A 1978 photo taken by Esther Webster’s longtime friend Gunnar Fagerlund shows the artist at work in her home. The same room now houses a gallery where her work will be exhibited later this month. Submitted photo

Port Angeles Fine Arts Center spotlights life, work of Esther Webster

PORT ANGELES — Local history and award-winning art are on display starting Saturday at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, which has teamed up with the North Olympic History Center to present “Creating a Scene: The Legacy and Vision of Esther Webster.”

The project revisits the life and work of a “complicated, influential figure in Port Angeles history” with an exhibit of artwork and artifacts displayed in the former residence where she lived and worked, representatives of the fine arts center say.

In addition to fostering interest in local history and the arts, curators Amy McIntyre and Sarah Jane say they hope the exhibit will inspire a rising generation of artists and visionaries.

A lifelong passion

“Creating a Scene” centers around Esther Barrows Webster (1903-85), a “fiercely independent woman” whose life took her from rural Oregon to the heady art world of New York City and finally to the North Olympic Peninsula, where she lived and worked for more than 50 years both in art and in publishing.

Compelled by a lifelong passion for art and culture, she became an award-winning painter and arts champion as well as an outspoken community leader through the Port Angeles Evening News, where she worked as a reporter and an editor, essentially running the paper — a precursor to the Peninsula Daily News — after her husband Charles became ill.

“Through our research, Sarah Jane and I found strong ties between our two organizations, the former Clallam County Historical Society and the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, mostly made by Esther,” said McIntyre, who serves as executive director for the North Olympic History Center.

“She had a strong sense of place, duty, and history. She transformed from a reluctant transplant — when her husband Charles was called home to take over the Port Angeles Evening News — into a generous community benefactor and legacy-maker.”

The new exhibit follows Webster’s development as an artist and community leader and explores the ongoing significance of her vision today.

Installed in the mid-century home where the artist herself once lived and worked, the exhibit includes a wide-ranging collection of original paintings, drawings, collages and prints from across her six-decade career.

A 1978 photo taken by Esther Webster’s longtime friend Gunnar Fagerlund shows the artist at work in her home. The same room now houses a gallery where her work will be exhibited later this month. Submitted photo

Art has been selected from the permanent collections of both the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center and North Olympic History Center and includes several of the artist’s most popular works as well as pieces that have not been previously shown.

Alongside completed works of art, visitors will find a selection of informal notes, sketchbooks and original printing blocks, as well as key artifacts including an iconic vintage wool pantsuit, which offer an intimate glimpse into Webster’s life and creative work.

How to view

The “Creating a Scene” exhibit opens Saturday at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center building at 1203 E. Lauridsen Blvd., with a special members’ preview from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Current members of the center as well as current members of North Olympic History Center are welcome; those wishing to become members of either organization may sign up at the door.

Public viewing hours will be from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on opening day, and the exhibit will continue with regular hours, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday through April 25.

The arts center will continue its adherence to safety procedures, including requiring masks for all visitors and limiting the number of people in the gallery at a time.

Those planning a visit are encouraged to check the center’s website (pafac.org) for the most up-to-date information about safety requirements.

The full exhibition also will be available online for viewing, ensuring access for those who are isolating at home or unable to travel.

Online visitors will find photos of the artwork, written statements from the curators and a video tour through the gallery.

Two upcoming virtual events will explore the curation and research behind the exhibit.

On March 6, curators Amy McIntyre and Sarah Jane will team up at a virtual ArtBites event to discuss “curating Esther” with insights about the pieces they selected as well as a few items that didn’t make it into the exhibit.

Find more information and tickets to ArtBites at pafac.org.

On March 14, McIntyre and Jane will dig into their collaboration, research, artifacts and discoveries at the history center’s free, virtual North Olympic Voices event.

Links to the event may be found on the NOHC Facebook page or at clallam countyhistoricalsociety.com.

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