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The History of PSG, by Brom Wikstrom

Sadie Sullivan

Sydney Laurence. Mount McKinley. 1926.

Although the Seattle Fine Arts Society was founded in 1908, the local art scene by the mid 20s was a polyglot of professional illustrators and graphic designers, school art instructors, amateur Sunday painters, and those fine artists who had managed to establish significant reputations. The exhibition opportunities were few. The Seattle Art Museum would not be formed until 1931 and the only other exhibition spaces of regional importance were the gallery that Charles and Emma Frye attached to their Profanity Hill Estate and the Little Gallery, Horace Henry’s Gallery built in 1927 for the University of Washington.

Eustace Ziegler was born in Detroit in 1881. He was one of four sons of an Episcopal minister. Though he would, like his brothers, eventually be ordained to that ministry as well, he was attracted to art from an early age. He studied at the Detroit Museum of Art before going to Alaska, and at Yale University for a year in 1920-21. In 1924, shortly after completing a series of murals that E. T. Stannard commissioned for the Alaska Steamship company offices in Seattle, the artist and his family left Cordova to move to that city.

In Seattle, Ziegler became a well-known, influential figure in the art community. He was a founder and first president of the Puget Sound Group of Northwest Painters (PSGNP). He won numerous awards in Northwest art exhibitions and completed important commissions for institutions ranging from the Washington State Press Club, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and St. James Cathedral in Seattle. He was also close friends with Seattle Art Museum Founder Dr. Richard Fuller.

Dr. Fuller and Zieg had one strong dream in common. They both appreciated the commitment that other world-class cities had in the visual arts by forming professional artists clubs, notably the Salmagundi Club in NY and the Palette & Chisel Club in Chicago. Both of these groups and several Seattle institutions including the Washington Athletic Club and the Rainier Club were reserved exclusively for men’s camaraderie.

The early founders of the PSGNP devised a way for the group to remain completely self-supporting and eventually be in a position to award scholarships to deserving students and provide funds for selected competitions. Dr. Fuller was an early patron who would bring his male friends to an annual banquet that would begin modestly with a few gag paintings being auctioned off by the membership. Eventually, a donated piece of art would serve as a member’s annual dues and the friendly competition of whose work would command the highest price at auction guaranteed that a high standard would be maintained.

Burlesque theatre was a thriving business along Seattle’s 1st Ave. where many of the downtown advertising artists had their offices and studios. The early entertainment at the annual dinner/auction reflected the lowbrow humor but highly spirited fun that was evident around them and members formed the Chamberpot Players amongst themselves and mounted plays that were hysterical. The founding member’s respect of Zieg insured that these productions never crossed over into vulgarity and the set painting sessions were eagerly anticipated events where the members produced exceptional backdrops for the play. Invariably portions of the sets would be auctioned off at the conclusion of the festivities.

Many of the early patrons were members of gentlemen’s clubs and the PSGNP Stag Night grew in popularity. Larger venues were utilized to accommodate the art lovers, ad agency executives and various typesetters, lithographers and businessmen who employed many of the group’s members. Prominent collectors were introduced to the region’s visual arts through these annual get-togethers and local corporations began to acquire representative examples of member’s works to enhance boardrooms and executive offices throughout the region. Boeing, Weyerhauser and Craftsman’s Press were among the beneficiaries of the group’s talents and bidding at the auction would be keen for particularly accomplished member’s work.

The revenues from the auction would go to support the PSGNP’s active programs that included monthly dinner meetings, sketching trips to scenic areas of the Northwest and an annual group exhibition. Most importantly, funds would be set aside for the Scholarship Program that were among the earliest donations to the area’s art schools including Cornish and the Art Institute of Seattle. These unrestricted scholarships and awards were never discriminatory and were given purely on artistic merit.

A new category of membership was instituted. Life Memberships were awarded at a member’s 25th Anniversary and he no longer was obligated to submit a painting as dues. Most of those Lifers continued to donate however and the board determined to repay them with a commission that would at least cover the cost of framing and materials.

Relying on the Nomination Committee to recruit a new volunteer president each year became an onerous assignment. Fortunate were the times when the Vice President was already in place to succeed the existing administration. At other times a relatively weak president could count on the Finance Director Jim Belch, who was an Honorary Member, to assist with continuity and a strong set of board members and Banquet Chairman would insure that the group would be run competently.

By 2000 the PSGNP had managed to save a substantial sum in order to establish a scholarship fund to honor past members. Future scholarships would be funded by the interest and this vehicle would allow for gifts to be received and members recognized. Rudy Bundas was an outstanding member throughout the 60s and 70s. As a teacher, illustrator and fine artist he won most of the region’s annual competitions and appreciated his elevated status within the group. He was a bachelor and left a large endowment to the PSGNP to further artistic scholarship.

The Puget Sound Group of Northwest Painters changed its name to the Puget Sound Group of Northwest Artists in 2013 and has admitted many fine women artists to its ranks. A commitment to artistic excellence is paramount to the group’s mission and a dedication to the arts community and public at large is continually expanding.

Brom Wikstrom
PSG Historian