By Carl Bryden
Trish Harding, a local artist, advocate for the arts and the owner of Studio UFO has made art in Bellingham her entire life. Dedicating much of her work to environmental and social activism, she said her childhood growing up on Lummi Island, seeing the Vietnam war and living through the cold war has inspired a lot of her work.
Growing up on the island, Harding developed a deep love and sense of place in the area. While attending school on Lummi, her passion for art grew throughout her life.
Spending her childhood invested in politics and closely watching events, like the Vietnam war, unfold in front of her has continued impacting her work today. As a young woman, Harding would spend almost every dinner absorbing the news.
“We would watch Walter Cronkite over a quiet dinner, and after we would debate,” Harding said, thinking back on how her childhood impacts her work today. “We weren’t allowed to argue, it had to be [a] formal debate.”
“I like to tell people I’ve been marching for peace since I was a junior or senior in high school,” Harding said, laughing. “In 2016 or so, though, I hosted a big [art] show called ‘Hot Water: The Tipping Point.’ That was all my own work and was primarily focused on climate change.”
When Bellingham was considering dismantling the granary near the waterfront, in an attempt to preserve the city’s history, Harding invited artists from all over the area to an art show in her gallery. The only catch was that everything that was getting shown had to include the granary.
Throughout her life she has taught many students from a wide age range. Whether they were teens, college students or adults, she’s welcomed any age group. Today, she teaches weekly classes in her studio for anyone interested.
“[The] community that Trish has fostered is a place I look forward to participating in to talk about art, exchange ideas, [and to] stay enthusiastic and inspired to continue to develop and grow,” Ann Wallace, a friend and student of Harding’s, said.
Having spent her life in the area, Bellingham’s changes over the last few decades has been in the forefront of Harding’s mind.
“The mission, that almost arose accidentally, was the activism,” she said. “Right when I started this studio, downtown Bellingham was just starting to be gentrified, which really was a threat to us as artists at the time. We didn’t need fancy floors, we needed a little bit of heat, good lighting and space.”
Harding now dedicates her time to creating spaces for art in Bellingham. In an effort to keep the art scene alive, Harding regularly shows her own, her students’ and other artists’ work throughout galleries in Bellingham.
“She also teaches us about the business of selling art,” said Ann Chaikin, a long-time student of Harding’s who is currently showing her own work at the Fairhaven Whatcom Educational Credit Union. “She has several venues where she presents our work in shows.”
These days, Harding spends much of her time teaching. She has spent the last 20 years teaching fine art classes at Whatcom Community College, but she was an instructor long before then.
Harding regularly held classes in her garage for a couple of people at a time, years before she had her first studio; educating has always been something Harding was drawn to, she said.
Now, Harding holds her own art and painting classes in her studio, Studio UFO, on West Holly Street.
“I usually fill the studio every Wednesday,” she said. “It’s an all-day class so that we can take the whole day to relax, get to know each other and paint.”
Her students are encouraged to bring any form or medium that they like. The all-day classes start with a group critique, and include lessons mixed in throughout, as well as peer support, according to Harding.
“My studio is three-fold: my studio where I work, a gallery where we show and a classroom where we study,” Harding said.
In today’s political climate, the role of artists has changed; “Artists have made political change throughout history, right now we need to use our art to say something provocative.”
“When someone says, ‘Oh, well, I don’t want to be political in my work.’ I look at them and say, ‘You are political, because you’re a painter,’” Harding said.Considering the impact that Harding’s art has made on the community, Chaikin said,“Maybe someday people will look back at the rich environment of art making in Bellingham in the early 21st century at Studio UFO and celebrate the art made there. Who knows?”