Forgotten artists found at Martin-Zambito

Although the art world focused its attention on more abstract Northwest artists during the 1940s, the Seattle area was home to countless successful and accomplished painters, photographers, sculptors and printmakers from 1890 to the mid-century. David Martin is noted expert on early-20th-century Northwest art. Since 1990, he has discovered the works of renowned artists like Myra Albert Wiggins (1869-1956), Jess Cauthorn (b. 1923) and Yvonne Twining Humber (1907-2004).

The long-time Capitol Hill gallerist was the curator of Women Painters of Washington (WPW) which exhibited at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art in Bellingham last year. The University of Washington press published the catalog of the exhibition in 2005.

The WPW was founded in 1930 when six women joined together with the aim of overcoming limitations they faced as female artists. Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2005, WPW is one of the state's oldest arts organizations. WPW has held among its membership talented artists of national prominence whose stories have not been widely shared. The exhibition celebrated the organization's accomplishments, from founding members' early efforts to support fellow women artists all the way through the contemporary members' cultural exchanges and international exhibitions.

When you visit the Martin-Zambito gallery on East Pike Street, you will enter into a space that is suffused with art. Martin, along with his long-time life partner Dominic Zambito, have created a comfortable, informal gallery where paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, and sculpture are on view. One of the discoveries of the gallery is the work of Ebba Rapp (1909-1985).

Proficient in several mediums, Rapp was an extremely versatile artist. She explored painting, printmaking, enameling and was very active with sculpture in ceramic and bronze. An alumna of the Cornish College of the Arts, she attended the University of Washington and spent the summers of 1935 and 1936 studying there with the fabled sculptor Alexander Archipenko.

Before the UW, she had worked primarily as a painter with a taste for portraiture and the human form. She always credited her classical art training for the apparent ease in which she was able to make the transition into sculpture. She accepted a teaching position at Cornish's newly formed sculpture department in the mid-1930s and remained there giving instruction in anatomy, drawing and sculpture until 1941.

In the gallery there is a small sculpture by Rapp of a girl with a bird. The figure is rendered in a stylized naturalistic way. The more natural biomorphic forms of the human form replace the hard lines of cubism. The influence of Archipenko remains in the composition and the use of real and fictive space. This arresting sculpture fairly glistens on a pedestal as sunlight streams in the gallery. The girl seems to be in a conversation with the bird and the facial expression has a serenity reflecting a Zen like state. The figure is relaxed with the weight of the body correctly resting on the right hip. Look around the sculpture from all sides and you will see it is beautifully rendered.

In 1936, Rapp became an active member of the WPW and won several Northwest awards. In 1939, at the American Art Today exhibit at the New York World's Fair, she broke onto the national scene. Her solo exhibitions include the Seattle Art Museum in 1944, Frye Art Museum in 1955 and the University of Puget Sound in 1954. She was also featured in group exhibitions at places like Grand Rapids, Michigan Art Gallery, Denver Art Museum in1964, 1966 and, of course, the Seattle World's Fair in 1962.

Martin can provide an almost encyclopedic amount of historic detail about any artist in the gallery.

You can find a rare linocut portrait of Mark Tobey by Helmi Dagmar Juvonen. This artist is the stuff of legends, eloquently profiled in literature by Wesley Wehr in his books. The portrait has a simple child-like quality, which hides the highly trained hand of another consummate artist who also attended the Cornish School. There are many other local artists with historic connections to Capitol Hill and the cultural history of the city from the first half of the 20th century.

Martin-Zambito Fine Art is at 721 E. Pike St. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The gallery goes on its annual hiatus in August and will reopen in September. For more information call 726-9509.

Capitol Hill resident Steven Vroom writes about Visual Arts in the last issue of each month. His Web site,, is a web journal about Seattle arts and culture. He can be reached at

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