An Artist in the Last Frontier: Dorathy Bruce Farr’s Missing Months in Alaska

Maggie Nevala ’26

Damage to Anchorage’s downtown after the 1964 earthquake

     Alaska is a state that is constantly on the brink. Earthquakes are a daily occurrence, barely warranting rousing awake, the 7.1 quake of 2018 only closing school for a week before students returned to classrooms with cracks in the walls. But in 1964, the 9.2 Great Alaskan earthquake thoroughly upended the growing city of Anchorage. The homes and infrastructure that were largely unequipped for such a disaster were destroyed, the death toll rising as the state experienced the aftershocks and effects that would continue for years to come. When Dorathy Bruce Farr arrived in Anchorage in 1965, the city was still rebuilding—and so was she.
     Almost the entirety of the information that remains about Dorathy Bruce Farr can fit in one box, the papers enclosed largely consisting of the countless letters she sent to peers and the copious notes of the reporter who worked to find Dorathy after her location became unknown to her friends in the 1980s.

One of the few available photos of Dorathy Bruce Farr, taken after she was found in a care center in 1985

These pen markings and scribblings make up all that is known about Dorathy’s life, certain buzzwords sticking out among them all and illustrating her origins. She was born in Portland in 1904, married her first husband at 18 and had a son, and then married fellow artist Fred Farr in the 1930s. She and Fred moved to New York together, where they hobnobbed with other artists, he was commissioned to make murals, and she studied her craft and made a name for herself as a batik painter. It is after this period that the details get murky. There is nothing said about what happened to Dorathy’s relationship with Fred, but she returned to Portland alone, continuing to exhibit her work there but making a meager living from it. The ‘60s were a blur of art, parties, and internal struggles that ended in her last show in 1970.
     Dorathy Bruce Farr is a woman of many mysteries, from her gradual mental decline due to what was most likely Alzheimer’s, the ambiguous death of her son, and the severance of any communication with her friends from 1980 to 1985, when she was found in a care center.

The front and back of one of the envelopes used to enclose the letters Dorathy Bruce Farr wrote to Rex Amos from Anchorage (Box: 1, Folder 3)

In all the many accounts of Dorathy’s adventures—or the attempts to piece them together—there is one that appears as a lone sentence, as an afterthought of an addition to a list of details about her: “Alaska ‘65 = work fish cannery” (Box: 1, Folder: 19) , or “She worked half a year in an Alaska salmon cannery” (Box: 1, Folder: 22). These are small descriptors used for a larger-than-life place, a place that should not slip through the cracks so easily. Even knowing her financial motivations for the trip—Dorathy was hoping to kick start her career by earning enough money to go back to New York—the lack of further details begs for there to be more to discover about Dorathy’s short and mysterious time spent in the Last Frontier, and a mere four letters written by her bear the burden of telling us the tale.
     Each of the four letters—written to fellow artist Rex Amos in July and August 1965—provide a unique insight into Dorathy’s observations and thoughts about the state. In the first of the letters, she expounds on the imagery of the city with the appraising eye only a seasoned painter could have. She creates a contrast between the beautiful nature surrounding her—“the mountains are purple, black, and sapphire and the sun is shining down the valleys” (Box: 1, Folder: 1)—with what she sees as the disruptive expansion of the cityscape. Her poetic musings are interrupted by the telltale sounds of suburbia: lawn mowers, station wagons, taverns, Tastee Freezes. Dorathy shuns these modes of innovation, referring to Anchorage in one of her first letters as a “dull, ugly, grimy, hideous stereotype of a city.” (Box: 1, Folder: 1). 

An early, 1950s Tastee Freez in Anchorage, like the one Dorathy describes in her letters as a sign of suburbia

Harsh words aside, here in 1965, she pinpoints the dichotomy lived by many Alaskans today, how the gray urban world encroaches on the natural one, how mountains loom over the skyline of a downtown that is not much of an expansive downtown at all. But for many of the current generation living there, it is the only city they have ever known, and that is what Dorathy was unequipped to realize during her brief excursion—that a place that appears contradictory to her, where history and wilderness and urbanization live side by side, was and is a home to many. But in her last letter, where she celebrates her upcoming return to the Lower 48, she encapsulates Anchorage best in one phrase: “The Greatest Little Big Town in Alaska.” (Box: 1, Folder: 4). Residents of the largest state by area in the U.S. are well-aware that often running into someone you know is as easy as turning the corner.
     While Dorathy never directly references the earthquake that happened in Alaska the year prior, her observations about the city’s urban developments reflect the recovery efforts that were still ongoing. And there are many other instances in the letters where she places her time there in a historical context. To make money to fund future travels, Dorathy works in a salmon cannery, presumably in the coastal fishing town of Ketchikan that is mentioned in passing in the letters.

