Ingrid Nickelsen was not originally from Humboldt County but her legacy here is strong in her landscape paintings capturing the raw beauty of rivers, creeks and wilderness areas both familiar and remote. It is also alive in the estate Nickelsen bequeathed to help nurture local women artists after her death in 2005. Since 2007, the Ingrid Nickelsen Trust has gifted more than $300,000 to women artists in the Humboldt area via annual grants.
To honor the 15th year of the organization this year, the group of women involved with the trust (informally known as "Liz's Painters," thanks to comradery built during wilderness painting retreats held by Liz Harwood Pierson and Terry Oats in 2004 and 2005) sought to do something larger for the community. Teaming up with the Morris Graves Museum of Art, they laid the groundwork for a month-long celebration of women artists and Nickelsen herself. The result is a pair of exhibitions, Ingrid Nickelsen Trust Juried Exhibition: Celebrating 15 Years of Ingrid Nickelsen's Legacy and its companion show Use This Map to Help You Explore: The Landscapes of Ingrid Nickelsen. They are an ode to both a remarkable woman no longer with us and remarkable women artists working in Humboldt today.
The exhibit also marks the first time Nickelsen's work has been on public display since 2006. Originally from the Boston area, the artist was a hiker and backpacking enthusiast who made her home in Eureka in the 1960s. Primarily a ceramicist, she took up landscape painting two decades later and used her treks into the wilderness to capture scenery in an extraordinarily unique fashion. She sometimes observed her chosen sites for several days at a stretch, painting the different conditions she saw with vivid hues and in translucent layers that made both water and earth seem to jump to life. A 2005 trek into the Siskiyou Wilderness proved her last when she injured herself in a fall. But even until her final moments, Nickelsen was dedicated to the local art community, writing a will on the back of her trail map in which she detailed the use of her estate to fund women artists. (The catalog for the show includes an essay by Journal contributor Gabrielle Gopinath that will also be available at www.humboldtarts.org with more on the artist's life and work.)
Since its beginnings, the trust has been giving discretionary grants without solicitations for things like class fees, travel budgets, medical expenses, art supplies and the like. However, this is the first time the trust has organized a juried exhibition for money. "Each woman we have granted money to has a different need or reason for validation and financial recognition," said trust spokesperson Carrie Grant. However, she said, "We have lost a few art galleries in the past several years and women have fewer places to show. We thought that an exhibit was a great way to allow all women artists in Humboldt County an opportunity to show their work."
The juried show is also the first all-women art show at the museum. There was no entry fee for artwork and organizers were shocked to receive 234 entries — more than double their expectation and the largest return on a call for entries Humboldt Arts Council Executive Director-Curator Jemima Harr has seen in her 18 years with the museum. "To me, this is really uniting women artists in this community and that's what it's all about." She added working with the trust on the exhibit has been an honor. "And to finally get artists and visitors coming in again the way we did before the pandemic is fabulous," said Harr.
The exhibit's call-for-entries drew works of art from all genres: paintings, textiles, ceramics, sculptures and more. The job of narrowing the field fell to judge and Humboldt-based abstract painter Joan Gold, herself a past grant recipient. "Joan is kind of the matriarch of women artists in Humboldt County," said Grant, noting the museum staff and others working on the show are all women.
Gold walked slowly among the entries, considering and categorizing each piece with a sticky note. She knew what she was looking for but wanted to give each piece the study it was due. Color and use of paint and textures were priorities, and Gold was clear the winning pieces had to have intention and vision; they could not be "accidental." Additionally, they had to represent Nickelsen's legacy in a way that felt fitting.
In the end, Gold selected 11 winners whose awards were presented during an Aug. 6 reception at the museum. The 10 Ingrid Nickelsen Trust $500 award winners are: Trixie Galletti, Lori Goodman, Sherry Hazelton, Cheryl Peterson Rau, Laura Corsiglia, Anna Oneglia, Christy Tjaden, Shoshana McAvoy, Naomi Ruth Olsen and Carol Anderson. The winning pieces are all unique and represent different mediums — including Goodman's hanging sculpture "knots, sticks, and stories" and Tjaden's more abstract painting "Nostalgia as Landscape: Wandering in a Long Forgotten Love Song, She Found Two Snakes Where Once She Believed There Was a Road" — but each exudes a richness of color and attention to detail reminiscent of Nickelsen.
The Juror's Choice Award for $1,000 went to ceramicist Annakatrin Burnham for her 2022 sculpture "Generations." A complex cubic ceramic sculpture that hints of a crab pot in shape and nature, it is sublimely crafted with layers of texture and color that connect well to Nickelsen's work. In expressing her gratitude, Burnham said the show "is a testament to our thriving community of women artists ... I am both humbled and inspired even just sharing this vibrant space with so many of Humboldt's talented women artists."
The Morris Graves Museum of Art hosts Ingrid Nickelsen Trust Juried Exhibition: Celebrating 15 Years of Ingrid Nickelsen's Legacy and Use This Map to Help You Explore: The Landscapes of Ingrid Nickelsen through Sept. 16.
Tamar Burris (she/her) is a freelance education writer and relationship coach. Her book for children of divorce A New Special Friend is available through her website www.tamarburris.com.