Kathleen Parks Adkison

1917, Beatrice, Nebraska – 2010, Spokane, Washington

(Kathleen A. Gemberling)
(Kathleen A. Van Dewerker)
(Kathleen A. Parks)
(Kathleen Parks Gemberling Adkison)
(Kathleen A. Gemberling Adkison)

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An abstract expressionist painter described as the first woman artist to drip and pour paint onto floor-laid canvas, Kathleen Adkison “abandoned easels and traditional brushwork, and in the basement of her house, she brushed, pooled, poured and dripped paint onto fully stretched and primed canvases set on the floors.” (Northwest Museum) During the years of her professional career, she lived in Spokane and Seattle, Washington, but her early years were in Nebraska where Kathleen was born in Beatrice to Rupert and Henrietta Parks. By the time she was a teenager, she had moved to Kearney with her family and high school for three years. Then in 1936 when she was 19, the Parks moved to Seattle, where Kathleen attended West Seattle High School. During her growing-up years, she and her parents had many nature-oriented activities, including long hikes and conversations about changing colors and geological formations. As an artist, she credited her focus on the abstract qualities of line, shape, color, and texture as beginning in her childhood with these outdoor adventures.

Art studies included the Cornish School in Seattle (now Cornish College of the Arts) with Leon Derbyshire, 1938 to 1942, and private classes with Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. She met Tobey, famous modernist painter, in 1942 through introduction by Dr. Richard Fuller, founder of the Seattle Art Museum. She became Tobey’s first female student and his last living protégé. For many years, she gave private lessons; taught classes at the Seattle YMCA Art Department; and from 1953 to 1962, taught at Washington State University Extension Service in Spokane where she had moved in 1948. However, she continued to take classes in Seattle and later spoke of the many train trips she made between the two cities.

Throughout her career, she participated in over 40 solo exhibitions, beginning in 1957 in Seattle at the Frank Woessner Gallery and from March to June 1999 at the Cheney Cowles Museum in Spokane. Other venues were Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Frye Art Museum, Seattle; Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham, Washington; and Seattle Art Museum. At the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, she was one of only eight women included in the major exhibition, Northwest Art Today. Permanent collections include Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney; New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut; Boise Art Museum, Idaho; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; and in Washington state, Seattle Art Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane, and Frye Art Museum.

Remembered as high spirited and full of exceptional energy, Kathleen seemed ever to be ‘looking around,’ and exploring, usually with hiking boots and camping gear. She traveled world wide, especially with her third husband, Thomas Adkison, a Spokane architect whom she married in 1968, and who was the site designer of Spokane’s 1974 World Expo. Destinations included England, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Tibet, Sikkim, Egypt, Greece, Canada, and across the United States. Twice she arrived at the base camp of Mount Everest. Because of the quality of her artwork and the exotic activities of her travels, she received much publicity in local newspapers and national magazines such as Art in America, Architectural Digest, San Francisco Chronicle, and Calgary Herald.

Kathleen had two children and three husbands, which led to last-name signature variations on her artwork: Van Dewerker, 1938-1954; Gemberling, 1955-1966; and Gemberling Adkison and Adkison, 1968-2010. Her two children were Helen Braden and John Van Dewerker and she had four grandchildren.

The Museum of Nebraska Art has seven works by Kathleen Adkison.

Sources:

Ancestry.com, Feb. 2014
askART.com, Feb. 2014
“Kathleen Gemberling Adkison,” Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Web, Feb. 2014
Museum of Nebraska Art files: Biography by John S. Van Dewerker, son of the artist; Seattle Times, newspaper: obituary 10/3/2010

Researched, written, and copyrighted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier
Museum of Nebraska Art Project:
Their Place, Their Time: Women Artists in Nebraska, 1825-1945

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Kathleen Parks Adkison, Untitled (female portrait), oil on paper (with color notes), n.d.