An Actor Prepares, Interviews the Daughter of Robert Graves

WVM_collinsasgravesDon Collins (left) will be portraying award-winning artist and Wenatchee Valley College instructor Robert Graves during People Of Our Past Feb. 28 at the Museum.

Graves helped make public art a priority in Wenatchee and his involvement with Art in Public Places helped lead to the installment of the fountain in the courtyard of the Numerica Performing Arts Center and the iconic Coyote Leading the Salmon sculpture at Walla Walla Point Park.

In preparation for his role, Don sat down with Robert Graves’ daughter Jody to get some details about this historic pillar of the North Central Washington art community.

My beautiful picture

Don: Did your father have a favorite visual artist(s) that he most admired?

Jody: Jackson Pollack, Van Gogh, de Kooning, Callahan.

Don: Did he have a favorite Art Period or Movement?

Jody: Over his life Dad had many “favorite” periods, but seemed most drawn to the works of Picasso and the like, and what followed in the evolving art of (Der Blaureiter) Kandinsky, and the abstract expressionism of the 50’s-70’s which embraced the depiction of emotional response through “non-traditional” imagery.

However, he didn’t like the “titles”… even in a late conversation I had with him in July before he passed away we were talking about objective vs. subjective art, and he adamantly claims that even his most abstract work was objective in how he saw nature, and how he emotionally responded to it through the canvas or the printmaking process.

Don: Which art piece of his own was he most proud?

Jody: Dad would say his pen and ink sketches….there are stacks of these sketch books! Always in his hand when we were growing up, at the beach, when we would go camping, etc.

I also know that he was most proud of whatever he was working on at the moment. He would hang the latest work at the end of the hallway, back up, and put his hand out to block certain sections to see if it was balanced or shaded in ways he saw. (I was always fascinated with that image of Dad … and the constant smell of turpentine!)

The pen and ink drawings he did when we lived in England, the Nordic Cruciform series (collographs) and his printmaking, especially around the time of his retirement. He purchased the Ray Trayle press to continue his passion for printmaking after retirement, and eventually moved the press to his Whidbey Island studio.

Don: Did he have a favorite book? Author? Did he have much time to read?

Jody: Dad was an avid reader, and LOVED mysteries, and certain kinds of science fiction. Loved the creative imagination of some of the science fiction writers….stacks of books everywhere. Loved J.A. Jance!

Don: Did he have a favorite food?

Jody: Cookies and potato chips! (He had an incredible sweet tooth!) And McDonald’s coffee. He loved home-made bbq chicken.

Don: Did he have a joke or two he liked to tell?

Jody:He wasn’t a joke-teller, but was very funny and had a turn of phrase that was very humorous to us! He found simple things funny, everyday situations, and had a bit of a “down-home” lingo such as “Warshington” and “Go get your britches fixed” as well as “Let’s get a load of donuts for the trip!”

Don: Did he have any noticeable habits or traits when he would speak to a group of people?

Jody: Dad did not really like to speak in public settings much, such as art openings, but he would do it. He was natural, and soft-spoken, but very insightful. But he was extremely comfortable with his college students, and in lecture classes and painting or drawing classes. Due to his heart trouble he was a little unsteady, so he liked to hold on to a podium, or sit on a table or stool when he talked in public.

Don: How would you describe your father’s voice?

Jody: I have attached a precious audio recording of me talking to Dad in July, 2013. That will give you his voice…it was a tiny bit weaker than when he retired of course, but the timbre was pretty much the same. No one else has heard this yet as it is still a little fresh if you know what I mean.

Don: What would you say was his most memorable moment(s) as a father?

Jody: I think dad was very surprised and touched that we (myself and my sisters) organized a surprise retirement party that included a book of letters from former students and colleagues. The letters were filled with gratitude for what Dad had done for them…his care for his students was legendary. I remember him offering a few dollars for a student to get some food, or ordering extra art supplies to provide students what they needed. Another time was when he flew to New York to hear my final doctoral recital at the Eastman conservatory. There was a huge storm, and his plane was re-routed to D.C. and then Buffalo. He gathered a few folks together and got a taxi to drive the distance to Rochester, NY, and he arrived 30 minutes before I walked on stage. I will never forget that.

There were very special times we spent as a family in England seeing the great art galleries together. Listening to dad describe what he saw in nature, the light through the trees, and the play of color and light looking down in a creek. The shapes and waving of beach grass, and the dramatic configuration of beach logs. Sitting around a campfire and singing… and coming to visit him at the college and see the students working at the easels and knowing dad was facilitating the emerging creativity.

