EANGER IRVING COUSE’S “Head of a Northwest Indian,” is one of 20 of his works created around Klickitat County in the late 1800s. Couse’s work is more commonly associated with the Taos, N.M., art movement. His local works will be on display starting June 8 at Maryhill Museum of Art.
One artist’s unique perspective on the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest is the subject of the upcoming exhibit, Eanger Irving Couse on the Columbia River, appearing June 8 through Sept. 2 at Maryhill Museum of Art.
“The story is really amazing — it starts with Virginia Walker’s parents, who bought a ranch in eastern Klickitat County, what must have appeared at the time to have been in the middle of nowhere,” said Colleen Schafroth, Maryhill’s executive director. “Her parents, with the best interest of their children in mind, sent them to Portland for school, and from there supported Virginia’s interest in art. Virginia eventually found her way to Paris to study art, and met and then married Eanger Irving Couse, also an art student.”
She brought her husband home to Klickitat County, to the ranch established in 1867, on a number of occasions, where the Walkers built him an art studio. He paints and they interact with the Roosevelt and Arlington communities on either side of the Columbia River.
“The painting he produces during this period celebrates the Indians who lived her, but also sings the praises of the local landscape — the cliffs, flowers, sky of eastern Klickitat County and the Columbia Gorge, as well as some of the ranching community in the region,” Schafroth said.
He painted from his Klickitat County studio starting in 1891. Then, during the winter of 1891-1892, the Couses moved downriver to Portland, where he held his first solo exhibition, taught painting classes and painted portraits of seven prominent citizens. A work featured in the Portland exhibition, “The Captive,” was sent to Paris and featured in the 1892 Paris Salon. It reproduces an incident that occurred during the 1847 Whitman Massacre. It is now in the collection of the Phoenix Art Museum and will be included in the Maryhill exhibition.
“While living and working in France, Couse had a variety of work included in the annual Paris Salons,” said Steve Grafe, Maryhill’s curator of art. “Although he is now known for paintings of Pueblo Indians and Southwestern subjects, he spent a considerable amount of time in Klickitat County … The exhibition brings works by a nationally known artist back to the region where they were originally painted. The 20 paintings in the exhibition are ‘coming home’ after more than a century.”
Couse sold his works in Arlington, Portland and elsewhere.
“One of his paintings reportedly hung in the Goldendale elementary school, although its current whereabouts are unknown,” Grafe said. “We hope that the exhibition will encourage a regional discourse about the artist’s work and provide a context for ‘lost’ works to be discovered.”
The Couses returned to France in the fall of 1892 and remained there until 1896, when they began a residence at the Walker ranch that lasted two years. They then divided their time between New York City and Etaples, France, then New York and Taos, N.M., returning to Washington State in the summers of 1901 and 1904. The Couses ultimately became permanent residents of Taos and Couse was elected the first president of the Taos Society of Artists in 1915.
In addition to the exhibit, Maryhill will host a Couse-related symposium Saturday, June 22. It will feature four speakers: Dr. Marie Watkins (Furman University, Greenville, SC) will talk about the classical training of Taos artists in the Paris academies; Dr. Steven L. Grafe (Maryhill Museum of Art) will talk about Couse’s work in the Pacific Northwest; Skip Miller (Taos, NM) will talk about the Taos Society of Artists with an emphasis on Ernest L. Blumenschein; and Liz Cunningham (Taos, NM) will talk about the creative mix of personalities who gathered in Taos during the early 20th century.
On Sunday, June 23, the museum is arranging a “Couse Country” bus tour east on Washington Highway 14 to Sundale, where the Walker family kept a “river Ranch” at the mouth of Chapman Creek. The tour will continue on to Roosevelt Park and the northern terminus of the Arlington-Roosevelt Ferry, which the Walkers took to Arlington when selling produce and picking up supplies.
The return trip will travel Old Highway 8 across Rock Creek — where Couse recruited models from the local Native American community — to Goodnoe Hills and back to the Museum.