• Thursday, April 27, 2023 11:26 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

  • Wednesday, March 01, 2023 10:41 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    A short ferry ride away from the mainland, Vashon’s vibrant visual arts scene keeps strutting its stuff in high style.

    Vashon has been a haven for artists since the 1960s and 70s, when an influx of young artists changed the cultural landscape of the island.


    Many of those people helped establish Vashon Allied Arts (now Vashon Center for the Arts) as the cultural linchpin of the community, as well as led numerous other arts enterprises on the island throughout the years.


    Some of them are still doing it.


    Case in point: Swiftwater Gallery, a brand-new, 51-member nonprofit arts’ collective, which opened in February in a prime location, 17600 Vashon Hwy. SW,  in Vashon’s town center.

    The gallery is the former home of Gather Vashon, a gallery that also featured local art, run by a mother-daughter team from 2018 to September of 2022.


    Prior to that, the storefront was the longtime home of the Heron’s Nest Gallery, a retail gallery run by Vashon Allied Arts.

    Swiftwater Gallery organizers included a number of longtime locals who had shown their work in both of those former venues—and were determined, when they first learned that Gather would close, to find a way to keep the retail space artful.


    Their planning came to fruition with Swiftwater Gallery’s recent grand opening

    —a packed and celebratory occasion. 

    Swiftwater Gallery

    On a recent afternoon, volunteer gallery manager and photographer, Kim Farrell, and collective member artist, Charlotte Masi, worked the well-lit gallery, which was filled with a variety of art by all the collective’s members.


    Swiftwater Gallery opens new rotating exhibits on the First Friday of every month, when Vashon Island holds its monthly Gallery Cruise—a longstanding evening art stroll through shops, galleries and eateries. Find out more at

    But wait, there’s more…

    Vashon’s main street boasts not one but two galleries run by artists’ collectives — VALISE Gallery, Vashon Artists Linked in Social Engagement, has been around since 2009, at 17633 Vashon Hwy. SW.

    VALISE Gallery

    In February, VALISE pranked islanders by plastering the gallery’s windows with posters advertising a new business: Zamfir’s, a pawn shop/smoke shop. But some islanders with long memories got the joke: when VALISE opened, 14 years ago, the same posters and signage were on display. Zamfir’s is part of the gallery’s origin story, said Jiji Saunders, of VALISE, and throughout the years, the gallery has mounted several exhibitions that touch on its recurring conceptual themes of high and low commerce.

    In March, VALISE hosts an invitational of 13 island artists who have never before shown their work at the gallery. In April, the exhibit, “Extra Cheese, Please,” features collective members creating art out of pizza boxes from O Sole Mio — a New York-style pizza joint just down the street from the gallery. Find out more at

    The Hardware Store Restaurant Gallery

    A historic island building, on the corner of Bank Road and Vashon Highway, now houses an Americana restaurant—the food is tasty, but don’t miss the gallery tucked in the back of the restaurant, featuring exhibits of the work of local artists that rotate monthly. 

    Caffe Vino Olio

    A stylish wine, coffee, and bagel shop next to The Hardware Store Restaurant also boasts an art spot, tucked into the back of the space. Works by local artists fill its walls each month. 


    Artists Works

    Also in downtown Vashon, tucked away in a storefront at 9922 SW Bank Road, you’ll find Starving Artists Works (SAW)—a small shop stuffed with an abundance of work by local artists and artisans. Visit the gallery’s Facebook page, or call (206) 979-4192 to find out hours.

    Vashon Farmers Market 

    A bustling marketplace on Saturdays, from April to October, typically includes work by local artisans. The market is in the town center, at ​​17519 Vashon Hwy SW. Visit


    Vashon Center for the Arts

    Any day trip to Vashon should probably begin and end at Vashon Center for the Arts (VCA)—a gleaming new performing and visual arts space that opened in 2018.Curatorially, the gallery runs the gamut of exhibits by local, regional, and national artists, with themes that range from delightfully decorative to blisteringly political. At times, they’re  just dazzling, as was the case last fall, when the gallery was filled with a retrospective of the work of world-renowned cartoonist, Jim Woodring, who happens to be a Vashon resident. 

