Monday, December 16, 2013

Mary Randlett: Living Life Fully Focused

Above: Mary Randlett, left, and friend Ruth Kirk, view Randlett's photography yesterday. Kirk lives in Lacey and is the author of 34 books covering the natural history of the West. She was recently featured in a September 13 article in High Country News.

Randlett Art Exhibit December 15, 2013 - January 5, 2014 in Olympia
By Janine Unsoeld

Prolific, renowned Northwest photographer Mary Randlett, 89, enjoyed a celebration of life and work with an intimate, public showing of her black and white nature prints at Salon Refu, a downtown Olympia gallery at 114 North Capitol Way.

Much has been written about Randlett’s life growing up on Bainbridge Island and her life spent capturing Northwest images in black and white of nature, architecture, artists, painters, and public art. She grew up meeting these artists who taught her how to look at landscapes.

Her 42 page resumé lists images of more than 500 writers and artists. She has enjoyed a long relationship with several national museums and the University of Washington Press, which published her 2007 book, "Mary Randlett Landscapes." 
The afternoon reception was a reunion of sorts for many, with several local artists, writers and photographers honoring Randlett with deeply personal thoughts of how she has influenced their work.

An Olympia resident, Randlett greeted admirers and friends for several hours non-stop with smiles, humor, and hugs.

It was all a touching tribute to Randlett, and an opportunity to hear, first-hand, the passion local artists feel not only about her work, but how her very friendship inspires them in their own artistic endeavors.
Above: Mary Randlett greets friends at Salon Refu. 

Personal Tributes
Jeffree Stewart, an Olympia painter and artist who works with different mediums on Gull Harbor, poetically embodied his 20 year friendship with Randlett in his description of her work and life, offered in written form yesterday:
“Mary Randlett’s photographs speak well for themselves. They’re quiet, like mist, revealing light that moves over waters dark as ink. What she looks for in the landscape resonates with shared expressions of poets and painters – dear friends, in the deepest of mysteries.

Mary’s spontaneous attentions all over Salish Sea country and the Inland Empire have been ceaseless across several decades. For her skilled and careful darkroom practice have emerged glimpses of the essential atmospheres of the Northwest. This work proceeded steadily, a labor of love.
One hesitates to call Mary Randlett a “hidden gem…” because her portraits and architecture photographs are widely published, and are included in many significant collections. Yet her work seeing and showing the northwest landscape remains to be more broadly appreciated.
Vicissitudes of recognition aside, the work is built to last, though distinctly different. I’ll compare Mary’s work to that of Ansel Adams – specifically because both photographers demonstrate a deeply affectionate vision of the American West. And each engaged consummate technical skill, both with camera and in darkroom.
Where Adams’ best-known works are vast, epic, and romantic apprehensions of landscape, Randlett’s are intense, intimate, alive with moisture, and exquisitely abstract. Their presence in a room is enduringly enlivening."

Llyn De Danaan, anthropologist, retired faculty member of The Evergreen State College and author of the newly released book, “Katie Gale – A Coast Salish Woman’s Life on Oyster Bay,” is also a friend of Randlett’s. In her remarks introducing Randlett, De Danaan shared a few examples of Randlett’s educated, keen mind.

“She sent me articles about the great “Bretz’s” flood, a phenomenon that interested her and one she thought would interest me. We talked about Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty….She sent and still sends me poetry: “The Imaginary Iceberg” by Elizabeth Bishop….[and] “Year of Meteors” by Walt Whitman….She sent notes of encouragement for my own work…I learned about other photographers like Cunningham and Gilpin….”

Describing how Randlett is still on the road several times a week and seldom without her camera, De Danaan says Randlett still informs her of poetry, pictures, and articles she thinks she should know about. In turn, Randlett addressed the standing-room-only group and told a few stories.

Randlett's Thoughts on Her Work, Life

“My work has worked together, and I started when there were so few people and I think that makes a difference. My mother knew the artists, and I lived near Morris Graves in Woodway Park and each artist gave me an eye to see beyond what I was seeing, and I think it works both ways….Ruth Kirk, who has written many books, has given me an eye to see mountains, La Push, and all those great places. All my friends have given me gifts for seeing or living, and it makes a big difference....

“Nature is what I love the most – that I was very fortunate to have grown up on Bainbridge Island and spend summers on Orcas Island….I’ve been very fortunate that my background has enriched my work. I’m always shocked how much work I have done because I raised four kids! So, I’ve had a very rich and wonderful life I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”
About her pictures, Randlett said she has taken color, but never learned how to process it. “Black and white is so subtle. If you look at these pictures, some things are hidden, and misty….”

Describing her college years at Whitman College in eastern Washington, she described riding her bicycle. “...We only had bicycles during the war. I think there was only one car at Whitman – we used to ride out in the boonies, in the backroads and hills, and it was a whole, totally different experience, but I had a lot of fun in college. I was always interested in many things....”
Later, after the crowd calmed a bit, Randlett’s son, Peter, took his mother outside the gallery for a picture. Peter Randlette, an electronic media faculty member at The Evergreen State College, was asked about his mother.

“The whole idea that she has worked her own personal force and focus for so long - it’s outstanding. She did so much of her documentation on her own – and most of the output has been because she loves people.”
About five years ago, he said, the Randlett family gave the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library 350,000 negatives of her work, but kept the artist’s nature and abstract collections for themselves.

Keith Geller and his partner Richard Irving of Seattle found out about the show and came down to Olympia. Geller and Irving bought an untitled photo from 1967 featuring a barn and a boat. They asked Randlett about the picture, and she said it was taken in the Georgia Straits. She said she took it as she watched the boat move into position and come to a rest, right next to the old barn.
Incredibly, Geller said he and Irving independently went around the room and each chose the same picture as the one they wished to buy.

“We do that a lot,” Geller said happily.

Susie Ann Engelstad, owner of ArtHouse Designs in downtown Olympia for 13 years, also stopped by to see Randlett.  Engelstad, a printmaker and metalsmith, says many of her customers have Randlett’s works in their collections, and that she was pleased to have recently repaired a couple of works for Randlett.
Above: Susan Christian prepares for the show earlier this week outside her studio on Capitol Way. 

Salon Refu
Christian, an artist, and the owner of Salon Refu, took time to discuss her space before the show. Many friends helped Christian put the show together, including De Danaan and Stewart.

Christian took over the 800 square foot space a couple years ago, after it was vacated by long-time tenant Nancy Sigafoos and Dice T-Shirts. She remodeled it, and envisions the space to serve as a small scale gallery with room to create her own art.

Asked about the name of her gallery, she laughed and said it was an accident. Originally, she named it after the Salon des Refuses, French for “exhibition of rejects.”
In the early to mid 1800s, when works were rejected by the jury of the official Paris Salon, small scale exhibits were created in order to be recognized by the public. Thinking of renaming her gallery, she used a razor blade to scrape off most of the name, but left it at Salon Refu and decided she liked the name.

“My real commitment will be to keep showing people’s work that I admire and keep on painting here,” she said.
No doubt, the community will appreciate the opportunity to see Mary Randlett’s work and learn more about her incredible life.

Mary Randlett’s nature photography will be on display until January 5, 2014 at Salon Refu, 114 North Capitol Way, Olympia. Gallery hours are Thursday – Sunday, 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. and by appointment. Her works, some dating back to the 1960s, are also for sale.
Randlett’s biography is available at
Above: Mary Randlett and Susan Christian pose for Randlett's son, Peter, not shown, outside Salon Refu.