Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Myra Albert Wiggins: Northwest Painter and Photographer

Myra Albert Wiggins
ca. N. D.
Oil on Board
Myra Albert Wiggins is the most renowned artist of the founders of the Women Painters of Washington (WPW). The group began as one of the earliest arts organizations northwestern America, and remains among the few state-wide women’s arts associations in the country. [1]

During her long life, she was many things: a painter, poet, writer, singer, art and voice teacher, and mentor to artists. Wiggins was most likely the first internationally known artist from the Northwest. She garnered her reputation as a fine art photographer who, like Imogen Cunningham, became an associate member of Alfred Stieglitz’s exclusive Photo-Secession, as well as London’s The Brotherhood of the Linked Ring  as early as 1903. [2]

About the time Myra acquired her camera at age 18, women were becoming increasingly active in artistic circles, especially in photography. Camera clubs, competitions, and articles in magazines appeared, encouraging women to enter the field of photography both as studio professionals and as amateurs who created artistic photographs. Her father, a bank president and her mother, from one of the earliest pioneer families were well-connected and financially comfortable. Wiggins had the means to head to New York to study at the Art Students League beginning in 1891. At her time there, she learned from some of the major artists of the period including William Merritt Chase, who was a lifelong influence.. As a photographer, she was best known for her constructed Dutch figurative imagery that was inspired by Rembrandt and Jan Vermeer. Daughter Mildred was often posed in Dutch costume with background interiors matching classic European subjects. [3] By 1909 Wiggins had won more than 50 international awards in photography, but discontinued her work in that genre by the 1920s.

Myra Albert-Fred Wiggins Wedding, November 24th, 1894
Oregon State Library

Myra Albert Wiggins
 Edge of the Cliff
ca. 1903
 Platinum print photograph
 8 x 6 inches
Included in Alfred Stieglitz's 1910 International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography at the Albright Gallery, Buffalo, with Wiggins the only exhibitor from Washington, Courtesy Martin-Zambito Fine Art, Seattle

Her paintings evolved into a more impressionistic approach with looser brushwork and a broader use of color. Wiggins began to concentrate primarily on the still-life, particularly depicting copper and metal objects, and exploring the effects of light on their surface reflections-much in the manner of Merritt-Chase. [4]

Wiggins, Gloxinia - Artwork

           Myra Albert Wiggins                                                                                                          Myra Albert Wiggins
         Tulips in Luster Pitcher                                                                                                              Still Life: Gloxinia
                 ca. 1938                                                                                                                                       ca. 1930   
          Oil on canvas panel                                                                                                                        Oil on Board

In 1907, the family moved to Toppenish, Washington where Myra contributed to the family's finances by opening an art studio and school. She continued to produce an income of her own with her painting. In addition, Wiggins was active with the Public Works of Art Project in Seattle as an easel painter. Wiggins was esteemed in the Northwest art community, where she was known as the “Dean of Northwest Women Painters.” [5]

While living in Seattle, beginning in 1932, she continued her study of art, seeking teachers in design, watercolors, and oils. Besides her retrospective exhibits at the Seattle Art Museum (1953) and the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco (1954), she had one-person shows of her paintings in Vancouver, B.C., Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Salem, and the Larson Museum in Yakima, Washington. Individual paintings hung in group exhibitions in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Washington, many with honors and awards.[6]

At the PEN Women of America Biennium held in Washington, D.C. in 1948, Wiggins received highest honors for "Achievement in Art." A retrospective of her paintings and photography was held at the Seattle Art Museum in 1953. Wiggins continued to work until her death in 1955 at the age of 86 years old. A large collection of Myra Wiggins's photography is housed at the Portland Art Museum. Her photographs and paintings are also in the collection of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art   at Willamette University. In 2003, her work was included in the exhibition Pioneer Women Photographers at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, and her still-life paintings were the focus of an exhibition at the Hallie Ford museum in 2004. [7]

Myra Albert Wiggins
Copper Pot with Button Chrysanthemums
ca. 1930
Oil on Board
9.5 x 8.5 inches

1. History Link.org, Women Painters of Washington, http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&File_Id=7644, (retrieved October 7, 2013)
2. Ibid
3. Glauber, Carole. Witch of Kodakery, The Photography of Myra Albert Wiggins, 1869-1956. (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1997).
4. David F. Martin, An Enduring Legacy: Women Painters of Washington, 1930-2005, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005), 49. 
5. History Link.org, Women Painters of Washington, http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&File_Id=7644, (retrieved October 7, 2013)
6.Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, Carole Glauber, Trials and Triumphs of an Oregon Photographer: Myra Albert Wiggins, http://www.ochcom.org/wiggins/
7. Roger Hull, The Oregon Encyclopedia, http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/entry/view/wiggins_myra_albert_1869_1956_/, (retrieved October 7, 2013)3

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