In 2019, Whitman College was gifted an extraordinary archive of materials centered on renowned Northwest photographer and Whitman alum Mary Randlett ’47.
Born in Seattle in 1924, Mary Randlett grew up in an artistically-engaged environment. Her mother, Elizabeth Bailey Willis, was the second curator of Washington University’s Henry Art Gallery and an enthusiastic promoter of Seattle’s Northwest School artists. Randlett’s own interest in art through the medium of photography emerged early (she completed her first photo album at the of ten). 1 Even during her time as a Whitman student, it was remarked that she could often be found in what was then the Billing’s darkroom, processing her latest batch of photos. 2
After graduating from Whitman, over the course of her life, Randlett’s photographs were the subject of over 30 solo exhibitions and her images have been featured in numerous books. She was also the recipient of several prestigious honors, including an Anne Gould Hauberg Artist Image Award.
Among her many photographic genres, Randlett is known as perhaps the most significant visual documentarian of Seattle’s creative community. A master of portraiture, her photographs immortalized significant Northwest artists and poets like Mark Tobey, George Tsutakawa, Viola Patterson, Jacob Lawrence, and Theodore Roethke. Among the many artists she worked with, in the early 1960s, Randlett struck up a friendship with Northwest School painter and later Walla Walla resident Neil Meitzler. These two artists went on to share an enduring creative camaraderie that spanned close to half a century until Meitzler’s death in 2009.
An avid correspondent, in addition to letters, over the years Randlett shared exhibition announcements, news clippings, and handmade cards with Meitzler and his partner, artist and ceramics expert Ikune Sawada. She also sent prints of her work, contact sheets, and darkroom “mishaps” she found interesting. In captions on the backs of some of the photographic prints she sent, Randlett credits Meitzler for helping her hone her own visual acuity in landscape photography, another genre she became renowned for. A comparison of her landscape photos and Meitzler’s canvases offers clear evidence of how these two artists inspired each other.
Following Randlett’s passing in January 2019, this treasure of her correspondence and artwork has been donated to the Sheehan Gallery by Ikune Sawada in memory of Neil Meitzler and in Mary Randlett's honor. In Touchstones, selections of these materials are formally presented, supplemented with borrowed images from Randlett’s portfolio held by the University of Washington. The resulting exhibition offers a rare glimpse into a remarkable friendship between artists. It also provides intimate and illuminating insight into Randlett’s personal creative process.
This assembled archive paints a picture of an iconic Northwest photographer as striking as one of Mary Randlett’s own photographic portraits.
Sheehan Gallery Director Daniel Forbes will deliver a curator's talk on the Touchstones exhibit Friday, March 6th, at 5:30 pm in Olin 138. A reception will follow in the Sheehan Gallery afterward.
Friday, April 10
Olin Hall, Sheehan Gallery
920 E Isaacs, Walla Walla, WA