• Tuesday, April 26, 2022 12:03 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    If you’re looking for an excuse for a lovely weekend ferry ride to the San Juans, here’s a great one. The San Juan Islands Museum of Art in Friday Harbor is offering a terrific exhibition of the mature work of three master Seattle artists: Gail Grinnell, Helen O’Toole, and Tom Gormally.

    Gail Grinnell’s installation, “Fiat Lux,” takes up the tall-ceilinged atrium of the museum. It’s enormous, a tree-like structure of translucent drawn and cut interfacing that branches out to fill the entire space. The monumentality of the installation belies the fragility of material and construction: a dressmaker’s fabric, the delicate interfacing pinned into place; a traditional woman’s material; a traditional woman’s technique. Grinnell’s work with this material has evolved over the past three decades from flat, wall-hung forms to monumental, site-specific, free-hanging installations. Her images, inked and cut on tea-stained fabric—lace-like, curtain-like—began as dress patterns and ruffles, then evolved to vines and flowers—and to bones, bones. Her work references memory and family: her mother fitting dress patterns to her body, then fitting children—and parents—to that same body. (Life, itself, is interfaced and interwoven, patterns overlapped and repeated, seen through one another, linked and broken.)

    Here, ruffles and chain-links predominate, images that reference domesticity and homelessness. In the museum’s atrium, the tree-like form also echoes a heart—the heart of the space, of the community. Shrouded translucent layers of chain-link fence form an outer chamber from which ruffles branch like arteries into the periphery of the space. As a tree, it offers shelter, but if a tree, this one has been lightning struck. The pale trunk opens to reveal a burnt core: a blackened column like a burnt wick at the center of a lantern…and this is the metaphor Grinnell settles on in her artist’s statement. Fiat Lux: Let there be light. A tree, a shelter, a heart, a lantern. Let there be light in this heart of ours, in this tree of life.

    Grinnell’s work opens onto Helen O’Toole’s masterful exhibit, “What Was: unmarked,” in the adjoining room. O’Toole’s paintings are also monumental, vast canvases of color and shade that dominate the walls on which they are hung with color and atmosphere like Monet’s “Waterlilies,” but with Rembrandt’s emotional lighting (think “The Night Watch”) and the power of Anselm Kiefer’s overwhelming, broken landscapes. O’Toole talks about her work as an excavation of Irish history: the trauma, the buried secrets, the suppurating wounds and scars of historical oppression seeped into the land. Her work is non-figurative, but tells a story using every element of scale, brushstroke, composition, color, and shade of traditional painting with all overt references removed.

    You can find them in her written commentary: the buried bodies; the vanished children; the hunger; the resistance; the oppression. Can you find them without the narrative? Perhaps not, but you can feel them.

    Born in County Mayo, Ireland, O’Toole talks about its “soggy scraps of bog land, dark soil, and dank smells wrapped in mystery, intrigue, and changing light.” 

    She could be talking about “Lay of the Land,” an 88 x 192 inches triptych that storms and swirls across the long wall of the gallery, golden northern light scumbled across what could be a darkening sky; shaft of light cascading down on an edifice not given; unspecified epiphany gathering force around an unseen actor; unnamed event of shattering significance. Rembrandt’s golden child, his gathering militia, is missing, but the feel of mustering forces, growing momentum, homegrown resistance, remains.

    Breeding power from the earth, this is no dead land. “Trace,” a towering painting perhaps 192 inches high, speaks of entombment: broken light swirls high above a deep shaft like light glimpsed from the bottom of a well. Red forms curl at the bottom like buried bodies, shadowy blue ascending like spirits. The tropes are biblical: an apotheosis, a rising from the dead. A buried past that will not rest in peace. The gathering skies. A reckoning.

    O’Toole’s “Pirate Queen” breaks into vivid color, pink swaths flashing flamboyantly across a landscape. She writes that this references a mythic 16th century woman, bringing a sense of flesh to the ravished landscape, the land as “brutalized,” as raped. 

