Washington, Jr.

Bio

James W. Washington, Jr. was an African-American painter and sculptor who grew into prominence in Seattle’s art community. Washington was born and raised in Gloster, Mississippi, a rural mill town in the Jim Crow South. He was one of six children of Baptist minister James Washington and his wife Lizzie. While he was still a child, his father fled due to threats of violence, and they never met again. He began to draw at the age of 12 and apprenticed at the age of 14 to become a shoemaker, and worked a series of odd jobs. By the time he was 17, he had obtained his first Civil Service job working for the federal government intermittently until his late 50s. In 1938 he became involved with the Federal Works Progress Administration as an assistant art instructor. Excluded in the South from shows featuring white artists, he created a WPA-sponsored exhibition of Black artists, the first such in Mississippi. In 1941 Washington moved to Little Rock, Arkansas where he worked repairing shoes at Camp Robinson. This Civil Service job soon took him to the Pacific Northwest, where he and his wife Janie arrived in 1944. It was their home for the rest of their lives. Washington did electrical wiring for warships at the Bremerton Naval Base before transferring to Fort Lawton (Seattle) where he set up and operated a shoe shop. He quickly became part of Seattle's then-small art community. He showed at the Frederick and Nelson Department Store Gallery, studied under Mark Tobey (who appears mostly to have encouraged him rather than taught him anything specific) and from 1948 to 1961, curated a series of art shows at Seattle's Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Among the artists who showed there was artist Kenneth Callahan, then curator at the Seattle Art Museum. From the time of his study with Tobey, Washington's work took on the distinctiveness of the Northwest School, sharing characteristics with Tobey and Morris Graves. Other artists Washington met during this period were Fay Chong, Andrew Chinn, Kenjiro Nomura, John Matsudaira, and George Tsutakawa. Washington and his wife lived in Seattle's Central District, near Madison Valley and maintained a studio in his home. From 1950 he was a member of Artists Equity Seattle and served as its secretary (1950–1960) and later president (1960–1962). Washington traveled to Mexico in 1951, where he met muralists Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros - and where he encountered the soft volcanic stone that would soon drive his work in the direction of sculpture. (what little sculpture he had done previously was in wood) Since 1992, Washington's house and studio at 1816 26th Avenue have had official status as a Seattle city landmark. - Text excerpts from Wikipedia

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