, brass fixtures, Russian red leather bellows and small ivory details.
Written by Paul Woodcock, Vice President of the North Cascade Audubon Society, with research collaboration from Jeff Jewell, Whatcom Museum Photo Archives Historian.
AT THE END OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY THE ART OF TAXIDERMY WAS A FAD. Mounted birds and other animals were used as home decor and most naturalists, amateur and professional alike, collected and mounted specimens. As such, the Whatcom Museum’s Edson-Edson-Booth Bird Collection of over 600 mounted birds is an important cultural and historical artifact. But it is much more than that.
It is also an irreplaceable educational and scientific treasure, a testament to early Whatcom County ornithology and the impetus for the very existence of our outstanding community museum.
The man responsible for the majority of the collection is John Milton Edson who personally collected them over more than fifty years starting in the early 1890s. Another Edson, Edward, not related to John, was a long-time mayor of Lynden where he operated a drug store on Front Street which housed his collection of sixteen mounted owls. Edward Edson donated his collection to John Edson on his death in 1944. Though John Edson reportedly spent his later years doing research on and writing about taxidermy most of the two Edsons’ birds were mounted by Bellingham taxidermist Edward Booth. Booth’s personal collection was donated to the museum when he died in 1959, completing the Edson-Edson-Booth Bird Collection. Read more
THIRTY THOUSAND OBJECTS. 170,000 PHOTOGRAPHS. 16,000 ARCHIVAL ITEMS. These numbers make up the Whatcom Museum Collection and Curator of Collections, Becky Hutchins, is in charge of protecting each piece from harm. Threats are as small as the powderpost beetle and as large as a fire or flood.
For the smallest variety of threat, Hutchins employs an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach as an environmentally friendly way to monitor and regulate the bug factor throughout Museum facilities.
Using sticky traps, we can determine if our collections are in danger. Caught specimens are examined, and, depending on their numbers and where they are in their lifecycle (larvae or adult), we can determine how hospitable our environment is to them and what their food sources might be. By changing the temperature and maintaining moisture levels, monitoring our collections and keeping the museum spaces well maintained, we’re able to create an unfriendly environment for pests, and protect treasures like historic maps of Bellingham Bay and 100-year old women’s finery.
But who are these unwanted visitors? Turns out museum collections are at greatest risk from a few common insects, Hutchins explains, because these pests have favorite food sources as well as preferred habitats that are often found in our collections and storage spaces. Read more
HOORAY! The manuscript for the Vanishing Ice catalogue was emailed to the editor thirty minutes ago. Here is a sneak peek at one of my favorite artworks in the exhibition:
Thomas Hart Benton’s (American, 1889-1975) journey to the Canadian Rockies inspired Trail Riders, a sweeping, cinematic view of Mount Assiniboine. The artist faithfully documents the landscape setting and the mountain’s conical shape resembling the famous Matterhorn in the Alps. (According to the U.S. Geological Survey, glaciers on Mount Assiniboine have decreased 820 feet in twenty-three years, an average of more than 35 feet per year.)
Casting a nostalgic look at American history, Benton presents an unusual mid-twentieth century interpretation of Manifest Destiny. The artist, a grandnephew of a prominent, populist Missouri senator who helped shape the policies of American expansionism, harks back to a time when trailblazers settled the American West. Throughout his life, he mythologized this theme, beginning with early paintings like The Pathfinder (1926) and culminating in the grand-scaled mural, Independence and the Opening of the American West (1959-62), commissioned for the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. In the 1930s, such themes earned Benton recognition as a “regionalist” artist who celebrated Middle American values by depicting rural culture.
Trail Riders also draws upon classic Hollywood Westerns that celebrated the loners and nomads along pioneer trails. The artist’s gigs in Hollywood for Life magazine and Walt Disney enabled him to see first-hand the creation of these idealized heroes.
In this painting, Benton mediates on his personal relationship to the land: The protagonists riding along the trail represent the artist and his friend, who explored the Banff region on horseback in 1963. Benton turned to the mountains for solace after his regionalist aesthetic was scorned by an art world enamored with another movement, Abstract Expressionism, in the 1950s. The landscape assuaged the artist’s loneliness and distaste for America’s increasing urban culture.
—Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art
WHAT BETTER WAY to launch the Whatcom Museum’s blog than to feature a fabulous artwork featured in our upcoming exhibition, Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, by an artist currently in the national limelight?
Alexis Rockman, who painted Adelies, was commissioned by film director Ang Lee to contribute imagery for Life of Pi. The artist’s sketches for the newly-released movie inspired a dream sequence experienced by the hero and his tiger companion during a spiritual voyage of discovery. See the New York Times Magazine article here.