    Her colors are as lush as Monet, but the feel is of Kiefer’s war-broken landscapes minus the straw—think “Margarethe” and “Nuremberg”—executed with paint alone. O’Toole’s painting is powerful and poignant; forcible colonization made tragically relevant with news from Ukraine.

    In his exhibition, “Into the Breach,” Tom Gormally also references cultural events, but if Grinnell and O’Toole do so with overlaid images and analogous forms or with the abstract tools of painting itself, Gormally uses concrete metaphoric imagery in his trenchant, whimsical sculpture. Totemic sculptures of fox and owl mix with political maps in red and blue, fox melding the Native American trickster figure of the coyote with a certain notable media giant.

    Religion inveigles its way in, a sleeping  fox complacently balancing an explanation of the apocalypse in each hand in “Sun Setting on the Apocalypse with Sleeping Fox”; arrangements of owl and ax set in stasis on a wooden altar form, the forest remaining only as the drilled silhouette of a tree through which green light glow. “Ghost Owl” the wall reads; it’s titled “Clear Cut with Ax, Owl, and Tree”—a holy trinity. In Gormally’s immaculate sculptures of wood, cast resin, porcelain, and gold leaf, our patchwork quilt of red and blues states is under strain, wrenched together or apart, stabbed through the heart, hung on logging tongs like the remains of a toppled forest. But it’s not just the forest that’s endangered—it’s truth itself. It’s a grim message delivered with a side of fries, and goes down easy.

    The work is up through May 30. You owe it to yourself to go.

    Elizabeth Bryant

    Elizabeth Bryant is an ESL/English tutor.

    San Juan Islands Museum of Art, located at 540 Spring Street in Friday Harbor, Washington is open Friday through Monday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. For more information visit

  • Wednesday, March 02, 2022 1:01 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    We are compelled to enter “Regeneration,” Michelle Kumata’s exhibition at the BONFIRE Gallery by the banners in the gallery windows. Kumata is addressing the difficult subject of the long term legacies of the illegal incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. On the left of the entrance hangs “American Tragedy,” banners depicting barely referenced facial features against a vague gray background behind real barbed wire. One has the face split between two banners, much as the experience of incarceration split the lives of those who were sent to those remote camps for up to four years.

    In the facing window, the banner “Regeneration” in brilliant color, suggests flying through the air. Nearby paper butterflies, made by a young Gosei (fifth generation) artist flutter toward the ceiling. Inside the gallery “Shine,” features a face that rises up between butterfly wings. Other banners also suggest soaring and healing. “What We Carry” requires a close look: inside the wings of these flying faces are bare outlines of luggage, the weight of the past trying to pull them down.

    Michelle Kumata, a three and a half generation Japanese American artist, explores the long term effects for her parents, the Sansei generation, who were born in incarceration during World War II as a result of Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. This generation is the last to have a direct connection to that brutal violation of their human and civil rights. It is a cautionary tale that points directly to contemporary racism and its ongoing violent manifestations.

    Michelle Kumata offers a multimedia approach to recovering memory and experiencing loss after decades of suppression.

    The largest expression of that, at the back of the gallery, is the lower section of the artist’s trademark work “Song for Generations.”

    The entire banner represents a dignified husband and wife at the top, with their lush fields behind them, cleared from forest; in the next panel, strawberries fall to the ground and a house is burning. The bottom section, in the BONFIRE exhibition, dramatically represents the ongoing pain of the incarceration with barbed wire in the open mouths of two Nikkei and flames around their heads. The strawberries become children, those born in the camps amidst barbed wire, but at the very bottom, a girl lets fly away a paper crane. You can see the whole mural in a small print nearby.

    The next section of the exhibition features photographs of the artist’s maternal and paternal grandparents that document their lives before, during and after incarceration. These touching images speak to the real family stories of immigrants who had businesses and lives destroyed in 1942.

    A similar feeling comes from paintings based on formally posed portrait photographs from the Takano Studio Collection from the late 1930s to early 1940s, called here “Nihonmachi portraits.” Nihonmachi is the name of the Japanese business area of the International District before the incarceration destroyed it.

