Our History
The Beginning
It was the turn of the 20th century and many local Seattle artists were painting the times in watercolor. Watercolor, considered to be mostly a woman’s media, was a perfect medium for the Pacific NW with its gray and rainy days. Men and women took up their brushes to paint the landscapes, seascapes and stories that were happening around them like the Great Depression.
In 1939 three co-founders, Vara Grube, Dorothy Milne Rising and Florence Harrison Nesbit, along with members Paul Immel, Al Dunn, James Huston, Dale Goss and Z. Vanessa Helder formed the Northwest Watercolor Society. These eight were dedicated to celebrating watercolor and its magical wonder.
One of their first exhibits, as noted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on November 3, 1940, was at the Seattle Art Museum during National Art Week, November 25 to December 1. The Society’s goal:
To promote and elevate the art of watercolor as a medium and to encourage the growth and creativity of our artist members as we remain a prime artistic resource of the Northwest.
Throughout the decades many noteworthy and talented watercolor artists joined the society. Some were nationally known like Irwin Caplan and Mark Tobey. To learn more about the fascinating history of NWWS, by all means treat yourself to a copy of the beautifully illustrated book by David F. Martin, A Fluid Tradition: Northwest Watercolor Society…the First 75 Years.
In the first 75 years, the original mission to promote and celebrate watercolor has remained. NWWS has grown from a regional society to an international one hosting two exhibitions each year:
The International Open Exhibition, which has drawn members from around the world including Canada, China, Australia, India, and Singapore, gains in stature each year. This exhibit also draws international jurors who often find it difficult in selecting paintings for the shows because of the high number of quality entries submitted.
Waterworks is exclusively for NWWS members and showcases some of the best of the Society’s talented artists in quality and diversity.
Evolving into the 21st Century
NWWS has grown into the internationally recognized, historically rich organization of today with over 800 Signature, Lifetime and Associate members. It has also been recognized by Artists Magazine as one of the ten most prominent regional watercolor societies in North America. Like any organization NWWS must change with the times and still maintain the founders’ original goals. How is NWWS moving into the 21st century to draw in younger and more members?
Social Media
NWWS is active on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter – creating a community that celebrates the beauty and challenge of watermedia.
The September through May (except December) meetings that feature exciting, stimulating programs and demonstrations are now on Facebook Live. Members in Canada, North Carolina or even Hong Kong can “attend” without leaving home. Or view the recording later at their leisure.
More Than a Meeting
The November Splash meeting is a wonderful festive Membership Drive. Four artists are stationed around the room each painting the same subject but in their own style. Vendors sell brushes and paints. Members and potential members stroll the area, watch artists paint and explore techniques. It’s a celebration with prizes and surprises.
Getting Unplugged
The membership only exhibition, Waterworks, beginning with the 2018 show, accepted paintings that are not required to be exhibited under glass, allowing for a more personal connection with viewers. Artists can submit with the formal matting and framing under glass or ‘unplug’ and use a different method with an equally professional, gallery ready presentation. This is to encourage more members with diverse presentations of watermedia.
The original 20th century members were innovative and wanted to celebrate watercolor, which they did with the media available then. Now in the 21st century NWWS continues the tradition of connecting with artists and promoting watercolor throughout the world electronically. NWWS is flexible and ready to embrace the technology of our times, to move forward and invite diverse and creative artists to join the celebration. To find out how to become a member and more about the benefits, click here.