The History of WSO

Since 1850, when the American Society of Painters in Watercolor was founded, water colorists have joined together in national, state, and regional societies. The American Watercolor Society, which evolved from the earlier organization, and the National Watercolor Society emerged in 1866.



The Oregon Watercolor Society began in 1966 with 38 members. Its purpose was “to further the interest of transparent watercolor painting and to encourage a wider experience, enjoyment, and education to the painter and the viewing public.” Its bylaws provided for semi-annual meetings in April and September, each hosting a juried show which would travel throughout the state for a year. The first slate of officers included: Fred Smith, President; Tom Allen, Vice-President; Gertrude Rigdon, Secretary-Treasurer; and Peg Stuart, Tour Chair. In the beginning, only transparent watercolors were admitted to the shows, but in 1975, it was decided to admit all aqueous media on paper to the spring show.

Since 1966, when the original membership was 38, the Society blossomed by traveling around the state of Oregon gaining new members in this outreach. By 1985 the membership reached 500, and in 2012 the membership was nearly 1000. Admission to membership is determined by jury and based on works entered either by slide or digital image.

Early jurors for the semi-annual shows were members of the Society, but in 1980 the Society began to engage nationally-recognized professional artists as jurors. Each juror conducts a workshop in conjunction with the meeting. The first professional juror was the late Millard Sheets who returned to jury the 20th anniversary show in 1985.

The opportunity to exhibit, peer and professional critiques, workshops, and artistic networking have benefitted Oregon Watercolor Society members for over five decades. The professional camaraderie continues to encourage growth and creative excellence, promoting watercolor painting across the state.

Past Exhibition Paintings

Now you can view paintings from many of WSO’s past exhibitions! This is still a work in progress so there are a number of exhibitions that are not available yet. But keep checking back. Additional exhibitions will continue to be added. To view the exhibits, go to the WSO Exhibits page. Double-click on one of the exhibition folders to open to the images. Then double-click on one of the painting images to enlarge it. You can then step through the images by clicking on the arrows at the right or left of the current image. Go to the WSO Exhibits Page.

Many thanks to Kathy Tiger and Tupper Malone for preparing the images from archived slides.

I made WSO History and Now I’m Archived at OSU! – The WSO Archives

The records of the Watercolor Society of Oregon, which include photographs, exhibit catalogs, meeting minutes, and membership lists, are now available at the OSU Special Collections and Archives. Here is a guide to this collection to get you started.

If you have questions about accessing the WSO collection, feel free to contact Karl McCreary at karl.mccreary@oregonstate.edu or (541) 737-0539.

How the Merit Award Program Got Started

by Chris Keylock Williams

After an hour’s search I finally found the WSO newsletter article which introduced the Merit Award Program in 1982. Kathy Wengi O’Conner wrote it. She was an active member of WSO and eventually earned membership in AWS. In her article she reported that the WSO board accepted this idea as a way to encourage our members to submit their very best painting to each show. She further stated that this would help maintain the high quality of our shows. She was so right!

At that time the points were to be retroactive from the beginning of 1966 when WSO was founded. Her article mentioned that members could eventually earn 25 points with a gold bar! It was a great start to a very motivational program.

Little did she realize that members would stay active for many, many years. Dee Frank, Ted Vaught, and Harold Walkup, would eventually earn the Comet Award at 75-99 points and Tom Allen, Chris Keylock Williams, and Judy Hoiness would earn the Celestial Award at over 100 points.

So, start now! Keep track of your first 10 points and send the list to the Merit Award Chairperson.

The Way We Were: WSO History

By Chris Keylock Williams

In the 80’s, WSO had nationally known jurors, wonderful banquets and loads of activities for our convention weekends. However, there was a lot more hands-on work for us to do than there is today. But we did have enthusiastic volunteers who put on two fantastic conventions each year.

For many years, it was on Friday that the juror juried the show on site and in person. Then, there would be a flurry of activity. Three or more typists hustled to get all the painting labels ready. At the same time, the hanging crew worked to get the show up and labeled while a photographer brought each painting into a back “dark room” to take slides and get them ready to show at the next night’s banquet. She had a method of getting good images, even through the glass. These slides were also archived for WSO history.

We did have a “Meet and Greet” with the juror; it was held at a member’s home. But only the Board Members and the local show committee were invited. I had one of these parties at my home when Carol Barnes juried the show in the spring of 1989. However, the other WSO members wanted to meet the juror so they kept sneaking into the party on some pretext or another. Eventually, everyone was invited and it became part of the convention weekend activities.

Much has changed since those years. Watch for future columns about our WSO history or if you have some special knowledge or a good story to tell volunteer to write one yourself

Chris has graciously volunteered to write or find other ‘old timers’ who could submit articles on various historical periods, aspects, unknown info, and interesting tales about WSO. This will be a fun lead up to our 50th anniversary in 2016. Thank you, Chris!

Remember When? WSO History

By Chris Keylock Williams

Spring 1980 was “the big turning point” in WSO history. Caroline Buchanan was president and the show was held in Eugene. It was the very first WSO show where instead of “peer jurying” we had a well-known outside juror. The very famous Millard Sheets of California was such a gracious and knowledgeable artist. Everyone was so excited to meet him and hear him speak. (He later came back to jury our 25th anniversary show in 1985.)

In 1980 our organization had so very little to give in the way of show awards. Millard Sheets actually went into his own pockets to help out. At that time we only selected 60 matted/shrink wrapped paintings and the whole show was divided into three tours. Each tour of 20 matted paintings went to a different part of the state.
We had what was named at the time, three “sweepstakes awards.” One sweepstakes painting and several other award winners went in each box. The spring 1980 three top award winning paintings were by Bette Dorsch (deceased), Kay Wengi (deceased) and Arne Westerman.

Much has changed since those years. Watch for future historical WSO newsletter columns or volunteer to write one yourself if you have some special knowledge or good stories to tell!

For me, the WSO show, spring 1980, was a life changing event. I had never even seen a WSO show, but Muriel Pallay told me to apply for membership and, well, now it’s 33 years later. So, be sure to spread the word to other potential WSO members and friends.

Chris has graciously volunteered to write or find other ‘old timers’ who could submit articles on various historical periods, aspects, unknown info, and interesting tales about WSO. This will be a fun lead up to our 50th anniversary in 2016. Thank you, Chris!