Everyone felt good around Dad. He was so incredibly kind. He modeled what it meant to be compassionate and caring… and he followed his heart as an artist despite the resistance and the initial disdain from his birth family. He was the first to get a college education, let alone a masters degree. He was very proud of contributing something beautiful to the world, even when the world didn’t understand his expression artistically. He was passionate about keeping art as a centerpoint in our education system…and not as an “extra-curricular activity”. Did he make a difference? In my opnion, and the opinion of countless students and others who enjoy his art in their homes, hospitals, and other public places I would say a resounding yes! He was especially proud when Speaker of the House, Tom Foley, chose some of Dad’s pieces to hang in his office in Washington D.C.

His favorite song was “What A Wonderful World” – the lyrics sum up the way Dad looked at life.

The ‘Joiner’ was a ‘Maker’ who helped establish WVC and the Museum

Kenneth P. Sexton was known as a “joiner” by his colleagues, but he could have just as easily been labeled as a “starter” or a “mover and shaker.” At the same time Sexton was campaigning hard for the establishment of Wenatchee Valley College, he was simultaneously working with community leaders to establish a museum as a member of the Columbia River Archeological Society.

“Sexton was an active leader in at least 12 community organizations,” said museum education coordinator Selina Danko. “If he didn’t know how to get something done, he knew someone else.”

Sexton is one of the featured characters for the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center’s Feb. 28 People of Our Past program. Bob Stoehr will portray Sexton.

Joining the Wenatchee World staff in 1919, Sexton served 20 years as business manager before leaving to pursue ranching full time in 1944. He was sworn in as Chelan County Commissioner in January 1947, serving as chairman at the time of his death in October 1950 at Sexton Hall at Wenatchee Valley College, which houses the Robert Graves Gallery, is named in Sexton is one of five historical figures featured during the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s People of Our Past program. All five characters have ties to Wenatchee Valley College (WVC) and the museum. Both institutions are celebrating 75th anniversaries.

The rest of the People of Our Past lineup includes coaching icon Bill Penhallegon, WVC dean Helen Van Tassell, WVC faculty member and author John A. Brown and award-winning artist and teacher Robert Graves. Tracy Carlson portrays Van Tassell, Eliot Scull is Penhallegon, DonCollins is Graves and Bill Murray takes on the part of Brown.

Each actor will perform three times during the day with a culminating evening meet-and-greet gala starting at 6 p.m. Performances at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are by donation. Tickets for the evening event are $35 and include historically themed heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine, live music and a chance to mingle with the characters following the performance.

For more information about the People of Our Past program, contact Selina Danko at 888-6240 or sdanko@wvmcc.org.

‘Return of the River’ Doc at the Museum Feb. 17

ReturnOfTheRiverPosterWhen Frances Charles, chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, proposed a plan to remove the Elwha River Dam, everyone told her she was crazy. Four years later, Frances’s “crazy idea” has become one of the most celebrated environmental success stories ever.

Return of the River, a 70-minute film chronicling the four-year process of removing the 100-year-old structure from Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17 at the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center, 127 S. Mission St.  The film, sponsored by Washington Water Project of Trout Unlimited, is a narrative with global ramifications, exploring the complex relationship between communities and the environment that sustains them.

When the first dam was built on the Elwha River in 1910, it broke existing environmental laws requiring fish passage. The dam decimated a legendary salmon run and inundated sacred tribal land. Charles rallied a strong-minded group of people and set out to attempt the impossible: change the public opinion of a town and then a nation to bring the dam down.

“Here, in the success of our collective action on the Elwha, is a template for success on climate change, energy policy, ocean conservation and hundreds of other issues,” Said former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley. “It will be the great gift of the Elwha: Hope.”

The series is presented by Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center, Trust for Public Land and the Chelan Douglas Land Trust. Screenings are free but a $5 donation is suggested.

“Trout Unlimited’s Washington Water Project (TU) has been a regional leader in fisheries and water resources restoration for over a decade,” said Phaedra Booth, who works in the Wenatchee office. “TU is a non-profit organization working to restore salmon and trout populations in Washington State. TU works in the Columbia River watershed from the Yakima River basin north to the Canadian border. Its work puts water back in rivers, restores habitat and brings our Pacific Northwest fish home.”

