Bryn Barnard’s painting of Armistice Day is among those remembered in “Strait Art,” the posthumously published book by Port Angeles Fine Arts Center curator Jake Seniuk.

Bryn Barnard’s painting of Armistice Day is among those remembered in “Strait Art,” the posthumously published book by Port Angeles Fine Arts Center curator Jake Seniuk.

Decades of art: New book celebrates ‘Upper Left-Hand Corner’

Jake Seniuk’s partner and colleague finish $40,000 project

PORT ANGELES — “And now for something completely different,” Jake Seniuk would say, inviting people to the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center.

He was quoting the “Monty Python” comedy troupe, showing his delight in their humor and their art outside the conventional.

Seniuk’s life — and his shows at the center — unfold in full color in “Strait Art: An Anthology of Exhibitions from the Upper Left-Hand Corner,” his posthumously published, 276-page trip back in time.

Donna James, Seniuk’s partner, and his colleague, Kathleen Moles, completed the book this spring, finishing a $40,000 project.

Paintings, sculpture, photography and mixed-media art by some 50 creators from across and beyond the Pacific Northwest fill the wide pages, reflecting the variety of exhibitions Seniuk brought to Port Angeles.

Famed Seattle painter Alfredo Arreguin is there, as is Tacoma-born glass artist Dale Chihuly. So are the late sculptor Tom Jay of Chimacum, Port Townsend ceramicist Anne Hirondelle, Peninsula College professor Michael Paul Miller and the late photographer Mary Randlett.

From his appointment as director-curator in 1989 to retirement in 2012, Seniuk mounted more than 150 art shows at Port Angeles’ free center, which overlooks the city from 1203 E. Lauridsen Blvd. He worked on “Strait Art” until he died of cancer in 2016.

It was nine years ago that the center hosted “The Art of Contagion,” an exhibition of works by Friday Harbor painter Bryn Barnard.

That show presented an image all too familiar today: A man and woman wearing cloth masks.

Titled “Armistice Day, San Francisco, 11.11.11,” it shows revelers following the end of World War I, mouths and noses covered in the face of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

Barnard made that painting in 2005, an illustration for his book titled “Outbreak!”

In 2011, when the piece was placed on view in Port Angeles, Seniuk wrote about it in the “On Center” newsletter.

“In the foreground, a couple kisses though their masks, parodying the famous [World War II] photograph of the sailor victory-smooching a nurse in Times Square … But in 1918, the flu virus had not yet been identified and understood,” he noted.

The celebrants didn’t know of the tiny pathogens’ role in changing history.

“Armistice Day” was one among other works reflecting on the scourges of smallpox and AIDS. These paintings, Seniuk wrote, “bring light to invisible powers that operate beyond human control, and remind us how fragile is our place in nature.”

Seniuk also curated exhibitions by local artists; shows highlighting the natural world and installations in Webster’s Woods, the 5-acre park surrounding the center. Some of the works he curated, including Micajah Bienvenu’s “Pi a la Mode,” became part of the permanent outdoor collection.

Events are planned for the park this summer; now and every day of the year, the Webster’s Woods is open to the public from dawn till dusk.

In the meantime, the center’s indoor gallery is closed due to the statewide stay-home order, while the current exhibition, “Earth: An Abstract,” can be viewed at PAFAC.org.

James and Moles had planned public readings of “Strait Art” this spring, but those were postponed. A lecture and readings have been reset for Nov. 5 at both the Port Angeles campus of Peninsula College and at the arts center.

To order a copy of the book and be added to the mailing list for future events, contact Moles at [email protected]. More information also can be found on the publisher’s website, MarrowstonePress.com.

Producing the book was a challenge, both technically and financially, James said.

“We wanted to honor his intent for the book as much as possible,” she said. “Jake’s vision and his voice in our heads kept us going. He literally worked on this right up to his death.”

In the book’s introduction, James and Moles marvel at how Seniuk brought artists, both emerging and established, out to this far-flung frontier.

Seniuk’s own words are found inside the book jacket. The artists he invited to the center showed singular vision and aesthetic variety, he wrote.

And if there was any bias on his part, it was “to represent artists who were a tad out of the mainstream.”

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

Rebecca Cummins’ “Simply Smashing” installation stood in the window of the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center and now graces the cover of Jake Seniuk’s book.

Rebecca Cummins’ “Simply Smashing” installation stood in the window of the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center and now graces the cover of Jake Seniuk’s book.

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