5th Annual Deck the Old City Hall a Great Way to Get into the Holiday Spirit

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Some of the many trees on display at the Old City Hall during Deck the Old City Hall

If you’re looking to get into the holiday spirit, look no further than Whatcom Museum’s Deck the Old City Hall. From November 24 to December 31, Old City Hall will be decked for the holidays for its fifth annual celebration. More than 20 decorated trees will be on display, along with garlands, wreaths, and more. There will be a variety of events to participate in as well, such as a holiday cocktail party and visits with Santa.

Admission to Deck the Old City Hall is by donation (regular admission applies to the Museum’s Lightcatcher building). The Museum offers admission by donation as a seasonal gift to the community, so there’s no need to worry if your wallet is a little slim from holiday shopping! Proceeds from donations benefit Museum programs and exhibitions.

Families interested in visiting with Santa can see him at Old City Hall on Sat., Nov. 25, Sun., Nov. 26 or Sun., Dec. 3, 12:30-2:30pm in the Rotunda Room. Visitors can take photos with Santa by the big holiday tree, and bring their wish lists to find out if they’ve been naughty or nice. This event is included with donation.

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A Closer Look at Art of the American West

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

When you first walk into Art of the American West: Highlights of the Haub Family Collection from the Tacoma Art Museum at the Lightcatcher building, you’re met with a brilliant, colorful painting depicting a Native American man. As you look to your left, your gaze falls upon a portrait of another Native American man painted in 1851 by Paul Kane. But if you look more closely at this painting something else may catch your gaze: two large medals that are affixed to the sash on the chief.

A patron looks at “Portrait of Maungwudaus,” c.1851 by Paul Kane (1810-1871). Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. Courtesy of the Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub.

This seems like a peculiar sight. “Medals?” You may ask. “What are these medals for and who awarded them?” The answers to these questions are quite interesting.

The man depicted in this painting is Maungwudaus, meaning the great “hero” or “courageous,” (known by his English name, George Henry). Maungwudaus was born circa 1807 on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario and was an Ojibwa interpreter, performer, and Methodist mission worker. In 1844 he formed a travelling Native American dance troupe, which included members of his own family and several Walpole Island Ojibwa. They traveled to Britain, France and Eastern North America to perform, and the show gained quite the reputation. Maungwudaus had the opportunity to perform for royalty such as the Duke of Wellington, King Louis Philippe of France and the king and queen of Belgium. The group continued to perform for several years in Canada and the US after leaving Europe.

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Making Faces: Masks and Masquerading Around the World

By Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Author Marty Rubin once said that, “behind every mask there is a face, and behind that a story.” These stories allow us to see the world in a better light. The Whatcom Museum invites you to join us as we explore masks and the stories behind them.

Masks carved by Native American artists from the Northwest will also be on display, presenting a

Tsonokwa Mask, carved by Scott Jensen

modern take on traditional masks from tribes around the region. At the event, you can learn how Pacific Northwest tribes used masks in their celebratory and religious ceremonies. Guests will also be able to try on several hands-on masks made in traditional Northwest Coast Native styles and make their own three-dimensional masks.

“Masks have played an important role in many tribal traditions throughout the world. They’re used for so many things, from ceremonies to ensure a good harvest or successful hunts and fishing,  to scaring away demons and curing illness. For some northernmost Native American tribes, masks hold sacred meaning and are used to convey ancient stories.” said Susanna Brooks, the Director of Learning Innovation at Whatcom Museum.

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Transcending Boundaries: Becoming Helmi

The Whatcom Museum’s online virtual exhibitions feature a variety of historic photographs, artwork, and ephemera that visitors can view at their leisure. Recently, the Museum has uploaded a new virtual gallery that showcases a sampling of artwork by Helmi Juvonen (1903-1985), which can be viewed HERE. Scroll down to learn more about the life Helmi.

Helmi Juvonen, Vantage, circa 1975-1976;
Gouache on rice paper. Gift of Dr. Ulrich & Stella Fritzsche.

Transcending Boundaries: Becoming Helmi

Helmi Dagmar Juvonen (1903-1985) was a Seattle-based artist who found success capturing the culture of Native American tribes across the Pacific Northwest. She was a persistent artist who strived to create art in a time where being a female artist was tough. Even as she struggled with poverty and mental illness, Helmi continued to create art until her final days.

Finding Her Love and Audience

Born in Butte Montana in 1903, Helmi found her love of art at a young age from her father, a Finnish immigrant, who made pencil sketches and watercolor paintings for her and her sister. When she was 15, her family moved to Seattle. During the time that she attended Queen Anne High School, Helmi sold handmade rag dolls and greeting cards at a local department store.