    In March, the VCA hosts an invitational juried show, “Choice,” prompted by the shocking reversal of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court last year. The 30 works on view include “Where are you From,” by Fumi Amano—an interactive sculpture of a uterus that gallery-goers can climb inside. In April, VCA celebrates Earth Month with an exhibit of new works by tile artist Clare Dohna, a large curtain installation made of twigs by Terri Fletcher, and printmaking by Vanessa Lanza. Find out more at


    All this, and studio tours… 

    Visit the website of Vashon Island Visual Artists (ViVA) at, and mark your calendar for the membership organization’s two annual studio tours. The spring tour takes place  May 6-7 and 13-14, at approximately 40 artists’ studios and galleries on Vashon Island. 

    Elizabeth Shepherd

    Elizabeth Shepherd is the editor of The Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, the town’s newspaper of record.

  • Wednesday, March 01, 2023 10:39 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Looking Back at the Italian Festival

    My good friend Dennis invited me to sign copies of my new book at our last Italian Festa and I was thrilled. The invitation gets better: “I can’t find another Italian author this year. You can have the table to yourself.”

    Well, an invitation like that doesn’t come along all that often.

    Now, at a festival celebrating all things Italian—and by “all things” I mean what 99% of the people come for: the food—I knew most vendors would be selling gelato or cannoli or pasta or pizza. Even so, I accepted the invitation. Courage can be its own sort of blessing.

    My first no-sale of the day was a man who picked up my book and read the cover. I tried to summarize what the book is about, which is always hard to do, for others, for myself. He nodded but I could tell from his eyes that I’d lost him. You usually do, going on about your book. The key is finding balance between explanation and too much. You want to say enough to make the book appealing but leave room for imagination. He turned my book over to read the back. He read the cover again. He read the spine. Then he took about twenty minutes telling me about his own writing. He told me about his grown children. He told me about his dog. But this is normal. The world is full of lonely people. If I even begin to imagine how many, I could cry. Still, I thought the whole encounter was funny, but not funny laugh-out-loud-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. I imagined myself waving a wand to make the whole weekend pass quickly.

    And then.

    A teacher looked through my new children’s book and said, “I’ll take five of these.” Oh. Those. Words. Those generous words. I can’t help it, I thought, I love this. I love selling my books. You’d think I’d love the whole new world of internet connection, but for me, the best experience is all about meeting my readers. Things were starting to look up.

    I’ve been selling my creativity my entire life. I know you must be thinking, really, your entire life?  But it’s true. Since year four. Painted rocks. Popsicles with pansies frozen within, edible art long before its time. Handmade puppets, clutches, note cards. Drumming up business. Scared to death, but excited. Alive.

    A well-dressed man (shirt, tie, dress pants made of whatever it is that fabric with a sheen is made of these days), scolded me when I couldn’t answer his question in Italian. In the Northwest, I often feel like I act too Italian compared to the general population. But today, he is not the first person who has made me feel like I am not Italian enough.

    This makes me smile.

    By Sunday, I was out of books (out of books!), so I packed up early, and on my way out the door, I turned back to see Dennis watching the band. He’d just pulled off Seattle’s 30th festival with knack and finesse. I wished I could’ve stayed and danced, but I had to go, and I didn’t want to bother Dennis, not even with a personal “ciao e grazie di tutto” which can take a lot of oomph, good oomph, but still oomph, so I’m saying it here.

