Palouse Watercolor Socius celebrates 50 years of making each other better

Liesbeth Powers/Inland 360
Ernie Weiss, president of the Palouse Watercolor Socius, stands in front of a collection of his works hanging on the walls of his home studio in Pullman.
Fifty years of encouragement: That’s the legacy of the Palouse Watercolor Socius.

The group celebrates its first five decades of bringing artists together to develop their craft with a show opening Sunday at Artisans at the Dahmen Barn in Uniontown.

Linda Wallace, one of the organization’s founding members, taught private lessons in her Moscow home studio for more than 25 years. But her teaching extended beyond those formal lessons to the countless critiques she’s given fellow socius members. If “critique” sounds harsh, think again.

click to enlarge Palouse Watercolor Socius celebrates 50 years of making each other better
Alfred “Alf” Dunn's “High and Dry”
“We try to be helpful, but in a gentle way,” Wallace said from her home in Mesa, Ariz., where she’s been a snowbird for 20 years. “You do not want to make  a person feel as though we’re critical of their piece. That is not the purpose.”

Constructive feedback has been part of the group’s mission for as long as it’s existed.

“We always got together and critiqued at the end of a session,” Wallace said, whether at a business meeting or at a plein air session, where members gather outdoors to paint a scene in real time.

A critique might include suggestions about color choices, brushstrokes or value scheme — the use of light and dark to draw the eye to a particular element. Members rely on those observations, Wallace said, to improve their skills for their next painting. “You have to have the craft as well as the vision,” she explained.

Wallace was one of a half-dozen women who began gathering in 1974 to paint, share and critique, forming the Palouse Watercolor Socius. Wallace, Penny David, Kay Montgomery, Rene Helbling, Jo Thompson and Dorothy Shelton were watercolor students studying under Alfred “Alf” Dunn, who was getting ready to retire from the University of Idaho, and they wanted to continue learning together, Wallace explained.

Some members dabbled in oils or other forms of painting, but, as its name suggests, the group’s focus was, and is, watercolor.

“We weren’t purists, but always knew watercolor was the medium for us,” Wallace said.

Today, the socius has about 30 members of various ages and skill levels, according to its president, Ernie Weiss, of Pullman.

“We enjoy different types of painters,” Weiss said. “Our whole idea is to try to get more and more people involved in painting.”

Dues are $35 a year, and “it’s open to anyone.”

A retired architect, Weiss has been involved with the socius since 2007, serving as president off and on over the past several years.

His work tends to be “fairly realistic,” he said, though he’s been “trying to reach out and do some abstract.”

He likes to pick a subject and explore it, he said, recently painting a series of paintbrushes, inspired by brushes he saw hanging from a wire across a porch in California, “kind of like you’d hang flags.”
click to enlarge Palouse Watercolor Socius celebrates 50 years of making each other better
Malcolm Renfrew “Adobe Hills”

Like many other members, Weiss shares his work through community venues, including a current display at Paradise Creek Brewery and a coming one at Neill’s Coffee & Ice Cream, both in Pullman.

Artisans at the Dahmen Barn, where the 50th Anniversary Show opens Sunday, frequently features work by socius members, Wallace said, noting Junette Dahmen, who donated the barn that houses the galleries with her husband, Steve, was a socius member.

The socius has had shows at more than a dozen galleries and events in the region over the years, including the Dahmen Barn, the University of Idaho’s former Prichard Gallery, Moscow’s Third Street Gallery, the Moscow Renaissance Fair, Lewis-Clark State College’s Center for Arts & History in Lewiston, the Carnegie Arts Center in Walla Walla and the Idaho State Capitol Building in Boise.

Meanwhile, at the heart of it, the socius continues to be a space for encouragement and exploration, with meetings at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at Moscow’s 1912 Center, 412 E. Third St.

“We’ll support people if they want to bring their paintings for critique or just to show off (at a meeting),” Weiss said.

If You Go
What: Palouse Watercolor Socius 50th Anniversary Show
When: Opening reception, 1-3 p.m. Sunday. Show continues through July 27.
Where: Artisans at the Dahmen Barn, 419 N. Park Way, Uniontown.
Of note: The show includes works by many socius members, including paintings from the organization’s Master’s Collection.