Tacoma Art Museum’s spring exhibitions feature two female artists, both with a passion for their art forms and a reverence for nature

This spring, Tacoma Art Museum’s (TAM) exhibitions feature the work of Anne Appleby, a Montana-based painter widely known for her complex and subtle polychrome paintings, and the pictorialist photographer Ella McBride, internationally known in the 1920s, both artists masters in their field of expertise.

In her first major exhibition at TAM, We Sit Together the Mountain and Me, Appleby gains inspiration and explores the beauty in her home studio on central Montana’s Elkhorn Mountains. “I think my role is to capture beauty. I think so because it’s the central doctrine of so many religions—it’s the reverence for the creator of the creation. It’s a feeling, like beauty, both inside and out,” states Anne Appleby.

By keeping an intense focus on the landscape, Appleby explores the sweeping mountainsides around her studio in her newest group of paintings. The tonal shifts in these paintings also highlight Appleby’s focus on negative space, accentuating the interplay between groves and meadows. Her focus then shifts to the details of specific tree species using her critically-celebrated multi-panel sets that represent observed cycles within nature. In these works, the artist layers colors for luminous effect to evoke details from each tree. From these two approaches she sets forth an exploration of the human place within the natural world.

Anne Appleby, Moving Trees, 2013. Single-channel digital projection,3 minutes, 24 seconds. Courtesy of the artist and Anglim Gilbert Gallery, San Francisco.

Anne Appleby, Moving Trees, 2013. Single-channel digital projection,3 minutes, 24 seconds. Courtesy of the artist and Anglim Gilbert Gallery, San Francisco.

“We are thrilled to be the first museum to show Appleby’s new paintings and her first video. These works represent some of the most complex and compelling work from our region,” says Rock Hushka, TAM’s deputy director and chief curator. “She clearly shows how vitally important the landscape is to the creative process to artists working in the Northwest.”

“I’m interested in getting people to slow down a little bit, so they can see the world differently by awakening their sensibilities,” says Appleby. Her subtly shifting color palette alludes to the complex theories that have animated discussion of abstract painting for nearly three decades. Appleby’s exhibition also features her first video, Moving Trees, which captures the tension between the magnificent stillness of winter and the overwhelming power of nature. For Appleby, the gently falling snow and the slow movement of the trees represent beauty that may be found in the inevitability of change.

Opening the following week, Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride highlights Ella McBride (1862-1965), a multi-talented photographer who was internationally-acclaimed during her lifetime but is little known now. McBride began her photography career running the Seattle studio of well-known photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis. She went on to become an important figure in both the regional and international pictorialist photography movements and ran her own successful Seattle photography studio for over 35 years.

McBride was self-taught as a photographer. In 1921 she created her first image and began participating in a host of exhibitions worldwide. Her talent was recognized and celebrated almost overnight. She was a proponent of pictorialist photography, the style that dominated art photography worldwide during the 1800s and into the early 1900s. Pictorialists were dedicated to proving the artistic possibilities of photography. During the 1920s McBride was listed as one of the most exhibited pictorialist photographers in the world. Her subjects were primarily florals, still lifes, and portraits and included some landscapes and figurative images. She also was a prominent member of the short-lived but influential Seattle Camera Club (active 1924-1929), one of an international network of camera clubs that exhibited and promoted each other’s work.

Ella McBride, A Shirley Poppy, 1925. Gelatin silver print on Textura tissue, 9½ × 7¼ inches, Private collection, Photo © TAM, photo by Lou Cuevas

Ella McBride, A Shirley Poppy, 1925. Gelatin silver print on Textura tissue, 9½ × 7¼ inches, Private collection, Photo © TAM, photo by Lou Cuevas

McBride also was an avid mountain climber and environmental advocate. part of the group behind the naming of Mt. Rainier as a national park. She noted in an interview late in life that it was the spring displays of flowers on Mount Rainier that inspired her love of flowers and her focus on floral images as a photographer. She also co-founded the Seattle branch of the Soroptimist Club, an organization for business and professional women.

McBride’s fine-art career was cut short by the Great Depression in the 1930s. After her death her archive of commercial and art photographs and negatives was destroyed. Only about 150 of her fine-art images still survive; 57 of those works will be on view in Tacoma Art Museum’s exhibition.

Captive Light is co-curated by Margaret Bullock, TAM’s Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions, and David Martin, owner of Martin-Zambito Fine Art and consulting curator for Cascadia Art Museum. “The most interesting aspect of Ella’s life and work is how she was able to develop a career as an artist at age 60.” stated Martin, “She ran her own portrait studio from 1915 on, when it was a tremendous challenge for a woman to own and run a business, especially considering the fact that she worked, almost exclusively, with Japanese photographers.”

“What I think is so amazing about Ella,” says Bullock, “is her very concentrated explosion of creativity. She doesn’t take a photograph until she’s almost 60 years old. But then she just dives in, masters the craft almost overnight, makes a lot of beautiful and highly technical work, exhibits all over the world, and creates an international reputation for herself in about two years. Then eight years later in 1929, the Great Depression forces her to concentrate on the commercial side of her studio work in order to pay the bills and she never pursues the fine art work again, despite the fact that she lived to be 102.”

Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride is the next installment in the museum’s Northwest Perspective series rediscovering significant Northwest artists and features a catalogue that will be available in the museum store and through the University of Washington Press..

Both exhibitions will open during Women’s History Month and will be featured as part of TAM’s #5WomenArtists social media campaign.

Anne Appleby: We Sit Together the Mountain and Me,  on view March 10 – June 3, 2018

Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride, on view March 17 – July 8, 2018

– Tacoma Art Museum