Have you ever wondered what certain coastal locals or the people who lived there once looked like?
Joe Knowles’ paintings, sketches and illustrations, on view now through Oct. 5 at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco, are a trip through time on the Long Beach Peninsula and nearby surroundings.
Knowles works are fully lived in and deftly capture the character and mood of the subjects he documents.
His sketches of men working with nets on the river, his famous husky affectionately called “Wolf,” geese and an old woman, as well as medium and large landscape paintings, carry a calming immediacy that transports you to the time, place or person it portrays.
His works are also well-preserved: many of Knowles’ oil paintings look as though he just finished them and the paint is still drying.
Knowles worked for much of his life as a commercial artist in Seaview, Washington, in a cottage he built. He came to Seaview in the 1920s.
Knowles was famous for a publicity stunt he did where he entered the woods of Maine in 1913 without tools and dressed only in a loin cloth. The stunt was covered in the Boston Post newspaper. Knowles emerged from the woods two months later dressed in bearskin, but the rival Boston American newspaper debunked that story a year later. After this, Knowles wrote a book and went on a speaking tour, eventually moving to Seaview.
Knowles, working during the Golden Age of illustration, also did work for magazines like National Sportsman, Top-Notch Magazine and Field and Stream.
While Knowles worked during the height of modern art, his work falls more into a celebration of — rather than a challenge to — notions of the American West.
He played an integral role as a commercial artist on the coast in both the Long Beach and Astoria communities.
He completed a study for a mural of San Giorgio, Italy, that would later be painted at the Liberty Theatre.
One of his works on view is a large painting of the Long Beach Peninsula titled “North Beach Washington — Playground of the Pacific.”
The collection of Knowles’ work at CPHM gives a fuller sense of the artist, his motives and interests and his centrality to our coastal communities as a working artist in the early 20th century.
The exhibit is lined with walls of Knowles’ work, which rewards time spent looking at them.
Knowles was a true character who knew how to capture the character and mood of the subjects he depicted.