Hilarie Couture steps up to a blank space, which is something a lot of women around here have done over the years.
For some of them, filling in a blank has meant building a school, pioneering in politics or blazing a trail — whether it’s a track to Olympic gold or an actual walking trail.
Couture’s challenge is an empty canvas: 36 of them, to be precise. But the Vancouver artist has plenty of inspiration as she fills in those blanks. Couture is painting portraits of some of the women who have helped make Clark County what it is today, and who are influencing what it will be tomorrow.
Forty women have been selected for Couture’s 36 paintings. (Two of the 16-inch-by-20-inch canvases will each feature three historical figures; Couture is using archive photos to paint them.)
Many of their stories are new to Couture, who moved to Vancouver in 2013. The portrait project is a way for the painter to immerse herself in Clark County’s heritage.
“I’m reading about the women as much as I can before I paint them,” Couture said. That information also will help Couture write mini-biographies to accompany the portraits.
“When you read about some of these women, it’s remarkable they made all these contributions in our community,” Couture said.
The project also is giving Couture a chance to connect with community organizations, including YWCA Clark County, the Clark County Historical Museum and Vancouver’s Downtown Association, which has started a “Founding Mothers” public-art project.
Couture is a big supporter of the YWCA’s work in the community. And, since the local YWCA started in 1916, it seemed as though “our anniversary was the perfect time to launch the project,” said Kate Sacamano, YWCA Clark County’s director of philanthropy. “Her gift to the community is to honor the women who have made a difference in this community.”
“I wanted to do it,” Couture said simply.
The museum at 1511 Main St. will feature the longest single display run for the paintings, September through December. Curator Brad Richardson already has a name for the show, “First Mothers: Portraits of Progress.”
Linda Glover was the seventh subject in the portrait series and visited Couture’s studio for a sitting that lasted 90 minutes or so. Glover is executive director of Gifts for our Community.
“Since 1997, our mission has been to support nonprofits,” Glover said. With a list of leadership roles in several community groups, Glover won a Women of Achievement Award in 2010.
Couture’s first steps in painting Glover were pretty much a brownish blur.
“Raw sienna oil,” she explained. “It’s a rough-in. I’m identifying darks and lights.”
While her subjects can’t see what Couture is painting, they can see her as she paints. It can be an interesting experience.
“I squint. I sometimes take my glasses off,” Couture said.
Jo Marie Hansen, another portrait subject, said that Couture tipped her off before the sitting.
“I’m going to be making all these funny faces at you,” Couture told Hansen.
It was no problem, Hansen said later.
“She just made it so comfortable,” Hansen said after the session in the Hazel Dell studio. “It was like I had a conversation with her.”
Steve and Jo Marie Hansen received the Community Foundation’s Philanthropist of the Year award in 2012.
Couture wasn’t finished with the portraits when her subjects left the studio. It can take a couple of tries to get someone’s smile just right, Couture said. She takes photographs of them smiling, and refers to the digital images to complete the portraits.
The paintings will be unveiled on May 6 during downtown Vancouver’s First Friday event at Boomerang, 808 Main St. The paintings will be unveiled to their subjects, as well, at the event sponsored by Vancouver’s Downtown Association.
“None have seen the finished works,” Couture said. “It will be exciting to see them see it all at once.”
Subjects of paintings have been making county better since 1800s
Twyla Barnes: The county’s First Citizen in 2014. Superintendent of ESD 112 from 1995 to 2014. Has been on YWCA, Community Foundation and Vancouver National Historic Trust boards.
Jody Campbell: On the boards of the Community Foundation and Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce; The Columbian’s community partnerships director.
Leslie Durst: The county’s First Citizen in 2000. Major donor to Vancouver’s School of Arts and Academics and Royal Durst Theatre; sponsored three I Have a Dream classes and became its board president in 2010.
Rev. Marva Edwards: President of the Vancouver chapter of the NAACP and former YWCA Clark County board member; named a Woman of Achievement in 2010.
Gretchen Fraser (1919-1994): Won America’s first Olympic medals (gold and silver) in alpine skiing in 1948. A member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
Lisa Gibert: President and CEO of the Clark College Foundation since 2005. Has been an advocate for young people as a member of the Vancouver Rotary Foundation board.
Linda Glover: Executive director of Gifts for Our Community, which funds organizations involved in human services, education and arts; president of Vancouver’s Downtown Association.
Mary Granger (1932-2010): The county’s First Citizen in 1987; a key person in starting the Community Foundation in 1984; founded Women in Action in 1984 and local I Have a Dream program in 1995; a 1989 YWCA Woman of Achievement.
Mari Greves: A 2007 Woman of Achievement; a member the Vancouver school board for 20 years. Before that, she was president of the district’s PTA council; served on YWCA and the Free Clinic boards.
Barbara Hammon (1955-2015): Executive director of the Hough Foundation, including the family-community resource center to help children at Hough Elementary; was involved in mentoring and volunteering programs.
Jo Marie Hansen: She and husband Steve were named 2012 Philanthropists of the Year. Causes include Share, Boys & Girls Clubs, the Children’s Center, the Clark County Food Bank, Free Clinic, Seton Catholic High School.
