Making Connections

Anatomy of a Collection


What: "Anatomy of a Collection"

Where: Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building, 250 Flora St.


WHEN: 12pm-4:30pm Wed.-Sun, through March 7, 2021


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

It had been approximately six months since I last walked through the doors of Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building, but when I entered the lobby Sunday afternoon on my way to explore the recently opened exhibit, “Anatomy of a Collection: Recent Acquisitions and Promised Gifts,” it seemed as if almost no time at all had passed.

Inside, of course, there were a number of differences to be found since my last pre-pandemic walk-through. Staff were masked and seated behind plexiglass, and helpful signs pointed to the best ways to navigate the hallways and galleries while hewing to COVID-19 safety and health requirements—which include limiting the amount of visitors to 25 percent of the museum’s capacity, allowing for one-way traffic flow of patrons through the facility, additional cleaning measures and much more.

Once inside the main gallery, it was easy for my date and I to maintain physical distance from the other art appreciators who were there to check out the nearly 70 artworks in the exhibit that marks 10 years since the Lightcatcher’s construction and celebrates the art that has become a part of the museum’s permanent collection during that decade.

Some of the subject matter seemed familiar—and it was. For example, I’d previously seen Lesley Dill’s ambitious “Shimmer” when she had a solo show at the Whatcom Museum in 2011. Making the 60-foot-long, floor-to-ceiling installation required more than 300 eight-hour days (with help from assistants), and utilized two million feet of fine wire to create the cascading curtain that is augmented by a fragment of a poem written by Salvador Espriu. It’s a stunning work—and since Dill donated it to the museum, it will always be accessible (although I can’t begin to imagine how it’s stored).

Other artists whose work I’ve come to recognize at the museum and at galleries throughout Whatcom and Skagit counties are also represented—including Pacific Northwest artists Mary Henry, Clayton James, Wendell Brazeau, Philip McCracken, Tom Sherwood, Mary Randlett, Mark Tobey, and Bellingham-born painter Richard Gilkey, who is best known for his depictions of the Skagit Valley.

Gilkey’s stark “Thoughts of Light and Dark”—an abstract black and white oil painting that hangs courtesy of the collection of Tim and Gail Bruce—becomes even more loaded with meaning when it is revealed that the work was left on his easel the day he took his own life at the age of 72.

Other works of note include an “Untitled” watercolor depicting an Eastern Washington landscape by the Lynden-born painter Z. Vanessa Helder, pieces by Bellingham-based artist Ed Bereal—who last year enjoyed his first solo show in the same space—and contributions by John Cole, John Grade, and many others. The artists’ perspectives are many, but there is still a cohesiveness to the exhibit of paintings, sculptures, photographs and multimedia pieces that are eye-catching, engaging and often emotional.

According to curator Amy Chaloupka, that’s not a mistake.

“As you walk through the space you can begin to see connection points between works that represent several areas of focus for the collection,” she says. “Many of the artists in the exhibition knew and supported each other, learned from the same mentors or taught at the same institutions. The common ground across the exhibition is connection and growth through relationships. Artists don’t work and generate ideas in isolated bubbles, and museums don’t operate successfully without the integral relationships built with artists, donors and the larger community. The exhibition reflects all of these interconnected relationships.”

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