A salmon cannery in Ketchikan, Alaska similar to one Dorathy Bruce Farr would have worked at

This endeavor was common for 20th century Alaskan teenagers looking to make some extra cash—a traditional practice that has evolved into families who commercial fish every summer. Additionally, Dorathy’s second letter to Rex Amos consists almost entirely of newspaper clippings that provide an inside look into this world, the articles excerpted referencing Alaska’s significance in the Vietnam War, a still prominent banking chain, and a senator whose name is now emblazoned on one of Anchorage’s ten middle schools.

Newspaper clippings included in one of Dorathy Bruce Farr’s letters from Anchorage (Box: 1, Folder: 2)

With these clippings and notes, Dorathy immersed herself in the culture of a city that would continue to be relevant beyond the time of her stay, possibly without even realizing she did so.
     Dorathy Bruce Farr’s letters from Anchorage can only provide so much information about her months there, but by considering the historical scene at the time and taking in the picture she paints of the landscape, we can place ourselves in her shoes and into the image of an Anchorage both past and present. In 1965, Dorathy was entering the last phase of her career as an artist, and all this happened against the backdrop of a state only six years old, when the land was shiny and fresh and was a place where one could pursue adventure, set down roots, and start anew.



Correspondence, 1965 July 2, Series I, Box: 1, Folder: 1. The Dorathy Bruce Farr
       papers, WUA027. Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

Correspondence, 1965 July, Series I, Box: 1, Folder: 2. The Dorathy Bruce Farr
       papers, WUA027. Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

Correspondence, 1965 August 2, Series I, Box: 1, Folder: 3. The Dorathy Bruce
       Farr papers, WUA027. Willamette University Archives and Special

Correspondence, 1965 August 9, Series I, Box: 1, Folder: 4. The Dorathy Bruce
       Farr papers, WUA027. Willamette University Archives and Special

Various reviews of art shows, 1965-1970, Series II, Box: 1, Folder: 19. The
       Dorathy Bruce Farr papers, WUA027. Willamette University Archives and
       Special Collections.

Photographs, notes, draft of article and copy of Northwest Magazine with the
       article, 1985 June 23, Series II, Box: 1, Folder: 22. The Dorathy Bruce Farr
       papers, WUA027. Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

Charles Heaney & the WPA: A Memory of Mountains

by Jess Kimmel ’25

          One of the many programs created by Franklin D. Roosevelt as a part of the New Deal was the Works Progress Administration, or the WPA. First launched in 1935, the WPA was instrumental in providing jobs for the millions of Americans who were left unemployed as a result of the Great Depression. Like other New Deal initiatives, this program largely revolved around the creation and renovation of roads, public buildings, and other infrastructure. According to sociologist Robert D. Leighninger, these programs “had an enormous and largely unrecognized role in defining the public space we now use.”
          While thinking about the WPA often evokes images of manual labor, many of its projects also provided opportunities for actors, musicians, writers, and artists. From the sculptures and murals commissioned to publicize and promote the collectivist values of the Roosevelt administration, to the ethnomusicology research conducted by the Federal Music Project, creatives in the New Deal era found themselves valued and sought out to a level that had seldom been reached before in American history. One such creative was Portland painter Charles Heaney, a man known for defying and redefining artistic tradition.
          Born to a working-class family in Oconto Falls, Wisconsin in 1897, Charles Heaney went through nearly sixteen years of life without seeing a mountain. Not unusual, perhaps, for a Midwesterner, though certainly notable in hindsight for an artist whose greatest works would include no small number of paintings depicting Northwestern mountain peaks. While traveling by train with his mother and sisters to their new home in Portland, Heaney would get his first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains, even the foothills of which overwhelmed him with their majestic beauty. He didn’t yet consider himself an artist, but that memory of mountains would serve as a font of inspiration for him years later.
          As a young man in Portland, Charles Heaney worked briefly as a laborer, before soon realizing that such a career would be unsustainable for him. He found his first artistic calling as an engraver in 1916,