    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Mary Lou Sanelli is the author of Every Little Thing, a collection of essays that was nominated for a Pacific Northwest Book Award and a Washington State Book Award. Her previous titles include poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. For more information about her and her work, visit

  • Wednesday, March 01, 2023 10:15 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    In the Spring of 2023, the Whatcom Museum presents “Katazome Today: Migrations of a Japanese Art” in the Lightcatcher Building. The exhibition features the work of seven national and international artists who all explore katazome, a Japanese textile dyeing process, in their work. While traditionally used for kimono dyeing, this process continues to be used as an expression of creativity by artists around the world. By tracing the international migration of this historical method, the exhibition offers the guest an opportunity to explore the evolution of a dyeing process as it interacts with various cultures and environments throughout the global artistic community. The exhibition is co-curated by Seiko A. Purdue, Professor in Fibers/Fabrics at Western Washington University and Amy Chaloupka, Curator of Art at the Whatcom Museum.

    One of the most exciting aspects of “Katazome Today” is the inclusion of a national and international roster of artists: Akemi Cohn (Illinois), Melinda Heal (Australia), Fumiyo Imafuku (Japan), Cheryl Lawrence (Washington), John Marshall (California), Yuken Teruya (Germany), and Mika Toba (Japan).But before entering the exhibition, guests encounter “Dadai: Generation After Generation,” a display of artworks created by Professor Purdue’s students at Western Washington University. The students all utilize the katazome process in their own unique way as an illustration of the importance of passing key artistic knowledge from the teacher (Professor Purdue) to the next generation. The colorful pieces each highlight a motif created by the artist and lead the museum visitor to the entrance of the exhibit.

    Visitors are immediately greeted by a wide range of sizes, colors, and materials upon entering “Katazome Today.” Those unfamiliar with the process may be surprised by the variety of work included in the exhibition, which is excellently evident in the first gallery. Melinda Heal’s “The Cliffs, they are breathing” is one of the first artworks that visitors will experience upon entering the gallery and it includes imagery of the cliffs near the Australian town of Bermagui. The scale of the cliffs is referenced in the sheer scale of the artwork. According to the artwork label, this is the largest work Heal has created using the katazome technique so far in her artistic career.

    Heal’s expressive and graceful work is installed adjacent to another large work by Washington-based artist Cheryl Lawrence, titled “Women of the 116th Congress.” Created by a group of twenty women gathered by the artist, this installation documents the 113 women of the 116 th Congress, which was the most women sworn into Congress in a session. Each portrait is detailed with thread, buttons, and other beaded embellishments to create unique and personalized tributes to the 113 women in the installation.

    Figurative work is rare in this exhibition, and that makes this artwork even more impressive. Lawrence made an empowering and historically significant decision to bring together a group of women to create this work, and the artwork label connects this act to the tradition of women gathering in groups to create quilts throughout history.

    The katazome process includes hand-cut stencils (katagami is the type of paper used) on which a dye-resistant rice paste is applied to then dye the fabric. The exhibition does include a video and photographs of the process to assist the guest in understanding this process in application. Interestingly, some artists in the exhibition utilize only a part or step of the katazome process to make their work.

    Yuken Teruya’s “Golden Arch Parkway McDonalds (Red Yellow)” is made up of a McDonald’s paper bag and glue, but Teruya hand-cuts the paper bag to create a tree within the bag by employing his understanding of cutting katagami stencils. The exhibition also includes katagami stencils from the early 1900s as examples of the traditional method.

    “Katazome Today: Migrations of a Japanese Art” draws from an international roster of artists who are all using a traditional technique to demonstrate contemporary ideas in a unique way. Whether they use the process in its entirety or select elements of the historical method, each artwork and installation brings the viewer to a closer understanding and appreciation for an artform that was carefully preserved for generations. The artworks range greatly in size, material, and form, which makes for an interesting and unexpected viewing experience for those new to katazome and guests already knowledgeable about the process. The exhibition is open until June 11, so there is still plenty of time to experience it for yourself and learn something new about this important Japanese artform.

