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Arts & Life


Bonnie Bronson's Legacy Lives On

Bonnie Bronson installing work on site (1979)

Courtesy of the Estate of Bonnie Bronson

Every year, Bonnie Bronson has touched the life of a Pacific Northwest artist in a profound and unexpected way — even though Bronson died in a climbing accident on Mt. Adams more than 20 years ago.

Bronson, whose legacy of artwork includes oil on canvass, oil pastels on cardboard, and enamel on welded steel, had been an influential force in the Portland art community. In her memory, family and friends created the Bonnie Bronson Fellowship, an annual cash grant awarded to an established, practicing artist who has demonstrated artistic excellence and a commitment to the Pacific Northwest.

The selection process for the Bonnie Bronson Fellowship is confidential. Artists cannot apply. In fact, they don’t even know they’re being considered for the fellowship until they get the call.

“You had to scrape my jaw off the floor,” says Christine Bourdette who won the first fellowship in 1992, which at the time included a $2,000 no-strings-attached cash grant. Now Bourdette serves on the board of the Bonnie Bronson Fund. “It’s so much about love and dedication and creating something new and living out of grief and sorrow,” she notes. “It’s such a positive thing.”

"Streak o' Lightning" by Bonnie Bronson (1978)

Ben Bright / Courtesy of the Estate of Bonnie Bronson

This year’s winner, Nan Curtis, had just put her kids to bed and was relaxing over a glass of wine with her husband. “My phone rang. I don’t know that number. I’m not going to answer. Then my cell phone rang. That’s when you start to worry.” Nan answered the phone. Christine Bourdette was on the line. “No way!”

Today the fellowship comes with a $7,500 cash award and inclusion in an exhibition. In addition, the Fund purchases a piece of the artist’s work to include in the Bonnie Bronson collection housed on the campus of Reed College.

“It’s one of the most cherished fellowships or awards anyone can get in this region,” says MK Guth, who won the fellowship in 2008. While the money helps for the time being, the affirmation lasts a lifetime. “You become a part of a particular community with a set of relationships attached with a certain history. And that’s a great honor.”

More to Explore

To see a slideshow of art from Lewis & Clark’s current exhibit of Bonnie Bronson Fellows, click on “View Gallery” in the right-hand sidebar.

Bronson’s qualities as an artist, including her willingness to experiment, help define the criteria for the award. For example, in 1970 Bronson won a grant that gave her access to work in a factory so she could learn how to shoot and bake enamel in an industrial setting.

“She didn’t have any fear about tackling new things,” says Kassandra Kelly, Bronson’s daughter.

Kelly adds that she sees something of her mother at each fellowship award reception. “New people come along who never knew her but they embody some of the same determination.  She lives on in a way we didn’t expect.”


Go See It!

Art by Bonnie Bronson & Fellowship Recipients

  • Bonnie Bronson: The Early Years; Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland; Through November 19; Visit website for details
  • Bonnie Bronson Fellows: 20 Years; Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College, Portland; Through December 11; Visit website for details
  • Bonnie Bronson Fellowship Collection; Reed College, Portland; Year-round; Download PDF Map of Art Locations