Biography, Statement and Résumé

A short biography, artist's statement and résumé, including selected exhibitions, collections etc.


William E. Elston was born on June 18, 1949 in Spirit Lake Idaho. He grew up in the rural area southeast of Spokane Washington called Glenrose Prairie. He attended high school in Spokane at the then newly built Joel E. Ferris High School. After leaving home at age 16 he traveled extensively, to San Francisco during the peak of the hippie era, then to Los Angeles, New York and Montreal, Quebec, where he finished high school studies at Baron Byng High School. 

He returned to the Pacific Northwest and studied painting at Fort Wright College of the Holy Names in Spokane, and at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Fort Wright in 1975. He spent a year teaching painting workshops at The Evergreen State College, and then spent several years studying privately in New York and Boston. In Boston he worked closely within the milieu of R. H. Ives Gammell, the acknowledged founder of the contemporary atelier movement. He shared a studio with Samuel Rose, his principal mentor. Within these three contexts, Mr. Elston's education encompasses the small liberal arts college, a traditional 20th century art school, and an atelier system.

His first experiences with landscape painting and drawing were on a trip to Vancouver BC, Victoria BC and Seattle while he was still in high school. He continued painting landscape en plein air during his college years, and has made depicting the rural and urban landscape his principal area of interest. During those same years he developed a deep and abiding interest in the history of art, and especially in the social history of painting. 

Mr. Elston has taught at Fort Wright College, The Spokane Art School, The Academy for Realist Art (now The Gage Academy), the Frye Art Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and has been a guest lecturer at Marymount Manhattan College in New York, Whitworth College in Spokane, Eastern Washington University in Cheney, the University of Washington in Seattle, and The Gage Academy. He continues to teach ongoing plein air classes and workshops in Seattle and surrounding areas. 

Mr. Elston was an original founding member of the Northwest Figurative Artists' Alliance, an organization that presented lectures and symposia on issues related to figurative art and Realism, sponsored ongoing roundtable discussions and periodic meetings amongst artists, published a bi-monthly journal of art criticism and review, networked with figurative artists worldwide and actively worked to promote the concerns of Realism and figuration. At its peak the organization had over 60 members. The Northwest Figurative Artists' Alliance was revived in 2010, primarily as a website that featured members' works and show announcements. It was disbanded in 2018. 

William E. Elston's work has been widely collected in the United States and in Europe, and is included in many public, private and corporate collections. These include Jundt Art Museum at Gonzaga University, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, McGraw Hill, American Express, Ashforth Pacific, Miller Nash LLP, Swedish Hospital in Seattle, University Hospital, Evergreen Hospital, Bill and Melinda Gates, the City of Seattle and the City of Portland. 

He founded Suzumebachi Design Services (formerly webXdesign) in 1993, which designs gallery, artist and art-related websites, advises artists and arts professionals on their Internet presence and other matters in the digitial information field.

Artist's Statement

I grew up between small town life, rural farmlands and the city. I've never been completely happy in one environment or the other, but I do find some joy when I explore the relationships between the three. My earliest experiences making art were varied, constructing alligators from paper, scotch tape and kleenex, drawing giants and detectives, and other kid stuff. I don't think I've ever grown out of that world of make believe. 

I began drawing and painting landscapes in high school, often sitting in the woods with charcoal and paper trying to mimic the rhythms of light and shadow, growth and decay. On a trip to Victoria BC I sketched the Empress Hotel, using colored chalk and turpentine washes. Architecture was and is a fascination, but more as a reflection of human intention rather than as feats of engineering. My boyhood interest in puppets and marionettes found echoes in the shallow theatrical space of the street, where freeform improvisational dramas take place all the time. Humans are always engaged in social display, consciously or not. I love literature where the street's chance meetings drive the plot forward, like in the novels of Dickens, Galdós or Zola. I also like travelogues that describe the fragile tapestries of life and land, like Ma Jian's Red Dust. 

I've spent a life painting, often against the grain, and I'm happy to see young people taking up the brush and engaging in very careful looking. Even a static scene can only reveal its riches with the tribute of concentration. I've often thought about the purpose of art, as one also questions the purpose of life. I fall back on Robert Henri's statement, which I can only paraphrase because it's been so long since I first read it: "Art is how men speak to each other across the centuries."

