“A curator (from Latin: curare meaning ‘take care’) is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage or institution (e.g., gallery, museum, library or archive) is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collection and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.” From Wikipedia

The Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) currently has two curators on staff, with a third one soon to come on board. Rock Hushka, who has been at TAM for 11.5 years is its Director of Curatorial Administration and Curator of Contemporary and Northwest Art. His colleague, Margaret Bullock, has been at TAM for 5.5 years and serves as Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions. They graciously took time in a busy day to discuss the many aspects of their work and backgrounds.
It is only recently that a few educational institutions have offered degrees in curatorial work. So, there had been no straight academic avenue that would qualify a person as a curator. Nevertheless at different times and places there are similarities in backgrounds of our two curators.
For Margaret this included the fact that art was important in family life, regardless of where they were. At an early age she learned that art was more than just a picture in a book; it was an experience, an understanding. Her undergraduate degrees were in English literature and art history. She spent some time working in the field and earned a Masters in Anthropology as well as in Art History. Before coming to TAM she did curatorial work in Taos, New Mexico and Portland. Her obvious enthusiasm for scholarly research makes her a good match for the long-range goals at TAM.
Hushka has worn many hats, to include being both an artist (fiber arts– creating some public interest when he used his own blood in one of his fiber art pieces) and curator. He earned numerous degrees: B.A., History; B.A., Art History; B.F.A. and an M.A., Art History degree awarded May, 1994. He has variously lectured and reviewed and has been published in journals. His fiber art has been part of group exhibits and curated shows. Before coming to TAM Hushka worked with curatorial staff at the Seattle Art Museum and in collections at the Henry.
In addition to appreciating the depth and breadth of scholarship and experience of our two curators, I was struck by their genuine sense of excitement and purpose. Hushka talked about TAM as a “magical place” that presents “fascinating and complex projects.” Bullock added the fact that the exhibits and collections tell a story and educate the viewer. It is rewarding to sense the excitement that is generated when those goals are met. She used the response to the Norman Rockwell show as a case in point. They both spoke to the fact that they often interface with the city, especially with Amy McBride, and collaborate whenever it is possible. “Don’t forget,” added Hushka,“that it is so important to see beauty every day.” Agreeing with him, Bullock said that every day at TAM not only affords that beauty but also is charged with a congenial sense of purpose as they work with other staff members and the community.
Some portion of that work during the last three-plus years has been putting together TAM’s first book, Best of the Northwest: Selected Works From Tacoma Art Museum. During its entire history, TAM has focused its work and resources on Northwest artists. This catalogue of more than 230 images will debut in March with introductory essays in which Hushka and Bullock outline and trace the history, to include new research and interpretation of some of the major works in the collection. The work of previous curators and directors will be included, as well as biographies of all the represented artists. As of this writing, the book was at the printers and will arrive on the shelves of the Museum Store in mid-March.

"The Storm Watch," by Barbara Earl Thomas, is among the works in "Best of the Northwest: Selected Works from Tacoma Art Museum." (TAM/courtesy photo)
“The Storm Watch,” by Barbara Earl Thomas, is among the works in “Best of the Northwest: Selected Works from Tacoma Art Museum.” (TAM/courtesy photo)

Over the several years I’ve written about art, the arts, artists, galleries, etc., for this newspaper, I’ve seen many changes to include the fact that galleries have recently had to close their doors.

So, it was of interest to note that Proctor Art Gallery is on the threshold of its fourth anniversary celebration. Wondering what accounts for its continuing success, I went directly to the artists themselves to learn more. A call went out and 10 artists quickly agreed to be interviewed about how the gallery works and their roles in it. We met at the gallery on a Sunday afternoon.

Although its structure is similar to that of a cooperative, the Proctor Gallery is organized as an LLC.  This means that the owners, Carolyn Burt and her musician husband Chuck Gourley, have controlling interest. Each artist staffs the gallery two days a month, pays a monthly rent, and has a limited voice on how that money is to be spent.

“Our owner is a wonderful manager with creative promotional ideas” who does the bookwork, which most artists hate doing, said Bonnie Cargol.

Sharon Crocetti  explained that the books are set up so that transactions can be easily tracked and recorded by computer programs.All the artist has to do is check and fill in the right spaces on the paperwork

Artists must sign a contract, agreeing to the financial stipulations as well as agreeing to participate in the monthly meetings. These meetings are on the first Tuesday of each month. Any business matters are handled in the first part of the morning.Then all the work comes down off the walls. If anyone has something new to hang or display, it is brought in.

In a collegial atmosphere, the art is discussed and placed in the resulting new arrangement. This change-out, says Scott Nelson, is a lot of work but it generates “a really good mix of quality art” that is fresh each month. For most artists, this ability to be seen by the public is important.

