Abby Williams Hill Collection

Donated by Mrs. Romayne B. Hill, Tacoma artist, Abby Williams' artwork can be seen in several places throughout the campus, including Collins Memorial Library and Jones Hall.

Abby Williams Hill

1861-1943

In 1889, the year when Washington became the forty-second state in the union, Abby Williams Hill and her husband, Dr. Frank Hill, arrived in Tacoma, responding to advertisements acclaiming the magnificence of the Northwest mountain scenery.

Abby Hill had both the opportunities and the means to live a comfortable, perhaps prosaic, life. But driven by a desire to experience the grandeur of rugged mountain scenery and to paint those vistas, she rejected the comforts of home and arranged to spend a good portion of her life in the wilderness with her young children.

During the peak years of her artistic career (1903-1906), Hill garnered four successive contracts with major railway companies, which provided extensive periods for camping and landscape painting, and she produced dozens of paintings to extol the beauty of the Northwest. Exhibitions of these works at several world's fairs, notably the St. Louis World's Fair (1904), the Lewis and Clark Exposition (1905), and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (1909), established her reputation as a professional landscape artist. By special arrangement, Hill was able to keep almost all her commissioned work. Consequently, she may be the only railway artist whose professional work is virtually intact, and the Hill Collection, now owned by the University of Puget Sound, may well be the only one of its kind in the Northwest.

Unfortunately, Hill's professional career was brief. By 1919, family circumstances required her to leave the Northwest, and she lived a nomadic life for decades, frequenting national parks in the West where she continued her landscape studies.

When Abby Hill died in 1943, she left a remarkable legacy of individual achievement as a western woman artist. Her extant work, more than a hundred canvasses, spans more than fifty years and includes floral compositions, still lifes, and portraits of Sioux, Flathead, Nez Perce, and Yakima Indians. Yet the greater portion deals with western landscapes ranging from the Cascades, Yosemite Park, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone Park to the southwest scenery of Arizona and southern California's Laguna Beach.

Professor Emeritus of Art Ron Fields became interested in Abby Hill in the 1980s when he discovered that there were only two paragraphs of information on Hill to accompany the University's collection of her work. His book, Abby Williams Hill and the Lure of the West, is available in the University Bookstore.