June 9, 2012 in Features

Gifts unwrapped

MAC exhibit gives context to Safeco collection
By The Spokesman-Review

“Three Horses,” by Kenneth Callahan, above, and “Rome Series Portrait #8” by Patti Warashina, below, are part of “Uncommon Gifts” opening at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture today. Warashina and Callahan “both speak of how their upbringing in this region contributes to what they explore in their artwork,” said Laura Thayer, museum programs manager.
(Full-size photo)

If you go: ‘Uncommon Gifts’

When: Today through Aug. 18, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays

Where: Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, 2316 W. First Ave.

Cost: $7 adults, $5 seniors and students, children 5 and younger admitted free

Call: (509) 456-3931 or visit www.northwestmuseum.org

The exhibit opening today at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture gives visitors a look at the museum’s permanent collection, especially new pieces from a Safeco Insurance Co. gift.

Museum staff “paired some of the best Safeco pieces with things we already had in the collection” to tell the story of how a museum collection comes to be, said Valerie Wahl, museum collection curator.

The show focuses on seven artists with Spokane connections: Theodore Waddell, Joseph Goldberg, Kay O’Rourke, Patti Warashina, Mary Farrell, Rudy Autio and Kenneth Callahan. The MAC had at least one piece of art from each before the Safeco gift.

One of Wahl’s favorite pieces in the exhibit is Warashina’s “Rome Series Portrait #8.”

“It’s just so striking, larger than life,” Wahl said. “Its form is exaggerated and fun.”

Also in the exhibit by Warashina is “Yellow Satyr,” a large lidded vessel.

Having more than one piece allows visitors to “track and talk about the artist’s evolution and growth,” Wahl said.

“Rome Series Portrait #8” was one of 41 artworks the museum received as part of the Safeco gift. When Safeco was acquired by the Liberty Mutual Group in 2008, it gave 840 pieces to the Washington Art Consortium, of which the MAC is a member. The gift was valued at about $3.5 million, according to the Seattle Times.

The seven member museums divided the collection, and each has done its own exhibit to highlight the gift. The Museum of Art at Washington State University exhibited its Safeco collection earlier this year.

While the gift expanded the representation of the seven featured artists, it also helped expand the representation of Northwest artists in different media, especially ceramics, said Laura Thayer, museum programs manager. Many of those pieces will also be part of the show.

“One thing we try to get across is there’s a community of artists and they influence each other,” Wahl said.

The exhibit also tells the story of how a museum’s collection comes to be, Thayer said.

Nearly half the works in the show were already in the permanent collection, acquired through donations, bequests and museum purchases.

To tell that part of the story, museum staff “tried to really accentuate the credit line for the gift” in the information about each work, Wahl said. In many exhibits, that part is almost an afterthought, she said.

“We always hope that our visitors come away with a renewed or expanded sense of this place where we live,” Wahl said. And with this show, she also hopes people gain an “awareness that a public collection … grows over time through the generosity of individuals and corporations.”

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