Undated self-portrait of Charles Heaney, oil on canvas.

before going on to study painting and printmaking at the Portland Museum Art School. His art career reached its heights in the 1930s, which saw his work evolve from simple pastoral prints to more emotionally complex paintings during his partnership with expressionist painter C.S. Price. The New Deal was in full swing at that time; while the heart of the Depression initially found him digging sewers for the Civil Works Administration, Heaney was able to find federal employment as an artist in 1934 with the Public Works of Art program, and later with the WPA in 1937.
         Charles Heaney was commissioned by the WPA to create prints and paintings to furnish the program’s many public buildings. This provided him with full-time work as well as an opportunity to further gain renown as an artist. Somewhat ironically, Heaney described the Depression as a Renaissance of American art due to the unprecedented level of government interest and support, and there were few projects that more clearly demonstrate this demand for art than Timberline Lodge.
Built right on the slope of Mount Hood, Timberline Lodge is a historic inn and ski resort that is easily one of the crowning achievements of the Works Progress Administration. It is in fact “the only twentieth century building of its size constructed and furnished entirely by hand with original craft work,” writes Rachael Griffin,

Timberline Lodge, as stylized on the cover of The Builders of Timberline Lodge, an informational booklet published by the WPA in 1937.

longtime curator of the Portland Art Museum and founding member of the Friends of Timberline, in a 1979 guide to the lodge. Construction on Timberline began in the summer of 1936 and was completed in just over a year, a timeframe that would still be considered impressive today. Yet, what makes Timberline so significant to American art is the careful and intentional way that it was furnished with original art: sculptures, carvings, mosaics, textiles, and paintings.
          It is here, in the lodge’s mezzanine gallery, that one of Charles Heaney’s most powerful works, The Mountain, hangs, in the company of other great Cascadian artists. An oil painting on canvas, it is barely able to contain the imposing figure of Mt. Hood itself. This painting was completed in September of 1937, just in time for Timberline’s dedication. It would not be Heaney’s last work depicting mountains, which became an emergent theme throughout much of his later work. As a Regionalist and Romantic artist, they were something of a stylistic cliche for him. But beyond that, it stands to reason that the draw he felt towards the peaks of Oregon was steeped in the memory of mountains that had long ago welcomed him to the West.

The Mountain, oil on canvas, 1937.

           Traces of the WPA and its sister programs remain scattered throughout Oregon, serving as a stalwart reminder of the things that a people united can accomplish. In addition to Timberline Lodge, other scenic landmarks such as the McLoughlin Promenade, Silver Falls State Park, and Salem’s own Waterfront park owe their existence to the New Deal public works programs.



Memory, Imagination, and Place, Roger Hull’s
monograph on Charles Heaney, 2005.

More information about Charles Heaney and his association with the WPA can be found in Willamette University’s Pacific Northwest Artists Archive, maintained by the joint collaboration of the university Archives and the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Much of the material on Heaney is located in the archived research files of Roger Hull, Professor Emeritus of Art History, who wrote monographs and organized retrospective exhibitions on the subject of Heaney and other Northwest artists.



Charles Heaney, 1902-2006, bulk: 1916-2004, Series III. Roger Hull Research Files on Pacific Northwest Artists, WUA065. Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

            Biographical Statements, Resumes, & Chronologies, Box: 3, Folder: 39

Completed Monograph, 2005, Box: 3, Folder: 20

Timberline Lodge, 1937-2004, Box: 4, Folder: 17

Hale, Jamie. “10 Oregon landmarks built by workers during the Great Depression.” The Oregonian,

Leighninger, Robert D. (May 1996). “Cultural Infrastructure: The Legacy of New Deal Public Space”. Journal of Architectural Education. 49 (4): 226–236

CARL HALL: Painting the Northwest

by Jess Kimmel

“Works of art are doorways to some unentered room. The artist is constantly knocking, demanding entry.”
~Carl Hall

