The stories behind the images at Cascadia Art Museum | Arts & Appetite

By Maria A. Montalvo | Nov 02, 2018
Courtesy of: Cascadia Art Museum Curator David Martin will sign copies of his book, “Invocation of Beauty,” 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 3.

With its current exhibition, “Invocation of Beauty,” Cascadia Art Museum achieves another milestone in the northwest arts community – the first in-depth study of the work and life of photographer Soichi Sunami.

The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 6, offers a remarkable presentation of art and artists, of dance and dancers.

It opened at Cascadia with a special live dance performance by Edmonds’ own Barclay Shelton Dance Centre (also the sponsor of the exhibition).

Barclay Shelton and Cascadia made a point to partner to highlight modern dance, and Barclay Shelton developed original choreography inspired by portraits of Martha Graham and other pioneering dance choreographers.

Dancers performed through the main gallery space, surrounded by Sunami’s photography.

Sunami was born in Japan but moved to Seattle in 1907, where he planned to become a sculptor and painter and studied in Seattle with Dutch painter Fokko Tadama. (A wonderful addition to the exhibit are the impressionistic paintings by Tadama and Sunami and other local contemporaries.)

Sunami soon became enthralled with his ability to capture what he wanted to paint or sculpt through photography, and his early work portrays his transition from painting to his new medium, including landscape-painting-like images of Washington.

Sunami seemed to live within a world of brilliance and inventiveness, with people recognized for their originality regardless of race, immigration status, or group.

He photographed and worked with dancers and artists, writers and philanthropists who are household names: Martha Graham, Anna Pavlova, Ruth St. Denis, Wayne Albee, Nellie Cornish, Alexander Calder, Anais Nin and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.

He left Seattle in 1922 and became the official photographer of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City for nearly 40 years.

Cascadia’s exhibit presents a period in our history characterized by great beauty and creativity, along with great hardship and conflict. The show captures Sunami’s remarkable career and photographs (a photo of Graham in profile is among the stunning portraits that somehow express the soul behind the personage).

The show also presents Sunami as a member of art organizations with other Japanese-American immigrants, and the impact of the Japanese internment during World War II. Both his mentor, Tadama, and his future wife, Suyeko Matsushima of Bainbridge Island, were taken from their communities, removed from their livelihoods and homes, and held in internment camps.

Because Sunami was living on the East Coast then, he was not sent to an internment camp, but he burned many early works, including many of his nude studies, for fear of government reprisal.

Sunami also photographed a variety of artists and dancers breaking new ground across the art world and culture. Seeing a stunning image of Edna Guy, an African-American dancer and pioneer of modern dance, was inspiring since there are very few images of her as she lived during a time when white and black dancers did not appear on stage together.

Many dancers of the time, and those featured in the exhibit, were establishing modern dance as a viable art form for wider audiences and highlighting social issues associated with racism and war.

The curator of Cascadia Art Museum, art historian David Martin, has released an accompanying publication titled “Invocation of Beauty: The Life and Photography of Soichi Sunami,” and will host a book signing 11 a.m.-1 Saturday, Nov. 3.

Go see the exhibit, because it contains fantastic photography, and appreciate it for perspective on our art, our history and the Americans who lived within them.

Cascadia Art Museum is at Salish Crossing, 190 Sunset Ave. S, Edmonds, and is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Admission is $10, $7 for seniors and those 5-18. Admission is free during Art Walk Edmonds on the third Thursday of the month.

More information: www.cascadiaartmuseum.org.

 

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