Union Cemetery Sedro-Woolley, Skagit County, Washington, USA
Sherrill Van Cott (September 19, 1913 - 1942) was born in Fargo, ND. Sherrill Van Cott was a busy, cheerful high school student in rural, semi-isolated Sedro-Woolley, Washington, involved in the arts in school and cartoonist for the school year book. He graduated in 1931, just as the Great Depression settled in as long-term hardship for the country. Shortly after graduation, unable to find work, Van Cott began serious self-study in the arts, with occasional professional help in sculpture and painting. Childhood rheumatic fever returned as heart disease in his early twenties, an additional impediment to his growing skills and critical success as a modernist painter and sculptor in northwest Washington. He persisted in spite of his growing illness and was becoming collected by prestigious Northwest arts collectors and organizations when he died at age 29.
“The Lavender Palette: Gay Culture and the Art of Washington State” at the Cascadia Museum in Edmonds was a packed art show and a powerful history lesson. Museum curator David F. Martin put together artwork by dozens of gay men and women who often, just a few short decades ago, had to hide who they were in order to express themselves artistically. The exhibit closed on January 26, 2020. The featured artists included Edmonds native Guy Anderson, illustrator Richard Bennett, Ward Corley, Thomas Handforth, Mac Harshberger, Jule Kullberg, Delbert J. McBride, Orre Nelson Nobles, Malcolm Roberts, potter Lorene Spencer, Sarah Spurgeon, ceramicist Virginia Weisel, Clifford Wright, and also one-time Woodway resident Morris Graves, Leo Kenney, Mark Tobey, Lionel Pries, Leon Derbyshire, and Sherrill Van Cott.
In the mid-1930s, Morris Graves met a handsome young man named Sherril Kinney Van Cott from the small town of Sedro-Woolley, 72 miles north of Seattle. Van Cott had briefly attended the University of Washington after graduating from high school in 1931, but was largely a self-taught artist. He first began exhibiting in the Northwest Annuals at the Seattle Art Museum in 1935 with an oil painting titled Potato Eaters, while Graves also showed two oils. Both artists exhibited in the annuals for the next few years, and in 1939 Van Cott began to exhibit sculpture. The few extant sculptures by Van Cott, using regional materials, appear to have been influenced by the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who had died at age 24 in WWI.
Graves and Van Cott developed a romantic relationship, with Graves exerting a stylistic influence on the slightly younger artist. Van Cott was also a poet, and his writings were compatible with the visual content of his paintings. He focused on insects and other animals, both real and imagined, as well as complex intertwining of the male human form in a fossil-like contained border.
Van Cott's last painting, a watercolor titled Weeping Girl, was exhibited at the Northwest Annual from October 7 through November 8, 1942. A month later, he was dead at age 29 from cardiac failure. 20 years earlier, Van Cott had contracted scarlet fever, which caused a severe hearth problem, leaving him practically an invalid for most of his short life. The local art scene had lost a promising talent, and Graves a lover and acolyte. He promoted Van Cott's work long after his death, and preserved many works in his own collection. In February 1945, Fortune magazine paid a small tribute to Van Cott and Graves, exposing the work to some of the younger generation of gay artists, like Leo Kenney and Ward Corley.
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