Nan Henriksen: The county’s First Citizen in 2015. As the first woman mayor of Camas, led its growth-management process; 12 years on state growth-management board; chaired board of freeholders.
Margaret Colf Hepola (1917-2014): 2012 Lifetime of Giving Award from the Community Foundation; supported area museums, led effort to turn an old building into the La Center library.
Rhona Sen Hoss: Clark College trustee for 10 years. Has served as executive director of SWIFT, co-chair of the Pink Power fundraiser, executive director of Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools.
Connie Kearney: First woman elected Clark County commissioner, in 1976. Supports access to health care, chaired fundraising project for PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center Heart and Vascular Center.
Pat Jollota: The county’s First Citizen in 2012. A founder of the Children’s Justice Center. She spent 20 years on the Vancouver City Council; shares local history as an author and speaker.
Mother Joseph (1823-1902): Pioneering nun who led Sisters of Providence group to Vancouver in 1856; started a hospital that’s the origin of the Providence health care system; built Providence Academy.
Val Joshua (1920-2012): Helped found local NAACP chapter, was its president for 29 years. Worked with League of Women Voters and YWCA Clark County, starting a program to aid incarcerated women.
Joyce Kilpatrick: Former director of YWCA Clark County, helped complete fund drive to build the new headquarters. Directed regional Camp Fire and Girl Scout organizations.
Jean Lacey (1914-2015): Executive director of YWCA Clark County for 17 years, leading outreach and prevention programs for teens, incarcerated women and survivors of domestic violence.
Dorothy Langsdorf (1911-2001): She devoted 30 years to the Discovery Trail system; founding president of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library Foundation. A 1999 Woman of Achievement.
Ethel Lehman (1920-2006): The county’s First Citizen in 1978; Vancouver city councilor for 16 years; worked with YWCA, Share, Council for the Homeless, Clark County Historical Society.
Dollie Lynch (1926-2010): Philanthropists Dollie and Ed Lynch were the first couple to share the First Citizen Award in 1992; causes included Fort Vancouver National Trust and Southwest Washington Medical Center Foundation.
Betty Sue Morris: Three county commissioner terms; state representative (18th District) from 1988-1996; a 2005 Woman of Achievement; boards include Salmon Creek Hospital Foundation.
Kelly Nolen: Has served on the YWCA Clark County’s board of directors for eight years and is board president.
Donna Roberge Nozel: Chair of Clark County Arts Commission, and arts commissioner for city of Camas; second woman elected as a Camas-Washougal port commissioner; created therapy dog program for abused children.
Val Ogden (1924-2014): The county’s First Citizen in 2006; executive director of YWCA Clark County; state representative from 1991-2003; worked with Camp Fire, Council for the Homeless, Human Services Council.
Diana Perez: Deputy monument manager for the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument; state director, League of United Latin American Citizens; established youth leadership programs.
Lee Rafferty: A downtown business and property owner since 1981, she has been part of the redevelopment of Vancouver’s city center; executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association.
Leslie Runyan: Organizations she has been part of include SWIFT, Evergreen School District Foundation, YWCA Clark County, Children’s Trust Auxiliary.
Eva Santee (1897-1979): First woman to be First Citizen, in 1945. As Vancouver librarian, organized area libraries into the state’s first intercounty rural district, now the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District.
Sally Schaeffer: The county’s First Citizen in 1984. A Clark College trustee for 14 years and the state’s outstanding trustee in 2000; served on Southwest Washington Medical Center Foundation and Clark College Foundation boards.
Helene Shoen (1916-2001): Her $525,000 donation helped build the YWCA Clark County headquarters on Main Street, named in her honor. She was named to the Clark County Hall of Fame in 1992.
Esther Short (1806-1862): Esther and Amos Short were the first American settlers (1845) to locate permanently in what now is Clark County. Land she donated to the city is now Esther Short Park.
Sarah Thebarge: Clark College professor of early childhood development and winner of a 2014 Exceptional Faculty Award; she offers a scholarship to high school seniors through the YWCA.
Florence Wager (1928-2012): Named county’s First Citizen in 2009; a leader in restoring Esther Short Park. She supported the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, Vancouver Symphony, YWCA.
Kristy Weaver: A community arts advocate since 2005, she also has been active in the revitalization of downtown Vancouver. Both causes came together in the First Friday Artwalk.
Harriet Wilson (1938-2011): The county’s First Citizen in 1993. One of the first Clark College Foundation board members; a 1992 Woman of Achievement; helped start Leadership Clark County.
Ella Wintler (1885-1975): Taught at Vancouver High for 38 years; served 10 terms as a state representative; advocate for blind and deaf students and children in the juvenile justice system.
If You Go
• May: Unveiling is May 6 during First Friday event sponsored by Vancouver's Downtown Association at Boomerang, 808 Main St., where portraits will be displayed through May.
• June: Erik Runyan Jewelers, 900 Washington St.
• July: LSW Architects, 610 Esther St.
• August: Clark College Archer Gallery, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, in the Penguin Union Building.
• September through December: Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St.
Dr. Louisa Wright (1862-1913): Clark County’s first woman doctor. Working as a teacher, she saved enough money to enroll in medical school; reportedly only the second physician in the county to earn a degree from a medical school.