Selected Exhibitions

2023First Annual Postcard Show, Brassworks Gallery, Portland OR

Holiday Show, Leonard Brothers Fine Art, Mount Vernon WA

"What's What", Solo Show, Leonard Brothers Fine Art, Mount Vernon WA

Gala Opening, Leonard Brothers Fine Art, Mount Vernon WA
OUT OF ORBIT: The Fort Wright College Art Wars, Zen Sekai Gallery, World Wide Web

What Is Found There, Group Exhibition, Zen Sekai Gallery, World Wide Web

Ongoing 3D Walkthrough Exhibition, Zen Sekai Gallery, World Wide Web
2019Unwrap The Creative - 2019 Small Works Exhibit, The Art Spirit Gallery, Coeur d'Alene ID

Art Of The West, July 19 - August 24, High Desert Museum, Bend OR (catalogue)

Pacific Northwest Plein Air 2019 Exhibition, August 4 - 24, Maryhill Museum, Goldendale WA
1990-PresentArt Resource, Museum of Northwest Art and Culture, Spokane WA
2019Portraits and Self Portraits by Northwest Artists, January 17 through September 29, Cascadia Art Museum, Edmonds WA
2018-19Closing Exhibition, group show, Dodson's Jewelry and Fine Art, November 2018 - March 2019, Spokane WA
2018Pacific Northwest Plein Air 2018 Exhibition, August 5 - 25, Maryhill Museum, Goldendale WA
2017Here, There and Everywhere, solo show, Dodson's Jewelry and Fine Art, November 2017, Spokane WA

Pacific Northwest Plein Air 2017 Exhibition, August 4 - 27, Maryhill Museum, Goldendale WA
2016Pacific Northwest Plein Air 2016 Exhibition, August 26 - 28, Maryhill Museum, Goldendale WA

In This World: Paintings by William E. Elston and Ann Duffy, April 8 - May 15, i. e. gallery, Edison WA
2015My Old Haunts: Paintings By William Elston, Dodson's Jewelry and Fine Art, Sept. 25 - Oct. 31, Spokane WA
2014Solo Exhibition, Fire On Main Gallery of Fine Art, June - July, Soap Lake, WA
2013Ongoing exhibitions, Irimi Fine Art, Spokane, WA
2012Group Exhibition, Contemporary Works (continuing from December 2011), December/January, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA

Ongoing exhibitions, Irimi Fine Art, Spokane, WA
2011Group Exhibition, Contemporary Works, December/January, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA

Ongoing exhibitions, Irimi Fine Art, Spokane, WA

Solo Exhibition, My Apartment Gallery, Yoville
2010Group Exhibition, Small Works, December, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA

Fragments From a Larger Narrative, August, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA

Celebrating Realism, group show, June, Museo Gallery, Langley, WA
2009June Group Show, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA

Works On Paper, Borealis Art, Tucson, AZ
2008American Embassy in Moldova, Selected Work, Chisinau, Republic of Moldova (work on extended loan to Art In Embassies Program, U.S. Department of State),  link to American Embassy in Moldova. Although the pdf catalogue for this exhibition is no longer online at the Embassy, you can download or view a copy here.

Century 21: Dealers' Choice, The Wright Space, Seattle, WA

Solo Exhibition - Town & Country, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA

Group Exhibitions, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA
2007Group Exhibitions, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA
2006Group Exhibitions, Woodside Braseth Gallery, Seattle, WA
2005Group Exhibitions, Woodside Braseth Gallery, Seattle, WA
2004Elizabeth Leach Gallery Pearl District Grand Opening, Portland, OR

Group Exhibitions, Woodside Braseth Gallery, Seattle, WA
2003Group Exhibitions, Woodside Braseth Gallery, Seattle, WA
2002Water's Edge, Maryhill Museum, Goldendale, WA

Group Exhibitions, Woodside/Braseth Gallery, Seattle, WA
2001Group Exhibitions, Woodside/Braseth Gallery, Seattle, WA
2000Group Show, The Male Figure, Martin/Zambito Gallery, Seattle, WA
1999Solo Exhibition, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA

Solo Exhibition, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, OR
1998Solo Exhibition, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA
1997Solo Exhibition, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA
199615th Anniversary Exhibition, Elizabeth Leach Gallery,Portland, OR

Group Exhibition, El Waco Museum, El Waco, WA
1995100 Years of Northwest Painting, Bellevue Art Museum