            Where does an artist’s story begin? Is it when, at the age of seven, they win $5 in their first newspaper art contest? Is it when they get caught sneaking into school after hours to make use of the art classroom? Perhaps when they send home pencil drawings from war, drawings of medical tents and dead soldiers? Any of these could be the defining moment of the first chapter in the life of Carl Hall, one of the most expressive and influential painters of the Pacific Northwest. 
            Yet buried deep in the research files of Roger Hull, who so diligently constructed a catalog of Hall’s life, lie a few unassuming photocopies of letters and statements bound together with a rusty paper clip. Dating from the 1940s, they detail the creation of Hall’s first painting of any note: Interlochen, Michigan. Having been assigned to process the Carl Hall series, these papers were a source of mild dismay to me. I only noticed them towards the end of the arrangement process, and they didn’t seem to fit neatly into the new categories that I had constructed. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to them, and why they are as good a place as any to begin the story of Hall’s career as an artist, which spanned over five decades.
            Though he would eventually call the Willamette Valley his home, Carl Hall was born in 1921 in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Detroit. At sixteen, he received a scholarship to the Meinzinger Art School, where he studied under Carlos Lopez, a Cuban-American painting known for his New Deal murals.

Interlochen, Michigan, as shown in a magazine clipping found in the Carl Hall papers (Box 4, Folder 19)

Interlochen, Michigan was created by an eighteen year-old Hall in the summer of 1940, when he attended the National Music Camp in the painting’s namesake town. As the artist tells it, he was fishing in a stream one day when a log happened to float past him, teeming with a “small world of plant life.” It occurred to him that such a thing would make an interesting subject for a painting. While Interlochen’s Midwestern locale might seem a far cry from the Oregon landscapes that would later take front and center on Hall’s canvas, it bore many of the stylistic hallmarks that would remain with him: vivid dark colors, a visible interplay of wind and weather, and just enough pattern distortion to create an eerily romantic display of magic realism. Interlochen, Michigan, was first consigned to the Detroit Artists’ Market before being sold to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1941.
         In 1942, Hall underwent his military training at Camp Adair near Corvallis where he both met his wife Phyllis and fell in love with Oregon’s natural beauty. He described the state as “Eden Again,” and swore that he would settle there permanently if he survived World War II. He spent eighteen months on active duty in the Philippines and Japan before returning. Only a few months later, Carl and Phyllis Hall moved to Salem, where they would spend the rest of their lives. Not long after, Hall accepted a position as a professor of art at Willamette University. John Olbrantz, the first director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, later said that the history of Willamette’s art department would forever be tied to Hall, who taught here for thirty-eight years and made an impact on the lives of generations of artists.
          Hall garnered national renown over his long career for his haunting and beautifully detailed panoramic views of Oregon’s countryside. Views that Roger Hull describes as “quilts of greens and yellows” and “mist, floating as ribbons in the branches of trees.” Despite this, Hall later began to shift his stylistic focus from realistic to abstract. Like other such abstractionists, he believed that art came closer to capturing the true essence of its subject with simplicity.

Last Shadow (1971), an example of Hall’s abstract work. Photo from the Carl Hall papers (Box 4, Folder 39)

Over time, clearly outlined features would become fleeting forms and patterns that revealed their inner nature, in an almost spiritual progression of imagery. Referring to Hall, gallery director Julie Larson wrote that “one of the hallmarks of a great artist is that their work evolves over time.” Carl Hall is nothing if not evolutionary.
        In the years leading up to and following Hall’s death in 1996, his colleague and longtime friend Roger Hull began conducting research for a monograph and retrospective exhibition on his life, titled Eden Again after Carl’s words for the muse that he found in Oregon. Eden Again was completed in 2001, a fitting tribute to the life of one of the Pacific Northwest’s most important creative figures, whose story began, in some part, with a log floating down a stream in Interlochen, Michigan.



Eden Again: The Art of Carl Hall by Roger Hull. Photo from the Roger Hull research files (Box 2, Folder 32)

Roger Hull’s research files on Carl Hall and other Pacific Northwest artists can now be found in the Willamette University Archives, where they were compiled in 2014. Hall’s series includes biographical information, research notes, reproductions of both his written and painted works, and many other items related to Hall’s life and family dating from 1941-2008. Nearly forty years of correspondence between the Hulls and the Halls is recorded, from the Christmas cards that Carl Hall sent to Roger and Bonnie Hull in the 1970s to letters detailing Willamette University’s continued acquisition of the artist’s inventoried works sold and donated by Phyllis Hall well into the 2000s. 




Carl Hall, 1941-2008, Series II. Roger Hull Research Files on Pacific Northwest Artists, WUA065. Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.
        Biographies and Resumes, Box: 2, Folder: 1. 

        Completed Monograph, 2000, Box: 2, Folder: 32.

        General Correspondence, 1941-2007, Box: 2, Folder: 5.

