William Cumming (artist)

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For other people named William Cumming, see William Cumming (disambiguation).

William Lee "Bill" Cumming (March 24, 1917 - November 22, 2010)[1] is a noted 20th-century artist and a founder of the Northwest School.


Cumming was born March 24, 1917 in Kalispell, Montana to James Rutherford and Helen Dorcas (Edmiston) Cumming.[2] Largely self-taught, Cumming is considered the youngest of the Northwest School which included Guy Anderson, Morris Graves, Mark Tobey, and Kenneth Callahan. Although a contemporary of the Northwest School, whose work echoed the muted and diffuse images of the moist, gray northwest landscape, Cumming developed a distinctive style.

He began painting with the WPA Federal Art Project in Seattle from 1938 to 1940. His career was interrupted on occasion by both his political leanings, and by bouts with tuberculosis.[3] His work captures moments of daily life using light and shadow to create form in broad strokes; and utilizes contrasting, vibrant colors to move the viewer through the painting and accentuate the main elements. His scenes usually include the common man or animals, either in motion or in slice-of-life portrayals. Facial details are minimal. As a life drawing instructor, Cumming would note that you could recognize a friend down the road just by their gait and posture, without ever seeing their face. Body language is a key element in his work.

He taught painting for many years, most notably at The Burnley School of Professional Art, The Cornish School of Allied Arts, and The Art Institute of Seattle.

Cumming authored Sketchbook, A Memoir of the 30's & the Northwest School, which is in print. Another publication, William Cumming: The Image of Consequence, was published in conjunction with an exhibition of Cumming's work at the Frye Art Museum.

Cumming died of congestive heart failure on November 22, 2010 at age 93 in Seattle, Washington.[4]

Partial works[edit]

  • Cumming, W. (1961). William Cumming. Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum. OCLC 78655618
  • Cumming, W. (1984). Sketchbook: a memoir of the 1930s and the Northwest School. Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-96156-2
  • Kangas, M., & Cumming, W. (2005). William Cumming: the image of consequence. Seattle: Charles and Emma Frye Art Museum, in association with University of Washington Press, Seattle. ISBN 0-295-98554-2


  1. ^ Social Security Death Index (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.), 2011.
  2. ^ 1930 United States Federal Census [Tukwila, King County, Washington, USA] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.), 2002.
  3. ^ "Cumming, William (b. 1917): The Willie Nelson of Northwest Painting". historylink.org. Retrieved 2008-06-24. 
  4. ^ "William Cumming, 93, colorful member of Northwest School of artists". seattletimes.com. Retrieved 2010-11-29.