    Facing these is a creative expression of memory: handkerchiefs with inscriptions such as “Generations were taught to keep your head down, study hard, and not be in front.” Nearby are “furoshiki” traditional Japanese wrappings for packages, here holding unspoken memories. Over generations as the artist states “the knots slowly loosen, releasing the pain, shame and anger. And we allow ourselves room to carve and define our own unique identities, to transform and fly.”

    In addition to all of these thoughtful approaches, a slide show of photographs alternates with quotes from a broad selection of members of our contemporary Japanese American community. The destruction of the heart of the Japanese community, Nihonmachi, and the unwillingness of survivors to speak of it are two major themes.

    Michelle Kumata has a second major installation at the Bellevue Museum of Art “Emerging Radiance, Honoring the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue.”

    It features an immersive mural that uses augmented reality that enables us to actually hear three Nissei farmers of Bellevue tell their stories. The stories are based on interviews recorded in the Densho Digital Archive an incredible online resource that expands our understanding of the lives of those who were incarcerated.

    Michelle Kumata boldly experiments with representing the ongoing psychological damage of the original historical event of Japanese incarceration. She creatively makes audible what has been unspoken and makes visible what has been buried. 

    Susan Noyes Platt

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

    “Michelle Kumata: Regeneration” is on view until March 26, Thursday through Saturday noon to 5 P.M. at BONFIRE Gallery, located at 603 S. Main Street in Seattle, Washington. For further information, visit

    “Emerging Radiance, Honoring the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue” is on view until March 13, Wednesday through Sunday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. at Bellevue Arts Museum, located at 510 Bellevue Way NE, in Bellevue, Washington. 


  • Wednesday, March 02, 2022 12:38 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    The more familiar you are with the arty charms of Port Townsend, the more you appreciate its unofficial motto: “We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There.” The quirky logic captures the spirit of the place. Two artists that embody Port Townsend’s whimsical nature are Max Grover and Loran Scruggs. They are showing their work together this month, but it won’t be all there in Port Townsend. Instead you’ll find it all here at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts (BAC), the non-profit art gallery on Bainbridge Island. The show opens on March 4, and runs through March 27. There are toys.

    BAC’s choice to pair these artists is an inspired one. Both artists revel in bold colors that border on loud; they favor direct statements and are A-OK with child-like simplicity. Grover and Scruggs work in different media, giving the show a built-in contrast. Grover produces oil and acrylic paintings on canvas; Scruggs works three-dimensionally, often repurposing tin cans, or bottle caps, to make her light-hearted creations. In BAC’s Sally Robison gallery, some zany call and response is bound to take place between Grover’s paintings and Scruggs’ tin constructions.  

    Max Grover is no stranger to galleries and museums around the Pacific Northwest. His popular children’s books also place him into libraries and living rooms. A painter who delights in a flat picture plane and simplified forms, Grover makes witty color choices, and arranges basic shapes into rhythmic patterns that swing and groove. Grover’s whole world is animated, and through his curious looking glass things appear out-sized and outlandish. In his cityscapes, cars resemble board-game pieces, and apartment buildings have a chucklesome aspect, as if leaning in to gossip about their inhabitants. In his seascapes, the ferry boats look like 1950s toasters, except their colors are so cheerful, and they have smokestacks shaped like giant tubas. He’ll paint a still-life now and then, but its objects won’t sit still. 

    Not everything is jocular. The mood of Grover’s “Dreadnought” stands in contrast to his usual lightness: the painting depicts a Navy ship that aims its absurd gun barrels in every direction. The somber palette here—all gun-metal blues and grays—and the inert composition (the ship sits in the dead center of the canvas) reveals a side of Grover not often in view. Port Townsend sits across the bay from a major US Navy munitions depot, after all. Maybe Grover can see it from his studio.