Carl Hall papers, WUA124. Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

         “Interlochen”, 1940-1980, Subseries C, Box: 4, Folder: 19. 

         “Last Shadow”, 1971, Subseries C, Box: 4, Folder: 39. 

Ruth Dennis Grover: Encaustic Paintings

By Jess Kimmel ’25

Ruth Dennis Grover on a beach in Road’s End, Oregon, from Notable Women of
Portland, by Tracy Prince and Zadie Schaffer. Photographer unknown.

In the 1st Century BCE, Julius Caesar purchased a pair of encaustic paintings from a Greek artist for the extraordinary sum of 80 talents apiece (over $4 million in today’s money!)1. These early paintings, originating in Egypt prior to the 5th Century BCE, were highly valued in Greek and Roman civilization, and are believed to be one of the earliest painting techniques in recorded history. Due to the extreme difficulty of producing encaustics, the form had fallen out of style by the Renaissance with the advent of oil painting, and only a select few artists continued to work with it. Many centuries later, an Oregonian painter named Ruth Dennis Grover would be influential in introducing the encaustic style to the Pacific Northwest.

Ruth Dennis Grover was born in Portland in 1912 and raised in Detroit. After graduating with honors from the University of Michigan, she returned to Oregon, where she spent the rest of her life living in what is now Lincoln City. She had a lifelong interest in rocks and minerals, particularly agates, and was a self-proclaimed “rockhound” (rock collector). In 1952, she founded Cascade Artists, a small society of Oregon watercolor artists that held many exhibitions throughout the state. Grover herself was also a part of the Oregon Society of Artists. Though initially known for her work with watercolor, she discovered encaustics in 1956 and began to research and experiment with the technique. According to Grover, encaustics became a “consuming interest”, as well as a “technical [and] artistic challenge”.

The Fayyum mummy portraits, some of the earliest and most well-known examples of encaustics. Photos taken by Ruth Maude at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York.

As for the form itself, encaustic paintings are made by combining paint pigment with refined beeswax and resin, and using heat (at highly precise temperatures) to seal the paint in layers, resulting in “exceptional luminosity” and a permanency unmatched by any other style of painting. “It is impervious to the chemical changes that cause other media to yellow, crack, or fade with time,” Grover writes in an introductory paper on encaustics. Even sunlight does not have the same fading effect on encaustics that it does with many other mediums. The Fayyum portraits, which are among the most famous surviving examples of the encaustic medium, were painted around two thousand years, yet their colors are still just as vibrant now as at the time of their creation. The name is derived from the Greek word “enkaustos”, which means “burnt in”. Modern technology makes this form much more accessible and feasible to create, though it is still dangerous and requires painstaking precision.

The cover of the Joseph Torch pamphlet, found in Box 3, Folder 7, of the Ruth Dennis Grover papers in the Willamette University Archives.

According to a pamphlet published by Joseph Torch, an art materials store in New York, encaustic painting was nearly unheard of in the Americas before the 1950s, and it was only at the urging of a European painter that Joseph Torch began to do research into the medium and stock materials for encaustics. It was here that Ruth Dennis Grover first purchased the materials for her early encaustic paintings.

Grover’s work is described as “semi-abstract”, with a focus on naturally occurring patterns and the exploration of “spatial, textural, and color relationships”. Much of her inspiration was drawn from the Oregon Coast, and a significant amount of her work consists of seascapes, lighthouses, and shipwrecks. Grover believed that encaustics were well-suited for marine paintings, due to their flexibility and diverse expressibility. “Natural forces,” she notes, “express their existence not in themselves, but in the things they move and shape.

“The Second Sea”, one of Grover’s encaustic marine paintings, held in the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Dated 1967.

“Tooth of Time and Razure of Oblivion”, another encaustic painting by Grover, depicting a piece of a shipwreck. Held in the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Dated 1968.












Though Ruth Dennis Grover passed away in 2003, her legacy lives on in the communities of PNW artists that she had a hand in creating, as well as the paintings she forged with fire; paintings that will never fade, forever serving as a memory of the artist, and the ancient medium that she mastered. Many of her works are held by the Oregon Historical Society, the Coos Art Museum, and the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Furthermore, the Willamette University Archives contain a vast collection of records from her life and work, including photographs, correspondence, exhibitions, and artistic journals, as a part of the Pacific Northwest Artist’s Archive.