Everybody’s work is initially juried by a committee of peers to be accepted into the gallery, Sparks and Hein pointed out. Stockdale says the vote is a way to “assure quality control.” Gary LaTurner refers to it as creating “high expectations” by both the artists and the public. Each artist I talked with extolled  the harmonious, non-competitive nature of the group.

Proctor District businesses have wholly embraced the gallery as one of its own, says Burt. She points with pride to the many activities in which they participate, not the least of which is the $4,000 total it has raised for a food bank.

In time for their Christmas open house (Dec. 1, 2-6 p.m.), the gallery will be offering 10-notecard packets for sale. On Jan. 26, they will celebrate their anniversary with entertainment and prizes.

As Andrea Greenfield puts it, “Proctor Gallery is a treasure for Tacoma.”

The Proctor Art Gallery LLC is located at 3811 N. 26th St. in Tacoma. Its phone number is 253-759-4238.

The gallery is open daily Monday sthrough Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.


About the artists

Thanks to all the artists listed below who took the time out of their Sunday to talk with me about the gallery.

• Carolyn Burt. Owner who manages to also be a popular gallery artist.

• Bonnie Cargol. Bonnie earned her Masters in science from UW, taught for many years, and now is retired, devoting time to her hobby as an award-winning water colorist.  See bonniesgallery.com.

• Sharon Crocetti. Portraits in pastels, charcoals and oils, using live models, are what Sharon enjoys doing most of all, especially in learning to read the face of her subject. Her work can be seen at proctorartgallery.com.

• Andrea Greenfield. One of the founding artists of the Gallery, she produced the winning poster for the 2012 Art Fest.  Often her representational, watercolor florals are directly inspired by her garden.  She also knits items for sale. See proctorartgallery.com.

• Linda Jacobus. Working in oils since 1994, she is self-taught and believes there is always some light to capture in a scene, which draws many to her work. See it at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/linda-jacobus.html.

• Gary LaTurner. Taught 33 years mostly in art, works in the arts community while doing his impressionistic pencil drawings and oils in studio or in the outdoors in places like Chinook Pass. See garylaturner.com.

• Scott Nelson. His day job is in communications for a law firm and his art work is in photography, a lifelong passion. Prints his photos on open-frame aluminum sheets. See jacksonscott.com.

• Anne Doumit Sparks and Helen P. Hein.  Fiber and mixed media sister team. See proctorartgallery.com.

• Carol Stockdale  [Retired educational therapist who, after 20 years as a wood block print maker, now focuses on fused glass, especially creating beautiful bowls and glass sculptures.  See glassbystockdale.com.]

‘Elk Trap’ by Claudia Riedener at South Tacoma Library. Photo courtesy of the artist.

On a warm August day, I drove to Claudia Riedener’s house that she said would be easy to find “because we painted it orange.”  (Actually it is the color of pumpkin for pumpkin pie, just after you have mixed in the cinnamon and cloves.)  Against that unusual color, a bevy of plants, created a happy profusion of color and scent, owed in part to Claudia’s degree in botany, but mostly to her artistic eye. We went to the shade at one end of the fascinating back yard, a place that could have been a story all by itself.

Riedener’s story begins in a 1735 farmhouse near a small Swiss village set in the hills. Her family was self-sustaining.  They grew their own vegetables, hay for their livestock and foraged in the surrounding forest and fields for plants, roots and berries.  A favorite was to find young pine shoots and make a soup of those.  Because it was a working farm, all four children had their chores to do.  But they still had time to be off on their own, sometimes for hours. This was a formative time in which Riedener developed a very keen eye and passion for nature as well as a certain sense of independence.

At home, in school, and in society in general, there were no gender preferences in terms of opportunity, experience, or what positions or jobs either gender should pursue.  In spite of this, there was a problem for Claudia: she did not like dolls. It was surprising, but nevertheless her mother kept trying to interest her in what became a series of dolls.  But as early as five, she had her mind made up.  Dolls did not interest her . . .but, rocks did.  She would collect rocks and color them with crayons.  She didn’t draw faces on the rocks.  What she drew were designs of her own making, a foreshadowing of her future.

Riedener’s designing ways had no influence on what education she would receive.  Claudia’s mother insisted that she take courses in the medical field, an education that would help her earn a living.  (In Switzerland, being an artist is not an officially recognized occupation unless one has earned a degree in art and had some success.)  Although her secondary education and experience were in the medical field, after final exams Riedener quickly branched out, choosing to sample a variety of jobs.

In due course, Riedener married, and with her husband, moved to the United States.  The couple eventually settled in Chicago where she worked for the Chicago Botanic Garden. She also earned a degree in botany.  It was around this time when she began to consider learning to make tiles.  She found an instructional book that laid out tile-making in an easy, step-by-step process. To her delight, she had learned a way to combine nature with her creative spirit.

