February 3, 2020

Christina Claassen, Marketing & PR Manager
Whatcom Museum

Whatcom Museum Highlights Three Masterworks from Smithsonian

The Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington is pleased to kick off the first part of a five-year exhibition partnership with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as by presenting three masterworks from one of the nation’s most treasured collections of American art.

“Conversations Between Collections: The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Whatcom Museum,” opened on Feb. 1, 2020 and shows through Jan. 3, 2021, at the Museum’s Lightcatcher Building. This partnership is made possible by the Art Bridges + Terra Foundation Initiative, a nationwide program that expands access to outstanding works of American art.

“We are extremely proud to have been selected as one of five Western region museums to partner with the Smithsonian American Art Museum in such an innovative, multi-year project,” said Patricia Leach, Executive Director of the Whatcom Museum. “This ‘American West Consortium’ enables us to share iconic American art with the people of our community and region who might not otherwise be able to experience it.”

Two of the masterworks—Fritz Scholder’s “Indian and Contemporary Chair” (1970) and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s “State Names” (2000), will be presented in dialogue with the vibrant stories and art of local Coast Salish People in the Lightcatcher gallery, “People of the Sea and Cedar.”

These powerful contemporary paintings by two renowned Native American artists upend traditional colonial narratives and romanticized portrayals of Indigenous Peoples. Scholder, who was one-quarter Luiseño, and Quick-to-See Smith, an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation, both draw on notions of Native identity in their expressive paintings. Along with historical and contemporary works created by Lummi and Nooksack artists, the selections in this gallery emphasize the important role that art-making has held for Indigenous communities for millennia.

“The Coast of Genoa” (1854), by Hudson River School painter Jasper Francis Cropsey, will be featured in the Lightcatcher first floor gallery alongside landscapes from prominent West Coast and Northwest artists from the Whatcom Museum’s collection including works by Vija Celmins, John Cole, Richard Gilkey, and Paul Horiuchi. With the intent to stimulate discussion between what is familiar and what is foreign in a landscape, visitors will observe and share how elements of each work denote place and, specifically, our place within the Pacific Northwest, and how the landscapes we love are deeply rooted to a sense of self.

“Presenting these special masterworks in dialogue with work by American artists from our collection allows the Whatcom Museum to tell a truly expansive and complex story about what American art can look like,” said Amy Chaloupka, Whatcom Museum Curator of Art. “Even more, it offers an opportunity for communities to share what American art looks like to them.” 

All three outstanding works on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum bring fresh perspectives around investigations of place and identity that emphasize the preservation and celebration of stories. To further highlight the diverse ways people share stories, the Museum will host a Family Activity Day on Sat. March 14 centered on these themes.

The Museum also presents the “Story Dome,” a mobile story-recording booth that gives visitors an opportunity to record oral responses to questions inspired by the exhibition, which relate to personal experiences of place, such as a special hike on Mount Baker or rolling out cookie dough in a grandmother’s kitchen.

In May, acclaimed photographer and storyteller Matika Wilbur, from the Tulalip and Swinomish tribes (Coast Salish), will share a talk on her groundbreaking, seven-year quest to visit and photograph all of the 562+ sovereign tribes across the United States. “Project 562: Changing the Way We See Native America” shares powerful images and stories that Wilbur has collected over the years from hundreds of tribal nations, ranging from the Inupiaq in Alaska, O’odham in Arizona, and Osage in Oklahoma, to Seminole in Florida, Wampanoag on Cape Cod, and Whatcom County’s Lummi and Nooksack tribes. The imagery and oral histories Wilbur will present reveal the dynamic, multi-dimensional variety of contemporary Native American life. As Wilbur puts it, “By unveiling the true essence of contemporary Indian issues and sharing the beauty of Native cultures and the magnitude of lasting traditions, we can renew the perspective of Indian identity, exposing the tenacity and vitality of Native communities.”

About Art Bridges

Art Bridges is a new foundation dedicated to expanding access to American art across the country. Created by arts patron and philanthropist Alice Walton in 2017, Art Bridges strives to bring great works of American art out of storage and into communities across America. Through financial and planning support, Art Bridges helps organizations of all sizes build exhibitions and programs that deeply engage audiences. For more information, visit 

About the Terra Foundation for American Art 

Established in 1978, the Terra Foundation for American Art is a leading foundation focused on fostering exploration, understanding and enjoyment of historical American art among national and international audiences. To further cross-cultural dialogue, the foundation supports and collaborates on innovative exhibitions, research and educational programs worldwide, and also provides opportunities for interaction and study through the presentation of its own American art collection.

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Museum hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. The Renwick is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Follow the museum on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. 

About the Whatcom Museum

Located in Bellingham’s cultural district, the Whatcom Museum, a non-profit organization operated jointly by the City of Bellingham and the Whatcom Museum Foundation, offers a rich variety of programs and exhibitions about art, nature, and Northwest history. The Museum’s collection contains more than 200,000 artifacts and art pieces of regional importance, including a vast photographic archive. The Whatcom Museum is accredited nationally by the American Alliance of Museums, is a member of the American Association of State and Local History and is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate. 

The Whatcom Museum has two buildings with public hours: Old City Hall, 121 Prospect St., and the Lightcatcher Building, 250 Flora St., both open Wednesday - Sunday, noon – 5 p.m. The Family Interactive Gallery, located in the Lightcatcher, is open Wednesday - Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday noon - 5 p.m. Admission for Museum members is free; $10 general; $8 youth (6-17)/student/senior/ military; $5 children 2 - 5; under 2 free. Visit for more info.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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