David Martin and Dominic Zambito are helping to rewrite art history on Capitol Hill. For nearly nine years, the Martin-Zambito Gallery has focused on recovering undeservedly forgotten regional artists, both from the Northwest and other American regions.
Blanche Morgan Losey and Eugene Dyczkowski through September 2
To Martin and Zambito, the Pacific Northwest is a treasure trove of forgotten art. Like divers rescuing doubloons from a sunken ship, the two plumb the memories of local art collectors and families of artists, bringing up information about a wealth of art that we have forgotten.
"Seattle would be amazed to know that we had a greater number of world-class artists in the 1910s and 1920s than today," says the cheerful and voluble Martin. "In 1921, Louise Crow, a relative of the Moran family that built Rosario, exhibited her paintings in the prestigious Paris Autumn Salon. Marsden Hartley was a fervent supporter of hers. Some of these artists are still receiving recognition, although not in Seattle. Yvonne Twining Humber's paintings were displayed by the National Gallery of Women's Art this year to honor her 90th birthday."
Louise Crow died penniless in San Francisco in 1968. Martin says that despite their early renown, regional artists often suffered from neglect during and after their lifetime. "Unmarried and without children, many of them, especially the women, had no one to carry on their reputation. I'm convinced there were Pacific Northwest artists in the '40s and '50s that were equal to or better than Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. But without an established local reputation, they've been forgotten." Martin-Zambito Gallery wants to bring these people back. "We want to tell their stories, which are often as compelling as their art."
Blanche Morgan Losey loved the details of life. She was a member of the Women Painters of Washington, the Northwest Watercolor Society, and the National Association of Women Artists in New York. During the 1930s and '40s, she worked in the precisionist style—hard-edged, clean-lined watercolors that focused on design, color, and form.
She applied these formal techniques to a prosaic, local subject matter. The scablands of Eastern Washington were the obvious inspiration for State Highway #3, which shows a narrow, two-lane road, the familiar clapboard farmhouse and the rolling dusty terrain beyond. These small moments tell a story of lonely farmland life.
Losey's Seattle city scenes evoke the same contemplative mood. A gouache of an apartment bathroom, with cracked wooden toilet seat, washcloth on the tub, and pink fingernail polish on the windowsill, offers a vignette of urban solitude.
The work Losey did for the WPA (Works Project Administration) included designing stage sets and costumes for the Federal Theater Project's unit for black actors and actresses. A pencil sketch of a stage set shows the back of a shabby house, with laundry flying on the line, broken rails on the staircase, and an ash can in the center foreground. The scene is set so convincingly that one half-expects Stanley Kowalski to stride in from off-stage, yelling, "Stel-la!"
Losey lived multiple artistic lives: in addition to her watercolors and WPA work, she was the director of Frederick & Nelson's interior design department for more than 20 years, shaping the taste of postwar Seattle. One gets the sense that she was a social chameleon, comfortable in many different settings, from the bohemian to the Rainier Club.
This quicksilver nature is reflected in Losey's signature, which moved between hasty scrawls, spiky printing, and blockprinted initials. Her most haunting work is a chapel in an underground cavern, with a crucified figure metamorphosing into a waterfall and worshippers filing through a path from rock. She signs her name in a beautiful cursive script: Morgan Luzader Blanche.
WPA art is a particular specialty of Martin-Zambito Gallery, and epitomizes its dedication to the history of regional art. The scale of public support and encouragement for artists offered by the WPA was unprecedented in American history, providing rare financial security for artists, opening up opportunities for women and minority artists, and launching artistic careers for the rest of the century.
Losey's companion for this exhibit is Eugene Dyczkowski (pronounced Ditch-cuff-ski), who also worked on WPA projects. Like Losey, he captured the essence of a region, depicting upstate New York and New England. Dyczkowski's Quiet Valley is a place Losey would appreciate: a winter scene of a country village. In the hills beyond, his painter's hand has traced the human contours of the hill and given them the iridescence of roses seen through snow.
Dyczkowski co-founded and was the first president of the American Council of Polish Cultural Clubs and dedicated much of his energy in promoting and preserving Polish heritage in America. Much of his work in this exhibit consists of rural landscapes, where daubs of red paint set up a percussive rhythm. Again, the promise of the pieces is made good in the details. Dyczkowski works the landscape like a perspiring farmer, his brush strokes turning over every clod of dirt and every leaf on the trees.
Dyczkowski directed his life to the details of his landscape, his cultural mission, and his painting. His photograph shows a man driven by an obsessive energy, turned both inward and outward. In the cryptically and hilariously titled Whoa Art What for Art Thou Art, his Eastern European dreams rise like a moon over the matter-of-fact American farm. Above the fields, a naked, comely angel floats, a red rose twisted in her hand. Behind her are picture frames, waiting to be filled.