The Curator’s Eye

Ross Palmer Beecher’s Dumpster Dive

Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat is an irresistible subject for an artist, but also practically impossible to master – how can you compete with an image already burnt into everybody’s retinas?

Jackie O (Kennedy), 2003, oil on wired tin, acrylic on wood with found objects, 17 x 12 x 6 inches

Seattle artist Ross Palmer Beecher did it the same way she does most of her work: by turning garbage into American icons. “That hat I put on her is from an old ’50s cake dish,” says Beecher. “Jackie was an object of change, and it’s a reflection of all the housewives at the time who were changing too. Jackie formed her own life.” Beecher recreated Jackie in the same ruggedly independent spirit, says Barbara Shaiman, the director of the Seattle Art Museum Gallery, who chose Jackie O (Kennedy) for the gallery’s current show, Referencing the Past. “She manages to make it totally her own.”

A Connecticut yankee, Beecher started out at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 1978, a year behind Jenny Holzer, and wound up hawking her work at the Pike Place Market. In making Jackie, says Beecher, “I was inspired by Mexican folk art, made from old battery bits and beer cans.” Every day, Beecher bicycles around town, hunting for intriguing trash on the street, stopping to dive into dumpsters (don’t worry, she’s had her tetanus shot). She pops the good stuff into a crate on her bike and adds it to her “serendipitous trove of treasures” at her Fremont studio sanctuary. Jackie’s face began life as a cheese grater waiting for Beecher to hammer it into a higher purpose.

Recycling has paid off for Beecher. She won Seattle’s Betty Bowen Award; has representation from the Greg Kucera Gallery; and has sold work to Microsoft, Boeing and SeaTac Airport. Her masterpiece may be her giant license-plate-and-pop-can quilts at Safeco Field.

Or maybe Jackie is her masterpiece. You can buy it at SAM Gallery for $3,200, or rent it for three months for $240. Jackie Onassis once said of designer Oleg Cassini, “He got an awful lot of mileage out of that little hat.” So did Jackie. And so did Ross Palmer Beecher. •


Education Rhode Island School of Design

Number of one-person shows at Greg Kucera Gallery 8

Real name Dawn, but no one calls her that

Day job Therapist at Bailey-Boushay House hospice

Number of days spent biking to work during her own chemotherapy All of them

To see more Seattle Art Museum Gallery (1220 Third Ave.) through February 12;