My fault that Katie’s TGIF post didn’t actually make it to you on your F. I was visiting with the out-of-towners here for the new SAM. Here’s the Katie installment you’ve been waiting for. – Betsey
T. G. I. F. Seriously. You want to blow off that last hour of work by learning some more about your good friend Henry, right? Right. Good.
Picking up where we left off last week … we’ve made it to 1927. The Henry has just opened its doors. What is on its walls?
There was no weaning period, no gentle introduction. The HAG opened no holds barred, and filled two galleries with “German Expressionist Paintings in Oil and Watercolor” and the “Blue Four Exhibition,” featuring the works of Alexei Jawlensky, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Lyonel Feininger. When you consider that visitors to Horace Henry’s private collection were accustomed to seeing scenes like this
and were now coming to the HAG and finding something like this:
…it must have been mind boggling.
The Blue Four exhibition had travelled to Manhattan in 1925, and of the audience’s reaction, a writer for Time wrote, “They saw a picture which, so it seemed to them, could be nothing but a pathologist’s graph of a difficult neurosis (The Ray—Kandinsky) ; a lithograph of the wedding of debauched parallels (The Cloud— Feininger) ; a diagram of the unfortunate encounter of a cloud of locusts and a windmill (Abstraction—Jawlensky) ; the furious attempt of a carburetor to become a French horn (Mathematic Vision—Klee). Some of the curious, appalled, then took themselves off, hand to head; others marshaled their faculties.”
At the time of its opening, the Henry was under the guidance of curator Halley Savery and director Walter F. Issacs. Savery was a scholar of Indian, Persian and East Asian art and Issacs was an artist and director of the University’s School of Art who was cosidered “Seattle’s leading exponent of international Modernism.” In 1929, a representative from the Association of Industrial Arts wrote to Savery and referred to her as the “‘key’ person and the leader in the Contemporary Art Movement in Seattle.” These two were a contemporary art powerhouse.
Until 1928, the original Henry Collection was featured in four of the museum’s six galleries. That year, Henry and the museum’s director both agreed that the museum’s audience would be better served if it concentrated on housing travelling exhibitions: a HAG trademark that still exists today.
The University’s budget was already under tight watch by the governor when the Depression hit in 1929. And because times haven’t changed, the first thing to go when funds dropped was the school’s art budget. In 1933-1934, the Henry received zilch from the University.
Somehow Savery managed to keep showing. Between 1930 and 1933, there were four exhibitions: “Daumier Lithographs,” “Selections from the Charles Joseph Rider Collection of Synchromist Paintings,” “17th and 18th-Century Persian Costumes” and Italian paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. By 1937, the HAG was back to work, showing drawings from MOMA and de Chirico, Dali and Miro one year later.
The Northwest art scene was exploding. The Portland Art Museum moved into it’s current location in 1931; SAM opened in 1933, with Richard & Eugene Fuller’s collection of Asian art at its center. International artists travelled to the area to teach and Seattle and its surrounding areas were exposed to art from home and abroad in their own backyards. Painters like Ambrose Patterson and Walter Issacs who travelled and studied in Paris, settled in Seattle. People wrote and talked about art in the city, art colonies formed, and Seattle seemed primed for a unique art explosion … when the world went and got itself into another war.
Economic boom, bust, rinse, repeat.
But what started before the war, picked up where it left off in 1945. Finally a style evocative of the Northwest emerged, thanks to a few guys you’ve probably heard of. All spent significant portions of their careers in the Northwest and created art that reflected the area’s landscape, it’s tone, it’s color, and it’s Asian influence. Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan and Guy Anderson formed the Northwest School and the area finally had its own “official art movement” to write home about. The war also brought G.I. Bills and by 1948, the University’s School of Art had doubled it’s enrollment to 16,650.
By the late 40s there was so much art coming and going in the Henry that five of six galleries were designated to travelling exhibitions. Savery resigned as curator and New York import Elizabeth Bayley took over in 1946. Furniture design and decorative arts exhibitions dominated the rest of the decade: Charles Eames in 1947, Alvaar Aalto and Ruth Pennington jewelry in 1948, and “Folk Arts of the Far East” in 1948-1949.
HAG wasn’t too concerned with expanding its collection during the 30s and 40s, but no one in their right mind would pass this up:
In 1946 the Department of State bought a whole slew of contemporary American paintings to tour through Europe and Latin America, but before it had a chance to travel, Congress decided the art was too scandalous, so onto the auction block it went. After much bidding, the Henry won six paintings: Ben-Zion, Perpetual Destruction; Stuart Davis Trees and El; Werner Drewes, Balcony; Marsden Hartley, Whale’s Jaw, Dogtown; Robert Motherwell, Figuration; and Max Weber, Discussion.
And suddenly I no longer think my $2 breakfast qualifies as the “Deal of the Century.”
Next Up: We’ll take a history break for a week and focus on a much bigger deal: The Henry is throwing a party on May 18th and you’re invited!