Gallery ’76 – Robert Graves Gallery
by Jody Graves
Daughter of Robert Graves
“The environment of the Northwest becomes the focus of perception and the essential aspect of my work. The object remains not to copy nature but relate on the surface certain entities of personal expression. This direction has enabled me to transform my visual perceptions into a personal as well as meaningful art form derived from nature.”
- Robert Graves, 1985
Robert Graves, artist, was born in Spokane, WA on February 2, 1929, was a graduate of North Central High School and attended Whitworth College where he graduated with his Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts in 1952. He worked as a Display Director for The Bon Marche in Spokane from 1948-56, and was the designer of the Madonna stained glass figure that has been on display every Christmas since 1955. He was a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Washington receiving his Master Degree in Fine Arts in 1962. Bob then took a position as art instructor/Dept. Chair at Wenatchee Valley College where he served in that capacity for 32 years (1962-1994). He also taught as a guest lecturer/art teacher at the Leicester Polytechnic, Leicester, England (1971-72), and served as a guest artist at USC Los Angeles (1986-87). Over the years Bob received numerous accolades and awards for his art work, and in addition to his prolific output of art for the Northwest region had pieces displayed in national and international shows in places such as San Diego, San Francisco, Alaska, New York, Kansas, Australia, Hawaii, Argentina, Spain, England and Norway. He was an honored member of Northwest Printmakers and a regular contributor to ‘Art in Public Places’. Bob was awarded the prestigious Katherine B. Baker Memorial Award given at the Seattle Art Museum’s Northwest Annual in l957, and had been affiliated with the SAM’s Rental/Sales gallery since 1970. Additionally, art works by Bob were selected for display in the office of the Honorable Thomas Foley, (Speaker of the House) Washington D.C. in 1971.
Throughout his life Bob Graves taught hundreds of students, and his encouraging and positive approach to teaching and guiding artists of all ages is a legacy that will continue for years to come. Bob was especially known for helping students realize their potential not just as artists, but as valued people in society. His energy and passion for creating art and providing a space for art to be shown led to his founding of ‘Gallery ’76’ in 1976, now re-named (in 2007) the ‘Robert Graves Gallery’.
When the art department at WVC was moved from Wells House to Sexton Hall, Bob had a private dream of creating a public art gallery in the Wenatchee area, as there were none at the time. He had the full support of the college, colleagues such as artist Daryl Dietrich and area arts organizations but of course funding and a space were the primary hurdles initially. Bob looked at the beautiful open courtyard in the center of Sexton Hall, and decided this was not only the perfect place and space, but the most economical as all they had to do was put a roof on it – and thus the “Raise the Roof” campaign was born! He presented this idea to the Allied Arts Council in 1974 who approved his vision, and followed that positive response by asking the Alcoa Foundation if they would consider a partial sponsorship. At the time they needed about $12,000 to complete the project. The Alcoa Foundation donated $5000, and then Bob organized along with many donors and volunteers a “Raise the Roof Evening of Jazz” on July 9, 1975 where they raised the remaining $7000. Additionally the Alcoa Foundation generously offered the Alcoa Collection of Contemporary Art (valued around $175,000) as the grand opening show, April 24, 1976. The year was especially poignant for Bob as he wanted the gallery opening to coincide with the Bicentennial and collaborative spirit of the Wenatchee community.
Since that time Bob Graves was honored many times for his contributions to the arts in the state of Washington, including ‘Exemplary Status’ awarded to him in 1991 by the WA Community College Humanities Association and presented to him by the governor which specifically recognized his founding and ongoing direction of Gallery ’76.
As a result of Bob’s dedication, founding passion and tireless time and talent he had given to the creation and life of Gallery ’76 the gallery board unanimously decided in 2007 to re-name the gallery in his honor. The new name and gallery logo, ‘The Robert Graves Gallery’ were unveiled on September 21, 2007 at a gala event honoring Robert Graves, and featuring a show of his art work. When Bob was asked at the event to talk about his approach to his art he said, “It’s in the abstract mode, but its’ based… on something that I can identify or that I have seen. It deals with that metamorphic transition of birth to death or Spring to Fall when the leaves come off. As an artist, I try to do that because I feel that its’ very, very important to understand there is a cyclic kind of thing that happens to everything that’s alive.”
When the gallery opened in 1976 the following statement was part of the mission:
Gallery ’76, a community art gallery, is a non-profit organization, with a primary goal to offer a quality panorama of artistic and educational experiences to North Central Washington viewers of all ages and ethnic origins. The gallery promotes the visual arts through exhibits, lectures, classes and workshops. Through its programs the gallery seeks to encourage area artists but also seeks to bring the work of nationally and internationally known artists to the attention of the viewing public. All exhibits are free to the public.
Since its opening and over the 40-year history the gallery has hosted hundreds of shows, held featured workshops, included art from every discipline and medium, has been maintained by a dedicated volunteer board, has sustained open hours every week due to volunteer docents, and has provided the Wenatchee community with a place and a space for beauty, inquiry, and self-reflection. Bob’s dream became a reality through the mutual efforts of the Wenatchee community, and the embrace of his vision that art is a vital expression of our humanity. Robert Graves passed away October 5, 2013, but his legacy continues through his students, family, colleagues and friends. One colleague shared the following which describes Bob so beautifully:
“I recognize (in Bob) a modest, humble person, the kind of person we all strive to be…intelligent, deeply sensitive with an ability to express meaningful images that do not tell us about specific aspects of existence, but stimulate us to inquire…to sense the beauty of the universe.”
- Zeljko Kujundzic, artist
Robert Graves Gallery