After graduating high school, she worked as a seamstress for a local company and took on small side jobs to pay her way through art school at Seattle Art School. Through these side jobs, Helmi established a line of connections that included affluent citizens and successful artists. In 1929, through one of these connections, Helmi got a scholarship to attended Cornish School (now Cornish College of the Arts) in 1929 where she studied puppetry and lithography. In 1930 she was hospitalized with manic-depressive illness (now known as bipolar disorder) and spent three years at Northern State Hospital.

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Dow Walling and the Comic World Of Skeets

The Whatcom Museum’s online virtual exhibitions feature a variety of historic photographs, artwork, and ephemera that visitors can view at their leisure. Recently, the Museum has uploaded new virtual galleries, which can be viewed HERE. Scroll down mid-way through the virtual galleries to learn more about one special exhibit featuring the comics of local talent, Dow Walling.     

Dow Walling and the Comic World Of Skeets

Dow Walling (1902-1987) was a self-taught comic creator and illustrator whose full-page color strip “Skeets” ran on Sundays in the New York Herald Tribune and in national syndication from 1932 until 1951. Walling was born and raised on a farm outside of Bellingham, Washington, and in a 1934 interview with the Literary Digest, describes his spunky young protagonist as “growing up in Bellingham – my home town….an average-size town in America [that] typifies the home town of the average boy.”

In the comic strip, Skeets rambles through fields and strolls down streets and alleys with his pal Button-Nose, cousin Eggy, and others while avoiding his nemesis Cue-ball Benson. Walling drew from events and places of his own childhood and featured locales such as Battersby Park and Whatcom Creek swimming holes in his illustrations. Read more

Drawing Practice: Bellingham National Juried Art Exhibition and Awards

Kelly Bjork; Tiger Overhead, 2016; Gouache and pencil on paper, 19 x 15 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Reposted from June 20th, 2017 Seattle Art Museum Blog

Catharina Manchanda, the Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, juried this year’s Bellingham National Juried Art Exhibition and Awards, on view now through September 10 in the Lightcatcher building. Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art at the Whatcom Museum, describes the biennial art exhibition and award as relatively new. “The Whatcom Museum’s first biennial was inaugurated in 2015. Patricia Leach, the Museum’s director, envisioned Bellingham National as a way to bring the rich variety of art created around the country to our region. Although the Museum is committed to supporting Pacific Northwest art, it has increasingly embraced a wider, cultural scope,” says Matilsky. “Bellingham National has attracted the attention of Washington artists, which means that their work is well represented here. Community reaction has been as varied as the works of art on display. One thing that I have noticed: The exhibition challenges people to think about art in new ways, which is ultimately a good thing. It also offers the invited curator a unique opportunity to explore ideas related to a particular theme or medium of her/his choice.” Read more

La Calavera Catrina: Mexico’s Eternal Feminine Muse

José Guadalupe Posada, (1852-1913), Mexico City, Mexico; La Calavera Catrina (The Grand Dame of Death), 1913. Etching on zinc. Courtesy of The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, CA.

Written by Susanna Brooks, Director of Learning Innovation, for our exhibition, Images of Resilience: Chicana/o Art & its Mexican Roots

A wide-eyed lady skeleton donning a large, lace brimmed hat festooned with flowers and feathers flashes a broad toothy grin. The smiling dandified dame is La Calavera Catrina, a corpse with a lively aristocratic air and fashionable dress to match. Oblivious to the current state of her demise, she clutches nonchalantly to her long lost human existence. When artist, illustrator, and satirist José Guadalupe Posada (1852 – 1913) created this droll caricature, the Mexican revolution was in full swing. For Posada and his countless disenfranchised countrymen and women, champions of the rebellion, the humorous image of La Calavera Catrina symbolically, and derisively, served as an epitaph for the wealthy privileged classes. Her stylish appearance and amusing, naïve sensibility endeared her to the disgruntled masses, and she quickly became a satirical emblem of the sins of vanity and greed and the folly of government corruption that had long held sway over Mexico’s impoverished, hard-working citizens. Read more

Focus on 50 Celebrates History of Whatcom Community College

Written by Bob Winters, Arts & Humanities Division Chair, Whatcom Community College

The Whatcom Museum is pleased to present Focus on 50, an exhibition dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Whatcom Community College. A stroll through the exhibition on the first floor of Old City Hall tells the story of how the country’s first “college without walls” grew to become a college without limits, now ranked among the top 150 community and technical colleges in the United States.