    If in Grover’s work there’s some nostalgia for a more innocent time in our national past, for Loran Scruggs the hint of nostalgia may attach to her own childhood, the timelessness of child’s play. She loves to toy with toys, that’s for sure. In fact, Scruggs often seems to be playing games with the distinction between play-toy and art-work. In one series, Scruggs takes on preschool building blocks (“Q is for Quail,” and “T is for Turtle”) though these wood-and-tin cubes are not the right size or the right materials for a small child’s hands. Or consider her fully-functional tin whistles: each one is a shiny thoughtful visual feast, one that also provides a pleasing sound, a tactile experience, and use value. Several of her other pieces are similarly hand-crafted hybrids of play-thing and fine art object. “King of Hearts” is an eight-inch-tall rodent assembled from the tin shards of the iconic Hershey bar package design: does the piece qualify as a sculpture or a pull-toy? The answer may be “yes,” even if no toddler has the fine motor skills or patience required to pull the “King of Hearts” pleasantly along without it toppling over.  

    It’s the bottle cap creations that may steal the show. A bottle cap folded in on itself forms a sort of bivalve shape, a mouth, a seed pod, a flower petal, a chile pepper (if the color is right). Scruggs repeats that shape a few dozen times with more caps, or she’ll group three or more folded caps into yet another more ornate shape which she then repeats. Chaining the caps together is another strategy Scruggs deploys. This artist’s game is to find yet another fresh way to express beauty and evoke wonder with a simple bottle cap collection. Top that.

    Hot Tip: The show’s opening reception on March 4, from 6 to 8 P.M. doubles as a release party for Tideland, a new quarterly magazine covering Bainbridge Island and other Kitsap communities. Led by veteran journalists Alorie Gilbert and Leif Utne (whose family founded the much beloved Utne Reader), Tideland aims to “celebrate the vibrant communities, creativity, and natural beauty that define our region.” Feel the need for “in-depth regional journalism on social and environmental issues like housing, equity, inclusion, and conservation”? Come out to connect with the folks who not only feel that way too but are doing something about it.

    Tom McDonald

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

    The Max Grover and Loran Scruggs exhibit is on view through March 27 at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, located at 151 Winslow Way East on Bainbridge Island,  Monday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M., and Sunday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. For more information, visit

  • Wednesday, March 02, 2022 12:21 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Katy Stone’s recent body of work on display at J. Rinehart Gallery harkens back to the artist’s earliest work as an undergraduate. The exhibition is entitled, “Force Field,” and it brings together decades of her artistic explorations in both the small and large artworks. Viewers are immediately transported into the atmosphere: an otherworldly realm created by the artist that billows with artistic expression. The work is full of juxtaposition, but the expert hand of Stone guides the materials through each thoughtful step.

    Stone reflects on how this group of artworks is a return to acrylic and Duralar; two materials that the artist is known for utilizing. The artist’s stainless-steel installations are instantly recognizable, but this exhibition features a softer, more ethereal side of Stone’s oeuvre. Tall strips of Duralar are attached to the wall with nearly invisible pins and appear to float on their own against the white wall of the gallery. Swells of blues and pinks evoke the sun as it sets behind the clouds, a quality that the artist describes as “atmospheric.” Stone is a master of color and layers, and the installations in this exhibition are no exception. The colors build upon one another, and the subtle movement of the material evokes clouds moving across the sky.

    While Stone discusses returning to acrylic and Duralar, she also reflects on the importance of geometric abstraction in her work. This aspect is perhaps best seen in the smaller works in the exhibition. Their bold colors and structured compositions allow them to stand on their own in confident contrast to the installations. But even within these small, structured works, Stone manages to evoke movement and expression. The shapes contain flowing paint, and it is as if the artist has captured bubbling liquid within the picture plane. Each of these framed artworks is a world of their own. Glowing yellows are contrasted with a grounded landscape. The viewer is drawn into these dreamlike scenes by the force of Stone’s use of color and technique.

    Katy Stone’s exhibition is a welcome burst of spring that also creates a moment for reflection, which is a welcome respite as the Pacific Northwest emerges from winter. As this writer reflected on the exhibition, the setting sun created blues and pinks in the sky above Lake Union. It forces you to take a moment to breathe and builds up excitement for the next moment of awe. 

