Island Insights

Separated From Normal

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

After viewing many of the paintings in “Separated From Normal,” I’m now convinced Trish Harding is is my artistic spirit animal. 

That’s because the exhibit currently on display at Peace Health St. Joseph Medical Center as part of the “Healing Through Art” series documents Harding’s teenage years spent living with her family on Lummi Island—which also happens to be the locale where I spent many of my teenage summers and received my first kiss, attempted to smoke driftwood (don’t ask), almost drowned when my sister pulled the plug out of the rowboat during high tide, rode bikes in the moonlight, and generally learned more about living without the typical rules that govern modern society.

“In the decade of the 1960s we were the feral teenagers of a San Juan Island known as Lummi,” Harding wrote in a recent press release about the “painted novel of coming of age” on the land mass located approximately 20 minutes west of Bellingham.

Her dad was an Irish Catholic from Boston who worked as an accountant, and her mom, Annamae, was a beloved employee at the small grocery store on Gooseberry Point. Harding had plenty of time on her hands, as her parents had an active social life and spent a lot of time away from their small home on Lane Spit. Luckily, she had her best friend, Paddy, to help keep her occupied.

“We were free to do anything we wanted to do, go anywhere we wanted to go and get there any way we could get there,” Harding says. “We were curious, risky and wild. Our years spent on Lummi Island were filled with angst, reef net fishermen, boys, driving cars, rock ‘n’ roll and homemade raspberry wine. I can still touch that time that would shape our personalities, build our character and solidify a friendship.”

Even without a working knowledge of the iconic landmarks and views that helped shape Harding’s youth, I’m still certain I’d be drawn to the indelible images she created for this exhibit. They’re vibrant and lush and mesmerizing, and the fact that she has stories to go along with them is a boon to viewers.

For example, the paintings “Whatcom Chief” and “Ferry Fairy” point to living on the schedule of a boat, and also being at the mercy of Mother Nature. “Story House” draws attention to a supposedly haunted house on the west side of the island, where she and Paddy would sneak in to spend the night and scare themselves silly. “Deep Water Bay” tells of an epic overnighter in 1969 on Inati Bay on the weekend before high school graduation, and “Into the Wild” speaks not only of the breathtaking natural world instantly accessible on the island, but also of the freedom of answering only to yourself.

“When I was on Lummi Island there was a sense of into the wild each and every day,” Harding says. “Experiencing the musty smell of the forest floor, the taste of salt spray, primal seagull calls, and the savage dampness of the dark. There was an exhilarating thrill of mystery in the depths of the water and the exhilarating chill of the spooky forest. On the beaches and in the coves of Lummi Island, I felt untouched by convention and marched to rules of my own making.”

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