    Chloé Dye Sherpe

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

    “Katazome Today: Migrations of a Japanese Art” is on view Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 P.M. through June 11 at Whatcom Museum located at 250 Flora Street in Bellingham, Washington. For more information, visit

  • Wednesday, March 01, 2023 11:59 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Spark&Thread is a women-owned art boutique in the Capitol Hill/Stevens neighborhood. Established in late 2021, the shop features locally-made creations for the home, and it showcases the work of the owners/artists Juli Hudson and Solia Hermes.

    Central to Hudson’s and Hermes’ vision for Spark&Thread is to represent other local artists and craftspeople, and to connect to the surrounding arts community — Hermes calls the shop itself “a living arts space.”

    March 8 through April 30, Spark&Thread is spotlighting the work of painter Trisha Gilmore and ceramist Gretchen Siegrist.

    Trisha Gilmore is a Seattle-based artist who has taught art in and out of the classroom with Pratt, Powerful Schools, Seattle Public Schools, The Community School, and other venues. She works most frequently with acrylic paint on a square or close-to-square canvas. Gilmore likes to complement her acrylics with traces of ink or graphite, and she applies swatches of vintage paper or other material to the paintings. The collage material is directly on the surface in some pieces, but subtly so, while in other works the collage material is painted over, and left to make its presence known only as a ghostly shape or a faint texture just below the surface.

    Gilmore is drawn to natural forms —f lowers and plants, in particular. Frequently she depicts the flowers arranged in vases set on tables or countertops that anchor the composition. You might be thinking still-life, but visually there’s little stillness — in fact the work hums with happy activity. The colors are sometimes muted, but the organic shapes are plentiful and rendered loosely and playfully. Freeform marks, drips and smears, and the vague trace of forms painted over contribute to this mood of contented restlessness.

    Even as Gilmore plays with floral themes and designs she strongly embraces abstraction; she paints and draws intuitively and imaginatively. Figure and ground are in a dervish dance in many of her pieces, and things that are solid seem to melt into air. In “Mending Wall” the vertical stripes of the tablecloth make an assertive and colorful foreground, but the neutrally-colored flowers and bulbs that are the painting’s focus tend to blend or incorporate into the background — the wall itself.

    Although even here we face ambiguity — a solid mass of color in the background on one side of the canvas is balanced against
    the other side’s depiction of airy lattice-work (a support for plants to cling to as they climb up from the ground). Perhaps inspired by Robert Frost’s famous poem of the same name, “Mending Wall” seems to reflect on the nature of walls, and “What I was walling in or walling out.”

    The botanical theme in Gilmore’s work is echoed in the clay creations of Gretchen Siegrist, a Resident Artist at Seward Park Clay Studio. Her painted clay surfaces often depict sprigs and leafs and flower petals. The pieces in her delightful “Houses” series you can think of as birdhouses or simply tiny houses (but really tiny, many standing tall at 10 inches at the most) but in each dwelling fun overrules function – the house shapes themselves are skewed, fanciful rather than practical, and not many creatures could get in through their sliver-thin door openings.

    In Siegrist’s cups and in her other containers (planters, bowls, birdbaths), we see a shift towards actual function (as you would expect) and a shift in tone within their visual vocabulary—less whimsical than the houses, more considered and closely observed. Rather than the simplified and isolated flower outlines or line drawings, we find intricate imagery and more “scenes” — birds and ferns, pine cones and seed pods, a stand of fir trees. One piece illustrates new growth sprouting from a nurse-log, an image that reflects the artist’s interest in natural decomposition — Siegrist even builds pieces from clay remnants, a way of embodying the life-cycle concept within her materials and processes.

    It’s not only color glazes on the surface that paint pictures.

    Siegrist also shapes the clay to create her small organic forms. She’ll make birds that perch on the lip of a cup, or a fig branch with detailed fig fruit. The thick rim of a birdbath is incised and shaped so that it looks convincingly like rugged bark, complete with wormholes and other signs of life and decomposition.

