Artists paint a Pacific Northwest history

  • BLANCHE MORGAN LOSEY's "Bombardier's View," c. 1942

    Blanche Morgan Losey
  • Cover of "The Pacific Northwest Landscape"


A book this smart makes you wonder why the undertaking hasn't been done before: telling the story of a region through the paintings it has inspired. No matter, because Sasquatch Books has just released The Pacific Northwest Landscape: A Painted History, an excellently assembled book edited by Northwest Bookfest founder Kitty Harmon. It presents canvases that capture and preserve some portion of the landscapes of Washington and Oregon, and it begins with the "first white artist to unpack his paintbox in the Pacific Northwest," John Webber, who accompanied Captain Cook's voyage in 1778.

From Webber's detailed depictions of the natives, their canoes and the villages that the voyage encountered, to the 19th century romantic painters' grand landscapes, to the impressionistic renderings of the Northwest School in the 1950s, these paintings don't tell the stories of the land as much as they do the particular historical and cultural contexts that Euro-Americans carried with them on their way out West.

Jonathan Raban, in his introduction, writes that "landscape is land shaped - land subordinated to a vision or use." This historical survey demonstrates how pervasive the struggle has been to tame the land, to take the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest and frame it in relation to industry, product and progress. Also quite evident from these paintings is the long-running battle between developer and environmentalist.

Sometimes the mountains, forests and waters of the Northwest are used as natural symbols of the region's awe-inspiring beauty, while other times these same features are shown to be seemingly inexhaustible resources capable of feeding the logging, mining, fishing and farming industries that have been essential parts of the region since white people moved in. Through the eyes of many different artists - the lesser-known as well as the famous, and women and Asian-Americans as well as white men - we view the Pacific Northwest across the ages and see it in new and wonderful ways. The Pacific Northwest Landscape: A Painted History; edited by Kitty Harmon, Sasquatch Books, 2001. Paperback: $21.95. 144 pages, illustrated.

Copyright © 2002 HCN and Martin Christian