Madison Valley Community Council Loans Painting to YMCA

On Tuesday, January 17th, the Madison Valley Community Council was honored to loan their Bill Cumming painting Two Figures Running to the Meredith Matthews YMCA. Everyone involved with the project was thrilled.

Many years ago, the famous iconic northwest artist, Bill Cumming, gifted one of his favorite works to the Council. Bill had a close relationship with the founding members of the council, most notably Pearl Castle and Jerry Sussman. He donated the painting with the stipulation that it be exhibited in a public space for the enjoyment of the community.

For many years, the painting was hung at the MLK Jr Elementary School. When the school closed, a MVCC committee was formed to oversee the painting’s future. Lead member, Jerry Sussman took the painting to the artist for consultation. Bill was astonished by his work.  “I’m a much better painter now!” he said. “I will retouch the painting”. He reworked the canvas, bringing the image of two running children to life with the brilliant color for which he is famous. Again he entreated that the painting be displayed for the enjoyment of the community and not be sold to a private collector.

Jerry Sussman with the painting.

Happily, the African-American Museum had recently opened and they were more than delighted to receive the work for their permanent exhibit. Many visitors enjoyed the painting for several years.

Last year the museum closed its permanent exhibit in favor of rotating art. The painting was put into storage. Although it was safely stored, this was not in keeping with the artist’s intention. The committee began to search for a new home.

The local neighborhood YMCA was identified as an appropriate recipient and from then on, all moved quickly. The painting was retrieved from the museum and taken to Baas Gallery for refurbishing. The frame and mat were restored and a new Plexiglas cover was installed. Owner Karrie Baas was able to give the committee a generous discount on the work since the committee’s members paid for the work privately.

Thank you, Karrie Baas!

On January 17th, the painting was officially loaned to the YMCA. We had a little cookie reception with a brief historical talk by Jerry Sussman. Both the staff and Y members enjoyed the celebration.

Bill Cumming was a member of the Northwest School of artists who were engaged in the modern art movement of the mid-twentieth century. He eventually developed a style of vibrant color depicting everyday life of ordinary people in a somewhat abstract attitude. He made his home in Seattle’s Central District and the African-American community greatly inspired his work. The MVCC painting depicts two children running toward the viewer, their faces in shadow, with brilliant color and movement. It is considered one of his best works.

Bill’s personal life was somewhat chaotic. He had ongoing health issues due to tuberculosis and spent years at the Firland Sanatorium here in Seattle. As a member of the Communist party, he experienced the blacklist along with so many other artists. Although he was always an activist for civil rights, he broke off all relations with organized politics to focus on his art.

He eventually achieved great success and enjoyed solo shows at both the Seattle Art Museum and Frye Museum. Both private individuals and institutions have collected his work. He was a teacher at the Burnley School of Professional Art (now, Art Institute of Seattle) and at Cornish. He taught into his 90s, including private workshops in his home. At his death, a special tribute was published in our local Real Change publication.

The MVCC is truly humbled and proud to be the guardian of such an extraordinary work of art by an extraordinary artist.

Bill Cumming Painting Committee:

Charles McDade, Cathy Nunneley, Eli Stahlhut, Jerry Sussman, Lindy Wishard

Contributed by Cathy Nunneley

Penelope Karovsky