PULLMAN, Wash. — A collection of portraits and landscapes painted in the 1930s and 1940s on the Colville Indian Reservation will be on display at the Museum of Anthropology at Washington State University from Oct. 16-Dec. 15. The exhibit, which also includes historic photographs, is entitled “Indian Summers.” It will be open to the public Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., and for WSU’s Dad’s Weekend celebration on Saturday, Oct. 21, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
In keeping with a 1930s national trend for artists to gather in congenial groups to work, Washington State College established an artist’s colony at Nespelem in 1937. Under the tutelage of colony organizers such as professors of art Worth Griffin and George Laisner, a dozen or so artists gathered each summer from 1937-1941.
The 20 paintings selected for the display are primarily portraits of members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. They are the work of Griffen and two students, Anne Harder-Wyatt, now of Ritzville, and Ruth Kelsey of Bellingham, who attended several sessions. Most of the exhibit paintings are from the Griffin Collection, a part of the WSU Museum of Art’s permanent collection, and the rest were borrowed from the artists and their families.
The opening lecture, scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24, in the museum, will be given by Jeff Creighton, author of the book “Indian Summers: Washington State College and the Nespelem Art Colony.” Creighton is a writer and historian with the Washington State Archives, Eastern Region, located on the Eastern Washington University campus at Cheney. His book, which was recently published by the WSU Press, provides a snapshot of the Nespelem Art Colony and its efforts to compile an artistic and historical account of the Native Americans in north central Washington. The book gives information about the students, instructors and Indians of Nespelem, and beautifully displays some of the artwork their partnership created.
By the 1930s, the number of old-time warriors and women of the Chief Joseph band of Nez Perce, Chief Moses’ Sinkiuse, and the Yakima, Palouse, Sanpoil-Nespelem, and other tribes was rapidly diminishing. This prompted Washington State College’s art department, President E.O. Holland and the Board of Regents to establish the art colony.
In summer sessions from 1937-1941, students and instructors took up residence in and around Nespelem, the headquarters of the Colville Confederated Tribes in north central Washington. Close friendships developed between the artists and their subjects. During the six- to eight-week sessions, some artists took quarters in Indian homes while others slept in motels in nearby Grand Coulee, where Grand Coulee Dam was under construction.
The summer sessions were modeled on the art colonies of the “American Scene” movement of the 1930s and the Nespelem colony was a significant player in that movement. WSC’s art department came of age during this period. Well-known WSU artists — including Clyfford Still, Griffin, Laisner and Glenn Wessels — spent their formative years at the college and served as instructors at Nespelem. After 1941, most of the colonies were forced to close due to the outbreak of World War II.
Funding for Creighton’s research was funded in part by a gift from Harder-Wyatt to the Ritzville City Library Foundation.
“Indian Summers,” an 88-page book, is available in paperback for $22.95 and hardbound for $35.95. It includes 28 color illustrations, 20 black and white illustrations, 33 black and white photos, and several maps. The book is available in bookstores or directly from the WSU Press. For more information, contact the WSU Press at 800/354-7360.