Clayton James, 2016 Poster Artist

Clayton James, 2016 Skagit Poetry Festival Poster Artist

Clayton James
Photo credit: Andy Szurek

Originally not from the Northwest, Clayton James, born in 1918, grew up in Belding, Michigan, until his teenage years when his family moved to Putnam, Connecticut.

Clayton’s father was a head dyer for a silk thread mill and had a knack for matching colors and his mother was a poet.

He had two older brothers and a sister; all three of the boys were colorblind. Even when he was young James knew that the wanted to be an artist, not for fame, but as a way of life.

When World War II broke out, he was attending Rhode Island School of Design and declared himself a conscientious objector. Eventually he moved to a camp with for artists in Waldport, Oregon with other conscientious objectors, this is also where he met and befriended Morris Graves.

James would eventually marry fellow artist and RISD student, Barbara Straker. The couple decided to stay in the Northwest, but did move from Oregon to Washington, settling for a little while on Hood Canal before moving to Seattle. On the weekends he and Barbara would drive to the Olympic Mountains or the coast.

In 1950 James spent a year in Pennsylvania as an apprentice of master woodworker and furniture maker George Nakasima, when that was done the James family moved back to Seattle. They stayed in the city until 1953 and decided to move to La Conner, around the same time as Guy Anderson.

After becoming disillusioned with abstract expressionist painting, James started to work with clay, though it was about 15 years before it became his primary medium; working instead with concrete and wood following a trip to Europe, though stopped after six years due to health issues.

In 1991 during a show at the Woodside/Braseth Gallery, there were complications with his exhibition pieces, and as a result James quit making sculptures.

He also drew away from the stuffieness and commercialism of the Seattle Gallery scene and started painting outdoors, sometimes spending time working with Paul Havas. James said that this was a nice break after being cooped up in a studio for 30 years.