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Kathleen Parks Adkison

 (1917 - 2010)
Kathleen Parks Adkison was active/lived in Washington, Nebraska / Canada.  Kathleen Adkison is known for abstract expressionist painting, teaching.

Kathleen Parks Adkison

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Kathleen Parks Adkison
Kathleen Gemberling Adkison (1917-2010)

Kathleen Gemberling Adkison was one of the first American artists to abandon easels and traditional brushwork in favor of applying paint directly to canvases set on the floor.  She learned this radical approach from her primary teacher, Mark Tobey.  For his part, Tobey, while living in Seattle, had developed these techniques in an effort to produce paintings inspired by Oriental calligraphy.

Kathleen Gemberling was born July 5, 1917 in Beatrice, Nebraska.  In 1936 her family moved to Seattle, where she attended West Seattle High School and began private art lessons with realist painter Leon Berbyshire.

From 1946-1950, she studied in Seattle with both Morris Graves and Mark Tobey, though it was Tobey whom she considered to be her most influential teacher.

Adkison (her married name) soon moved on to Spokane, Washington, where she set up a studio in the basement of her home. There, she stretched and primed canvases, laid them out on the floor, and poured, spattered, brushed, pooled and dripped paint on them to achieve her naturalistic effects.  She also used the more traditional technique of encaustic, or hot-wax painting, to lend greater depth and luminosity to her oils.

While Ms. Gemberling Adkison always accepted the label of abstract expressionist, she insisted that her artistic inspiration was rooted in nature, "its mystery, its surprise, its cycle of growth," as she told agents at one of the Seattle art galleries that represent her.  This genesis is reflected in the titles that she consistently gave her works, such as New Season, Basalt Event, Winter Retreat and Crystalline Face.  To find that inspiration she loved to observe nature in depth, taking long hiking and back-packing trips in Asia, Europe and around the United States.

Ms. Gemberling Adkison's first gallery show was at Zoe Dusanne Gallery in Seattle in 1958.  Her first one-person exhibition was at Washington State University in 1960.  The Seattle Art Museum presented her work in 1962, in a show curated by its founder and director Richard E. Fuller.  Also in 1962, Adkison's piece Change-Over was displayed at the Seattle World's Fair exhibition.

Many years later, after a full career of museum and gallery shows and various awards, her work was presented in a 1999 retrospective at the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane.  Her work was also included in the 2005 exhibition titled "Northwest Matriarchs of Modernism: 12 Proto-feminists from Oregon and Washington," at the Schneider Museum of Art, Southern Oregon University.  As recently as 2009, her work was included in a group show at Gonzaga University.

Ms. Gemberling Adkison's work is held by many art museums, including the Seattle Art Museum, the Butler Institute of American Art, the Museum of Northwest Art, the Frye Art Museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Boise Art Museum and the Museum of Northwest Arts and Culture.  Her work is also held in numerous public, corporate and private collections, including the Washington State Capital Museum in Olympia.

Ms. Gemberling Adkison continued painting well into the first decade of the 21st century.  She passed away on August 3, 2010 in Spokane, Washington.
Sources include:
Gordon Woodside/John Braseth Gallery, Seattle
Butler Institute of American Art
Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture
World and I Journal, 4/1997, article #15507
Domenico Mattozzi, Art Conservator

Compiled and written by Robert E. Burns, researcher and collector.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Kathleen Parks Adkison
The following information is from John S. Van Dewerker, son of the artist:

Kathleen's name changes include:
Kathleen A. Parks birth-1937
Kathleen A. Van Dewerker 1938-1954
Kathleen A. Gemberling 1955-1966
Kathleen A. Gemberling-Adkison 1967-1980
Kathleen A. Adkison 1980-2010
She dropped the Kathleen and used only Gemberling in 1966 because she perceived being a female may be a disadvantage.

She used Kathleen Gemberling-Adkison 1967 until about 1980; then used only Adkison.

He last husband, Tomas R. Adkison, was a well known Spokane Architect who designed World Expo site in 72.

With Mark Tobey, she was his first female student and his last living student. During the time she spent with Tobey, 1942-1952, her last name was Van Dewerker. In fact, he called her Kathyrn, not Kathleen. Prior to Tobey, when she studied with Leon Derbyshire 1937-42; she was also a Van Dewerker.