1. Adjusted for inflation: Grover’s notes from the 1950s mention a figure of $350,000


Interviews, notes, 1931-1966, Series II, Box: 3, Folder: 2. Ruth Dennis Grover papers,
WUA052. Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

Paint supplies, ordering notes and receipts, 1958-1996, Series II, Box: 3, Folder: 7. Ruth
Dennis Grover papers, WUA052. Willamette University Archives and Special

Maude, Ruth. “The History of Encaustic Painting from Fayum Funeral Portraits to
Today.” All Things Encaustic,
Accessed 24 Oct. 2022.

Online Collections | Hallie Ford Museum of Art – Willamette University. Accessed 24 Oct. 2022.

Vitae Statements, Introductions, undated, Series II, Box: 3, Folder: 3. Ruth Dennis
Grover papers, WUA052. Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

Myra Albert Wiggins: A Life in Studios

By Lilly Thies ’26

          When you think of the modern artist’s studio, an image may come to mind. Walls filled with art, probably a few different seating options– some chairs, some poufs, maybe even a swing. A drawing desk. Maybe some tools for mixed-media or textile art. Instruments. Paint splatters. As it turns out, the artists’ studio in the Progressive era wasn’t too different– a personalized treasure trove filled with items that inspire creativity. And, same as now, artists back in the day would carve out their own little corners where they could be creative, no matter how inconvenient the physical space. The desire for a personal space to create art was very much alive, and especially for female artists– bringing to mind Virginia Woolf’s idea of a “room of her own”.

          Myra Albert Wiggins (1869-1956) was an artist who spent her life between the Pacific Northwest, where she was born and where she raised her family, and New York City, where she went to school at the Art Students League of New York. Her parents encouraged her artistic capabilities both because they recognized her natural talent and because a cultural prowess in the arts was expected of upper-class progressive women at the time. Many of her personal belongings and art are stored in the Pacific Northwest Artists’ Archive in the Willamette University Archives. Although she is mostly known for her oil paintings, which won her a series of awards, her photographs display the quieter, more intimate moments of her life and offer a glimpse into the studio of a Progressive-era artist.

Wiggins’ Salem Studio. Pictured are the piano, center, and spinning wheel, to the left. (Box 9, Folder 4)

Some of Wiggins’ earliest photographs stored in the Archives show her studio in Salem, which she used from the 1890s through the 1920s. The studio was said to be a barn on the backside of the Wiggins family property on Winter street, near where Salem Hospital is now. The barn looks a bit ramshackle from the outside, but the inside is truly remarkable. The space is light and airy, with sun-faded rugs on the floor that brighten up the space. There is an incredible amount of art everywhere– recreations of Greek nude statues, ceramic pots tucked in among the rafters, paintings and photographs and spindly wooden furniture. One gets the sense just looking at the photographs that this place was used constantly and was well-loved by Wiggins, a safe place for her to separate her life as a mother and homemaker from her life as an artist. Not only does she have an impressive collection of visual art, but one corner of the studio features a piano and a spinning wheel. Though Wiggins was primarily a painter and a photographer, perhaps inspiration would have sometimes come to her in the form of a short melody or a textured fabric. Or perhaps these items were heirlooms, furniture meant to inspire creativity in the same way as the paintings and artifacts that covered the walls. Either way, it is clear that Wiggins decorated her space with her art in mind. She had sources of inspiration everywhere she looked, and she gave herself freedom to experiment with whatever medium her creativity demanded.

Wiggins’ improvised studio in Toppenish. Her daughter Mildred is pictured, left. (Box 9, Folder 5)

          The next studio Wiggins inhabited was behind her second family home in Toppenish, Washington, where she moved with her family after her husband Frederick began a new business venture. The photograph is entitled “My Improvised Photo Studio in our Alley, Toppenish, 1929”. Improvised is a good word for it; the structure is nearly falling apart, open to the elements, naught but a few pieces of fabric draped across a few pieces of wood. But Wiggins clearly was determined to have her creative space– her “room of her own”– and we can see in the photograph a stool that was present in pictures of her Salem studio, as well as a copper pitcher and a striped rug. Her daughter Mildred appears in the picture, wearing a Dutch headscarf, which Wiggins asserts to be a family heirloom. Even though this photo may just have been intended to document the changes in her life, Wiggins’ creative eye seems to be omnipresent. Her studio space was a crucial part of her process, and even the most run-down structures could harbor her creativity and give her the space she needed to thrive.

