Arts & Culture

Review: Tacoma in 300 postcard-sized visions now up in the library’s Handforth Gallery

John Carlton’s “St. Joseph’s Hospital” from the Tacoma Postcards show at the Handforth Gallery.
John Carlton’s “St. Joseph’s Hospital” from the Tacoma Postcards show at the Handforth Gallery. Courtesy

How do you see Tacoma? Through the smoky noir haze of a black-and-white nighttime photo? Or the rose-tinted watercolor of a sketch? Is it gritty? Sweet? Fish-eye-distorted?

There are many different ways to see our city, and 300 of them are on view right now in the Handforth Gallery of Tacoma Public Library’s main branch downtown.

A show of Tacoma postcards, hand-made by 25 local artists and hosted by Historic Tacoma, is up through November, offering 300 visions of T-Town from funny to futuristic.

Curator Lynn Di Nino has thoughtfully assembled the works into around a dozen poster-sized panels, each holding around 20 cards. While not labeled, they’re still grouped pleasingly in a vaguely thematic way — a smart move that encourages your imagination while reducing the overwhelming feeling of 300 small works of art.

Pulled from various incarnations of the postcard concept, from the first artist-led batch of cards actually sold in 2008 as a way of marketing the city to Tacoma Art Museum’s “Mighty Tacoma” show of 2010 and a 2014 Historic Tacoma postcard swap event, the cards are nevertheless unified in both format and feel: a lens capturing hopes and dreams of the city.

There are the icons of Tacoma: the whale mural, cleverly cropped in a photo with a parking sign right in front of the orcas; the Asarco smelter, jetting out hand-painted pink plumes; a detail of the decorative molding on the Pantages; St. Joseph’s Medical Center, shining space-age white against a starry night sky.

A large poster of these icons comes from fourth-graders at Washington Elementary, a project of teacher Jane Eichner for Historic Tacoma. There’s the Rust Mansion, Stadium High School, the LeMay museum, all done with a delightful hand-drawn style and the upward, magnifying angle of a child’s point of view. Despite being children’s art, they fit perfectly into the show alongside professionals and amateurs — proof that artist age is less important than form and concept.

There’s a poster full of intensely saturated tinted photographs by Dan Hill, imparting a kind of magic realism to a Tacoma now filled with tropical blue skies and pink lighting, while in another, Steve Naccarato tints Stadium with bleeding red like the horror flick it could star in. Another poster is arty and conceptual, with the black-and-white photography of Sharon Styer giving deserted downtown streets a noir feel and Claudia Riedener exploring the idea of God’s pointing finger deciding where Freighthouse Square ought to go.

Charlie Glassie’s beautiful pen-and-ink watercolors give a Parisian look to Tacoma’s classic architecture. Others by Gary Knudson are frantically hatched and wiggly-lined, a caffeinated Tacoma. In the 2010 “Mighty Tacoma” poster, Rick Semple’s pensive aerial shot of merging rail T-junctions plays on the T-Town pun. In the original 2008 postcard series, Di Morgan-Graves’ classic “Come to Tacoma — We’ve Got Balls” captures that moment when glass floats outside the Museum of Glass echoed the mounding Tacoma Dome.

There are soft, careful drawings by the recent Urban Sketchers meet-ups, almost meditative in their details; there are fish-eye views of King’s Deli, Urban Grace church, Eastside Vapors and the infamous Bob’s Java Jive, transforming Tacoma’s grittier side into something weird and fascinating.

The only thing that’s missing from this show? An interactive element. How about an art-making station with blank cards and pencils? A social media photo hashtag with a leaderboard screen in the gallery? (Yes, you can snap your favorite cards and post to Historic Tacoma’s Facebook page, but that’s not quite as creative.) A modern-day treasure hunt matching historic photos from the Northwest room with their contemporary locations? As an ongoing concept, the Tacoma postcard idea lives on and deserves to grow as our town grows. Historic Tacoma, you could be creating history here.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti


What: Hand-made postcards from 25 artists.

Where: Handforth Gallery, Tacoma Public Library main branch, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma.

When: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Nov. 27.

Cost: Free.

Information: 253-292-2001,