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 throughout the month of March – Women’s History Month. Each week, the museum will post a new story on their blog, highlighting the life and work of women whose art is part of the collection.
Not only are these featured artists women, but most lived in the Pacific Northwest, including Bellingham, and have made an impact on the region’s cultural heritage.
Closest to home is poet and writer Ella Higginson (1861-1940), who settled in Bellingham in 1888. Higginson was a prominent Bellingham author whose books, essays and poems are regarded as iconic to early Pacific Northwest literature. Her writing, which detailed the vast wilderness landscapes and inherent beauty of the region, introduced many readers to the Pacific Northwest for the first time.
Higginson’s poetry and short stories were published in national magazines, such as Collier’s Once a Week, Harper’s Magazine and McClure’s. Her most significant books include “A Bunch of Western Clover” (1984), “When the Birds Go North Again” (1902), “Mariella; of Out-West” (1902), and “The Vanishing Race and Other Poems” (1911).
In 1931, Higginson was named the first honorary poet laureate of Washington State by the state chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, securing her legacy in Northwest literary history.
A little further afield, based in Seattle, was the late Maria Frank Abrams (1924-2013), a painter who primarily worked with oils and depicted landscapes and geometric patterns. Born in Hungary, Abrams and her family were deported to Auschwitz in 1944. She never saw her parents again, and lost many relatives in the concentration camps. After World War II, she immigrated to the United States in 1948 and studied art at the University of Washington, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Art and went on to become a regular exhibitor in Seattle among legendary artists of her time.
Abrams drew inspiration from the Northwest landscape, expressing the beauty of her new homeland, but she also combined imagery and family ephemera into her art, representing her Holocaust survival and experience. She used her memories and experiences as an immigrant adapting to her American life as inspiration, not only for her oil paintings, but for murals, mosaics and theatrical sets.
Abrams received numerous awards throughout her career and her artwork has been exhibited at the Seattle Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Oakland Municipal Art Museum, and many others. The Whatcom Museum’s online virtual exhibition (whatcommuseum.org/collections/view-images/) “Northwest Women Artists: 1880-2010, includes an example of Abrams’ work.
To learn more about these, as well as upcoming women artists, visit the Museum’s blog online at whatcommuseum.org/blog/.
Christina M. Claassen is Whatcom Museum’s marketing and public relations manager. Reach her at email@example.com.
The non-profit Whatcom Museum is operated by the Whatcom Museum Foundation and the city of Bellingham. The Old City Hall building at 121 Prospect St. and the Lightcatcher Building at 250 Flora St. are open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays. The Family Interactive Gallery, located inside the Lightcatcher, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission, good for all sites in a day, is $10 general, $8 youth (6-17 years) and student, senior or military, $5 children (2-5 years). Memberships start at $50 and include free museum admission.
The museum offers a variety of programs and exhibitions about art, nature and Northwest history. Its collections contain more than 200,000 artifacts and art of regional importance, including a photographic archive. The museum is accredited nationally by the American Alliance of Museums and is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.