Virginia Wright Fund for works of art in public places in Washington is established on October 20, 1969.

  • By Traci Timmons
  • Posted 6/09/2023
  • Essay 22747
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On October 20, 1969, art collector and philanthropist Virginia Wright (1929-2020) establishes the Virginia Wright Fund – a funding stream that will donate publicly accessible art to universities, museums, and civic art collections throughout Washington. The Fund will endure for decades and fund more than 270 works for both indoor and outdoor settings.

Establishing the Fund

The Virginia Wright Fund was seeded with an initial $1 million gift, followed by $1.3 million more, provided by Wright’s father, Prentice Bloedel (1900-1996). The Fund’s stated purpose was to fund works of art for public places in the state of Washington. Most of the projects involved single works of art, commissioned or acquired, either funded totally by the Fund or in collaboration with other sources. Wright built a board, formed a small group of advisors, and established her way of doing things.

The directors included John H. Hauberg (1916-2002), John F. Hall, Saul Schluger (1908-1990), and David E. Skinner (1920-1988). Advisors included gallerists André Emmerich (1924-2007) and Richard Bellamy (1927-1998), and art critic Clement Greenberg (1909-1994). Although the purchases would not be Wright’s decision alone, she encouraged her advisors and directors to buy the kind of art she had been involved with as a well-respected collector and gallerist.

The First Purchases

The Fund’s first purchase was Mark Tobey’s (1890-1976) Parnassus (1963), a large painting that became the centerpiece for the Washington State Pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan. Other early works included Broken Obelisk (1967) by Barnett Newman (1905-1970) for the University of Washington campus, Fifteen Planes (1957-58) by David Smith (1906-1965) for Seattle’s Volunteer Park, Two Lines Oblique (1971) by George Rickey (1907-2002) for the City of Bellingham, and William Ivey's (1919-1992) Blue (1972) for the Seattle Center Playhouse.

Outdoor Sculpture in Bellingham

One of the long-lasting impacts of the Virginia Wright Fund was the development of Western Washington University’s outdoor sculpture collection, now considered one of the top 10 university sculpture collections in the country. Wright said the Fund chose this site, "because of its beautiful natural setting and the quality of its buildings" (Wright, The Virginia Wright Fund, 8). By the late 1960s, the university was already a hotbed for artistic expression – Isamu Noguchi’s (1904-1988) Skyviewing Sculpture (1969) was installed there, and a series of high-profile architects had designed buildings on campus. Through the Fund, works by Mark di Suvero (b. 1933), Richard Serra (b. 1939), Anthony Caro (1924-2013), Nancy Holt (1938-2014), Robert Maki (b. 1938), Donald Judd (1928-1994), and Bruce Nauman (b. 1941) were added.

Works for the City of Seattle

Wright became active with the Seattle Arts Commission in 1971 and the Fund supported monumental sculptural works being added to the civic art collection, including Tony Smith’s (1912-1980) Moses (1975) and Alexander Liberman’s (1912-1999) Olympic Iliad (1984) for the Seattle Center, di Suvero’s Shubert Sonata (1992) for Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, Michael Heizer’s (b. 1944) Adjacent, Against, Upon (1976) for the Seattle waterfront, and Jonathan Borofsky’s (b. 1942) Hammering Man, a 48-foot-high steel silhouette of a man hammering, for downtown Seattle. The Fund supported other smaller works in Seattle’s civic art collection, too.

Providing for Museums

The Fund provided works for museums across the state. It donated 29 works by Northwest artists to the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham in 1976. This included works by Kenneth Callahan (1905-1986), Paul Horiuchi (1906-1999), Tobey, Ivey, Robert Colescott (1925-2009), Alden Mason (1919-2013), and Margaret Tomkins (1916-2002). In 1977, the Fund gifted the Washington State University Museum in Pullman (now the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art) For Meyer Schapiro (1974), a group of 12 signed prints by the leading contemporary artists of the day. The Fund assisted the Seattle Art Museum in purchasing many works as diverse as a delicate stained-glass window by John La Farge (1835-1910), Window: Peonies in the Wind (1889/1908), a suite of ink drawings by the 18th century Chinese artist Luo Ping (1733-1799), John Singer Sargent's (1856-1925) portrait of Léon Delafosse (ca. 1895-98), and Iranian artist Shirin Neshat's (b. 1957) video installation Tooba (2002).

The Washington Art Consortium

The Fund supported the collaborative program, the Washington Art Consortium (WAC). Wright wanted to form a collection of prints, watercolors, drawings, and pastels by American artists working after 1945 that could be shared by several venues throughout the state. In 1975, she established the WAC to achieve this goal. A $100,000 endowment was established, funded jointly by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Wright Fund. Five Washington institutions comprised the original consortium: the Cheney Cowles Memorial State Museum (Spokane), the Washington State University Museum of Art, the Tacoma Art Museum, Western Washington University’s Western Gallery, and the State Capitol Museum (Olympia). These institutions shared ownership of the collection and rotated exhibitions.

In the 1980s, three additional institutions joined – the Whatcom Museum, the Henry Art Gallery (Seattle), and the Seattle Art Museum. In February 2017, the WAC was disbanded, and the collection and its endowment assets were distributed among six consortium institutions, as well as the Museum of Northwest Art (La Conner) and the Museum of Glass (Tacoma). The final collection included 411 works by 175 artists.

For All to Enjoy

The Virginia Wright Fund existed into the early twenty-first century, until its assets were depleted. When all was said and done, the Fund had provided artworks large and small to universities, museums, and public settings throughout the state for all Washingtonians to enjoy. Said Virginia Wright, "The Fund provided opportunities to express myself in ways that would have not otherwise have been possible. It gave me a purpose and changed the course of my life" (Riedel and Wright, Oral History Interview).


Articles of Incorporation, State of Washington (photocopy), October 20, 1969, Folder 1, Box 10, John H. Hauberg Papers, 1923-2001, Accession No. 2850-007, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle; Mija Riedel and Virginia Wright, "Oral history interview with Virginia Wright, 2017 March 22-23," Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution accessed January 28, 2023 (; Trevor Fairbrother, "Virginia and Bagley Wright’s Campaign for Contemporary Art in Seattle" in Trevor Fairbrother and Bagley Wright, The Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection (Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1999) 35, 40-41; Bagley Wright, "Our Lives as Collectors," Ibid. 17-18; Virginia Wright, The Virginia Wright Fund (Seattle: [Virginia Wright], 2004) 1-36, 41; Sally Hayman, "Such a Gift Must Be Put in Its Place," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Northwest Today, April 5, 1970, p. 3, "Wright Art Fund Buys Big Tobey," Ibid., March 14, 1970, p. S-26; Sheila Farr, "Beautiful Burden," The Seattle Times, July 17, 2005, p. K-1; Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Collections website accessed April 29, 2023 (; Seattle Art Museum, Online Collection website accessed February 22, 2023 (; Washington Art Consortium, "New Life for 400+ Object Collection of the Washington Art Consortium Following 40 Years of Collaborative Programming Across Washington," news release, February 23, 2017 accessed February 19, 2023 (

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