    But not every piece is a celebration of nature. On occasion, her work bears handwritten expressions, and playful shapes—swoops and swirls—are always a possibility. In one piece she impresses the shape of musical notes into the clay, where they dance around impressions of Spanish-style guitars.

    Nor does Siegrist limit herself strictly to clay. Many of the sculptural pieces involve wood, rope, string, and wire, either for decorative or functional purpose, or a bit of both at once.

    Siegrist seems to share that community-based vision that inspires the co-owners of Spark&Thread. She puts effort toward supply drives for her unhoused neighbors, for example.

    Her work may be light in spirit but in her art-making and in her life she is pushing back against “an upside-down, industrialized world” (to quote from Siegrist’s website).

    Tom McDonald
    Tom McDonald is a writer and musician living on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

    Artwork by Trisha Gilmore and ceramist Gretchen Siegrist is on view March 8th through April 30th, Wednesday through Saturday from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M. and Sunday from noon to 5 P.M. at Spark&Thread, located at 1909 E. Aloha Street in Seattle, Washington. All are welcome to come to the Artists’ Reception on Friday, March 17, 5-9 P.M. For information, visit

  • Wednesday, March 01, 2023 11:07 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    If you want to escape the winter blues, this exhibition is the best place to start.

    Caryn Friedlander and Alan Lau both offer us abstractions that celebrate the natural world. They share a deep love of Japanese calligraphy and sumi-e painting: Sumi-e painting is affiliated with Tai Chi, in exploring opposites of Yin and Yang: “The Philosophy of Sumi-e is contrast and harmony, expressing simple beauty and elegance…The art of brush painting, aims to depict the spirit, rather than the semblance of the object.”

    Both artists have spent time studying calligraphy and sumi painting in Japan. But each takes these principles and develop them in entirely different ways.

    The exhibition is accompanied by Lau’s detailed statement on some of the many styles and masters of Japanese painting that have inspired him even as he states: “Though I loved the process of brushing ink on paper, I knew eventually that I would have to find my own way of working with these materials if I were to forge my own path in art.” We can see that in the freedom of his calligraphic forms.

    Lau grew up in the small town of Paradise (recently devastated by fire), as part of the only Chinese family. His father wanted to open a Chinese restaurant where there wouldn’t be any competition. Lau’s first contact with calligraphy and Chinese culture came through his grandmother who lived with them. But by serendipity, he ended up going to Japan instead of China in the 1960s and began a life long connection to Japanese painting and calligraphy.

    In this exhibition we see an incredible range of imagery demonstrating Lau’s willingness to experiment in every work. “Where the Stars Fall” created with several media as well as sumi ink, has a layer of soft pinkish white textures overlaid with dancing energetic yellow and black lines. We can see the calligraphy in the lines as a point of departure, even as we recognize that Lau’s own gestural lines. The tiny marks and shapes of “November Steps” in black and white suggests microbial life slowly moving in the midst of the dark days of early winter. It is dedicated to the avant-garde musician Tōru Takemitsu, so we can also read this in terms of the large sounds of percussion billowing out amongst tiny light sounds of woodwinds.

    Friedlander is a transplant from New York City where she grew up. That experience (which I share), makes us hungry for nature. Friedlander has lived in the Northwest since the late 1960s. She studied calligraphy as an apprentice in Japan for four years in the 1980s and had two exhibitions at museums in Kyoto.

    Calligraphy, like sumi-e painting emphasizes a Zen approach in order to achieve balance and harmony.

    The large triptych “Sargasso Sea” honors both the deep blue of this sea without land borders off of North Carolina, as well as the golden brown of the Sargasso seaweed that nourishes aquatic life there. She draws us in with saturated colors inmany layers.

