Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Blanche Morgan Losey: Northwest Watercolor Artist, Illustrator, and Interior Designer

Blanche Morgan Losey (1912-1981) loved to depict the details of life; her Seattle city scenes evoke a contemplative mood. Losey studied at the University of Washington and was a member of the Women Painters of Washington for forty years. She was also a member of the Northwest Watercolor Society and the National Association of Women Artists, New York. Losey lived multiple artistic lives: in addition to her watercolors and Works Progress Adminstration (WPA) work, she was the director of Frederick & Nelson's interior design department for more than twenty years, helping to shape the taste of postwar Seattle. She was comfortable in a variety of settings, from the bohemian to the exclusive Rainier Club.

Blanche Morgan Losey
Untitled (Seattle Street Scene)
ca. 1938
Watercolor on paper
David Martin and the artist's estate
Blanche Morgan Losey
One-Third of a Nation
ca. 1938
Ink and watercolor on paper
David Martin and the artist's estate
Losey's work of the 1930s and early 1940s was primarily in watercolor, executed in a crisp, hard-edged Precisionist style. Precisionism (or Cubist Realism) is a style of representation in which an object is rendered in a realistic manner, but with an emphasis on its geometric form. An important part of American Modernism, it was inspired by the development of Cubism in Europe, and by the rapid growth of industrialization of North America in the wake of innovators such as Henry Ford. In its emphasis on stylized angular forms it is also visually somewhat similar to Art DecoDealing as it did with pure form more than with any type of narrative or subject matter, Precisionism gradually evolved towards Abstraction, and faded away as an important influence.
Blanche Morgan Losey
The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire
ca. 1940
Gouache on paper
20 x 16 inches
Women artists participated in the war effort. Many produced works as part of the WPA where artists were paid to create posters for the federal government. Male and female artists organized the Washington State Artists Council for Defense, offering their services in several capacities. The Women Painters of Washington, an organization formed in 1930, held an extremely successful war bond auction at Frederick & Nelson’s department store in 1945 raising substantial funds. 

Losey produced several war-related works including a powerfully suggestive watercolor titled Bombardier’s View. The composition incorporates a menacing observation of a vulnerable Northwest landscape positioned in range as a possible target for oblivion. In addition, she contributed the work below (and won) for the War Poster Competition held at the Seattle Art Museum from July 8 to August 9, 1942. Losey's design incorporates the use of Surrealist imagery and prefigures the later illustrations of the psychedelic 1960s music and anti-war posters.
Blanche Morgan Losey
 Speed Production ca. 1944
 Design for Seattle Art Museum War Poster competition
The Federal Theater Project (FTP) was established by the WPA to provide employment for theater professionals during the Great Depression. The FTP opened in Seattle in 1935 with the sponsorship of the Seattle Repretory Company and the support of the Univeristy of Washington Drama School. The Negro Repertpry Company (NRC) began as a subsidiary of the FTP in January 1936 with 73 African American actors and singers. Originally intended as a temporary effort, strong reception led to the continuation of the company. Losey designed stage sets and costumes for a number of productions of the local Federal Theater Project including the “Negro Unit.” Her collection of stage and costume designs are in the University of Washington’s Special Collections.

Blanche Morgan Losey
Costume Design for "Mother Goose"
The Seattle Negro Repertory Theater
ca. 1938
In the mid-1940s Losey turned to Surrealism and produced a body of work influenced by European artists such as Salvador Dali and Giorgio DeChirico.

Blanche Morgan Losey
Untitled (Hats)
ca. 1945
Tempera on paper
David Martin and the artist's estate
In addition to her activity as a painter, Losey was one of the leading Interior Designers in Seattle, her work included projects for the Seattle Opera House and Century 21, Seattle’s Worlds Fair. She exhibited with the National Association of Women Artists in New York City, the Oakland Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum and other regional venues. Losey’s paintings are in the collections of the Tacoma Art Museum, the Museum of History & Industry and University of Washington, Special Collections.

Women Painters of Washington, Blanche Morgan Losey,, retrieved March 11, 2015.
Seattle Weekly News: Remembrance of things past, Kristian F. Kofo,, retrieved March 11, 2015., The Free Online Encyclopedia of the History of Washington State,  Artists of Washington State during World War II,, retrieved March 11, 2015.
University Libraries, University of Washington Digital Collection,, retrieved March 11, 2015.

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