Northwest School

The Northwest School was an American art movement established in small-town Skagit County, Washington and the Seattle area It flourished in the 1930s-40s

The style of the Northwest School is characterized by the use of symbols of the nature of Western Washington, as well as the diffuse lighting characteristic of the Skagit Valley area The lighting and choice of earthy tonal ranges in the color is one of the most important qualities of Northwest art Tobey, whose artwork did not include as much natural Northwest subject matter, is identified as Northwest style because of the soft pastel colors which he used, and the dark mist chroma of lighting, with few stark shadows

The Northwest artists were labeled as mystics, although some forcefully denied this label They denied being a “school” of art, but they did know one another Callahan hosted salons in which the others participated Anderson and Graves travelled together and painted in the North Cascades and elsewhere

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Dealers such as Zoe Dusanne, Gordon Woodside and John Braseth of the Woodside/Braseth Gallery as well as museum professionals grouped the four artists together, as did journalists Their styles showed unifying themes that suggested something unique and previously unseen from this geographic area A review of the titles of some of the paintings leads to spiritual interpretations of northwest life

In addition to the local natural setting and the Asian influence, the Northwest School also shows some influence from surrealism, cubism and abstract expressionism The cubist influence is shown to some extent in Kenneth Callahan’s Prism and the Dark Globe (1946) and Tobey’s Western Town (1944) All these artists both loved the pacific northwest and were keenly aware of the larger world of which it was part Their work was recognized for being both essentially northwest and far from provincial

Many younger artists around the Pacific Northwest found resonance in how qualities of the region seemed so strongly evident while something universal also glowed in these earlier artists’ works Influences and inspirations traceable to these earlier painters can be seen in work by many contemporary artists One notable example would be Jay Steensma, who died in 1997 He left numerous moody, misty, “northwesty” paintings-some of them titled with admiring reference to Anderson, Tobey, Graves, and Helmi Juvonen While Tobey influenced the Japanese artist, Kenjiro Nomura, the work of Nomura and Kamekichi Tokita was said to “foreshadow characteristics of the Northwest School”

The works of artists such as photographer Mary Randlett and sculptor Tony Angell relate strongly to the Northwest School Angell’s sculpture often incorporates birds, as did Washington’s, Gilkey’s and McCracken’s work The flowing and silhouette style of Angell’s work closely ties it to McCracken’s sculpture Randlett takes black and white photographs of northwest landscapes that often have wonderfully painterly qualities

The Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Washington is dedicated to the works of the original artists of the Northwest School and their successors