    “Helios” a bright yellow painting honors the sun, but we also clearly see the artist’s study of calligraphy. Since Friedlander works in oil, her work is less delicate than Lau’s, but dense with brilliant color. The artist has declared that her process is intuitive: “I make marks and respond to them with more marks, building and deconstructing layers. I get into trouble and work my way through it. At some point things start to make sense. The alchemy that happens when line, color, and space coalesce into a meaningful whole is deeply compelling.”

    The exhibition includes works of many sizes, including some that are very small such as the delicate whisper of Lau’s “Plum” and Friedlander’s more gestural “Duo,” “Dip,” and “Forest” in sumi ink and encaustics on panel.

    In spite of a common interest in Japanese calligraphy and sumi-e painting, as well as nature, Friedlander’s oil painting and Lau’s mixed media drawing create entirely different moods.

    Lau’s “The Secret of Stones I & II,” suggest a meditation on stones in water.

    Friedlander’s small “Wading Among the Lilies” feels as though the artist is enmeshed in the flowers.

    Be sure to visit this exhibition and immerse yourself in the deep reverence for both painting and nature that these artists explore. You may also achieve some balance and harmony in the midst of these chaotic times.

    Susan Noyes Platt
    Susan Noyes Platt writes a blog and for local, national, and international publications.

    “Elemental Gestures” is on view Tuesday through Saturday from 11 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. until March 25 at the ArtXchange Gallery, located at 512 First Avenue South in Seattle, Washington. For information, visit

  • Wednesday, March 01, 2023 10:42 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

  • Tuesday, January 03, 2023 11:32 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Before Bainbridge Island had a bridge to the Kitsap peninsula, it established its first non-profit arts organization. Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, as it came to be called, is still going strong. This mainstay of the island’s arts scene celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and it greets the milestone with a real splash: a showing of artwork by visionary ceramic sculptor Patti Warashina. 

    The term “visionary” gets tossed around casually, but surely it applies to Warashina: in 2020 she received the Smithsonian’s Visionary Artist award. The occasion honored the Seattle artist for her five decades of ground-breaking work in ceramics, and for being “a defining figure in the West Coast Funk Art movement.”

    Warashina’s influences include Rene Margritte, Hieronymous Bosch, and Louise Nevelson; she credits “the era of the Beatles” as another influence. What do those artists have in common and share with Warashina? The pursuit of a personal and often dream-like expression that frequently critiqued the broader culture or ignored its strictures entirely. 

    As a Japanese-American raised in Spokane during WWII, and as a single mother navigating the male-minated art world in the 1960s and ’70s, Warashina saw much to resent and to resist. Yet a humorous, whimsical, absurdist take on reality characterizes her work. It is as if she takes too much delight in clay and paint to strike an overtly angry tone in the work itself. This dynamic shifted after the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the rise of hateful bigotry in its wake. Warashina’s outrage is undisguised in polemical pieces like “Democracy on the Run.”  

    Now in her eighties, the Seattle artist remains productive, engaged, and relevant. Consider her “Gossipmongers” tableau: figures in a circle gossip via tin-can telephones (you know, where the cans are connected by a piece of string). But at the figure’s feet those same cans have been elongated to become sticks of dynamite, each with its string snipped short to form a fuse. Warashina is telling us about social media without telling us about social media. 

    In addition to tableaux, BAC has plenty of smaller ceramic pieces on display: tiny birds, a fantastical cat or two, painted plates, and cups that overflow with ridiculousness and obscure purpose. Two-dimensional works — lithographic prints and drypoint monoprints — round out the show. 

    With an internationally-renowned artistin the house, Bainbridge Arts & Crafts is stepping it up in its 75th year rather than resting on past laurels. Come out to celebrate, and learn more about Bainbridge Arts & Crafts’s rich history and its plans for a bright future.

    Tom McDonald

    Tom McDonald is a writer and musician living on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

    Patti Warashina’s art is on view at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, located at 151 Winslow Way East on Bainbridge Island, Washington, Monday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. and Sunday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. For information, visit

  • Tuesday, January 03, 2023 11:08 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    How can we describe Ginny Ruffner’s work, life, and creativity in words? The “Flowering Tornado” seems an apt description of this prolific and experimental artist. It is also the title of her first pop-up book, “Creativity: The Flowering Tornado,” and the title of an essay by curator Tina Oldknow.

