A date with history
What: "Women Artists of the Northwest: Katherine Eva Houlahan"
Where: Fourth Corner Frames & Gallery, 311 W. Holly St.
WHEN: Through March 30
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Sheri Wright swears she didn’t initially make the connection that the exhibit of painter Katherine Eva Houlahan’s works showing as part of an occasional “Women Artists of the Northwest” series at Fourth Corner Frames and Gallery would be on display during Women’s History Month.
“I guess it was serendipity,” Wright said the day after the show had opened to resounding success during March’s Art Walk in downtown Bellingham.
But thanks to that “happy accident,” the eye-catching exhibit featuring an array of Houlahan’s landscapes, portraitures, floral watercolors and sketches created during her most prolific years—approximately 1914-1938—are drawing renewed attention to the important area artist more than 50 years after her death.
Wright says researching Houlahan’s history has been rewarding in its own right. The artist was born in Canada and raised in California, but it appears she found her true home when she moved to Seattle in 1901 to attend the University of Washington. Other than studying stints in Paris and New York City, the Pacific Northwest would turn out to be her home base until she passed away in 1964 at the age of 80.
In her younger years, Houlahan was known to travel alone with a pack horse and her painting supplies in the Olympic and Cascade mountains—as well as the San Juan Islands, Hood Canal, and Neah Bay. And judging by her impressionistic mountain landscapes—a few of which are included in the Fourth Corner exhibit—the effort was well worth it.
“The landscape ones were done earlier in her career,” Wright said, pointing out that the colorful and expressive portraitures of children and young women that are also part of the show were painted in later years, and were what helped her make a living as an artist.
Other topics of interest include the fact that Houlahan never married, that one of her mentors was world-renowned artist Robert Henri—who used to call her “Happy”—and that, due to health issues, she didn’t paint much past the age of 50.
Despite that last fact, Wright said Houlahan remains an important artist. “She’s got a great resume. There are collections everywhere. She’s got a following. She’s got a name.”
In 1968, Wright added, the Frye Museum in Seattle hosted a retrospective of her work. When asked how Houlahan’s art came from the Frye to the walls at Fourth Corner Frames, look again to serendipity.
“The owner of this collection is a client of mine,” Wright said. “I’d already framed a few pieces from this collection over the last year. He’s a collector who has seen the work I’ve shown featuring women artists of the Northwest, and asked if I’d be interested in highlighting his pieces. It was a perfect marriage.”
The result is a scenic stroll through history through the eyes of a master artist whose work deserves to be remembered. It will probably be a long while before patrons of the arts will see this many of Houlahan’s works in one place—let alone get the chance to purchase them.
On opening night, Wright said, sales were made and another client who’d viewed some of Houlahan’s work in Seattle and recognized her pieces when she saw them.
“She told me it was ‘so effective’ to view them together,” Wright said. “I love that.”
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