Recent Paintings, Davidson Galleries, Seattle
1994Landscape Exhibition, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland
1993Solo Exhibition, Davidson Galleries, Seattle
1992Camera to Canvas, Bellevue Art Museum, Bellevue
1991Solo Exhibition, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland
1990Solo Exhibition, Davidson Galleries, Seattle
1990-91Barcelona Artists' Exchange Exhibition, Artist Equity Washington Chapter, Seattle, Vancouver, and Barcelona, Spain
1989Seattle - Tashkent Print Exchange Exhibition, Stone Press Gallery, Seattle and Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Solo Exhibition, Davidson Galleries' Seattle
1988Contemporary Northwest Landscape, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland

Contemporary Landscape, Litchfield Library, Litchfield CT
1985The Figure in the Landscape, Artists' Choice Museum, curated by Jack Beal and Judd Tully, New York

A Sense of Place, Pentagram Corp. w/ Metropolitan Life, Bank of California Center, Seattle

Contemporary Landscape, Litchfield Library, Litchfield CT
1983-87Various Gallery and Group Shows, Foster / White Gallery, Seattle
1983Northwest Juried Annual, Cheney Cowles Museum
1982Boston Painters, Parkman House Mayoral Residence, Boston
1981Eight from Fenway Studios, Tichnor Library at Harvard
1979Artists and Friends, First Street Gallery, New York

Selected Publications

2015From The Studio: Painter William Elston, interview by Verne Windham, Morning Classical, Spokane Public Radio, September 24, 2015.
2015Lines and Colors: Notes and comments on visual art by Charley Parker.
2002Representing Washington, by Gussie Fauntleroy, Southwest Art Magazine, November 2002, Houston.
2001Artists Express, SCCTV Cable Channel, Interview by Billy King, produced and directed by Scott Morrison.
2001The Pacific Northwest Landscape: A Pictorial History, edited by Kitty Harmon, with an introduction by Jonathan Rabin, Susquatch Books, Seattle.
1999Review, Elizabeth Leach Exhibition, Southwest Art Magazine, Houston.
1994Studio View – Seattle, by Bruce Barcott, THE NEW ART EXAMINER, January issue, Chicago.
1995The Captured City, by Tom McTaggart, Seattle Weekly, Seattle.

Images So Real…, by Robin Updike, Seattle Times, Seattle.
1993William Elston: Aesthetics Of Subversion, by Elizabeth Bryant, Reflex Magazine, Seattle.
1992Mechanical Reproduction: Camera To Canvas At The Bellevue Art Museum, reviewed by David Berger, Reflex Magazine, Seattle
1991Elston's Work Portrays…, by Suzanne Gladych Pate, The Spokesman Review, Spokane.


2020-PresentOnline Group Critiques, Tuesdays 4-6 PM
2018-19Winter Lecture Series, Panther Lake Studio, Snohomish WA
1995-PresentOngoing Seasonal Plein Air Workshops, Greater Seattle, Spokane, etc.
1995-PresentPrivate instruction
2007-2008Occasional lectures, Gage Academy, Seattle, WA
2001The Frye Art Museum
1995Instructor, Venetian Painting Techniques, Seattle Art Museum (in conjunction with the exhibition Treasures of Venice: Paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest)

Guest lecturer, Cheney Cowles Museum, Spokane WA
1994-96Instructor of painting and drawing, Academy of Realist Art (Now Gage Academy)
1994Guest lecturer, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
1983Guest lecturer Whitworth College, Spokane, Eastern Washington University.
1982-85Instructor, Spokane Art School, Cheney Cowles Museum, Spokane
1979Guest lecturer, Marymount Manhattan College, New York
1975Painting Workshops, Extended Learning Program, The Evergreen State College, Olympia WA
1973-75Instructor of painting, drawing and design, Fort Wright College of the Holy Names, Spokane


1978-82Additional private study in New York and Boston
1969-75Fort Wright College of the Holy Names, Spokane
1971California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland

Degree: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Fort Wright College, 1975

Additional informal study in fine art lithography, at The Evergreen State College, 1975 - 76

Extensive reading in the fields of art history, cultural studies, fine art conservation, Japanese printmaking and other subjects.

Over the past decade I've become deeply interested in Japanese and Asian culture. I've studied Japanese language, traveled to Japan, and become involved, with my martial arts group (the Seattle Branch of the World Seido Karate Organization), in the regional Japanese community. I've become especially interested in the history of Japanese film, and have viewed over 500 films, both classic and contemporary. This interest has had a profound influence on my work, especially the Japanese printmakers of the shin hanga, the ukiyo-e revival of the first half of the Twentieth Century.


