Smitten by the curator | Art & Appetite
This weekend, I had the good fortune to tag along with a crowd of about 20 art lovers for Cascadia Art Museum’s sold-out Sunday morning "Coffee With the Curator."
My first thought after reading Cascadia offered a botanical exhibit – “Botanical Exuberance: Trees & Flowers in Northwest Art” – was that the museum would be filled with a series of scientifically accurate but, let's face it, somewhat sterile prints.
I imagined an unending string of paintings – frame after frame, one with a branch of this, the next a sprig of that, each accompanied by the obligatory Latin name – all on beige parchment.
Instead, what I encountered was a stunning display of flora of all shapes and sizes in every imaginable medium – from extraordinarily detailed photographic images to abstractions produced by some of the Northwest’s best-known artists.
It’s yet another success for the regional art museum on the Edmonds waterfront. Much of the credit goes to president and founder Lindsey Echelbarger, who has built a stunning facility and assembled a terrific team at the board level, not to mention overseeing a multitude of staff and volunteers to handle day-to-day operations.
But perhaps Echelbarger’s greatest achievement was convincing his friend David F. Martin to take on the role of curator. Martin’s passion and enthusiasm for Northwest art to the mid-20th century is palpable – and contagious.
One can hardly spend more than a few minutes listening to Martin without also being smitten. Martin is the author of several books on Northwest art and has devoted nearly 30 years studying it. His depth of knowledge is astonishing.
I was a little overwhelmed. I took well over 20 pages of notes.
One particular story stayed with me. In 1995, several years after Martin had moved to the Northwest, he caught wind of a major exhibit of women painters of the West being prepared at the Gene Autry museum in Los Angeles.
When he inquired, he discovered that not a single artist from our region was represented. Apparently, the curator at our most prestigious art museum had been queried and she (yes, she) responded that we had no great women artists to draw from. Martin knew this to be absurd. Abby Williams Hill, for example, who studied with some of the most celebrated artists of her day, had an impressive body of work. This big-shot curator described her as “terrible” and just a “grandma.”
Martin begged to differ.
He had encountered the same attitude before. In his home state of New York, detractors of women artists (often women themselves, ironically) would characterize great women painters as mere “copycats” or worse yet, when confronted, would say something like “well, she was unusual, she painted like a man.”
I think this helps to explain why Martin was so willing to take on the curator position at Cascadia. Someone needed to step up and champion some of these great, neglected and even repressed women artists.
“I didn't need a lot of convincing to take this job,” Martin said. “It’s been 30 years of beating my head against the wall trying to convince these curators. I’d ask myself what on earth needs to fall on them before they would see how remarkable these artists are. Now I have a place where we can exhibit them.”
If you get a chance, catch one of David Martin’s presentations. Your appreciation of Northwest art is almost sure to be enhanced. If you can't, don't despair. I noticed that many of the artists have brief biographical sketches available in the gallery.
These sheets can provide you with context – a self-guided tour of sorts – when the curator and docents are unavailable.
“Botanical Exuberance: Trees & Flowers in Northwest Art”
Where: Cascadia Art Museum, 109 Sunset Ave., Edmonds
When: Through June 25
Admission: $7-$10; $25 for family (two adults and up to three students); free during Art Walk Edmonds on the third Thursday of the month
Information: www.cascadiaartmuseum.org, 425-336-4809
James Spangler is the owner of Spangler Book Exchange in Edmonds and an aficionado of all things art and appetite. Do you know of a Snohomish County restaurant, art gallery or theatrical show worthy of a review? Call him at 206-795-0128 or email him at email@example.com.