Art observers will find themselves unable to look away from the intensely personal, yet beautiful photographs hanging up at the Harbor History Museum as a part of a new exhibit called “With a Loving Eye.”
The exhibit displays the best early works of local artist Jini Dellaccio, who was capable of taking moments in the 1960s and crystallizing them in black and white portraits.
The museum’s executive director and curator, Stephanie Lile, helped build the exhibit herself. The images were given to the museum from the Jini Dellaccio Collection and will be displayed for visitors at the local museum until April, when it will begin to travel across the country for other art museums to display.
“(Dellaccio) lived in Gig Harbor for 30 years,” Lile said. “She did all these family photographs around the area and she photographed a lot of rock bands and a lot of the photographs were actually done on her property, towards the bluff of Gig Harbor. It’s cool to look at these players on the national scene and see that it was placed in Gig Harbor.”
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Dellaccio helped create art for The Wailers, Neil Young, Paul Revere and the Raiders and more. Dellaccio lived in the area for decades and stuck with her career of art up until her death in 2014, at 97 years old. The exhibit in the Harbor History Museum is a collection of her popular early work.
“It’s very essential,” longtime friend and art subject Jim Valley said. “She was very different from other photographers who were taking pictures of rock n’ roll people. She had a great love of people, faces old and new.”
BRAVING A NEW FIELD
Dellaccio was one of the first prominent female photographers in the music and fashion industry, according to Lile, which made her a tenacious artist and brought an interesting perspective to her work.
“At that time there were hardly any female photographers that were doing fashion, that were doing rock photos,” Lile said. “She didn’t know it at the time but she was really breaking ground.”
Lile said Dellaccio’s use of light and shadow made her photographs stand out from others. Such an example is a large photo of her Gig Harbor home taken at night in 1981.
While Dellaccio was able to travel the world and see her art take form on the front of album covers, some of her most treasured work stayed in the Gig Harbor area.
At that time there were hardly any female photographers that were doing fashion, that were doing rock photos. She didn’t know it at the time but she was really breaking ground.
Stephanie Lile, executive director of the Harbor History Museum
“There used to be a time where you couldn’t go to a doctor’s officer or any business in Gig Harbor without seeing a large Dellaccio in the front area,” Tom Torrens, a local sculptor, said.
Torrens was close friends with Dellaccio and her husband Carl. Torrens, like many families in the area, had family portraits taken by Dellaccio for personal use.
“People just loved her work,” Torrens said. “She had a way of working with her subjects and creating personal relationships with them quickly so they felt more at ease in front of the camera.”
One of Dellaccio’s most famous pieces is an intense portrait of the Steele family, taken in Gig Harbor in 1966. The photo shows a young father and mother with their newborn child asleep in the father’s lap.
The portrait has some mystery behind it, Lile said, because curators have yet to track down any relatives to the family.
“There was a prominent family named Steele with an ‘e’ at the end in Tacoma,” Lile said. “There are some names in the city named after them. But no one has claimed the photo. There is also a family from Gig Harbor with the last name of Steel, but we have not been able to contact them.”
Torrens said Dellaccio’s work ethic and ability to work close to home made her career a success.
“She used to shoot, develop and display her own work,” Torrens said. “And she never quit. After Carl passed, when she was in her 80s, she took it upon herself to learn digital photography. She bought herself a Macbook and learned how to create new art.”
A CONTAGIOUS LOVE OF ART AND LIFE
Anyone who had the privilege to meet Dellaccio knew her art benefited from her tenacity, unquenchable creativity and compassion for those around her.
“She was just a doll,” Valley said. “She was an amazing being. When she took pictures of people they just looked better.”
Valley, an original member of Paul Revere and the Raiders and Don and the Goodtimes, met Dellaccio during a photo shoot with the other members of Don and the Goodtimes. He said they instantly made a connection and she soon became a mother-figure to him.
“She also took photos of me for the last 35 years when I did workshops with children in schools,” Valley said.
Dellaccio’s love of her community, her friend and of nature brought life into her work. In some of her portraits a shadowy reflection of Dellaccio can be found within the eyes of the subject.
Torrens, who lived next door to the Dellaccio family for four years, installed a working bell sculpture to the museum exhibit in honor of his longtime friend.
“We used to trade prints and sculptures for her yard,” Torrens said. “Her personality was so strong. She was one of those people who could make you feel like the only person in the world no matter how big the crowd was. And that came through in her prints.”
Because Dellaccio had such a far reach in the Gig Harbor community, the museum is planning a special event for families with Dellaccio portraits to come and share their personal portraits and stories at the exhibit for museum visitors.
“We are tentatively looking at February,” Lile said. “But it will be a great day for families to come and show their portraits and talk more about Jini.”
The exhibit’s grand opening was Friday, and about 50 guests came to view her work. The exhibit will be open during regular museum hours through April.
“We just hope that people will come and view this local art and find a connection to it,” Lile said.
With a Loving Eye: The Photography of Jini Dellaccio
When: November 2017 - April 2018 during regular museum hours. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and from 12 - 4 p.m. on Sundays.
Where: The museum is located at 4121 Harborview Dr. in Gig Harbor.
Cost: General admission is $7, children between the ages of 6 to 17 is $5, children under 5 are free. Anyone with a student or military ID, or seniors, is $6 for admission.