James W. Washington, Jr.
A celebrated African American painter and sculptor, James W. Washington, Jr., was heavily influenced by his parents, a Baptist minister and a devoutly religious woman, who was concerned with the "creative aspect of religion" (AAA). He began to make art when he was a teenager and continued to paint while working for the Civil Service in various posts across the country. In the late 1940s, Washington studied painting at the Northwest School in Seattle with artist Mark Tobey, who encouraged the spirituality in Washington's work, which mirrored the Northwest School's reverence for nature. Several years later on a trip to Mexico, where he met muralists Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Washington turned to carving after discovering an engaging piece of stone in the street. He felt that the stone "spoke" to him, and he dedicated the rest of his life to working with the material. Washington believed that his work was guided by a "spiritual force," which he described as a combination of religious and humanist beliefs. He believed this force enabled him to "animate" his objects in a way that transcended all language and cultural barriers. In 1990 the City of Seattle's Historic Landmark and Preservation Board designated Washington's home and studio a cultural landmark.