Arts and Culture in Washington State
On summer weekends, classical musicians from Washington and beyond present a series of chamber music concerts in an old barn in Quilcene. That relaxed integration of formal art with country ambiance is typical of how people in Washington integrate art with everyday life. The music scene embraces grunge, classical, and bluegrass. Washington has museums presenting Native peoples’ art and modern glass creations. An actress who’s better known for the films made about her life than the ones she made herself, a beat poet, and a composer whose works range from country to symphony all have ties to Washington. Community theater flourishes, while international artists visit to learn and to teach on stages, in studios, and in classrooms across the state. Water, forest, and mountain range serve to challenge the imaginations of artists from the state, as they have across the centuries.
The Seattle Symphony Orchestra has been a force in the arts community of the Pacific Northwest since 1903. The symphony presents 200 concerts a year and has garnered Grammy nominations for its albums. It also offers programs for young people from tots to college age. The Walla Walla Symphony, in the eastern part of the state, is also more than a hundred years old, and is known for its adventurous programming. This includes concerts featuring world music traditions and one that pairs western riding with classical music. Bellevue, Port Angeles, Spokane, and Rainier are other communities that support orchestras. The Olympic Music Festival, in Quilcene on the Olympic Peninsula, and theOrcas Island Chamber Music Festival offer chamber music programs.
Pacific Northwest Ballet is a resident professional company in Seattle, which, in addition to its performances, is known for Second Stage, a program of resources to assist dancers in making the transition to careers after dancing. Evergreen City Ballet in Renton offers classical favorites and showcases the works of northwest choreographers. Seattle Opera presents Wagner’s works, and operas by American composers as well. Kitsap, Bellevue, Spokane, and Tacoma are among other communities that support opera companies.
There are more than one hundred museums in Washington. The Working Waterfront Maritime Museum at the Foss Waterway Seaport on Puget Sound in Tacoma focuses on Washington’s long maritime history. The Northern Pacific Railway Museum in Toppenish traces the state’s railway history.
Many counties and communities support regional museums of local history, among them the Skagit County Historical Museum in La Conner and the Snohomish County Museum in Everett. There are several tribal museums, and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle has arts from the Native peoples of Washington and elsewhere along the Pacific Rim. It is the state’s oldest museum, founded in 1885. The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center in Stevenson explains the ecology, legends, culture, and nature of the Columbia River area. The Tacoma Art Museum boasts a varied collection, including glassworks by local native Dale Chihuly, and of course, art of the northwest. The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane collects historic and contemporary regional paintings, as well as regional artifacts and Native American art. The Seattle Art Museum has collections of classic European paintings, northwest regional art, and art from China, Japan, and other countries of the Pacific rim. The Museum of Glass in Tacoma collects glass, and maintains a studio where visitors are able to see glassworks being created.
Washington’s music portfolio consists of much more than Seattle grunge. A saxophone player known for his mellow jazz, a top artist of the folk music revival, a groundbreaking fiddler who also writes symphonies, a legendary rock guitarist, and a singer whose style defined a generation all have connections with Washington. The contemporary music scene is equally diverse, with rock, grunge, bluegrass, jazz, pop, and folk existing across the state and sometimes side-by-side.
Kurt Cobain (1967–1994), born in Hoquiam, founded the band Nirvana, whose hooky melody lines and sometimes-unintelligible lyrics defined the sound of grunge rock. A generation earlier, Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970) created a raw, driving sound with his electric guitar, and opened up new ways for rock musicians to think about their music. Hendrix was born in Seattle.
Bing Crosby’s (1903–1977) mellow voice first brought him success in music, and he was one of the first stars able to add careers in acting and producing to that. Crosby was born in Tacoma and attended Gonzaga University in Spokane. Kenneth Gorelick (b. 1956) is known for his mellow style as well, but his work is on the saxophone in smooth jazz and adult contemporary. Known professionally as Kenny G., Gorelick was born in Seattle and attended the University of Washington. Judy Collins (b. 1939) was a top artist in the folk music revival of the 1960s, and as that era faded, she moved on to a career singing pop, art, and contemporary folk songs. Collins was born in Seattle. Mark O’Connor (b. 1961) is a fiddler, violist, and composer who brings a background in bluegrass and jazz to composing symphonies. He was born in Seattle and began learning music there.
