The aged ranks of eastern Washington’s white pioneers and the old-time warriors and women of the Chief Joseph band of Nez Perce, Chief Moses’ Sinkiuse, and the Yakima, Palouse, Sanpoil-Nespelem, and other tribes were rapidly diminishing in the 1930s. To compile an artistic and historical record of these people, Washington State College established the Nespelem Art Colony.
In summer sessions from 1937 to 1941, students and instructors took up residence in and around Nespelem, the headquarters of the Colville Confederated Tribes in north-central Washington. It was a colony in the true sense of the word, producing a prodigious amount of regional art. Close friendships developed between the artists and their subjects. During the six-to-eight-week sessions, some artists took quarters in Indian homes while others slept in motels in nearby Grand Coulee (where Grand Coulee Dam was under construction).
WSC’s Art Department came of age during this period and was recognized as a grand addition to the college (now Washington State University). Well-known WSU artists—including Clyfford Still, Worth Griffen, George Laisner, and Glenn Wessels—spent their formative years at the college and served as instructors at Nespelem.
The Nespelem colony was a significant player in the American Scene movement of the 1930s, particularly at the regional level. After 1941, it and other thriving art colonies across the nation generally were forced to close due to the outbreak of World War II.
Creighton has compiled a compelling and extensively illustrated account of Washington State College’s special summer sessions and the art department in this period. Also included are firsthand reminiscences by Ruth Kelsey and Anne Harder Wyatt, former students at the Nespelem colony.
Illustrations / photographs / map / notes / bibliography / index / 88 pages (2000)