Social Landscape

The combination of modernism, realism, and the Asian influences of artists such as Andrew N. Chinn, Fay Chong, and Matsudaira, as well as the inclusion of women artists made NWWS a diverse and unique organization.



Watercolor was a favorite medium for the Northwest as the washes captured the atmospheric quality of the region. Yet, watercolorists used the medium to capture other local landscapes. One example is J. Edwin Burnley’s Shacktown (1943), entered in the third NWWS exhibition, which documented the destruction of Hooverville, a shantytown once located on Seattle’s tide flats. In the same year, John Matsudaira, depicted another local scene: his and his family’s experience at the Minidoka internment camp for Japanese-Americans in Hunt, Idaho. Other artists documented the scenes from their military service, or imaged terrifying scenes of Nazi Germany.   

In a few cases, the cheerful or elegant content belied the diverse experiences of NWWS members. David F. Martin writes about Maria Frank Abrams, a Jewish woman who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, who painted abstract scenes of light and hope.2  Paul Immel, whose lifelong health problems due to his service in WWII, similarly are not glimpsed in his tranquil floral subjects.3


NWWS has been comprised of a diverse range of individuals from the beginning. "The Asian influences" in the above quote include well-respected NWWS members and jurors that were Japanese and/or studied in Japan: Fumiko Takahashi Kimura, George Tsutakawa, Frank Sumio Okada, John Matsudaira, and Paul (Chikamasa) Horiuchi; or Chinese and/or studied in China: Fay Chong (Chen Huizhuan) and Andrew N. Chinn (Chen Jingnian). 

David F. Martin notes that the NWWS had several gay and lesbian members from the beginning. Yet, even for members who were open about their lifestyle, like Jule Kullberg, Henry C. Ross and Lionel Pries, tracking their work and influence over the years has been difficult. In many cases, none of their paintings exist or they were dispersed without record. Meanwhile, for some members like Aden Arnold, a painting’s content may have reflected sexual orientation, but this cannot be confirmed through documentation.4

Other stories may be missing as well. This possibility was made evident by the presence of Milt Simmons, a black artist and teacher at Burnley School of Art and Design (today The Art Institute of Seattle), who is absent from the catalogues. Simmons' past experience of having a first prize withdrawn due to his race inspired a reluctance to enter any and all future exhibitions or competitions.While we can only guess that Simmons chose not to join NWWS for this reason, it is a humble reminder that only a part of the story regarding watercolor in the Northwest can ever be told. 

 David F. Martin. A Fluid Transition: Northwest Watercolor Society...The First 75 Years (Bellevue: Northwest Watercolor Society, 2015), 30.

Ibid., 24-25.

Ibid., 23.

Ibid., 31-32.

Ibid., 31.

Social Landscape