Rockman’s fantasy-like paintings are based on actual expeditions. His portrait of Adelies penguins emerged from a 12-day trip Antarctic adventure on board a Lindblad Expedition Cruise ship. The artist explored the landscape and got up close and personal with wildlife in kayaks and zodiacs. Enchanted by the ice that glowed “luminous like jewelry,” Rockman creates a towering blue ice cube, the feeding platform for the penguins featured in Adelies. They appear to drift in isolation without sight of the mainland.
The idea for the painting was based, in the artist’s words, on ideas of “fragmentation and scarcity.” * Although not intentionally referenced, the painting calls to mind the massive ice shelves that have dramatically broken off from the continent due to warming oceans. Recognizing that these unique creatures are threatened by climate change, the artist devises an unusual composition to suggest their precarious status.* (The Adelies population surrounding nearby Anvers Island has declined by 85% in the last 35 years and could face regional extinction within the next decade. Warming oceans have shrunk the population of krill upon which the penguins and other life depend. ”
Born and raised in New York City, Rockman frequented the American Museum of Natural History where he studied the renowned painted diorama displays. He was also attracted to the Hudson River School landscape painters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which nurtured his sense of the sublime. Although engaged in field observations and drawings, he does not consider his work “scientific.” Instead, he aims to make “art about the history of science.”
— Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art
* (All quotes from an interview with the artist in September 2012.)
THE BELL SHOW opened at 111 E. Holly in July 1908 as Bellingham’s first theater dedicated exclusively to the showing of motion pictures. Located in what had been Edward Gott’s pharmacy, the Bell was what came to be known as a “store show” or storefront theater. A five-cent “nickelodeon” ticket got you a triple-feature of one-reel movies, each roughly ten minutes long.
Initially financed by two California investors, the Bell Show was purchased in 1910 by Wilfred S. Quinby, who equipped the theater with a sloping floor to give the audience a better view of the screen. He had a $3,000 Kimball pipe organ installed in 1913 and Professor Darwin Wood, organist extraordinaire, played accompaniment to the silent films. By 1918, Quinby owned three Bellingham theaters, the Bell Show, Dream and Liberty, causing the local press to declare him “Movie King of Holly Street.” Quinby’s three theaters were all located within a three-block span on the same side of the street.
The Bell was leased in late 1920 to the Seattle theater chain of Jensen & Von Herberg. The firm’s Bellingham manager, Al Finkelstein, booked first-run films and spent lavishly on promotion. The Bell was one of the first local theaters to show “serials” when it played the 15 episodes of The Lost City over the last six weeks of 1920. In August 1921, the Bell hosted the Bellingham debut of Chaplin’s The Kid. The Bell Show was remodeled and reopened as the Rialto Theatre in Nov. 1921. Bellingham Theaters Inc. bought the Rialto in August 1922, only to close it permanently a short time later. The building was converted into Harry Dawson’s Cafe, one of a few restaurants that would occupy the space over the years, including the Horseshoe Cafe since 1958.
–Jeff Jewell, Whatcom Museum Photo Archives
DELICATE AND GRACEFUL, this wedding dress is composed of cream-colored lace with peach satin-covered buttons extending down its back. The gathered skirt and flared sleeves create a medieval silhouette—a style likely inspired by Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923 when she married HRH the Duke of York. Hallmarks of the era include the scalloped, dropped waist and relatively unshaped bodice with a low, sweetheart neckline, and ankle-baring hemline. Worn by Josephine McNeil, the garment was styled simply with a veil, bouquet, and prayer book for her walk down the aisle.
Harkening to the onset of a new, liberated era in regard to women, the dress could represent the liveliness and dynamism of the period. A barrage of socio- economic changes following World War I (1914-1918) forever changed the roles and rights of women in society and produced the iconic flapper image. Both the wild rebel of the night as well as the fashionable figure of the modern woman, the flapper is the dancing, fun-loving woman whose cropped hair and variable hemline are archetypal of the Jazz Age. Less complicated in construction and style, the simplicity of the flapper dress rendered it more accessible to women of all classes. In addition, the more “masculine” or unisex fit of the dresses—loose and angular rather that fitted and contoured—appealed to the growing equality between the sexes, championed by women’s rights advocates.
Fully embracing of all things modern, the 1920s woman woke to a world full of choices. She was free of corsetry, restricting layers, and many of the corresponding social barriers that kept her in the domestic realm. Women gradually joined the workforce, played sports, and traveled where their Edwardian mothers had been more associated with the previous century than the vivacious spirit of the 20th. This wedding dress embodies many of these ideas in style, while the elegant, handcrafted form is truly a work of art.
— Emily Zach, Western Washington University Curatorial Intern