“She was a small, round, plump little lady with the dynamism of a rocket, and we were all terrified of her, terrified of her tongue and in a way, terrified of her dream.” – Martha Graham
In spring 2016, the newly-opened Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds paid tribute to the 100th anniversary of Cornish College of the Arts, founded by Nellie Centennial Cornish (1876-1956), with an exhibition curated by respected regional art historian, David Martin.
“Miss Aunt Nellie,” as she was affectionately known, was arguably the most important figure in Washington State’s cultural history. Initially trained as a pianist and in music education, Cornish taught privately in her own studio and at the University of Washington before founding the Cornish School in 1914. Nellie Cornish brought some of the finest artists in the world to perform or teach at Cornish, initiating the cross-disciplinary and collaborative elements that have survived to this day. Among the most memorable were: dancers Mary Ann Wells and her pupils, Robert Joffrey, Adolph Bolm, Michio Ito, Merce Cunningham, and Martha Graham; photographer Wayne Albee; visual artist Mark Tobey; painters Louise Crow, James Edward Peck, Frank Okada and Ebba Rapp; and sculptor Ebba Rapp. David Martin tells the story of the early years of Cornish College through paintings, prints, sculpture, drawings, and photography. He presents highlights from Nellie Cornish’s legacy, whose broad international reach influenced the fields of dance, music, visual arts, and performance.
Appropriately, he will do this in the Poncho Auditorium of the architecturally and culturally significant building designed by A.H. Albertson that housed the Cornish School (and Nellie’s own apartment) beginning in 1921. While loosely Mediterranean in style, the building was quite progressive at the time in its massing and the lack of an overhanging cornice. Its courtyard and cloister-like arcade, the Romanesque-inspired window groupings and entrance vestibule, and the ample use of polychrome terra cotta, recall an Italian palazzo. The terra cotta panels represent the performing arts. The arched banding at the entrance holds the names of great musicians, artists, and writers. Be sure to walk around the building before the program starts.
David Martin is co-owner and director of Martin-Zambito Fine Art. He is an independent arts researcher, writer, curator and historian and a leading authority on early Washington State art and artists with a particular focus on women, Japanese Americans, Gay and Lesbian, and other minorities who had established national and international reputations during the period 1890-1960. His efforts go a long way toward resurrecting the careers and reputations of many forgotten artists who made important contributions to the region’s artistic and cultural history. Martin has many exhibitions and publications to his credit and is Consulting Curator for Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds, Washington.
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