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Women Painters of Washington are making history

Bellingham artists part of 46 represented in ’Fresh Perspectives’ exhibit

Colleen Hoffenbacker
Colleen Hoffenbacker
By Amy Kepferle Staff Reporter

When the Women Painters of Washington (WPW) formed in 1930, its six founding members struggled to be taken seriously as professional artists. 

Fast forward 93 years, and digitized works by one of the group’s current members will soon be deposited on the surface of the moon via an unmanned rocket.

Colleen Hoffenbacker, whose ethereal “Floragen 2.0.2” oil painting of flowers can be seen as part of WPW’s new “Fresh Perspectives” exhibition at Cordata Gallery, broke the news about her acceptance into what is called the Lunar Codex during a recent tour of the expansive exhibit. 

photo Colleen Hoffenbacker’s “Floragen 2.0.2” oil painting is the result of at least a month of work. “My approach is very meticulous and it’s all in one layer,” she said. “I can’t make a mistake.” (Image courtesy of Cordata Gallery)  

Fellow Bellingham-based artists and WPW members Joy Olney and Mary Jo Maute were also on-site. They offered Hoffenbacker congratulations. 

“How exciting for you!” Olney said. 

“What’s exciting to me about it is because I’m here with the Women Painters of Washington,” Hoffenbacker said. “I’m excited to be part of the (Lunar Codex) legacy, but part of WPW is being part of a legacy, also.” 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a WPW member was selected to be part of a history-making endeavor. Women Painters of Washington applicants must go through a rigorous jurying process, Olney said, including proving that they’re working artists of professional standing.

Although Olney, Maute and Hoffenbacker have vastly different styles of painting, their pieces in “Fresh Perspectives” all display a maturity reflecting the time and energy they’ve dedicated to their craft. The work of 46 artists can be seen in the exhibition.

Maute, who knew she wanted to be an artist since she was in kindergarten, considers herself a spontaneous painter. 

photo  Mary Jo Maute talks about her abstract painting, “Meeting in the Field.” (Sophia Nunn/Cascadia Daily News)  


Her colorful, abstract works in the exhibition — “Where the Bee Sucks” and “Meeting in the Field” — both contain elements of what she called “failed” paintings. The former includes parts saved from chalk pastels that hadn’t worked out, and the latter started with a collage from another painting she cut in half and then superimposed on the new painting.

“Failed paintings mean I just ruined it in some way — killed it,” Maute said. “The life went out of it. That happens a lot because of my spontaneous way of working. I experiment. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Hoffenbacker’s methodology is the complete opposite. 

“My approach is very meticulous and it’s all in one layer,” she said. “I can’t make a mistake.” 

Hoffenbacker’s graphic design background has her using AI to create “floral magical” designs, which she then translates into paintings using traditional oil techniques. 

“That’s what really brings it to life,” she said. “I’m applying my 20 years of experience in painting from life and painting nature. I just paint very very slowly. It takes about a month for me to do a painting.” 

photo Joy Olney, whose small “Peeking” painting was chosen for the poster and other promotional materials for “Fresh Perspectives,” has been a daily painter since 2013. (Image courtesy of Cordata Gallery)  


Olney, whose small “Peeking” painting was chosen for the poster and other promotional materials for the exhibition, said she’s been a daily painter since 2013.

“I was trained to paint what’s in front of me — whether it’s a human or a still life or a landscape,” she said. “Yesterday I did a still life with plums. I did that in a couple of hours.”

In addition to Olney, Maute and Hoffenbacker, Blaine-based painter Nancy Grisby and Julia Carpenter of La Conner are part of the Fourth Corner Division of the Women Painters of Washington. They’re all well-represented in “Fresh Perspectives,” but visitors to the exhibition should also be aware of the wealth of talent from around Washington state.

photo The “Fresh Perspectives” exhibit from the Women Painters of Washington can be seen at Cordata Gallery through Oct. 21 (Sophia Nunn/Cascadia Daily News)  

Walking through the exhibit, the three painters pointed to some of their favorites. Works they admired included Roxanne Everett’s acrylic “Payette River;” Sandy Haight’s watercolors “Canopy” and “Dervish;” Jan Koutsky’s colored pencil piece “Bergschrund;” and Joy Hagen’s “Slash & Burn: Flow” —  a massive, nine-paneled piece comprised of “encaustic detritus” on wood panels.

Maute also admired the work of Molly Preston, a part-time resident of Lopez Island who spends winters in the desert environs of the Coachella Valley. Preston’s arresting painting, “Blue Bells,” is abstract, but clearly suggests flowers in bloom.

“I’m always impressed by the dedication of the majority of the artists who are part of our group,” Maute said. “They work really hard and they’re always learning, traveling, taking classes or increasing their skills. Or just painting, painting, painting.” 

“Fresh Perspectives” can be seen from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday, and by appointment, through Oct. 21 at Cordata Gallery (formerly Gallery Syre), 464 W. Stuart Road. Owner David Syre is the owner of Cascadia Daily News. Entry is free. Info:

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