Arts and Entertainment

Nature nurtured

If Seattle had a family photo album, Mary Randlett’s artwork could fill those pages.

In nearly seven decades of picture-taking, Randlett has captured the natural beauty of Puget Sound and chronicled Seattle’s architecture and artists.

Randlett’s own development as an artist is a personal history that parallels – and is intertwined with – the region’s coming-of-age as a cultural center.

“It was a small city, but it was ready to burst,” Randlett said. “I was interested in everything – so I took pictures of it.”

Randlett says she found her love of nature at the summer place on Agate Point, which the family bought in 1910. “Surrounded by nature is when I am happiest,” Randlett says. In all my work I look to find the greatest beauty at hand.”

She was born into a family with connections to the best of the region’s artists. Her mother, Elizabeth Bayley Willis – whose parents owned the Maine company Bass Shoes – studied painting with William Merritt Chase. No dilettante, Willis later ran the University of Washington’s Henry Gallery, became curator at the Sans Francisco Museum of Art and worked at Seattle’s Willard Gallery. The gallery was a focal point for the Northwest school of painting including Mark Tobey and Morris Graves that brought the region to national attention in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Randlett was given her first camera when she was ten, so by the time she received a folding Kodak camera as a teen, “point and click” was second nature.

The photographs of painter George Mantor – the informal, outdoor shots he had taken of her grandparents with a Leica – influenced the direction Randlett would take.

Randlett said. “I’d just been shooting indoors. His pictures were a revelation.”

Later, she found a mentor in photographer Hans Jorgenson, who introduced Randlett to the twin lens Rollei-flex camera, but was careful not to impose his own vision.

In 1949, Randlett photographed Graves and Tobey; in 1950, she made a portrait of Henry Miller. That same year she married, and took a 14 year break to raise four children.

In 1964. Randlett started making pictures again. Through the 1960s, she documented architectural sites in the city threatened with demolition. Her work contributed to their preservation.

She made images of poets Denise Levertov and Theodore Roethke, and of many other prominent writers, architects and visual artists.

Her own work showed the impact of those painters, as her nature photography focused on detail to the point of abstraction.

“I think I bounced off the painters’ vision,” Randlett said. “But that’s what’s happened my whole life – my vision has been enriched by everyone I’ve met.”

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Photographer Mary Randlett shows photographs at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts March 2-30 and speaks for the Bainbridge Library Speakers Forum on "A Lifetime in Black and White Photography," 4 p.m. March 10 at the library. Tickets are $12 at the door (limited seating). Ten guests will join Mary Randlett for dinner at the home of Barbara and Grant Winther at 7 p.m. March 10, following the library presentation.  $60 per guest to benefit future Forum speakers. Call 842-3132 for reservations.

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