    Ruffner is a flurry of creativity and imagination, never afraid to expand the bounds of materials or processes. In this context, a tornado is not used as a negative action. On the contrary, it blends, mixes, and breathes collaboration and curiosity. What is so extraordinary about this exhibition, “Ginny Ruffner: What If?,” at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, is that it functions as a think-tank for Ruffner’s work. It is not organized chronologically, like many traditional retrospectives, but instead co-curators Greg Robinson and Amy Sawyer bring work from every decade of Ruffner’s career to the gallery as a visual garden for the viewer’s exploration. From lampworked glass, to paintings, to large-scale aluminum sculptures, the exhibition highlights two foundational elements of Ruffner’s career: curiosity and creativity.

    Ginny Ruffner, who celebrated her 70th birthday last summer, is never afraid to push the boundaries of her chosen mediums in unexpected ways. She often dismantles and reuses materials from older work to make new ones, which creates a constant revolution in her artwork as one piece flows into another. Even lampworking provides her the opportunity to make “mistakes” and go in a different direction. The earliest work in the exhibition is a prime example of the artist’s interest in expanding her artistic horizons. “Morning Parallel Universe” from 1984 is lampworked glass and mixed media, and is an early attempt for Ruffner to utilize paint on her glass artworks. In this instance, the viewer can distinctly see the marks of the applied paint materials. The juxtaposition of these early strokes of paint on glass with examples of Ruffner’s interest in realism through oil on canvas paintings is a fascinating visual exercise.

    A short distance from “Morning Parallel Universe” is “Self Portrait with Lampworking Dictionary.” Created only 6 years later, this sculpture not only illustrates Ruffner’s impressive mastery of both lampworking and paint but is also a rich foundation for her narrative mastery. Ruffner chooses to represent herself as a swan in this self-portrait. Swans are a common subject for lampworking, including at booths in malls and other venues that produce small sculptures of swans, wishing wells, unicorns, etc. According to BIMA Chief Curator Greg Robinson, Ruffner did not permit her students to create swans for this reason and her choice to portray herself as a swan has layers of depth. Female artists face many obstacles, especially in male-dominated mediums such as glass. By using the swan, perhaps Ruffner is considering her own position within the glass community and her identity as an artist. In addition to the swan, she includes many examples of her visual language in the artwork. Wings, feathers, fruit, and a mirror all appear in the artwork and are again referenced in others in the exhibition. This language and use of whimsical narrative can be traced back to Ruffner’s earliest work, and makes her sculpture instantly recognizable.

    While Ruffner is perhaps best known for her glass artwork, her painting and work in Augmented Reality (AR) are significant aspects of the exhibition. The paintings provide additional context for Ruffner’s interest in narrative elements and visual code. Her ventures in AR reiterate her dedication to providing a story for her audiences and commitment to curiosity. The retrospective book outlines this area of her work in greater detail, and is worth reading for this additional context. Visitors can also experience the AR first-hand through an app, which is a welcome element for the show.

    Ginny Ruffner has been a fixture in the Seattle art scene for decades, and her influence on scores of glass artists is evident throughout her teaching career that carries far outside of the Pacific Northwest.

    The exhibition and accompanying book provide visitors with a glimpse into the life and career of this important artist, while also paying her the respect earned through decades of creative output, teaching, and exhibitions. Visitors will be pleased to see the wide range of work included in the show; carefully selected and placed by the curators which must have been a challenging task when choosing from hundreds of options. In the end, the show provides artwork favorites, a few surprises, and endless possibilities for adventure, collaboration, and curiosity. Ruffner keeps creating work and we are fortunate to have a front row seat in Seattle to her ever-expanding artistic repertoire.

