New home, new life for Picture Lab

Guests begin to arrive for Thursday afternoon’s open house.

Guests begin to arrive for Thursday afternoon’s open house. Photo by Jeff Horner.


Carnegie Picture Lab

Carnegie Picture Lab


Art looks back at the open house for the Carnegie PictureLab at 515 E. Main St. on Thursday afternoon as Augusta Farnum explains elements of the current exhibit.


Guests begin to arrive for Thursday afternoon’s open house.


The Carnegie Picture Lab program is partnering with glass artist Dale Chihuly of Chihuly Studio in Seattle for Family Fun Night events starting in January. The arts education effort will gather students and their families at each of the schools served by Picture Lab.

“I’m honored to be included in the Carnegie Picture Lab Family Fun Nights community events,” Chihuly said in a statement. “I believe its mission to bring art to every child in every classroom in Walla Walla is an admirable one.”

WALLA WALLA — Along one wall of the Carnegie Picture Lab’s new office and studio, 16th-century painter Guiseppe Arcimboldo’s dreamlike portraits show people’s faces emerging from fruits, vegetables and objects merged together.

In another display, Romare Bearden’s artwork, created in the U.S. about 375 years after Arcimboldo, are a patchwork of shapes, textures and colors placed together to make distinct images.

Across the room from Bearden’s works is that of artists inspired by the dot, who used the smallest of marks to create their great works.

The artists, the focus of study for this year’s Picture Lab school outreach program, embody the theme of “Emergent Systems,” described as when many different elements interact to build something greater than its parts.

The emergent systems theme could also sum up the history of Picture Lab; its origins nearly 40 years ago, a rebuilding, re-branding and a fresh commitment by a team of many to bring art instruction to local students.

“We really are a rebirth,” said Augusta Farnum, chair of curriculum and vice president of the nonprofit.

The program’s new home, at 515 E. Main St., opened its doors Thursday for a community open house. The reception was a chance to share the current work with the public, and showcase both the new location and new direction of the program.

“We really feel like we have built something that has taken on a life of its own,” Farnum said. “We are bringing it to every child, every class. That was a priority.”


Carnegie Picture Lab began about 1974 as the Picture Lady program, through the Carnegie Center for the Arts. The arts center, later named Carnegie Art Center, had a home in the city’s Carnegie library building until about 2007. Through its history, Picture Lady brought art history lessons to second-graders in Walla Walla schools each spring.

In 2007, the art center exited the old Carnegie building.

Farnum, a Picture Lady volunteer and artist, was approached to take over the school education program. She agreed, if the program could expand to all grades; artist lessons include an art project; and the lessons be spread throughout the school year.

“It was a completely restructured program,” Farnum said.


When Farnum took over in 2007, the program moved out of the Carnegie building, and operated from space above the U.S. Post Office on Second Avenue.

The new leaders inherited the program’s 46 artists and large-scale posters for use in classrooms, a tremendous resource, Farnum said.

In 2010 the program name was changed from Picture Lady to Carnegie Picture Lab. The name change represents a new direction, yet pays homage to the program’s origins and founders.

Over the summer, Picture Lab moved into its new home and studio, where this week’s open house was held.

“Having the space has been fabulous,” said Carol Morgan, a Picture Lab board member and longtime volunteer.

The open house marks a time of continued growth, coupled with more stability for a program that has undergone great changes in the last five years.

“We wanted to let the community know this program is still going on, we’re here,” Morgan said.


Today, with a team of more than 60 volunteers, the program teaches three distinguished artists and their styles each year. A focus on making art education accessible to all children has been a constant of the program through the years. And through it’s rebirth Picture Lab now reaches 10 public and private elementary schools in Walla Walla and College Place.

During the school year, children in kindergarten through fifth grades learn the history and techniques of selected artists. The lessons are done entirely by volunteers, who present on the artists and bring art supplies into classrooms for hands-on projects. Picture Lab also donates art books on each artist to school libraries and the Walla Walla Public Library.

The effort puts art history and lessons in the hands of students, at a time when arts education can often takes a back seat to the high stakes demands of meeting state academic standards.

Krista Davidson, Picture Lab materials coordinator, volunteered in the old program when her children, now in high school, were students at Prospect Point Elementary. Davidson has seen the program change, grow and expand, but without losing its core focus.

“It’s the creative stuff that’s going to save our world’s problems,” she said. “Plus kids are good at different things, and sometimes it’s art that sparks those interests.”


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