2023Juror, Palouse Plein Air, including lecture and demo at University of Idaho, Moscow ID
1990-2018Founding Member, Northwest Figurative Artists Alliance, Seattle WA
1989-94President, Northwest Chapter of Artists Equity, Seattle WA
1982-85Chairperson of Program Committee, Touchstone Center for the Visual Arts, Spokane
1980-82Fenway Studios Artists Cooperative, Boston MA
1977-79Figurative Artists Alliance of New York, New York NY
2009-PresentFounder / owner, Suzumebachi Design Services, Seattle
1994-2018Co-founder, with Malgosia Askanas and Michele Macaluso, of PUPTCRIT, one of the longest running list-type electronic forums. PUPTCRIT has become an international clearing house for the history, practice, shop-talk, announcements and remembrances of artists that work in the field of puppetry.
1993-2018Founding member, Northwest Figurative Artists' Alliance
1993-2008Owner webxdesign, consulting and design for arts related websites, Seattle
1990-95Writer for REFLEX, a Northwest art journal, Seattle
1986-88Editor and writer for Northwest Artpaper Illustrated, Seattle
1985-86Writer for Vision Magazine, a Journal for the Visual Arts, Seattle
1984-85Consultant, Cheney Cowles Museum (now the Museum of Northwest Art and Culture) Docent Program, Spokane
1982-85Member of Board of Directors, Spokane Art School
1982-85Chairperson of Program Committee, Touchstone Center for the Visual Arts, Spokane

Professional Affiliations

2021Founder/Owner, Zen Sekai Gallery, an online virtual gallery.
1990-2018Founding Member, Northwest Figurative Artists Alliance, Seattle WA
1989-94President, Northwest Chapter of Artists Equity, Seattle WA
1982-85Board Member, Spokane Art School, Spokane WA
1983Touchstone Center For The Visual Arts, Spokane WA
1980-82Fenway Studios Artists Cooperative, Boston MA
1977-79Figurative Artists Alliance of New York, New York NY

Selected Collections


Jundt Art Museum, Gonzaga University, gift of Lee and Jody Sahlin

John Urdal and Claire Elam, Seattle, WA

Trade Stevens, New York, NY / Mableton, GA

Paul and Julie Nelson, Bellevue, WA

Ms. Patrice Pendell, Nagoya, Japan

Daniel Buchanan, Vientiane, Laos

Anthony and Carol Boutard, Gaston, OR

Mr. Dean Eliasen, Spokane, WA

Mr. & Mrs. Allen Hoover, Spokane, WA

Hon. Tari S. Eitzen, Spokane, WA

Ray Johnson, Seattle, WA

Steven and Theresa Helmbrecht, Spokane, WA

Mr. & Mrs. Erik Heipt, Seattle, WA

Mr. & Mrs. Kirby McDonald, Bellevue, WA

Mr. John Goodfellow, Seattle, WA

Mr. Matt O'Meara / Ms. Lisa Belden, Mercer Island, WA

Mr. Jeff Smyth, Seattle, WA

David Martin / Dominic Zambito, Seattle, WA

Mr. Tom McQuaid, Seattle, WA

Mr. Wm. Dubin, Tucson, AZ

Mr. & Mrs. James Steiwer

Mr. & Mrs. James Baum, New York, NY

Mr. & Mrs. William Gates

Ms. M. Daly, Fairfield, CT

Mr. Patrick Duffy, Los Angeles, CA

Ms. Lois Foraker, Los Angeles, CA

Mr. & Mrs. Neal Fosseen, Spokane, WA

Ms. Judy Grollmus, Spokane, WA

Mrs. Bernard Kopcynski, Spokane, WA

Mr & Mrs Michael Moore, Spokane, WA

Mr. & Mrs. Lee Sahlin, Spokane, WA

Mr & Mrs Donald Thulean, Wash. DC, (presented by The Spokane Symphony Society)


Seattle Collects 2000, City of Seattle, WA

The City of Portland, OR

Art in Public Places, Washington State Arts Commission


Miller Nash LLP, Portland , OR

Evergreen Hospital, Kirkland, WA

The Seattle Tennis Club, Seattle, WA

McGraw Hill, Inc., New York, NY

Microsoft, Redmond, WA

Hewlett - Packard, Vancouver, WA

American Express, Seattle, WA

Chicago Title Insurance Co., Seattle, WA

Washington Trust Bank, Spokane, WA

Swedish Hospital, Seattle, WA

University Hospital, Seattle, WA

Ashforth Pacific Inc., Portland, OR

Seattle University Law School, Seattle, WA

Frank Russell Inc., Tacoma, WA

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