Portraits and Self-Portraits by Northwest Artists; 1910-2018

Thursday, August 01, 2019 5:20 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

In January 2019, Cascadia Art Museum opened “Portraits and Self-Portraits by Northwest Artists,” an exhibition that includes paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs by both modern and contemporary Northwest artists. Curated by David Martin, the exhibition seeks to demonstrate the variety of approaches to portraiture by Northwest artists over the past one hundred years. While many exhibitions at Cascadia Art Museum primarily contain artworks created in the first half of the twentieth century, Martin decided to include artwork by three contemporary artists in this exhibition: Gary Faigin, William Elston, and Aleah Chapin in order to facilitate a visual dialogue between the past and the present. 

Viewers are sure to be delighted to see well-known artists represented in the exhibition. Artists such as Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), Thomas T. Wilson (1931-2015), Andrew Hofmeister (1913-2007), and Walter Isaacs (1886-1964) all have artworks in the exhibition. There is even a charcoal drawing of Mark Tobey by Dorothy Dolph Jensen (1895-1977) titled “Caricature of Mark Tobey” included in the show. Jensen was a student of Tobey at Cornish in the 1920s. Text by Jensen is posted next to her drawing in which she recounts some of her interactions with Tobey. According to Jensen, Tobey was hard on his female students and would often storm out of class after declaring, “There’s no such thing as perspective!” In one instance, after he left class Jensen quickly drew his face. Tobey returned quickly, looked at her drawing and declared: “I like it.” Her drawing is an intimate one of the famed Northwest artist. His hair is wildly sticking up in every direction, brow furrowed, and every piece of stubble on his chin is distinct. Jensen drew him quickly and emotionally, though it is difficult to determine which emotion won over in the end: anger or admiration. 

Perhaps one of the most nationally celebrated artists in the exhibition is Imogene Cunningham (1883-1976). She is represented in almost every major museum in the United States and is considered an important pioneer in the field of photography. She was a member of Group f/64, a California-based group of photographers interested in meticulously composed and focused images Cunningham worked with or knew every major photographer working during this time,including Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Edward S. Curtis, and Dorothea Lange. This exhibition includes two of her photographs and they are portraits of Curt Ducasse and John Butler. Interestingly, another portrait of John Butler is included in the exhibition by artist Roi Partridge (1888-1984), who was Cunningham’s husband from 1915 to 1934. This situation allows the visitor the unique opportunity to compare how Partridge and Cunningham differ in their representation of the sitter.

A delightful inclusion in this exhibition is Anne Kutka McCosh (1902-1994). The painting, “Rainy Evening, Bus Corner, Self-Portrait,” is an oil on canvas created in 1931. At the time, McCosh was living in New York. The painting depicts McCosh in the center of the picture plane dressed in a blue work suit with a cream shawl over her head to protect her from the rain. The scene is dark and muted, but McCosh stands out as the largest and brightest figure in the composition. She holds an umbrella but doesn’t use it. Two people are huddled under an awning to protect themselves from the rain and warm up on a damp evening. McCosh looks up at the sky, maybe to try to determine if the rain will continue. McCosh has painted herself as a confident and professional New Yorker who is unaccompanied on her way home from work. This surely gives the viewer insight into how McCosh viewed herself, and it is an inspiring point of view.

This exhibition is packed full of portraits and self-portraits in a variety of styles and media. The museum also offers several programs to accompany the exhibition, including Coffee with the Curator which allows visitors to hear a lecture from David Martin. Cascadia Art Museum also offers music in the Museum and participates in the Blue Star Museum Program. Another wonderful opportunity to view the exhibition is during the Edmonds Art Walk on the third Thursday of every month from 5-8 P.M. when the museum is free. You can always count on this museum to include artworks by well-known Northwest artists in addition to several you may not recognize. “Portraits and Self-Portraits by Northwest Artists” does just that, and hopefully the viewer enjoys seeing both old favorites and discovering new ones.

Chloé Dye Sherpe

Chloé Dye Sherpe is a curator and art professional based in Washington State.


“Portraits and Self-Portraits by Northwest Artists; 1910-2018” is on view Wednesday through Sunday from 11 A.M. to 6P.M. through September 29 at the Cascadia Art Museum, located at 1990 Sunset Avenue South in Edmonds, Washington. For more information, visit www.cascadiaartmmuseum.org.

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