    Chloé Dye Sherpe

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

    “Force Field” is on view through March 26, Wednesday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M.  at J. Rinehart Gallery, located at 319 - 3rd Avenue South in Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit

  • Monday, December 27, 2021 11:00 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Kenjiro Nomura (1896-1956) came to the United States from Japan at the age of ten and was left to fend for himself in Tacoma at the age of 16 when his family returned to Japan in 1913. Two years later, he moved to Seattle and began to formally study art in 1915 in the studio of Fokko Tadama. He immediately attracted attention as an artist. At the same time he supported himself with his own sign painting business.


    “Kenjiro Nomura American Modernist; An Issei Artist’s Journey” finally gives a major exhibition to an extraordinary artist. Last given a solo show in 1960 at the Seattle Art Museum, his wartime drawings created during incarceration at Puyallup and Minidoka were all hidden away at that time. 


    Curator of the Cascadia Art Museum, David Martin selected a small group of the over 100 wartime drawings and paintings now in the Tacoma Art Museum as a gift from the Nomura family. (I would like to see a book of all of them!) The exhibition also includes early figurative work, important urban work of the 1930s, and abstractions of the 1950s. The range of the work through incredible challenges is extraordinary. 


    Barbara Johns’ invaluable book accompanies the exhibit. She eloquently expands on the artist’s career. Both art historians are experts on the Issei and Nissei artists in the Northwest, a unique chapter in American art history.  Johns and Martin have published other books. We are so fortunate to have their important work on this subject. 


    One of the earliest works in the exhibition is an accomplished “Self-Portrait” from 1925. It clearly demonstrates Nomura’s understanding of brushwork and subtle tonalities, but it is not just surface effects. It also suggests an intense inner vitality.

    In the 1930s the artist created complex urban landscapes, such as a view of the intersection of Yesler Way and Fourth Avenue, with a sharp eye for planes, angles, and the presence of nature. He layers different tonalities of browns and reds, building a geometric composition with an unusual intricacy of perspectives. I will never see this intersection in the same way again. 


    Nomura’s work was widely recognized in Seattle and nationally, and even shown at the Museum of Modern Art.


    On February 19, 1942, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066 authorizing the relocation of all persons considered a threat to national defense from the west coast of the United States inland. This year marks the 80th anniversary of one of the most brutal executive orders.


    Kenjiro Nomura and his family, along with 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were abruptly uprooted and sent to internment camps, first at the State Fairgrounds in Puyallup and then the remote camp at Minidoka, near Hunt, Idaho where he remained until the end of World War II. But, incredibly, he never stopped painting, making a unique record in watercolor of both camps. 


    These factual and haunting images record the ordinary lives of the camps, a barber shop, a mess hall, an outhouse, barracks and a water tower. But the scenes always include nature. Nomura even painted pure landscapes. As Johns recounts in her book, the internees at Minidoka were expected to take the sagebrush-filled land and turn it into rich agricultural farms with irrigation ditches dug by hand. They produced millions of pounds of produce, and Nomura records this transformation in several watercolors. But I found his tiny sunsets, views of the sky through a barrack window, the sun bursting through from the sky above the barracks, a sign that he never stopped looking beyond his situation. The persistence he had developed as a teenager when left alone in this country served him well. 


    After the internment, Nomura returned with his family to Seattle in 1945. He once again overcame incredible misfortune after his wife committed suicide and his second wife died. But with the encouragement of fellow artists, particularly Paul Horiuchi, he resumed painting. In the 1950s, he turned to highly original abstraction. Each painting demonstrates a new experiment, with media, composition, and color. There are understated gestures that point to his early lessons in calligraphy, but these are works that suggest a willingness to try something new in every work. 


    It is an amazing story. 


    Kenjiro Nomura belongs on all of our lists of major artists. Thanks to David Martin and Barbara Johns, we can now see his paintings and learn his history. Kenjiro Nomura’s art work demonstrates his incredible ability as an artist and his perseverance as a human being. 