For more information call 888-6240 or visit www.wvmcc.org.

WVC Icon Helen Van Tassel to be Portrayed at People of Our Past

WVM_PEOPvantassel1 “A lady to the tips of her toes ‘til the day she died,” is how Helen Van
Tassell is remembered by her colleagues at Wenatchee Valley College.

Van Tassel, one of five figures from Wenatchee’s past featured during the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s Feb. 28 People of Our Past program, was one of the first women to head a college west of the Mississippi. Among her titles at WVC from 1939 until her retirement in 1964 were dean of women, administrative dean, dean of students, registrar, instructor and personnel director.

“She definitely worked her way up the chain of command,” said museum education coordinator Selina Danko. “And she went right through the glass ceiling.”

Born in 1894 to a Dryden pioneer family, Van Tassel made a name for herself in higher education circles. At one point Van Tassel was picked by her all-male peers to serve as president of the organization governing the 10 junior colleges in Washington State.

Van Tassel’s monologue takes place in 1956. She is portrayed by Tracy Carlson. WVM_PEOPvantassel2

The rest of the People of Our Past lineup includes coaching icon Bill Penhallegon, award-winning artists and teacher Robert Graves, WVC faculty member and author John A. Brown and Kenneth P. Sexton. Sexton was involved in the founding of the college and the museum. Don Collins portrays Robert Graves, Bob Stoehr is Sexton, Eliot Scull is Penhallegon and Bill Murray takes on the part of Brown. Each actor will perform three times during the day with a culminating evening meetand-greet gala starting at 6 p.m. Performances at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are by donation.

Tickets for the evening event are $35 and include historically themed heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine, live music and a chance to mingle with the characters following the performance.

For more information about the People of Our Past program, contact Selina Danko at 888-6240 or sdanko@wvmcc.org.

Penhallegon One of Five Local Historical Figures to be Portrayed at People of Our Past

WVM_penhallegon1Bill Penhallegon, a Wenatchee Valley College coaching legend and visionary who recognized the slopes surrounding the Wenatchee Valley as key to developing a world class ski program, is one of the featured characters for the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center’s People of Our Past program Feb. 28.

Community leader and museum board member Eliot Scull portrays Penhallegon.

“We thought it ftting that Eliot portray Penhallegon,” said museum education coordinator Selina Danko. “As a leader in the movement to preserve our foothills, Eliot understands the value of our natural resources from an economic and quality-of-life perspective.”WVM_ScullasPenhallegon

Penhallegon’s ski program at the college, one of just three in North America at the time, attracted students from 30 states and four countries eager to learn the ins and outs of ski-lift maintenance, teaching techniques for racing and jumping on skis, and the related felds of biomechanics and kinesiology. World class athletes were drawn to

Penhallegon’s program, helping to put Mission Ridge and Squilchuck on the map as popular winter recreation areas.

Scull portrays the beloved coach in 1980, when Penhallegon was 55 and in his prime teaching years at the college. At the time, his students were earning degrees in ski hill management and going to work establishing ski areas near Waterville, in the Methow valley, Leavenworth and Lake Chelan.

Penhallegon is one of fve historical fgures featured Feb. 28 during the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s People of Our Past program. All fve characters have ties to Wenatchee Valley College (WVC) and the museum. Both institutions are celebrating 75-year anniversaries.

The rest of the People of Our Past lineup includes award winning artist Robert Graves, WVC dean Helen VanTassell, WVC faculty member and author John A. Brown and Kenneth P. Sexton. Sexton was involved in the founding of the college and the museum.

Tracy Carlson portrays Van Tassell, Bob Stoehr is Sexton, Don Collins is Graves and Bill Murray takes on the part of Brown.

Each actor will perform three times during the day with a culminating evening meet-and-greet gala starting at 6 p.m. Performances at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are by donation. Tickets for the evening event are $35 and include historically themed heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine, live music and a chance to mingle with the characters following the performance.

For more information about the People of Our Past program, contact Selina Danko at 888-6240 or sdanko@wvmcc.org.

NCW Art Pioneer Robert Graves to be Portrayed at People of our Past

My beautiful pictureAward-winning artist and Wenatchee Valley College instructor Robert Graves helped make public art a priority in Wenatchee. His involvement with Art in Public Places helped lead to the installment of the fountain in the courtyard of the Numerica Performing Arts Center and the iconic Coyote Leading the Salmon sculpture at Walla Walla Point Park.

