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WWU receives a trove of Northwest art treasures

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“Diary January 1, 1943” acrylic on canvas by Roger Shimomura

When Safeco Insurance Co. donates its significant corporate collection of Northwest art to a consortium of Washington state museums and university galleries, many of the pieces will find a new home at WWU’s Western Gallery.

The Western Gallery will store and manage about 100 works on paper from the 840 Safeco pieces, says Sarah Clark-Langager, director of the Western Gallery. These 100 works will form the core collection of Northwest Artists in the Washington Art Consortium/Safeco Collection.

The rest of the collection will be divided among the seven members of the Washington Art Consortium, whose charter members include the Western Gallery. In mid-March, Clark-Langager was busy developing WWU’s “wish list” of Safeco art to house at WWU; museums should know by late June which artworks are coming their way, she says.

The collection includes paintings, works on paper, photographs and works in glass, ceramics, bronze and mixed media. Some of the greatest names in Northwest art are represented, including Jacob Lawrence, Fay Jones, Morris Graves, Barbara Thomas, Dale Chihuly and George Tsutakawa.

The Western Gallery received a grant of about $42,000 from Safeco for art storage equipment to hold the consortium collection’s works on paper, which will also make appearances in the Western Gallery itself, Clark-Langager says.

Safeco, which was purchased in 2008 by the Boston-based Liberty Mutual Group, built the collection over the last three decades and displayed some of it in their University District offices and in galleries. But much of the collection hadn’t been publicly displayed.

Now that the works of art are on their way to museums around the state, that may change.

“The grand thing about it is, because we’re all consortium members, we have an agreement that we will lend freely to each other,” Clark-Langager says.

The consortium plans to put some of the art works on display during April at the Wright Exhibition Space in Seattle. And plans are in the works to display more art at the seven member museums: the Western Gallery, the Seattle Art Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane, the Whatcom Museum of History and Art, the Henry Art Gallery at University of Washington, and the Museum of Art at Washington State University.