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Indepth Arts News:

"Pioneer Women Photographers: Myra Albert Wiggins, Adelaide Hanscom Leeson, Imogen Cunningham, and Ella E. McBride"
2002-12-06 until 2003-03-02
Frye Art Museum
Seattle, WA, USA

The Frye showcases a group of four women photographers of the past who worked and lived in the Northwest.  Pioneer Women Photographers: Myra Albert Wiggins, Adelaide Hanscom Leeson, Imogen Cunningham, and Ella E. McBride is the title of the exhibition highlighting works by these early women photographers. Each made significant contributions to the field of art photography. Internationally recognized for their talents, Imogen Cunningham, Myra Wiggins, Ella McBride, and Adelaide Hanscom were all associated with Seattle at one point in their distinguished careers. 

Myra Albert Wiggins is perhaps the earliest internationally known artist from the Northwest. She studied painting under some of the finest American artists of the day including John H.Twachtman (1853-1902) and William Merrit Chase (1849-1916), who encouraged her talent with the new medium. She immortalized Chase in a famous 1891 photograph of the artist teaching at the League, surrounded by his female students. Northwest mountains as well as New York City’s then bucolic Central Park. She won several awards, one of the most prestigious being the London International Contest, Eastman 7th World Prize for her 1897 industrial scene titled “The Forge.” George Eastman, founder of Eastman-Kodak, thought so highly of one of her works that it hung in his Rochester, NY office for years. Later, she became an Associate Member of Alfred Stieglitz’s exclusive Photo-Secession. She was also included in several of Stieglitz’s important exhibitions including the 1910 International Salon of Pictorial Photography at the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY. 

Adelaide Hanscom moved to Seattle as an established and highly acclaimed photographic artist following the destruction of her San Francisco studio in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Her reputation was achieved through the groundbreaking photographic illustrations she produced for the 1905 publication of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. One of the first American books to use photography for fine art illustrations, Hanscom utilized sophisticated techniques including manipulation of the glass plate negatives and prints by painting, incising and combining multiple exposures for the unique results she achieved. Her presence was heralded in the press as an important new member of the burgeoning local art community and she was chosen to design the emblem for Seattle’s 1909 Alaska Yukon Exposition.

Imogen Cunningham is not always associated with the Northwest, but she was one of Seattle’s leading figures in the establishment of an international art scene in the city. From 1903-1907, she attended the University of Washington, graduating with a degree in chemistry. After a years study in Germany, she returned to Seattle and worked in the darkroom of the Edward Curtis Studio from 1907-1909. Cunningham was part of the nascent group of Seattle’s progressive artists active in the first two decades of the 20th century. Her studio at 1117 Terry Ave functioned both as a commercial studio for portraits as well as being a gathering place for artist friends whom she photographed. 

Ella McBride had considerable success with her work although her exhibition history was a brief ten years, ended by the onset of the Depression. Works such as “Dogwood” and “A Shirley Poppy” show her interest in Japanese art and design. During the 1926-7 exhibition season, McBride was the sixth most exhibited Pictorialist photographer in the world, having been in 21 international salons and placing fifth in having the most exhibited photographs , 71 prints. Her own career as a photographer was brief, but the work that originated in her studio was long- lived and far reaching. Her assistants Wayne Albee, Frank Asakichi Kunishige, and especially Soichi Sunami achieved great international success in their own right.

Although none of these four artists intentionally set out to blaze new trails in the field of photography, their activities effectively served to broaden the history of the medium.

The Frye Art Museum, specializing in contemporary and traditional representational art, provides free admission and parking. A catalogue will be available through the Museum store.

Ella McBride (1862-1965),
Shirley Poppy, 1925,
silver chloride print
13 ˝ x 19 ˝ in.
Private collection.

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