by Nancy Zaffaro
Pablo Picasso said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” The same could be said of travel, so combine the two and take a look at our compilation of some of the Northwest’s best art museums.
Each museum varies in size, focus and architecture, displaying the Northwest’s rich diversity. We guarantee you’ll be entertained, educated, and inspired.
Portland Art Museum, Portland
The Portland Art Museum (PAM) was founded in late 1892, and is the oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest. In their centennial year, 1992, they purchased the adjacent Masonic Temple, the renovation of which became the Mark Building. This expansion added an additional 112,000 square feet of gallery space, creating a home for many pieces that had been in storage due to lack of exhibit space.
American, Native American, Asian, and European works are showcased here, as well as splendid collections of Graphic art, Photography and Contemporary pieces. The museum has a robust program of special events and celebrations, often held in evening hours or in the museum’s outdoor courtyard. Museum attendance, not including admissions to the excellent Northwest Film Center, was 261,000 last year. The upcoming Andy Warhol exhibit is expecting to be the largest display of the Pop artist’s prints ever presented.
Jordan Schnitzer Museum, Eugene
Associated with the University of Oregon’s in Eugene, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum rotates its collection each year to best complement the university’s art history classes, and entry is always free to students. Open to the public since 1933, the museum initially was opened to house a gift from Gertrude Bass Warner of 3,700 works of art.
Visitors will find a rich collection of historic and contemporary art. There is an extensive collection of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and also art from the Americas, Islamic art, Russian icons, photography, and more, encouraging an understanding and appreciation of all cultures. Temporary exhibitions and masterworks on loan add to the collection.
Boise Art Museum, Boise
The citizens of Boise have given strong support to the Boise Art Museum (BAM) since it opened the doors of its first building in 1937. Since then, the museum has grown in size several times and remains a pillar of the city’s cultural life.
The collection is rich in contemporary works from Northwest artist, ceramics and Asian artwork.
In early 2017, the museum will celebrate its 80th anniversary with a Triennial Exhibition that will showcase the diversity and high quality of artists in Idaho.
Maryhill Museum, Goldendale
Businessman and entrepreneur, world traveler and philanthropist, Sam Hill built roads throughout the Northwest, including the Pacific Highway and the Columbia Gorge Highway in the early 20th century. In 1914, he started construction on a magnificent home on 5,000 acres along in Goldendale, Washington, 104 miles from Portland.
Lifelong friends, including Queen Marie of Roumania, dancer Loie Fuller, and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels convinced Hill to turn the home into a museum and aided the effort with significant and sometimes eclectic donations. The Native American collection displays art and artifacts from tribes in all regions of the country. Don’t miss the extensive collection of work by sculptor Auguste Rodin, Art Nouveau pottery and glass, the chess set collection, or the Théâtre de la Mode collection.
Enjoy expansive Columbia Gorge views from inside the new Terrace Level or outdoors on the grounds and the museum’s café patio.
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle
The largest of the museums on this list, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is comprised of the downtown art museum, the Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Garden. The three museums received 700,823 visitors in 2015.
Soon after the opening in 2007 of the new main building, the museum received nearly 1,000 new pieces from more than 40 collections. The museum houses a strong collection of contemporary, Pacific Northwest, Native American, works from Oceana and much more. A truly international collection from ancient to modern periods.
Your ticket to SAM is good for a visit to the Asian Art Museum, located in SAM’s previous 1933 Art Deco “home” in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Rich in culture and history, there are wonderful pieces here from China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, India, the Philippines and the Himalayas.
There’s no admission charge to the Olympic Sculpture Museum, the nine-acre outdoor waterfront park. The sculpture museum features large contemporary pieces and stunning views of the city.
Museum of Glass, Tacoma
Glass art is particularly well-loved in the Northwest and the Museum of Glass showcases the art form superbly. Besides the comprehensive glass collection, the Hot Shop is a great way to see glass artists at work. Arena seating for 138 allows visitors to watch artists carry original pieces through the various stages of creation. The Hot Shop is housed in the “Cone,” the 90 feet tall by 100 feet in diameter unique architectural design that resembles the wood-burning sawmills once found throughout the area. The museum also has a glass blowing mobile unit that travels to schools and communities.
The theater presents multimedia presentations, films and lectures. Don’t miss the 500-foot long steel and glass pedestrian bridge, commissioned by the City of Tacoma in partnership with the Museum and renowned glass artist and Tacoma native, Dale Chihuly or Martin Blank’s “Fluent Steps.”
Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane
The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is associated with the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, and as such, its collections and purpose are broader than “just” art. A fascinating combination of regional history, natural history and science, as well as culture and fine arts, the museum brings alive any trip to Spokane, Eastern Washington and some of the inland Northwest. Visiting exhibits also look to the broader world of science and art.
Admission includes entry to the Campbell House, located next door, where you can see what life was like for this prominent Spokane family at the turn of the 20th century. The Museum turned 100 years old this year, and is located in Browne’s Addition neighborhood near downtown.