A photo of flowers blooming among burnt snags.
"Fire Among the Snags" by John Marshall.

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The new decade is being ushered in at Sheehan Gallery with a trio of nature photography shows, which open at Whitman College’s art gallery on Jan. 31.

The larger gallery space will feature “Fire Stories,” an exhibit displaying the photography of John Marshall and the Osborne Panorama Project. The photographs document the effects of forest fires over the course of 30 years. They are based on photographs from the 1930s taken with a 120-degree panoramic camera known as the Osborne Photo Recording Transit. These cameras are very rare — originally, about 10 were made, but only two are known to be in existence today.

The cameras date back to the 1930s and were part of an ambitious project that the U.S. Forest Service undertook in Oregon and Washington. The aim of the project was to take panoramic photographs from each fire lookout. The 813 lookouts were located on state and federal lands and were documented using the 120-degree panoramic camera designed by Oregon forester William B. Osborne, Jr. The panoramic photographs later became known as the “Osborne Panoramas.” Placed next to the panoramas from the 1930s, Marshall’s photographs, taken more than 80 years later, show the effects of fire management on the forests of the Northwest.

In addition to the photography, the gallery will be showcasing one of the rare Osborne cameras.

“At first I was reluctant to borrow the camera, I thought, ‘careful, careful, there’s only two!’ It’ll be interesting to have the actual piece of equipment featured with the photographs; it is a work of art too. This camera has captured so much,” said Kynde Kiefel, exhibitions and collections manager for the gallery.

The exhibit also will feature tree cross sections known as “tree disks” and “tree cookies.” The disks contain visible fire marks and show how the trees survive fire.

“The rings mark the time, the burn and the regrowth afterward,” Kiefel said.

The other exhibition, “Touchstones: The Process & Person of Photographer Mary Randlett,” will feature the photography of Mary Randlett, a nature and portrait photographer who died in January 2019 at the age of 94. Displayed in the alcove gallery, part of the show will highlight the correspondence and interesting collaboration and friendship between Randlett and Northwest painter Neil Meitzler.

The spring shows follow a unit on photographic processes and the camera obscura completed by local elementary students last fall through the Carnegie Picture Lab. Kiefel assisted with the program and looks forward to collaborating with local classes to bring them to see the gallery’s exhibits. 

“We did photography lessons and talked about cameras. I’m very excited for the photography shows, because I hope to get some elementary, middle school, and high school classes here. It will kind of round out the experiment, adventure, discussion, about light and capturing things,” she said.

The 2020 season will open with an event on Friday, Jan. 31, featuring photographer John Marshall and geologist and researcher Paul Hessburg. The panel will take place at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31in Olin Hall Room 138, with a reception and viewing of the show to follow.

Sheehan Gallery Director Daniel Forbes will give a Curator’s talk on Mary Randlett’s work at 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 6, in Olin Hall Room 138. 

Rounding out the displays is a display of photography by Walla Walla native Tara Graves, who also works as the assistant to the Sheehan Gallery. “Wolf Fork Canyon Study” will be displayed in the Olin Hall Breezeway Gallery.

Graves owns and operates Walla Walla’s ArtEscape Studios, which provides exhibition and work spaces for local artists. Her professional fine art portfolio contains series in the genres of night photography, landscape, architecture, water, and topography.

All three shows are on display Jan. 31 through April 10, 2020. 

Looking Back at Fall Exhibits

The Fall 2019 exhibits at Sheehan both featured the work of indigenous artists. The main gallery show was titled “Dreamtime: Contemporary Indigenous Art from the Australian Outback.” 

“They represent a sort of astral dreaming. It’s what the artists imagine what the view of their landscape and their ancestors looks like from space. I think it is amazing. I love the mapping idea and I feel it’s something that can be universal. We are always trying to figure out our maps,” Kiefel said.

The alcove show, “The Gathering,” was from the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts in Pendleton, Oregon. It featured work from 11 different indigenous artists. Founded in 1992, the institute was formed by local artists of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The institute works to provide creative educational, social and economic opportunities for Native Americans through artistic development.

The exhibit also led to the college adding a large suite of Crow’ Shadow prints, many of which were featured in the show. Whitman’s Art Advisory Committee approved the purchase of the suite of prints.

“I feel really lucky that The Crow’s Shadow Institute is willing to collaborate with us. The way that they support artists is such an incredible model for what we should all be doing,” she said. 

The Fall 2019 shows involved community events, including an interview with “Dreamtime” collector David Garets and anthropologist David Gregory, as well as a talk given by Karl Davis, executive director of the Crow’s Shadow Institute.

Another highlight for Kiefel was watching students engage and think deeply about the pieces displayed in the gallery. Throughout the fall season, many Whitman, Walla Walla Community College, and Walla Walla community members visited the gallery.

“I really love it when classes utilize the space and it’s been really fun to witness the sort of deep study of art history, visual culture classes as well as the encounters classes. It’s been really fun to listen to the discussions among the students,” she said.

Sheehan Gallery is located in Olin Hall on the Whitman College campus. The gallery is free and open to the public. Its hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment. Go to www.whitman.edu/sheehan for more information, or call 509-527-5249 or 509-527-5992