    Chloé Dye Sherpe

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

    “Ginny Ruffner: What If?” is on view daily from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. through February 28 at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art located at 550 Winslow Way on Bainbridge Island, Washington. For more information, visit

  • Tuesday, January 03, 2023 10:28 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    In March 1898, Woodland Park visitors would have seen a surprising sight: Sámi reindeer herders and their reindeer. They came from what was then called Lapland, in Scandinavia, on a contract to teach reindeer herding to Alaskan natives! The expedition had the dramatic title of the “Lapland-Yukon Relief Expedition.”

    The expedition was the idea of Sheldon Jackson, General Agent for Education in Alaska. He spread the myth that Alaskan Natives were starving, for an earlier expedition. In 1898, it was supposedly the Gold Miners who were starving, both ploys to raise money. But his agenda was actually part of the late 19th century efforts to “civilize” and assimilate Native peoples-in this case the Alaskan natives, who had not been touched by boarding school policies in the lower 48 states.

    Initially the expedition included 87 Lapps (now called Sámi), some Finns and Swedes and 530 reindeer. The Sámi were touted as “model” Indigenous people as they travelled across the sea and across the country. By the time they reached Seattle many of the reindeer died of starvation because their diet of lichen was not available.

    A group photo by Anders  Beer

    Wilse in the introductory gallery of “Mygration,” documents about twenty herders (it isn’t clear if that was all that survived), along with their families, including very young children. The herders stand out in their distinctive crown-like hats and clothing made of reindeer hide.

    Sámi artist Tomas Colbengtson transfers and transforms these historic Sámi photos onto small ceramic works that are displayed under the photographs. Colbengtson is South Sámi and grew up in a tiny village in central Sweden. Another ceramic work depicts the reindeer, and a rendering of a figure perhaps based on a ritual drum (one of which you can also see elsewhere at the Nordic Museum).

    In the second gallery, there is a dramatic shift in scale: Stina Folkebrant’s life size paintings of reindeer in subtle shades of gray surround us. Although she works in acrylic,the artist was inspired by Chinese ink painting. Folkebrant emphasizes the relationships of animals and humans and here, indeed, we feel that we are wandering in a field of reindeer. Each large painting presents one of the eight seasons of the Sámi.

    Hanging in the center of the gallery are transparent plexiglass panels as well as a panel with a mirror in the center, all suspended from the ceiling and in constant motion. Here Colbengtson transferred Sámi photographs onto plexiglass (one panel is Dr. Shelton Jackson). Herders seem to move among the life size reindeer in the paintings as the panels move. We are also reflected in the mirror in the center and become part of the movement.

    The artists state that they are evoking the Sámi concept of circular time and herd mentality “Reindeer are herd animals and being together offers protection from danger. The whole herd becomes a single organism with a thousand eyes that can detect danger; if one turns around, the others follow. People are also herd animals; they want a sense of belonging.”

    The story of the Sámi and the reindeer in Alaska follows many twists and turns.  After decades of various powerplays (such as a Gold Rush family taking over reindeer herding and profiting from reindeer products), eventually, the Alaska Natives were given the herds to own, and they let them go to join their caribou cousins. In other words instead of assimilation to white man’s ways, they assimilated the reindeer to their own habitat.

    Some Sámi stayed in Alaska and inter-married with the Indigenous people. They are still very much part of Alaska today as evidenced in a recent exhibit in Juneau.

    “Mygration” is a celebration of reindeer and the traditional relationship of Sámi as herders to these animals. As the moving plexiglass images of the Sámi intersect with the reindeer the installation perfectly conveys the magic of nomadic herders of reindeer.

    Susan Noyes Platt

    Susan Noyes Platt writes a blog and for local, national, and international publications.

    “Mygration” is on view Tuesday through Sunday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. until March 5 at the National Nordic Museum, located at 2655 Market Street in Seattle, Washington. For information, visit

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