Paintings of cake pops, tea cups, thimbles and ski boots line the walls of the Chase Gallery in Spokane City Hall. The rich russets of a Southwestern landscape glow and the soft pastels of a blue-and-white china still life invite a closer look.
The exhibition features the work of the Spokane Watercolor Society. Founded in 1952 by a group of professional artists, the early membership was limited to 12 men.
“The membership limit increased to 15 about the same time the first female professional artists joined. Soon after, Edie Dunlap became the first female president,” said member Bobbie Wieber.
Most of the 27 works on display at the Chase Gallery were painted by women. The Spokane Watercolor Society has come a long way, indeed.
“We just voted in eight new members,” said Elaine Syth, club vice president. “Now we have 61!”
Eight years ago Syth took some classes at Spokane Art Supply and discovered watercolor. “I’ve always loved art, but I wasn’t encouraged as a child,” she said. “But my kids are grown and gone, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ ”
She joined the watercolor society for the camaraderie and to continue her growth as an artist. “I love the look of watercolor more than any other medium.”
The original bylaws of the society required one painting a month by each member, and those who failed to produce were assessed a 25-cent penalty. Members who missed a meeting were fined an additional 25 cents. Wieber said the penalties and attendance requirements were dropped several years ago. And membership extends beyond Spokane, with artists from Pullman, Colville and Coeur d’Alene in regular attendance.
The group meets monthly at Spokane Art Supply. Members critique each other’s work and host guest artists and workshops. “It’s not open membership, though,” Wieber said. “Artists still have to be juried in.”
Bonnie Whinnen joined four years ago. “You have to bring three pieces and they vote on it,” she said. The retired elementary school librarian loved drawing as a child, and retirement gave her time to reconnect with her artistic side. “I like painting animals and people,” she said.
Wieber is known for her florals but chose to enter a landscape in the open-juried show at Chase. Her painting of a pinyon tree with its gnarled roots exposed and the red rocks of Monument Valley in the background, took second place.
“I waited and waited for this shot,” she said as she stood in front of her work. “I wanted to get the light and the shadow right.”
Back in her home studio, she painted from the photograph she’d taken. The location inspired her. “I’ve got to be able to sing the song I felt,” she said. “The pinyon tree is almost as ancient as the Navajos themselves.”
For Wieber, watercolor is where it’s at.
“I don’t like oil – it’s messy and smelly. And acrylic is too plastic. Watercolor is just magic.”