The exhibit features a photo archive of the college’s experimental roots: classes held in an abandoned supermarket on Marine Drive; a tin shed in Boulevard Park turned “crafts studio” (the current site of Woods Coffee); the “Whatcom on Wheels” bookmobile that toured the county. Included are artifacts from the college’s past: the first computers introduced to the college almost 40 years ago; early examples of Whatcom’s course catalogues and advertising; the original hand-carved wooden signs that identified Whatcom’s rented spaces from Blaine to Bellingham. With its mission to provide access to a college education to everyone in Whatcom County, and its promise to always put the student first, Whatcom Community College evolved from its decentralized “satellite centers” to a beautiful 72-acre campus in Bellingham’s Cordata neighborhood. Come see and hear the stories of the creative educational pioneers whose vision guided the college from a radical concept to a nationally recognized center for innovation in liberal arts, technology, and professional fields. Read more

5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: 5. Sheila Klein

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). This is the last one of the series! Follow us on social media and share our post with your followers, or tell us your favorite women artists. Don’t forget to tag your posts #5WomenArtists.

Sheila Klein; Stand, 2000; Nylon, Lycra, spandex and steel, 13 x 13 x 9 ft. Whatcom Museum, gift of the artist.

Artist #5: Sheila Klein

Sheila Klein fearlessly defies prevailing styles and trends. Acclaimed nationally for her public art installations, including Underground Girl (2000, Hollywood-Highland Metro Station, Hollywood, CA) and Comfort Zone (2004, Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, WA), she has devoted her career to transcending the boundaries of art. Her smaller-scaled artworks deserve greater recognition, and the Whatcom Museum’s sculpture, Stand, highlights this other side of the artist’s practice.

Stand was the first artwork to be exhibited in the courtyard of the Whatcom Museum’s new Lightcatcher building as part of the exhibition, Show of Hands: Northwest Women Artists, 1800-2010. Klein’s interactive sculpture, which forms gigantic pairs of men’s stretch pants, invites visitors to explore an unusual portal into space and the artist’s imagination.

Photo by Clara Senger.

Inspired by an experimental approach towards materials and ideas, the artist welcomes the unexpected. Recognizing her unique vision, Klein was recently awarded the 2017 Arts Innovator Award, funded by the Dale and Leslie Chihuly Foundation. The artist has exhibited at a wide range of venues, including  PS 1/Institute for Art and Urban Resources, New York; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and the Museum of Art and Design, New York.

Born in Pittsburgh, Klein is a self-taught artist who moved to the Skagit Valley in 1976. During the 1980s, she worked in Los Angeles as a member of A2Z, an award-winning, collaborative art and architecture firm. She returned to Washington in 1995 and has since been living on a farm outside the town of Edison with her artist-husband Ries Niemi. Her large studio is a melting pot of ideas for grand projects as well as more intimately-scaled objects.

5 Women Artists in the Whatcom Museum’s Collection: 4. Mary Henry

Mary Henry; Linear Series #5, 1966; Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 72 in. Gift of Suzanne and John Rahn, Whatcom Museum 2010.57.1.

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.

Artist #4: Mary Henry

Barbara Matilsky, our Curator of Art said, “I sometimes wonder about the kind of recognition the artist Mary Henry (1913-2009) might have received had she chosen a different path at a critical junction in her career.” After studying with the pioneering Bauhaus modernist Lazlo Maholy-Nagy (1895-1946) at Chicago’s Institute of Design in 1945, she was invited to join the faculty, the first women to be so recognized. Instead, she chose to follow her husband and relocate to Arkansas.

Mary Henry, after receiving the Twining Humber Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, 2006. Photo by Alice Wheeler.

Divorced in 1964, Henry returned to her native Northern California, where she painted bold, hard-edge, geometrically constructed compositions inspired by her mentor. She was among a small group of women, including British artist Bridget Riley, who contributed to the movement that came to be known as Op (Optical) Art. For Henry, geometry was not purely aesthetic, but was pursued to invoke the spiritual in art. She excelled in graphically conjuring distinctive patterns in black and white, as in Linear Series #5, as well as brightly colored shapes that often evoke landscape elements.

In 1968,  Henry’s paintings displayed at San Francisco’s Arleigh Gallery were nationally noted in Artforum magazine. She moved to Washington State in 1976 to be near her daughter, and lived on Whidbey Island from 1981 until 2009. The Whatcom Museum organized the first solo museum exhibition of Mary Henry’s artworks, curated by John Olbrantz, in 1988. By the time of the artist’s death at the age of 95, other Pacific Northwest museums had introduced her work to an appreciative public. Her outstanding contribution to abstraction has yet to be nationally acknowledged.