The exterior of Wiggins’ Seattle studio space at Lovelace. (Box 9, Folder 6)

The final glimpse into Myra’s studio space in her later life is a photo taken in Seattle, Washington, where she and her husband moved in 1932 and lived out the rest of their lives. The image shows the Lovelace studio building in downtown Seattle. It is, by far, the most lavish studio space we have seen in Wiggins’ photographs so far, with well-maintained topiary and even a fountain. The image also features Wiggins standing in front of the building, looking very pleased. At this point in her life, she had received a good amount of notoriety for her paintings and photographs, and must have been very proud that she could afford a studio of such high quality without the help of her family or husband. There are no photographs in the collection of the interior Wiggins’ studio space, but past evidence of her decoration indicates that there would have likely been the same bohemian inspirations and heirloom furniture as there had been in the past.

          Throughout Wiggins’ photographs, we can see somewhat of an evolution as she faces both life and career changes. From a barn behind her house in Salem, to a shack in Toppenish, to a lavish private studio space in Seattle, Wiggins maintained her creative spirit and sources of inspiration, allowing the art of others and different mediums to help her create her own art. Although she may have not always had the ideal studio environment, she was able to create a space in which she could surround herself with art and nurture her creativity. 100 years ago seems like forever, but the lives of artists back then were more similar to our modern reality than some would think, where creating art was a priority which overcame all the transition periods of life, and where, for women like Myra Wiggins, the studio could be a space that was really, truly theirs.

The Myra Albert Wiggins Papers collection is housed within the Willamette University Archives & Special Collections, providing an invaluable research resource. A portion of this collection has been digitized, offering convenient online access to diaries and notes related to Wiggins’ Color Talks. For more information, please contact the Archives at

Unacknowledged Legislation: Mark O. Hatfield’s Favorite Poem

by Mike Chasar, Professor of English

Mark Hatfield and Antoinette Marie Kuzmanich Hatfield

Judging from the contents of his personal library, former Oregon Governor and U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield (1922-2011) doesn’t appear to have had much time for poetry. Now displayed in sixteen locked cases in the “Hatfield Room” of the university library named in his honor, his personal library contains only fifteen or so books of poetry—not even a quarter of a shelf’s worth—most of which bear no evidence of having been read. They are no well-thumbed, well-worn volumes. Their spines are uncracked. Their margins are bare. They almost sigh with relief when you open them.

When Hatfield’s Senatorial papers were opened to the public on July 12, 2022, there was no reason to expect anything different. Correspondence and speeches? For sure. Floor statements, bill drafts, press clippings, and newspapers from his time on the Hill? Absolutely. Scrapbooks, sound recordings, and memorabilia? You betcha. When archivists discovered the poem “A Treasure” in and among these items, therefore, it came as something of a surprise. More surprising, though, was that archivists didn’t discover just one copy of “A Treasure” but a ream of three or four hundred copies of the poem reproduced on cardstock deliberately yellowed to look like an old document or perhaps a piece of parchment. It may not turn out to be the only poem in Hatfield’s papers—the process of cataloging them all is still ongoing—but it’s quite possibly the most important poem in his life.

“A Treasure” was written by Hatfield’s spouse Antoinette Marie Kuzmanich (her initials “AMK” follow the text in the manner of a byline), and a short preface ostensibly by Hatfield and set off from the poem by a common font that contrasts with the calligraphic font of the poem’s text explains, “Some years ago Antoinette shared this message with me and now I would like to share it with you” (figure 1 below). Here is the poem in full:

Friendships, like a chain of gold,

     have many links

Each dependant on the other

Each necessary to the whole man

Some links are weak

     Yet none the less desirable

Some links are small

     They must not be overlooked

Those that are broken

     May need repair

Thank God for those strong links,

     Though not perfect, endure,

Because they are pure

     And weather acid tests

These must be cherished

Their value is not determined

     By size, or shape, or state

They are priceless when they are old.