THEATER AND PERFORMING ARTS
Many communities across Washington support community theaters. There are also several children’s theaters in the state, companies that focus on Asian and African American heritage, a Gilbert and Sullivan Society, and several focused on the works of Shakespeare. The Seattle Shakespeare Company presents a year-round schedule of plays at its indoor theater, and offers free performances in area parks during the summer, as well as Camp Bill for young actors. Center Stage Theater in Federal Way presents plays from Broadway musicals to holiday themed stories. The Everett Theatrehosts touring companies and community events in one of the oldest theater buildings in the state, which dates from 1901. The Mountaineer Players present musicals and other plays outdoors at the Kitsap Forest Theater in Bremerton. The Seattle Repertory Theater is a professional resident company that presents classic drama, new works, and Broadway hits. The Second Story Repertory Theatre in Redmond offers plays, musicals, revues, and concerts through the year, along with theater workshops for children. The Taproot Theatre offers plays and musicals at its home base in Seattle and through touring programs.
FILM AND TELEVISION
Faithful dogs, vampires, military men, star crossed lovers: these are just a few of the characters who show up in movies set in or shot in Washington State. Twilight (2008), parts of which were shot at the Columbia River Gorge, provides the vampire aspect. The exploits of the faithful dog Lassie were first chronicled on film in Lassie Come Home (1943). which used several Washington locations. An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) was also filmed in several Washington locations, including Port Townsend and the Olympic Peninsula. The award-winning biography of country singer Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), starred Sissy Spacek. Part of the story traced the early days of Lynn’s singing career in Washington state, although those segments were shot elsewhere. Sleepless in Seattle (2003), a romantic comedy featuring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, was actually shot in Seattle. Practical Magic(1998), starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, was shot on the San Juan Islands. Snoqualmie was a location for the 1990 film Twin Peaks and the subsequent television series, and in the 1990s television series Northern Exposure was shot in Roslyn. North Cascades Park in Washington State stood in for parts of rural Pennsylvania in the Academy Award-winning film The Deer Hunter (1978).
Spokane native Darren McGavin (1922–2006) had an acting career in both movies and television. He is most remembered for the mid-1970s series Kolchack: The Night Stalker, a precursor to the late 1990s series The X Files, in which he guest starred several times. Frances Farmer (1913–1970) was born is Seattle and studied at the University of Washington, where she appeared in several highly regarded plays. She starred in a number of Hollywood hits, including Rhythm on the Range (1936). Farmer’s struggles with alcohol and mental illness led to hospitalization at Western State Hospital in Lakewood. She had an intermittently successful comeback, including a time as actor-in-residence at Purdue University in Indiana. Farmer’s life has been the subject of two films, and fellow Washingtonian Kurt Cobain wrote a grunge rock song named after her. Jean Smart (b. 1951), known for her comedic work on the television series Designing Women, was born in Seattle and attended the University of Washington. Peter Horton (b. 1953) is from Bellevue. He’s known for his role in the television seriesthirtysomething, and as producer and director of Grey’s Anatomy. Rose McGowan (b. 1973), who lived in Seattle, is known for her work in independent films and for her appearances in a leading role in the television series Charmed.
Frank Herbert (1920–1986), who wrote Dune and other science fiction books, was born in Tacoma, and worked at the Tacoma Times. Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) was a firewatcher in Washington forests in the early 1950s, before becoming famous as a spokesman for the beat generation with the publication of his novel On the Road in 1957.
Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were among the earliest people to write about the area that would become Washington, as their expedition traveled from the east to the Pacific Coast from 1804 through 1806. Their journals have been published in many editions, including The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery (2003). In Full View (2002), by Rex Ziak, is an account of the expedition’s time at the Columbia River. Seaman’s Journal, by Patricia Reeder Eubank, sees the explorers’ journey through the eyes of a dog in a book aimed at young children. Another children’s book is Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest (1993) by Gerald McDermott, which tells of a Native American legend. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (2009), by Jamie Ford, tells of Asian American life in Seattle around the time World War II. Snow Falling on Cedars (1994), by Seattle nativeDave Guterson, is a novel dealing with prejudice, set in northern Puget Sound. It was adapted for the silver screen in 1999.
