Arthur Whiteley. (Kathleen Ballard Cowell photo)

Arthur Whiteley. (Kathleen Ballard Cowell photo)

20 years of creativity at the Whiteley Center | TideBite

  • Sun Apr 18th, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

By Kathleen Ballard Cowell

Originally published by Friday Harbor Labs’ Tide Bite

The Whiteley Center, located at the west end of the campus of the Friday Harbor Laboratories, is celebrating 20 years of providing a place for uninterrupted thinking and working. The Center was Helen and Arthur Whiteley’s gift to scholars needing to escape to a quiet and peaceful surrounding. Arthur’s vision, as relayed to scholar Ted Goslow, Jr., arose from a shared belief with his wife Helen Riaboff Whiteley: that “humanity’s best path forward encompasses all creative endeavors from the arts to conservation.” To that end, Arthur pursued a Center organized to support scholars from widely diverse disciplines. Thus the Center serves many types of scholars, not just scientists.

Helen and Arthur’s vision began years before the Whiteley Center was built. It took determination and attention to detail – as well as many meetings – to persuade others that putting a scholarly retreat on the campus of a renowned marine laboratory was a good idea. Arthur was tenacious, energetic and persistent, and he made it happen.

Arthur WhiteleyArthur and I became friends immediately, and I was very impressed and appreciative of how involved he was in the operation of the Center. He was eager to meet the scholars and learn about their many fascinating projects. The Whiteley Reading Room library attests to the numerous and varied accomplishments of those who have spent time there, writing many of the books that are found on the shelves and scattered around the tables.

Arthur and I spent many hours talking about how we could improve the Whiteley Center’s experience for scholars. Ultimately, we decided that I would talk with the artists and scholars about what would make the workspaces even more accommodating for their creative processes. For example, in the Macfarlane Art Studio, we added special table lamps and a propane stove for those cold days in fall, winter and spring. For the Center itself, we purchased new chairs and added bookcases.

Arthur was humble and frequently downplayed his numerous accomplishments. He preferred to reflect on his deep love and respect for Helen. He would often deflect praise and mention how Helen was the brains of the family. From Arthur’s stories, Helen was also a talented pianist and could have chosen to pursue music, but instead, she dedicated herself to a career in science. Her piano continues to be used in Dixy’s Study, where her original music can still be found.

Together we created a photo book displaying and describing the assortment of art found in the Center and the seven cottages. The art varies in each setting, from Japanese hangings to wood sculptures, and it showcases Arthur’s fine taste and love of art. The photo book can be viewed in the Main Reading Room.

The Whiteley Center also displays a recent book of tributes graciously contributed by thankful and thoughtful scholars in honor of the 20th Anniversary. I would like to quote Dianne Aprile: “My residencies at Whiteley have been integral to my work over the past years since I moved to Washington State. The peace, the quiet, the natural beauty, the welcoming spirit, the opportunity to work without interruption in bright, clean lovely rooms – all of this has been a blessing and an inspiration to me as a writer. I’ve written my best work there.

My favorite Whiteley moments, outside of the writing and research I’ve done, are those when I’ve encountered the natural world in surprising ways. Deer, of course, and various varieties of birds. But my most cherished meet-up was with a black fox, gorgeous and inquisitive, at my door one dawn as I sipped morning coffee. To stand face to face with such a creature and to absorb its spirit and behaviors all alone in the still-darkish daybreak is to be grateful to be alive and to be uplifted and encouraged as a privileged visitor to this splendid landscape. I think of that fox often, when I need a shot of positive energy – a sweet dip into the creature-ness of creativity.

So I celebrate this anniversary with my gratitude and with the lessons I’ve learned in my time at Whiteley Center. Congratulations to all!”

It has been my great fortune to continue Arthur’s vision for the Whiteley Center over the past 15 years. It has been a job I loved and will sorely miss because it allowed me to meet and befriend so many interesting and creative people. As a photographer, I often felt inspired while discussing creative pursuits with many of the Center’s artists. While they were specifically visiting to dedicate their time to something that they felt impassioned by, I too was encouraged to make time for the creative outlets that brought me joy.

We have organized the Whiteley Center’s 20th Anniversary tributes on the Center’s, I encourage you to read what the Center has meant to the many people who have benefited from Helen and Arthur’s vision. Everyone who came to the Center knew what it would give them in return for coming: a chance to be creative and share a part of themselves through their art, writing, and other scholarly pursuits.