Riedener did not immediately forsake her horticultural background by plunging into tile making,  So, when they moved to Tacoma in 1999, she turned the garage into a studio but also worked at Lakewold Gardens.  In 2004 she transitioned to full time tile work.  (She gives kudos to the City of Tacoma for being “easy to work with” when she was starting her business, Ixia Tile.)

Reidener developed a reputation for quality work with design elements that were often based on plants in her own yard, and for collaboration with fellow artists.  The latter included helping launch the 100th Monkey monthly gathering of artists of all disciplines.  She is also a member of two professional organizations, Madera Architectural Elements and Artisan Tile Northwest where she is president of the board. She has also participated in the studio tour during the November Art at Work month.

In the studio there is no inventory of pieces from which a person can purchase.  Instead, there is a sample board that covers one end of the studio.  From those samples, Claudia invites the client to consider possibilities.  At this time in her career, Riedener is more interested in creating entire pieces, not just part of one even though she has enjoyed working with others as she did on the Zina Linnik Peace Park.  Her mural, “Elk Trap,” at the South Tacoma Library, is a testament to her creativity.  She is currently working on two large commissions, one to be installed at Point Ruston, and the other for Sound Transit’s Art Program (STart) for the 66th Street Underpass. The latter requires a lot of preparation, like getting rid of lead paint, but sometime in September you will be able to see her finished project, a gateway to the Manitou neighborhood.

She shows at various galleries and has installations around town, such as the ones on both the inside and outside of the Masa restaurant in Tacoma on 6th Avenue.  In addition to the October project completion, another opportunity to see Riedener’s work, as well as that of 40 others, is to attend A Handmade Tile Show (see below) in November.

Perhaps it is the influence of her natal country’s insistence on a degree in art that makes Claudia shy about calling herself an artist.  When asked how she describes herself she says, “I love my work. . .I could carve clay all day long . . .I am a tile maker.”

On a hot July day in downtown Tacoma, I was determined to park my car in a spot of shade.  Ready to give up hope after driving around and around, I finally found a shade patch on the south end of Broadway, at the corner of 13th.  Shady and an easy walk to my destination.

Four blocks later on Commerce Street I found Mad Hat Tea, an “urban tea house in the heart of Tacoma.”  I passed through the golden-framed doorway into a dim interior, pausing for a few moments to give my eyes a chance to get accustomed to the change in light.  I began slowly to identify objects in the room:  a bar along the left wall, flanked on both ends by white paper lanterns (think Ikea) and faced by five, tall bar stools; a pale wooden floor with rugs scattered here and there; two nondescript tables with nonmatching chairs; a sofa or loveseat, probably being able to seat three; various art pieces on the wall to the right; small table with two chairs, waiting for someone to play chess.  All in all, it had that cluttered yet comfortable look that invited long tenancy by the guests.  One feature I especially enjoyed was the telephone booth.  Signs request that all guests refrain from using cell phones but one young patron used her cell phone—and had stepped into the phone booth and closed the door before doing so.  I silently applauded that step toward civility.

Like the bar in the television sitcom, Cheers, this tea house seems to be one of those places where everyone knows your name.  At least, that is how it feels.  Perhaps, in part, that feeling is due to the fact that co-owner Tobin Ropes says, “I have the best job in Tacoma.”  He sets a comfortable pace as the chief cook and bottle washer, or, in this case, chief greeter, steeper, and tea server.  Any help he gets is from student interns who volunteer because they want to learn the business or more about tea itself or they just enjoy the easy camaraderie that exists across generations.

The other co-owner of the shop is nutritionist and herbalist, Maureen McHugh.  She develops tisanes (herbal teas) from combinations of  leaf, flower and root, designed to target specific conditions or symptoms.  She does not dispense medical advice, but has a well-deserved reputation among her peers for the combinations she has developed over the years, some 200 of them listed in their 3-ring binder catalog that can be referenced at the shop.

By this time, you might be thinking that I have my assignments mixed up since I seem to be reviewing a tea shop instead of talking about art.  Luckily for our local arts community, the two are tied together.  That is, in the six years’ existence of the shop, Ropes estimates, the works of some 30 artists have been on display for various lengths of time.  Some have shown for two or three times.  In addition to supporting the arts community by helping develop an audience, Ropes is generous in donating product to various art events and/or organizations.  Furthermore, Ropes has been building his own personal collection of the work of local artists.

It is from this personal collection that Ropes drew for the work currently on view at Mad Hat.  If you have ever wanted to update your acquaintance with work that is labeled as “underground” or even “subversive” or that can charm you in unusual ways, Mad Hat is the place to go.   To name just a few artists included, you can find:   Jeremy Gregory (graphics to comic strips); Daniel Blue (poetry, music, street banners); Kenji Fulmer (screen printing);  Zach Marvik’s wide array of work . . .Chris Sharp, Shaw Alexander, Fred Novak. . . This is a unique opportunity to view the work of all these artists in just one place and time.