For Washington’s Native peoples, totems, baskets and weaving patterns, and carving on everyday objects such as boxes express connection with nature and with spirituality. Images often featured stylized representations of humans, birds, fish, and trees. These images are seen in objects from history, and are carried forward in varied forms by contemporary artists.
The Women Painters of Washington was formed by a group of Seattle artists in 1930, and is one of the oldest women’s arts groups in the American west. Myra Albert Wiggins (1869–1956) was a founding member. She had studied in New York with William Merritt Chase, and was much awarded for her painting and her photography. She lived in Toppenish and Seattle. Lily Norling Hardwick (1890–1944), also a founding member of Women Painters of Washington, painted scenes of Native American life. She was born in Ellensburg.
Mark Tobey (1890–1976) chose an abstract, sometimes calligraphic painting style. Tobey became well known for his mystical, impressionist works, with many shows in the United States and Europe. Hank Ketcham (1920–2001), from Seattle, created the Dennis the Menace comic strip, and Gary Larson, born in Tacoma in 1950, created The Far Side single panel comics. Dale Chihuly (b. 1941), an innovative glass artist, was born in Tacoma and has a studio there. The largest public collection of Chihuly’s work is on display at the Tacoma Art Museum.
Before the days of European immigration, the architecture of Washington included post and beam structures covered by cedar boards, built by Native peoples around Puget Sound. Early settlers from the East often built log cabins, such as the 1884 Beckstrom log cabin in Bothell. Many late 19th-century settlers would have made at least part of their trip west by train, and a number of railway depots from that time are still found across the state, among them the Dayton Historic Depot, which was built in 1881. It’s done in a Tudor revival style. As was common across other states, those in Washington who had money for building experimented with different styles of revival ornament and architecture in the Victorian era. The Factor’s House at Fort Nisqually in Tacoma, built in 1855, is Greek revival style. Carpenter Gothic was the style for the Bigelow House in Olympia, built during the 1860s. Tudor Revival with touches of Gothic and Moorish detail is the style of the Campbell House in Spokane, built in 1898. Port Townsend is known for its historic district comprising a number ofVictorian-era buildings. In contemporary architecture, the Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, was meant to suggest a look forward to the future at the time of its construction. It has become an immediately recognizable landmark of the city.
HANDICRAFT AND FOLK ARTS
Washington State is home to many artists who work in jewelry, fabric, and clay. There are also a number of crafters who practice updated methods of native American craftwork. The craft—or art—Washington is most well known for, though, is work in glass.
For more than thirty years, Pilchuck Glass School has been inviting, inspiring, and teaching artists in glass. The school, located north of Seattle, invites top artists from around the world as teachers, and students from around the world to learn from them. In Tacoma, the Museum of Glass is an international center as well, with its collections of contemporary glass, its studios where artists from Washington and around the world collaborate on projects, and its programs dedicated to teaching adults and children about glass and glassmaking. Near the Museum of Glass are the Washington State History Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum, both of which have crafts from Washington artists in their collections.
HISTORIC ART MOVEMENTS
Painter Mark Tobey was an abstract expressionist whose work was influenced by his travels to the Far East and his interest in eastern philosophy, as well as his grounding in the natural world of Washington and the northwest. He is considered a northwest mystic, and with Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, and William Cumming, is noted as a founder of the Northwest School. Along with the painters and sculptors who followed them, they all shared an interest in eastern and Pacific Rim cultures and in nature in the American northwest. The Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner has an important collection of the works of artists of the Northwest School
After an accident left him unable to blow glass himself, Dale Chihuly began collaborating with teams of people to execute his designs. While not an original idea—teams of artists had worked on glass in the workshops of Venice, for example—his work and its results revived interest in the idea. Working in this way also influenced the idea of creation of glass art as large installations, pieces that would have been difficult for one artist to create alone.
-World Trade Press