Tacoma Art Museum began building a collection in 1963 with Northwest art at its core. The first works to enter the collection were by Northwest artists Jacob Elshin, Paul Horiuchi, Beulah Hyde, and Hilda Morris. The museum’s collection has continued to grow from those Northwest roots, adding works by both historical and contemporary Northwest artists. The Northwest Art Collection consists of works in all media created by artists who are natives of, practiced or taught in, and/or have meaningful connections to the Pacific Northwest with the intent of building a collection of works of art that represent the broad diversity of aesthetic expression in the region. The Northwest is defined for TAM’s collections as the geographical territory of Washington, Oregon, western Montana, British Columbia, Idaho, and Alaska. The museum offers a regular schedule of exhibitions drawn from the Northwest art collection.
Major additions include a special collection of Northwest art contributed by the Aloha Club, a private women’s organization in Tacoma; the Bellevue Art Museum Collection, transferred to Tacoma Art Museum in 1998; and the Safeco/Liberty Mutual Collection and the Washington Mutual/JP Morgan Chase Collection, two prominent corporate collections from which the museum received major gifts of Northwest art.
Tacoma Art Museum was a member of the Washington Art Consortium (WAC), a unique cooperative of seven museums throughout Washington State that began in 1975. WAC worked with Seattle philanthropist Virginia Wright to build a collection of post-war American works on paper and photography, which was exhibited regularly throughout Washington State and nationally. Over its lifespan, WAC accepted the donation of works from the Mary Margaret and Richard Aiken collection, facilitated the distribution of over 800 works from the Safeco/Liberty Mutual Art Collection, the oldest and most renowned corporate collection of exclusively Northwest art, and loaned artworks to numerous exhibitions at home and abroad. Although WAC has disbanded as an organization, the artworks from its collections continue to be available to the public as part of the member institutions’ collections. Tacoma Art Museum holds over 120 works from the Safeco/Liberty Mutual Art Collection which can be seen here.
A visitor favorite is Leroy, the Big Pup, Northwest artist Scott Fife’s monumental puppy made from archival cardboard, glue, and wood screws. Although Leroy is moved around the building, he can often be found in the lobby, greeting visitors as they enter the museum. Leroy was originally created for the 2004 retrospective exhibition of Fife’s work at Tacoma Art Museum.
Images: Michael Brophy (American, born 1960), January, 1997, Oil on canvas, 78 x 95 1/2 in. (198.1 x 242.6 cm). Tacoma Art Museum, Museum purchase from Laura Russo Gallery with funds from the Dr. Lester Baskin Memorial Fund, 1998.12 — Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917-2000), Brooklyn Stoop, 1967, Gouache and casein on paper, 21 1/8 x 16 1/8 in. (53.7 x 41 cm). Tacoma Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1990.7