    Susan Noyes Platt

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

    “Kenjiro Nomura American Modernist; An Issei Artist’s Journey” is on view through February 20 from Thursday through Sunday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M.  at Cascadia Art Museum, located at 190 Sunset Avenue South in Edmonds, Washington. For further information, visit

  • Monday, December 27, 2021 10:47 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    How has your perception of your sense of “self” changed over the past two years? Has this time been a pivotal period of image-making or remaking? We all seem to have gained a new awareness of our body and how we can impact the bodies of others during this pandemic. As people start to physically gather again, how will these lessons impact our future interactions? In the exhibition, “Up Close & Personal: The Body in Contemporary Art,” visual representations of the human body take on renewed significance. How artists and their subjects see themselves and choose to portray the physical, and emotional, self is on display in the museum. The exhibition is from the collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky, which adds a layer of interest to the selections. What can we learn about ourselves by the artworks that resonate with us, but also why did the collectors select these specific artworks for their collection? All these questions circle around a central figure: the ever complex and analyzed human body. 

    To say that this exhibition simply showcases portraiture is a mistake. There are contemporary portraits in the exhibition that demonstrate the more traditional aspects of portraiture: the artist creates a visual representation of a subject and there are clues about the person’s identity or values included in the artwork. But these are contemporary images that are also evoking ideas about identity, race, sexuality, politics, and more. Many of these images are intimate and personal, like Titus Kaphar’s “Womb,” a tar on paper portrait of a pregnant Black woman. The artist includes aspects of her clothing to give the viewer clues about the time period (likely 19th century), but her breasts and unborn child are on full display as if the viewer has x-ray vision. They are let into this private moment as the subject looks off into the distance. We are left to consider what she may be feeling as the birth approaches. Is she fearful? Hopeful? It is difficult to tell. 

    As the viewer continues through the exhibition, there is a text panel to remind us that artists use the figure to tell narratives. Not all figurative art is portraiture, but the figure is a powerful tool in storytelling because they can connect people. If viewers can see themselves in an artwork, maybe that will help them connect to each other in deeper way. One method used to create this connection is by obscuring the figure so that the individual is not recognizable. They become a shell for the viewer to inhabit. Noah Davis erases the identity of the person in his painting, “I Wonder as I Wander.” A figure leans against a pedestal and cradles a sculpture in their arm. The background is black, and the artist has allowed the paint to drip and spread across the canvas, which gives the impression of deterioration. The face of the individual is overcome by dark background and is completely hidden. Who is this person? Their identity has disappeared, allowing the viewer to insert themselves into the work. What can we learn about figures in society who are erased? Whose futures are being extinguished? The artist pushes the viewer to think about these questions.  

    It is disconcerting to see important physical elements of a figure obscured from view, and it can be disturbing or visually alarming when the body appears to be dissected in an image. There is an entire part of the exhibition devoted to “figure fragments” which analyzes artworks that focus on certain elements of the body. The element may carry historical or social significance, such as the raised fist in Samantha Wall’s “Fists” from her “31 Days” series. While Wall highlights one body part to focus our attention on it, Mark Calderon hides a child’s face in “Regalis (red)” while also exposing their nakedness. The figure’s legs are crossed as they appear to float alone against a white background. The arms are drawn into the body and the face is cut off to bring the body flush against the wall. The child is completely physically vulnerable, and their existence is puzzling. 

    The exhibition provokes intriguing questions about our physical existence, how meaning is applied to the physical, and the various historical and social implications interwoven with body representations. There are these layers of questions on top of the fact that these works are all from the same private collection. Not only do Driek and Michael Zirinsky collect important contemporary artists, but there is a through line in their collecting that deserves further attention. What is it about figurative work that interests them? What is it about figurative work that interests you? 

    Chloé Dye Sherpe

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

    “Up Close & Personal: The Body in Contemporary Art” is on view Thursday to Sunday from 12-5 P.M. through February 27, at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building, located at 250 Flora Street, in Bellingham, Washington. For more information, visit

  • Monday, December 27, 2021 10:33 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

  • Tuesday, November 02, 2021 10:59 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    “Packaged Black” amusingly begins with works in the four niches of the gallery foyer: two tall wire mannequin torsos dressed in skirts of cut out Tyvek by Barbara Earl Thomas and two wig stands with ornate hair by Derrick Adams.