(Figure 1)

For the typical English professor (me, for example), this does not look like a very good poem—or, at very least, it’s a confusing poem. The possible spelling error in the third line (“dependant” is the British not American way of spelling “dependent”) and … er … let’s call them the “inconsistencies” in the text’s punctuation are just the start of it. More confusingly, the poem frequently signals in one direction but goes in another. For example, the indented lines indicate that this will be a type of conventionally formatted ballad with a consistent meter and rhyme, but the poem doesn’t follow through with those promises: the indentations come in irregular intervals, the meter (if there was an attempt at meter) is irregular at best, and there are some instances of rhymes but no discernable rhyme scheme. Led by words like “gold” and “friendship,” as well as the overarching metaphor that compares friends to links in a gold chain, the poem situates itself in the language of well-meant sentimentality and cliché common to Hallmark greeting cards (listen to how “pure,” “perfect,” and “priceless” alliterate with each other and reinforce the verse’s greeting-card orientation). In contrast, the phrase “acid test” feels remarkably jarring and out of context, both conceptually and acoustically. From the perspective of the creative writing classroom, the resulting mix feels like something of a hot mess and not at all something one would advise reproducing by the ream to share with hundreds of people as the preface and copies suggest was the case.

I want to argue with that English professor, however. What if all of the text’s potentially objectionable features are in fact part of the poem’s point? If the poem’s metaphor focuses on the weak links, broken links, and imperfect links in friendship, then don’t the poem’s various imperfections back that up or put that message on display at the level of the text? In fact, if the “value” of a friendship, as the poem explains, “is not determined by size, or shape, or state” but by age, then perhaps the poem’s value shouldn’t be assessed in terms of size, shape, or state, either—including the inconsistencies, errors, and imperfections to which I’ve called attention. Indeed, if we approach “A Treasure” from this point of view, then its imperfections and weak links represent and express the imperfections of human friendship in a way that brings the poem’s “form” and “content” closer into alignment than a more “perfect” poem could do. Moreover, the document’s physical emphasis on age—the look of distressed paper, the font that looks a little like yesteryear’s handwriting, and the very fact that Antoinette gave Hatfield the poem “some years ago” and yet it finds itself in Hatfield’s hands again and again—feeds right into the value system that the poem does promote: poems, like friendships, “are priceless when they are old” no matter their imperfections.

That Hatfield would latch onto a poem for its ability to create social connections—here it not only “links” Mark to Antoinette, but promises that every reader who receives it might also be linked to that “chain of gold”—makes total sense when we look at the poetry in his personal library, where a fair number of Hatfield’s poetry books have been autographed or inscribed in ways that make the book’s exchange an act of social rather than literary relations. Ronald H. Bayes inscribes Dust and Desire to the Hatfields as a couple, “with best regards from an old friend.” (I, for one, can’t help hearing in “old friend” the “old” at the end of Antoinette’s poem.) This Precious Earth comes “compliments of Mrs. F.J. Landers,” and Aleutian Interval gets delivered “with the best wishes of his friend Harry J. Larsen” (again, back to the subject of friendship). When Maine’s Senator William S. Cohen sent along a copy Of Sons and Seasons, he did so for “an outstanding leader and legislator whose only standard has been the pursuit of excellence.” Even Hatfield’s tiny, 1920s-era, 3×4-inch copy of Walt Whitman’s Memories of President Lincoln, published by the Little Leather Library Corporation, ends with this spirt of connection:

Camerado, I give you my hand!

I give you my love more precious than money,

I give you myself before preaching or law;

Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?

Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Doesn’t “Song of the Open Road” (first published in 1856) sound like Whitman is extending his hand of friendship across time to become one more link in the gold chain of “A Treasure” that is measured by age (“as long as we live”) and made increasingly valuable by virtue of its aging (“more precious than money”)? Improbably, perhaps, even the slight imperfection of the uncapitalized letter “w” at the beginning of the second question (“will you come travel?”) is part of how Whitman’s friendship “links” to Antoinette, which is part of how she links to Mark, which is how Mark links to every reader who takes the poem when extended.

There’s something charming about this act of giving out imperfect poems and using them to broker friendships, isn’t there? When I imagine how people communicate in Washington D.C., it’s certainly not via poetry. By legal brief, yes. Expert testimony, too. Maybe even dead drops in a public park or clandestine meetings at night in a parking garage. For that reason and more, the very idea of Hatfield going around pressing copies of “A Treasure” into the hands of senators, congressmen, lobbyists, aides, and perhaps even presidents is all the more appealing. In 1821, British poet Percy Shelley famously called poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Hatfield—and Antoinette—could have told us a thing or two about it.

Mike Chasar is on the English faculty at WU and is the author of Poetry Unbound: Poems and New Media from the Magic Lantern to Instagram (2020) and Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America (2012), both from Columbia University Press.