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Thursday, March 22, 2007

What Would Bill Cumming Do?

posted by on March 22 at 13:47 PM

Well, considering it’s a party, he would come. He’d get drunk. He’d say something rude, probably, but also probably true. And he might come out of it with yet another wife (he’s had seven).

Woodside/Braseth Gallery is throwing a 90th birthday party for Cumming tonight, and it doubles as an opening for his latest show at the gallery.

In 2003, when the Tacoma Art Museum opened its new building with the exhibition Northwest Mythologies (co-curated by Sheryl Conkelton and Laura Landau and with a terrific catalog), I sat down in the galleries with the remaining few artists from that Graves-Tobey-Callahan-Anderson crowd, including Cumming, the photographer Mary Randlett, and the artist and paleontologist Wes Wehr (who has since died).

Things started off this way with Cumming, who was at that point still teaching at what is today the Art Institute of Seattle:

Mary Randlett: Bill knew my mother, and he used to come over to Bainbridge. At one time I remember, before we were in college, you were trying to talk my sister and I into being communists.

Bill Cumming: Fortunately, it didn’t work. I spent a few years as a Marxist myself. If I were to meet the party leaders today, I’d say hi to them very friendly before I machine-gunned them. I don’t believe in a better world. The world was designed to be full of evil.

Why are you looking so evil? Are you going to rebut me or something? You have that intense look that I mistrust in anybody.

Wesley Wehr: Petit moi?

It continued:

Jen Graves: Which Northwest artists are the three of you interested in now?

BC: My students. But they’re not painting students, generally. I’m a boor and a peasant, and so I like these kids and I like commercial art. Fine art is just an excuse for meaning, “I don’t sell. I’m better than other people.”

When I came to town, I was in awe of rich people, but I thought they were damn Yankees and natural-born enemies. But Dr. Fuller was graceful, and he was real. One New Year’s Eve - (SAM PR director) Betty Bowen told me this story - Dr. Fuller was down at the Rainier Club celebrating and at about 11:30, looked at his watch and said, “I’ve got to get home to be with mother at 12 o’clock.” A guy swaggered up drunkenly and started calling “Dickie Boy, gotta go home to Mama!”

Fuller put up with it for a while. Finally, he took off his jacket, folded it and handed it to somebody. What nobody knew is that Dr. Fuller was on the boxing team at Harvard in 1914. He went pop! and creamed this drunk with one little jab.

Cumming was none too impressed with Graves.

JG: Did any of you attend the party at Morris’ house when he didn’t show up and instead left out dirty dishes to greet his guests?

BC: The uninivited party! I wasn’t around for it. But people received an uninvitation. You were uninvited to a party, and the damned fools all went. I thought it was a rather minor victory for sensitivity and creativity.
William Cumming’s Pike Place Market

Festivities start at 5:30.

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I loved Bill when I was a student of his! He was one of the onriest (sp?) old men I've ever met. Congrats on living this far Bill!

Posted by former student | March 22, 2007 4:24 PM

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