    The next galleries left and right follow directly on the theme of the foyer. Barbara Thomas features a group of portraits of elegant Black men created with black cut outs against hand printed backgrounds in shades of green highlighted with orange. The men are named by a characteristic, such as “sonorous” or “divine.” A poem on the wall suggests the role of clothing and fashion “Dress up, dress down, dress to kill, dress to chill, dress for success, dress to challenge—it’s a vision, a meditation on the real and the ideal our one chance to magnify or suppress the perceived imperfection of our bodies.” Thomas comments on the crucial importance of dress for African Americans as they step out into the public eye: “ I see fashion as armor, talisman, the magic-cloak, bigger than life.”

    In the opposite gallery is Derrick Adams’ video “On,” a send up of late night TV advertising. Against a background of the color bars of old fashioned televisions, performers sell something with no value, such as a box labeled “more for us” “new and improved” promising the “next level” or “extra.” Their cacophony as well as their individual hypes give us hilarious nonsense at the same time that “On” comments on the role of media and branding in colonizing our public personas.

    These two rooms set the stage for the fabulous main gallery and the transformation of the white fairy tale of Cinderella into a glorious African American ensemble. As Thomas states “Cinderella is my gateway dream, the every-person’s story I’ve fashioned black.” First we see a huge, headless Cinderella dressed in a luscious gown of cut out pink Tyvek. Her train fills the center of the gallery. Her royal court includes more of Thomas’s elegant portraits of creative stars and Adams’ homage to black women based on their extraordinary hairstyles. Adams made photographs of mannequins in beauty shops in Brooklyn to which he adds intricate hair styles and mask like faces. Their intriguing individuality contradicts generic media hype.

    Adjacent to the main gallery, Thomas lined an entire small gallery with cut out Tyvek floor to ceiling in what she calls “The Transformation Room.” The artist painted the room peach, immersing us in a glow of lacey cut-outs on the walls and even the ceiling. In a shrine-like niche a black and white cut out portrait suggests a young woman transforming herself at a dressing table.

    On the other side of the Cinderella gallery Derrick Adams “Changing Rooms” are also about transformation. They feature an homage to Patrick Kelly (1954-1990), the brilliant Black designer who rose to eminence in Paris. Kelly’s fashions based on the vernacular clothes he observed around him going to church as he grew up. He featured patterns, and materials, especially buttons, that transformed couture fashion. In Adams’ homage, the artist creates a series of “Runway” works: mixed media collages with clothing patterns, and painted polka dots and stripes, to evoke Kelly’s transformations.

    In the back room of the exhibit, the two artists collaborated on “Rotating Lantern,” a ceiling light (evoking the mirror ball of a nightclub) that projects alternate cut outs from each of their work. It suggests a party for all of these transformed people, and we are the people having fun.

    Just before the entrance to “Packaged Black” is “Viewpoints: Queer Visibility,” two starkly contrasting paintings. “Boyz of the Wild” by Anthony White is a lusciously detailed expression of male desire painted with a sensuous surface created by polylactide (a thermoplastic made from renewable resources). Facing it is Dean Sameshima’s “Torso (Black on Silver)” a seemingly reductive black and white flow chart until you look more closely! The exhibition includes several poetic responses by members of the community including Jasmine Fetterman’s “A Letter Written in Queer Longing” a beautiful evocation of desire.

    On the lower level of the Henry, Syrian-born artist Diana Al-Hadid’s “Archive of Longing” exhibit presents extraordinary sculptures that evoke the destruction of culture. The artist created “Blind Busts” blindfolded. The face is generic, the figure sits on a bizarre pedestal that suggests dripping mud (it is bronze). Another work, “Smoke and Mirrors” leans dangerously as it seems to disintegrate before our eyes.

    At the moment the entrance is pay what you wish!

    Susan Noyes Platt

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

    “Packaged Black: Barbara Earl Thomas and Derrick Adams” is on view through May 1, at the Henry Art Gallery from Thursday, 10 A.M. to 7 P.M., and Friday through Sunday, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. Visit for more information. 