Graves is one of the featured characters for the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center’s Feb. 28 People of Our Past program. Art educator and City Arts Commission President Don Collins will portray Graves. WVM_collinsasgraves

Graves’ energy and passion for creating art and providing a space for art to be shown, led to his founding of Gallery ‘76, now renamed as the Robert Graves Gallery on the Wenatchee Valley College campus.

“There are those who notice a need in the community and there are those who do something about it,” said museum education coordinator Selina Danko. “Graves was a doer.”

Works by Graves can be found in collections at the Seattle Art Museum, New York State University, Portland Art Museum, Evergreen State College, Spokane City Hall and Leicester Polytechnic in England. One of his pieces occupies a family living space in a former Amsterdam brothel building that dates to 1620.

“I think Bob would love to know that his painting made the journey,” said owner Valerie Robillard, whose mother was a student of Graves.

Graves is one of five historical figures featured during the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s People of Our Past program. All five characters have ties to Wenatchee Valley College (WVC) and the museum. Both institutions are celebrating 75th anniversaries.

The rest of the People of Our Past lineup includes coaching icon Bill Penhallegon, WVC dean Helen VanTassell, WVC faculty member and author John A. Brown and Kenneth P. Sexton. Sexton was involved in the founding of the college and the museum. Tracy Carlson portrays Van Tassell, Bob Stoehr is Sexton, Eliot Scull is

Penhallegon and Bill Murray takes on the part of Brown.

Each actor will perform three times during the day with a culminating evening meet-and-greet gala starting at 6 p.m. Performances at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are by donation. Tickets for the evening event are $35 and include historically themed heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine, live music and a chance to mingle with the characters following the performance.

For more information about the People of Our Past program, contact Selina Danko at

888-6240 or sdanko@wvmcc.org.

Museum Board Chooses Interim Director

Jim RusselThe Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center Board of Directors is pleased to announce that it has hired James (Jim) S. Russell to serve as its Interim Director for up to two-to-six months to replace outgoing Executive Director Brenda Abney. Abney’s last day as Director will be Monday, December 8. She is leaving to take a similar position in Tempe, Arizona.

Jim Russell is a local retired community college dean, businessman and community member, who has served on several local non-profit boards of directors including the Greater Wenatchee Habitat for Humanity, Chelan Douglas Land Trust, Numerica Performing Arts Center, and Wenatchee Downtown Rotary.

Board Member and spokesman Gil Sparks, who co-chaired the Search Committee for the Interim Director said board members personally solicited indications of interest for the interim director from among a wide variety of community members. “Russell was one of a dozen people who were willing to assist,” Sparks said.

Russell’s wife, Karen M. Russell, is the current President of the Board and Co-Chair of the Search Committee. She did not participate in Jim’s interview or ultimate selection. Contacts with the candidates and the interviews were conducted by Lynn Bourton, an external human resources consultant and Administrative Services Manager for Link Transit.

Committee members interviewed a number of potential candidates. The committee discussed the potential conflict of interest, but unanimously recommended Russell to the Board, which offered him the full-time position on Monday, December 1. He accepted and began work on Tuesday, December 2.

“We were happy to choose Russell because of his strong financial background, community service, longtime membership as a major donor, non-profit board experience and because he’s not interested in the permanent position and was able to begin immediately,” Sparks said.

When contacted, Mayor Frank Kuntz said, “I am pleased the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center has selected Jim and look forward to working with him and the Board.”

The Museum has a number of urgent projects that need to be completed, including finalizing discussions with the City regarding ongoing funding commitment in return for transitioning the director’s position to the Museum’s non-profit association and the Association undertaking the full gamut of the Museum’s administrative services.

The Museum is also presently discussing with the City of East Wenatchee developing a long term regional partnership and additional financial support.

In addition to hiring a new director, the Museum will be moving forward to replace the curator, Mark Behler, who is retiring December 31.

“Meanwhile we will be continuing to serve the thousands of visitors who attend Museum events annually, organized by our excellent staff and volunteers who continually donate their time and talent on behalf of the Museum,” Sparks said.

“We have been fortunate Brenda Abney’s leadership skills and creative energy have laid the foundation for a new era as the irreplaceable repository of artifacts for the history, science, arts and multicultural diversity of our region,” he said.

The Museum is holding a reception open to the public to honor Abney for her service on Monday, December 8 at 4:00 pm at the Museum.