Puget Sound art museum

“Why haven’t I ever heard about these artists before?”

Visitors have been asking that question “constantly” since Lindsey Echelbarger ’74 opened the Cascadia Art Museum in September. Located on the edge of Puget Sound in Edmonds, Wash., just north of Seattle, the nonprofit museum showcases the often “overlooked and understudied” painters, printmakers, photographers and sculptors of the Northwest United States, particularly those active in the mid-19th to mid-20th century.

The museum’s inaugural exhibition, for instance, celebrated early members of the Northwest Watercolor Society, such as Z. Vanessa Helder and Dorothy Dolph Jensen. This summer brought a retrospective of the paintings of John Matsudaira, one of the region’s many influential Japanese-American artists. 

Opening in September will be a solo exhibition by Peggy Strong, whose murals adorned public buildings in Washington and Alaska.  

Always “an inveterate visitor of historical museums and battlefields,” Echelbarger says it was at Amherst that he “discovered that art history was just another way to look at history.” In the late 1970s he joined his father’s real estate development company in Edmonds (now run mainly by his son Nick Echelbarger ’04), and soon he and wife Carolyn began collecting art to fill their walls. 

But where, they wondered, were the works by artists from around the Cascade mountain range? 

“In the past 40 to 50 years, other parts of the U.S. have come to rediscover and appreciate their regional art,” he says, mentioning Connecticut’s Old Lyme and New Mexico’s Santa Fe art colonies, among many others. “The Northwest, however, has curiously lagged behind.”

 

Lindsey Echelbarger ’74
Lindsey Echelbarger ’74; Majors: fine arts, history. Photo of Echelbarger by Diana Scheel; top photo by Tom Marks

His research led him to befriend Seattle gallery owner and prolific Northwestern art historian David F. Martin, with whom he began dreaming of opening a museum. When Echelbarger and son purchased an old Safeway building, the dream grew into a reality. With its “loftlike feel, open ceilings and huge curved wooden beams,” Echelbarger says, half of the former grocery store proved ideal for the galleries, classrooms and gift shop of the Cascadia Art Museum; a few local business now rent the other half.

“We expected about 300 [visitors] at our opening last September,” Echelbarger says, “and we hosted over 520.” The museum received a write-up in the Los Angeles Times. It has more than 550 paying members and attracts an average of about 1,000 visitors per month, including local schoolchildren. 

Echelbarger and Martin serve on the museum’s board. The museum has an executive director, two full-time employees and more than 30 volunteer staff members.

Though about 200 artworks are on display, “Cascadia currently has no permanent collection. We rely solely on borrowing from other museums, collectors and family members of the artists,” says Echelbarger (who has lent seven works from his own collection). “Our no-acquisition policy will probably change soon: we have many people contacting us about possible donations.”

Washington State is already known globally as the home of Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks and Amazon, he points out. “I hope that in 10 years, the world is aware that the Northwest has a world-class art heritage to match!”