Thus far the museums I have confirmed that hold Kathleen's work in their permanent collections include:

Seattle Art Museum
Museum of Arts and Culture (Spokane)
Northwest Museum of Art (La Conner)
Tacoma Art Museum
University of Puget Sound
Museum of Nebraska Art
Butler Institute of Art (Youngstown)
New Britain Connecticut Museum of Art
Boise Art Museum (Idaho)
Charles and Emma Frye Museum (Seattle)
Jundt Art Museum, Gonzaga University (Spokane)
Willamette University Hallie Library

Biography from Museum of Nebraska Art
Kathleen Parks Adkison
1917 Beatrice, Nebraska – 2010 Spokane, Washington

(Kathleen A. Gemberling)
(Kathleen A. Van Dewerker)
(Kathleen A. Parks)
(Kathleen Parks Gemberling Adkison)
(Kathleen A. Gemberling Adkison)

An abstract expressionist painter described as the first woman artist to drip and pour paint onto floor-laid canvas, Kathleen Adkison “abandoned easels and traditional brushwork, and in the basement of her house, she brushed, pooled, poured and dripped paint onto fully stretched and primed canvases set on the floors.” (Northwest Museum) During the years of her professional career, she lived in Spokane and Seattle, Washington, but her early years were in Nebraska where Kathleen was born in Beatrice to Rupert and Henrietta Parks. By the time she was a teenager, she had moved to Kearney with her family and attended high school for three years. Then in 1936 when she was 19, the Parks moved to Seattle, where Kathleen attended West Seattle High School. During her growing-up years, she and her parents had many nature-oriented activities, including long hikes and conversations about changing colors and geological formations. As an artist, she credited her focus on the abstract qualities of line, shape, color, and texture as beginning in her childhood with these outdoor adventures.

Art studies included the Cornish School in Seattle (now Cornish College of the Arts) with Leon Derbyshire, 1938 to 1942, and private classes with Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. She met Tobey, famous modernist painter, in 1942 through introduction by Dr. Richard Fuller, founder of the Seattle Art Museum. She became Tobey’s first female student and his last living protégé. For many years, she gave private lessons; taught classes at the Seattle YMCA Art Department; and from 1953 to 1962, taught at Washington State University Extension Service in Spokane where she had moved in 1948. However, she continued to take classes in Seattle and later spoke of the many train trips she made between the two cities.

Throughout her career, she participated in over 40 solo exhibitions, beginning in 1957 in Seattle at the Frank Woessner Gallery and from March to June 1999 at the Cheney Cowles Museum in Spokane. Other venues were Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Frye Art Museum, Seattle; Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham, Washington; and Seattle Art Museum. At the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, she was one of only eight women included in the major exhibition, Northwest Art Today. Permanent collections include Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney; New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut; Boise Art Museum, Idaho; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; and in Washington state, Seattle Art Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane, and Frye Art Museum.

Remembered as high spirited and full of exceptional energy, Kathleen seemed ever to be ‘looking around,’ and exploring, usually with hiking boots and camping gear. She traveled world wide, especially with her third husband, Thomas Adkison, a Spokane architect whom she married in 1968, and who was the site designer of Spokane’s 1974 World Expo. Destinations included England, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Tibet, Sikkim, Egypt, Greece, Canada, and across the United States. Twice she arrived at the base camp of Mount Everest. Because of the quality of her artwork and the exotic activities of her travels, she received much publicity in local newspapers and national magazines such as Art in America, Architectural Digest, San Francisco Chronicle, and Calgary Herald.

Kathleen had two children and three husbands, which led to last-name signature variations on her artwork: Van Dewerker, 1938-1954; Gemberling, 1955-1966; and Gemberling Adkison and Adkison, 1968-2010. Her two children were Helen Braden and John Van Dewerker and she had four grandchildren.

The Museum of Nebraska Art has seven works by Kathleen Adkison.

Sources:, Feb. 2014
, Feb. 2014

“Kathleen Gemberling Adkison,” Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Web, Feb. 2014

Museum of Nebraska Art files: Biography by John S. Van Dewerker, son of the artist; Seattle Times, newspaper: obituary, 10/3/2010)

Researched, written, and copyrighted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, 2015
Museum of Nebraska Art Project:
Their Place, Their Time: Women Artists in Nebraska, 1825-1945

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About  Kathleen Parks Adkison

Born:  1917 - Beatrice, Nebraska
Died:   2010 - Spokane, Washington
Known for:  abstract expressionist painting, teaching