Alden Mason was a Pacific Northwest native and a lifelong resident, but his artistic influence reaches far beyond this corner of the country. Mason was born in Everett, Wash., in 1919, and he grew up enamored with the outdoor world around him.
He planned to study entomology when he enrolled in the University of Washington. By chance, he told an interviewer, he wandered over to the art building, where a nude model was posing for painting students. Mason was only half-joking when he says that encounter changed his career path.
Alden Mason began his artistic career as a water colorist. He painted the landscape he loved so well. His style and his media evolved over the years, although observers say he never lost his great enthusiasm for nature.
Although he's as well known for his teaching career as for his artistic achievements, in a recent Seattle Channel documentary, Mason implied that his academic career was almost an accident.
"Initially, I was going to go to New York and be that struggling artist," he recalled. "And then they were looking for someone to teach water color to the architects at the university, so they hired me."
Mason went on to say nobody would turn down a university teaching position right out of college.
Alden Mason's many students include the acclaimed painter Chuck Close. In a statement released just after Mason's death, Close called his former teacher a mentor and a friend. "I consider him to be the greatest painter to come out of the Pacific Northwest," Close wrote.
Alden Mason's long artistic career was not without controversy. In the 1980s, Mason became embroiled in a legal battle with the state of Washington, after members of the Legislature decided to remove an artwork the state had commissioned from Mason in 1981. Mason lost the battle, and the artwork was subsequently relocated.
Alden Mason died February 6, 2013, from complications of pneumonia and flu. He was 93 years old.