PORT TOWNSEND — The call for Aldens went out, and the public response did not disappoint.
Thirty-four of Jim Alden’s paintings from 23 collectors will be on display tonight at the Port Townsend Library, chosen from among hundreds offered to be part of a new exhibit honoring the late artist.
Alden created some thousands of paintings depicting Port Townsend life until his death in 2004, according to a press release. However, the painter’s legacy remains familiar only to those Port Townsend locals who harbor Alden’s work.
“Alden didn’t travel beyond Port Townsend to sell his work, rarely sold in galleries and didn’t have a website, as he lived in the not-that-long-ago pre-digital world,” the release said. “As a result, though his work is treasured and safely stored on the walls of many area homes, there is no record of him or his work.”
An opening reception for the exhibit will take place from 6 to 7:30 tonight at 1220 Lawrence St.
Alden’s life centered around Water Street. He lived in the Olympic Apartments (now Eisenbeis Condominiums), which he managed in exchange for a break in rent; the Town Tavern, on the corner of Water and Quincy streets, provided a social life and friends; the Salal Café provided meals and work washing dishes.
The walls of the Town Tavern, Salal Café and Waterfront Pizza served as Alden’s galleries, and his surroundings provided his subject matter. It was not uncommon for tavern customers to see Alden walk in with a painting under his arm, the paint barely dried, and hang it on the wall, according to the release.
Library Manager Keith Darrock hatched the idea of exhibiting Alden’s work.
“People who are like Jim, who are living out of their vehicles, who are living on the fringes and creating an interesting culture through their art, made the culture of what Port Townsend is, and was and still is today,” Darrock said.
Darrock enlisted the expertise of co-curators Polly Lyle and Jenny Westdal to bring the exhibit to fruition, including considering hundreds of paintings.
“It was hard to choose,” Westdal said. “There are so many beautiful pieces that people are willing to loan.”
A precedent for this generosity formed months after Alden’s death.
In April 2005, Westdal and Pat Fitzgerald, co-owners of the Salal Café at the time, organized a townwide art exhibit of Alden’s work.
The pool of paintings created exhibits in 11 businesses and five window displays.
“Alden’s paintings were plentiful and affordable,” according to the press release. “He was always willing to accept payments or trade for paintings. Lottery tickets were one of his favorite items for barter, but a pie would work, too. Alden painted miniature paintings that he would trade with bartenders for drinks.”
The self-portrait of Alden that appears in the Art in the Library exhibit was obtained by D.J. Hamilton in exchange for paying Alden’s bar tab at the Town Tavern. The painting, “Polk Street Cherry Tree,” loaned by Gale Wallis, covered Alden’s rent for one month.
“I feel that we’re at a crucial point where we can still preserve the interesting history and artistic output of an era of cultural richness, the ’70s and ’80s, on the Quimper Peninsula,” Westdal said.
“We’re standing on the edge of where it will all fall through the cracks if it’s not recorded in some way. Jim and his work were a large part of that time, and I think this exhibit will help save both his art and the memories of him.”
“It’s important because it’s our history,” Darrock said. “It’s iconic history to Port Townsend, those artists who lived on the fringes.”
For more information, contact Westdal at 360-437-0508 or [email protected]