The Educator

The Educator

March, 2012
Atkinson, Lucy (Artist)
Publication Information: 
Special Collections -- Research Room

The Educator is a distinctive portrayal in oils of Charles H. Fisher (1880-1964), president of Western from 1924 to 1939. Measuring about 40 x 32 in., the portrait shows Fisher at age 65, several years after his contentious dismissal from the college. Despite his many acclaimed successes in curriculum reform and campus development, Fisher was from the mid-1930s forward the subject of a prolonged defamation campaign by local conservatives. Their persistent, aggressive claims of his "un-American" and "un-Christian" actions finally persuaded the Board of Trustees and Gov. Clarence Martin to remove him from office. Fisher subsequently held academic posts in New York and South Dakota and, after returning to Washington State, served as manager of the state's school for the deaf.

Lucy Atkinson (1919?-1966), born in Seattle, trained at the Cornish School and, in New York, with the noted American portraitist, Robert Brockman. Little-known today, she taught at Seattle's Burney School of Professional Arts (precursor of the Art Institute) and exhibited often in local galleries. Her work, including The Educator; was included in several of the Seattle Art Museum's annual showings of Northwest artists. Sadly, in 1966, she took her own life.

From childhood, Lucy Atkinson was close to the Fisher family and in 1945, Dr. Fisher "agreed obligingly," according to his daughter, to sit for the portrait. The family disliked the result, feeling it did not suitably project their father's "ageless stability." In 1974, Fisher's heirs gave the painting to Western's then-president Charles J. Flora, hoping it would find a place in a gallery of presidential portraits. The gallery did not develop and, after Flora's departure from the office, the portrait was laid aside. For many years, it's whereabouts were unknown. Fortunately, it came to light during a clean-out of an academic department's office closet and Special Collections was able to recover this remarkable depiction of an icon of Western's past for display and admiration in its Research Room.

Marian Alexander
Head of Special Collections Emeritus