Born in 1905 in Spokane, Washington, Kenneth Callahan grew up in Montana and later attended high school in Seattle. He entered the University of Washington in 1924, but soon realized that university life wasn't for him. He left with several friends to drive to San Francisco in a beat-up Model T, which broke down before they arrived and had to be sold for $2.50.
Callahan traveled widely and was influenced by the work he saw in Mexico and Europe. His early work was representational, e.g., paintings of ships and dock workers (he spent some time as a ship steward) and cityscapes. Later, his work become abstract with strong broad brush strokes, but all was heavily influenced by nature: mountains and rocks, beaches and the sea, and horses and insects were common subjects.
Recognized early as a talent, his paintings were included in the first Whitney Biennial Exposition in 1933, the same year that he was hired by the new Seattle Art Museum. He became curator of the museum four years later -- a position he held until 1953. Over time, he became one of the best known Northwest painters and is considered -- along with Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and Guy Anderson -- one of the four "Northwest Masters." Callahan painted actively until his death in Seattle in 1986. His works can be found in numerous museums and collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Phillips Gallery and the Hirshorn Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago.
We have two wonderful late 1970s examples of Callahan's work on the 6th floor of the Allen Center: the nature paintings called "Menagerie" (right above) with the abstract "Shore Dance" to its left.
Kenneth Callahan, by Thomas Orton and Patricia Grieve Watkinson. University of Washington Press, March 2001.
Northwest Mythologies: The Interactions of Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, and Guy Anderson, by Sheryl Conkelton and Laura Landau. University of Washington Press, March 2003.
Iridescent Light: The Emergence of Northwest Art, by Deloris Tarzan Ament. University of Washington Press, 2002.
Art in the Allen Center