Meeting Alden Mason

I never knew the Seattle painter Alden Mason (1919-2013).  R is writing the biographical essay for a book about the painter funded by the Alden Mason Foundation (http://www.aldenmasonfoundation.org), with other writers discussing various areas of his work (Regina Hackett writing about the Burpee paintings, Rock Hushka writing a forward and appreciation , and Robert Ayres writing about Mason’s use of figuration.)  Recently we took a jaunt to Seattle and had an intense 5 days wherein I was introduced to Alden Mason and saw his range of work, listened with interest to his loved ones, gallerists and former students talk about him with great fondness, and perused the archival material available about his life.  Intense with a capital I.  We drove up on a Thursday night after a day with Sidney…

Supporting us in all these endeavors were my brother Bruce and sister-in-law LeeAnn who made beautiful meals, provided comfy (quilt-filled) accommodations, and snacks for a particularly LONGGGG afternoon, and then listened to the feedback at the end of each day…which added a lovely dimension to a fascinating adventure.  R lunched with the gallerists on Friday to talk nuts and bolts (paragraphs and commas??) and I got to go to “Rebels” (LeeAnn’s fabled quilt group) at Sally’s (Sally also known as master quilter Dorothy Le Boeuf).  Over these year’s of quilting I have learned a lot from both LA and Sally, so this was fun.  Oh, and the perfect breakfast with a view into the ravine…

 

In the afternoon R and I went up to Magnolia

to visit Bob and Shake Sarkis, collectors and friends of Mason.  They have a big collection of NW paintings…we visited them the first time when R was writing Louis Bunce.  This time we looked at their Mason paintings including this one.

The story of Alden Mason and his work is R’s to tell, but to make sense here I’ll say that he began as a water-colorist, switched to big modern poured and scrubbed oils, for health reasons began using acrylic in squeeze bottles, changed again to a more water-downed acrylic for health reasons again, and finally switched to gouache.  His life and career were long and productive.  He had hundreds of shows, awards, honors, public commissions, and the work is still in currency in Seattle life.  He died feeling unfulfilled because he never had a big one person show in NYC.  So it goes.  But, however he felt at the end of his life I can say for sure he made years and years of beautiful work and it is everywhere on view in Seattle…his always-homebase.

On Saturday Claudia Mason, Alden’s 3rd ex-wife (with whom he remained on friendly terms all of his life), took us to the Skagit Vallery to Fir Island where Alden grew up on a farm.  His father (Arvid Carlson) was a house-painter and died in his early 30’s from lead poisoning.  Arvid was the love of Hattie Carlson’s life, but after his death she remarried Mr. Mason with whom she had a daughter.  Alden took Mason’s name.  Here’s Alden’s grandmother Carlson’s house, still looking stately on Fir Island.

When Arvid died he asked Alden to promise to take care of Hattie as long as she lived, and he agreed.  She made it to 104…here’s Hattie with Claudia and her son Andrew (now a doctor)

We met Alden’s sister Virginia, now 89 and his cousin Elliott, now 97…and visited Elliott’s house to see the Alden paintings he owns…here’s one c.1960

we saw Alden’s grave…

and headed back to town where Claudia showed us some of the paintings she owns…

and shared some family photos

Sunday was a big day with two studio interviews…both former students of Mason’s at University of Washington, later colleagues.  First we visited Stephen McClelland in his studio,

right across the street from a park that has four Mason mosaics

and tiles by kids that have a definite Mason-thematic…

Sidney would have loved this park…

I like Stephen McClelland’s work a lot and he generously let us see his studio before the interview…

Originally a painter, McClelland is currently making sculptural work of an intriguing type with a Styrofoam armature covered with a stucco-like plaster which he carves into making marks…reminiscent of many buildings in Italy and elsewhere in Europe…

They talked…

I drew…

Also he has a lovely collection of mid-century ceramics…here are a few:

When then headed over to the studio of painter Gene Gentry McMahon who was a student, a colleague and a friend (and not a romantic one!)  She has a ton of work going on too, and a beautiful studio but the first thing R saw was…this painting he had been hunting for which was in the “Northwest Art Today” show at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962…and then disappeared!

Gene and her husband just put their house on the market and these two big Alden Mason paintings are in her studio just now!

 

Her work is lovely and funny and thoughtful, like the woman herself.

the interview was interesting…

.

and she shared Mason’s formula for his Burpee oil paintings…(it’s no wonder he got sick…)

and that’s because he worked with the canvas in the floor and then he knelt on a wooden “bridge” over the canvas, rubbing, staining and…breathing the fumes.  OH…guess what Gene has in her studio?  The bridge…

more photos…this of the wedding of Mason to second wife Karen (a student, much younger) who was also a painter…

Thank you Gene…thank you Stephen…just time to make it to the Moore Theater to see photographer Pete Souza…

If you have the energy, come back tomorrow for the archive and the big reveal at McCaw Hall!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Comments

  1. Bonnie, do you know Kim Hoffman? He was the art department chair at Western Oregon,until recently, and a very good friend of Alden’s. He lives in Dallas, Or, and may be another good connection for Roger.

  2. One of your best, Bon. You continue to inspire with your perceptions and energy. You are a gift to all of us. Kisses, Mary

  3. Wonderful Bonnie and Roger…what a treat to have a front row seat for your Alden M. adventures!! Nancy

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