This Year's Island Treasures

Hidde Van Duym, left, and Maggie Smith are this year’s Island Treasures. They’ll be honored at a ceremony on Feb. 1. - Jesse Beals/Staff Photo
Hidde Van Duym, left, and Maggie Smith are this year’s Island Treasures. They’ll be honored at a ceremony on Feb. 1.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/Staff Photo

Hidde Van Duym and Maggie Smith will be feted for artistic pursuits.

The adage “good things come in small packages” has proved true for island artists Maggie Smith and Hidde Van Duym.

Smith and Van Duym learned that they were tapped to receive Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council’s 2004 Island Treasure Awards when event organizer Cynthia Sears presented each with badges that admit guests to the ceremony.

“It was a complete surprise,” Smith said. “(She) came to talk to me under the pretext of making a video. She had me open a small box, and the badges were inside.”

Created in 1999, the Island Treasures awards are given annually to two individuals whose achievements in the arts or humanities are outstanding.

Like the MacArthur Fellows Program on which it is modeled, Island Treasure Awards are deliberately open-ended, honoring a body of work with an unrestricted cash award and a trophy.

“It’s saying ‘we value you,’” Smith said. “That’s a lovely thing to have someone say.”

Smith, who created a colorful tile mural for the Nakata Pool, has built a career that spans both coasts.

After a New Hampshire childhood, she graduated from University of Delaware with a bachelor of fine arts in ceramics.

Then, in a move that defined the rhythm of her career, Smith left the solitude of the studio to help found and run a pottery cooperative in Rochester, N.Y., returning to studio work to complete an MFA at Indiana State University in 1977.

“I have a ‘push-pull’ thing; I get lonely, but I have limited tolerance for society, so I go back and forth,” Smith said. “I’ve immersed myself in the studio and then turned around and gone the other way.”

Smith’s sculpture is noted for the sensitivity with which she incorporates in visual form cultural and historical themes.

Her memorial, with island architect Jim Cutler, to the accused witches of Salem Mass., included a stone wall with quotes from the 17th century trial transcripts. One direct descendent of an accused “witch” said visits to the sculpture have reconciled him to the unhappy history of his forebear.

Smith and Seattle artist Buster Simpson’s master plan for art to help define Winslow’s three major points of entry – the so-called Gateways – remain part of downtown property owners’ proposals for Winslow Way street treatments.

Smith already has two projects slated for 2004, a memorial for an African American cemetery in Salisbury, N.C., and another memorial work on the campus of the University of North Carolina.

As her national reputation grows, Smith finds that studio time is harder to come by.

“At one point I had five projects going,” she said. “I thought I was going to have a break until these North Carolina pieces came through. I’m dying to be back in the studio.”

Van Duym is the first Island Treasure winner to receive the award for work in both arts and humanities. While artist/administrators may often be tilted toward organization at the expense of art, he is strong in both.

Like other nominees, Van Duym has not read the letters of nomination.

“I don’t know what reasons they gave,” he said. “I’m an ‘innocent recipient.’”

His anonymous nominators are succinct, however, listing accomplishments that range from his current post as director of research for an upcoming PBS series, “Craft in America,” to earlier work teaching writing, literature and painting at the Universities of New Hampshire and Nebraska:

“...Hidde Van Duym is much like one of his artistic expressions...a multi-layered collage of memories, impressions, astute cultural observations and compelling fragments from a life devoted to the study of life, literature and culture.”

Van Duym’s encyclopedic studies would find expression in both his art and his public life.

He left his native Holland to come to the United States as an exchange student in 1954, with a scholarship to study forestry at University of Montana in Missoula. He switched to journalism, earning an undergraduate degree that would be followed by a master’s in English and a doctorate in medieval literature and painting at the University of Nebraska. He taught there for three years and then, in the late 1960s, at University of New Hampshire.

After New Hampshire, Van Duym says he “bailed” from academia, returning to Montana to head the Area Agency on Aging, providing services for the aging residents of 11 counties in the wake of the 1965 Older Americans Act.

His attraction to start-up services would lead him to the cutting edge of technology; he helped computerize the University of Montana’s information in the late 1970s.

After moving to Washington in 1986, he headed the Washington Commission for the Humanities and founded NW Bookfest.

As head of BIAHC in 1995 and ‘96 – and as a principal crafter of the Cultural Element of the City’s Comprehensive Plan – his effect on the island’s cultural life has been profound. He has also served a cross-section of island and regional non-profits in a variety of capacities, from workshop facilitator and grant reviewer to consultant.

But, since 1998, Van Duym has turned more to making art, crafting the small-scale boxes that house miniature worlds.

Unlike other assemblage artists, Van Duym does not use found materials. Even borrowed images are re-rendered by this artist; a piece in the current Roby King show includes an image of a goblet from the Fifth Century B.C., but he will have painted the image.

Van Duym notes that the decision to focus more on art-making, a persistent desire he confronted head-on in 1983, was made difficult by his fear that the pursuit was inconsistent with his work with people.

“I thought it had to be one or the other,” he said. “But I feel now there are many ways to serve community.”

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