13. PUGET SOUND GROUP OF NORTHWEST PAINTERS
Although the Seattle Fine Arts Society was founded in 1908, the local art scene by the mid 20s was a polyglot of professional illustrators and graphic designers, school art instructors, amateur Sunday painters, and those fine artists who had managed to establish significant reputations. The exhibition opportunities were few. The Seattle Art Museum would not be formed until 1931 and the only other exhibition spaces of regional importance were the gallery that Charles and Emma Frye attached to their Profanity Hill Estate and the Little Gallery, Horace Henry’s Gallery built in 1927 for the University of Washington.
Dr. Richard Fuller would provide impetus to several philanthropic and cultural groups at the time. As founder of the Seattle Art Museum, his opinion held sway. When he had the Seattle Art Museum award and purchase the seemingly unfinished Morris Graves’ “Moor Swan”, in 1933 it signaled to some within the cultural community that the high standards of proficient craftsmanship were flexible. What Eustace Zeigler or “Zeig“ to his compatriots thought of this turn of events is unrecorded.
Born in Detroit in 1881, Ziegler was one of four sons of an Episcopal minister. Though he would, like his brothers, eventually be ordained to that ministry as well, he was attracted to art from an early age. He studied at the Detroit Museum of Art before coming to Alaska, and at Yale University for a year in 1920-21. In 1924, shortly after completing a series of murals that E. T. Stannard commissioned for the Alaska Steamship company offices in Seattle, the artist and his family left Cordova to move to that city.
In Seattle, Ziegler became a well-known, influential figure in the art community. He was a founder and first president of the Puget Sound Group of Northwest Painters (*PSGNP). He won numerous awards in Northwest art exhibitions and completed important commissions for institutions ranging from the Washington State Press Club, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and St. James Cathedral in Seattle.
Dr. Fuller and Zeigler had one strong dream in common. They both appreciated the commitment that other world-class cities had in the visual arts by forming professional artists clubs, notably the Salmagundi Club in NY and the Palette & Chisel Club in Chicago. Both of these groups and several Seattle institutions including the Washington Athletic Club and the Rainier Club were reserved exclusively for men’s camaraderie.
According to By Fish, an early chronicler of cultural happenings for the Seattle Times and PSGNP member, men and women artists who associated with Zeigler would congregate at Seattle Palette Club meetings and tended to gravitate together by sex at either end of the room. Those professional artists would talk shop and engage in business while most of the women artists seemed interested in developing their skills for personal edification.
It became apparent that the mutual interests of both groups would not be sufficient to hold the group together and the men determined to form a separate art group made up primarily of those illustrators, designers, architects and teachers who dominated the commercial art business at the time. The women artists would later form the Women Painters of Washington.
The early founders of the PSGNP devised a way for the group to remain completely self-supporting and eventually be in a position to award scholarships to deserving students and provide funds for selected competitions. Dr. Fuller was an early patron who would bring his male friends to an annual banquet that would begin modestly with a few gag paintings being auctioned off by the membership. Eventually, a donated piece of art would serve as a member’s annual dues and the friendly competition of whose work would command the highest price at auction guaranteed that a high standard would be maintained.
Burlesque theatre was a thriving business along Seattle’s First Avenue where many of the downtown advertising artists had their offices and studios. The early entertainment at the annual dinner/auction reflected the lowbrow humor but highly spirited fun that was evident around them and PSGNP members formed the Chamberpot Players amongst themselves and mounted plays that were uproarious. The founding member’s respect of Zeigler insured that these productions never crossed over into vulgarity and the set painting sessions were eagerly anticipated events where the members produced exceptional backdrops for the play. Invariably portions of the sets would be auctioned off at the conclusion of the festivities.
Dad was a natural ham onstage with a Falstaff-like personality that fit in perfectly with the robust nature of the plays. His good friend, Wandy wrote and co-directed the play along with Ray Gerring, another great friend from the early days who would in the future be my instructor at the art school of Seattle College.
Many of the early patrons were members of gentlemen’s clubs and the PSGNP Stag Night grew in popularity. Larger venues were utilized to accommodate the art lovers, ad agency executives and various typesetters, lithographers and businessmen who employed many of the group’s members. Prominent collectors were introduced to the region’s visual arts through these annual get-togethers and local corporations began to acquire representative examples of member’s works to enhance boardrooms and executive offices throughout the region. Boeing, Weyerhauser and Craftsman’s Press were among the beneficiaries of the group’s talents and bidding at the auction would be keen for particularly accomplished member’s work.
The revenues from the auction would go to support the PSGNP’s active programs that included monthly dinner meetings, a summer family picnic, sketching trips to scenic areas of the Northwest and an annual group exhibition. Most importantly, funds would be set aside for the Scholarship Program that were among the earliest donations to the area’s art schools. These unrestricted scholarships and awards were never discriminatory and were given purely on artistic merit.
Dad became an active board member and then president in 1959. I would be recruited along with my brothers to help out cleaning up after picnics held on member Franz Zallinger’s Whidbey Island property in the San Juans or carting the refreshments out to a sketch trip in some rural part of the northwest. Historic mining towns became favorite locales and dad would urge me to sit and watch carefully how some especially accomplished member such as Ernest Norling or Arne Jensen would arrange their palette and block in the areas of color on their compositions.
I noticed that many of the artists tended to exaggerate the perspectives in their scenes to dramatize the emotional content of their pictures and the high cliffs and dramatic waterfalls of the Cascades became more romanticized in the process. I attempted a few rough sketches and showed them at the end of the day along with the more finished paintings for a general critique amongst the membership.