  • Tuesday, November 02, 2021 10:34 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    In 2012, a new arts organization opened on Front Street in Lynden. Entitled the Jansen Art Center in tribute to the Eleanor and Henry Jansen Foundation, this non-profit is part art school, part exhibition space, and also recognizes the historic buildings in which it is housed. With quarterly rotations of classes, programs, and exhibitions, the organization seeks to bring to life its mission: “The Jansen Art Center creates opportunities for the community to engage in the arts.” With several exhibitions ending in November to make way for new shows, this is a busy winter for the staff of the Jansen who serve not only Lynden, but all of Whatcom County and beyond. Classes are filling up again after the challenging past years and guests are returning to the admission-free exhibitions that celebrate and highlight artists of all backgrounds. 

    Susan Bennerstrom’s architectural and light focused paintings are displayed in the Fine Arts Gallery on the main floor. In her statement for the show, Bennerstrom reiterates her renewed focus on light and shadow as a method for grappling with the changing world. Her paintings are like a metaphor for what many people felt and continue to feel during these times. Bennerstrom’s interiors are intimate and can be visually restricted. However, she masterfully directs light across the picture plane as if to encourage the viewer that there is something better on the other side of the door. Her paintings are a visual guide through a very real place and can recede far into the distance. In this writer’s opinion, the interiors that lead into exteriors are particularly fascinating. “Passage,” for example, illustrates not only an interesting composition, but how the artist is able to push the boundaries of a 2-dimensional space to create depth and movement. These paintings are representational, but still utilize geometry and abstraction to bring these spaces to life. 

    After experiencing Bennerstrom’s paintings, the guest continues through the historic space. Along the way, dozens of artworks from the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour remind the viewer of the organization’s mission. A short journey to the next floor leads to the Library Workshop, another exhibition space. In November, paintings by Antonio Gonzalez are on display. Bennestrom’s paintings are focused on light and shadow, while Gonzalez highlights the figures in his work. But the paintings are more personal and intimate than simple figures, and Gonzales wrote that his identity as a Chicano artist continues to be affected by the people and culture of the Lower Yakima Valley. The artist treats everyone with reverence, even including a nimbus, or halo, around their heads. These art historical references are continued with “Sacred Heart Guitar Man,” which draws from centuries of paintings of musicians. But unlike Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist,” Gonzalez included rays of energy and light emanating from the guitarist. These subjects are active, direct, and represented with attention. Antonio Gonzalez worked with a non-profit that assisted farm workers and their families, and he cared deeply about these individuals. Sadly, Gonzales passed away several weeks before his exhibition opened. 

    December brings three new Washington state-based artists to the Jansen Art Center: John Keppelman, Maxine Martell, and Chris Beaven. Keppelman and Beaven bring an almost hyper-realism to their work. Each human subject is represented in detail with confident brushstrokes and an intimate look into the scene. Both artists utilize an internal tension to their work, and it is as if the viewer has happened upon a moment before action. Maxine Martell’s recent paintings explore her identity and heritage couched in the visuals of vintage photographs. Her portraits are also a moment in time, with the subjects staring at the screen as if Martell herself is painting them directly. 

    The Jansen Art Center is filled with art. Display cases exhibit ceramics by students and teachers, paintings are displayed at the entry to the building, and all available wall space is used to highlight artworks by local artists. It is work exploring the building during a visit. The historic buildings were once the City Hall and Fire Hall, complete with a jail and morgue. The buildings are surprisingly sprawling and the organization appears to utilizes every square foot. There is a music practice room, ceramics, and jewelry studios, a large textile studio with windows onto Front Street, and a room for dancers to practice. This relatively young organization truly holds a wonderful resource in trust for the public. In speaking with their staff, it appears that the community is eager to visit the exhibitions, participate in classes, and attend music performances once again.

    Chloé Dye Sherpe

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

    On view through November 26, are exhibits by Susan Bennerstrom and Antonio Gonzalez. The winter shows featuring John Keppelman, Maxine Martell, and Chris Beaven, are on view from December  2 through February 25.  Jansen Art Center, located at 321 Front Street in Lynden, Washington, is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 A.M. to 7 P.M.and Saturday from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. For more information, visit

  • Tuesday, November 02, 2021 10:27 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

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