Wiggins, Myra Albert (1869–1956)

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Wiggins, Myra Albert (1869–1956)

American artist, photographer, and writer. Born in 1869 in Salem, Oregon; died in 1956 in Seattle, Washington; educated at Art Students League in New York City, 1891–93; married Fred Wiggins, in 1894; children: one daughter.

Amateur photographer (1888–1929), with work exhibited internationally; began publishing photographs in periodicals (1903); admitted to Photo-Secession group; had retrospectives of paintings at Seattle Art Museum (1953) and M. H. De Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco (1954).

Myra Albert Wiggins was born in Salem, Oregon, in 1869. Artistic as a child and talented at both drawing and painting, she was quick to expand her interests to include the new medium of photography. Taking up a camera for the first time in 1888, Wiggins moved to New York City to attend the Art Students League three years later. There she studied under such artists as William Merritt Chase, John Twachtman, and Frank Vincent Dumond before leaving in 1893. Her photographs soon began appearing in such magazines as American Amateur Photographer, while her skills also extended to writing articles, including "Amateur Photography through Women's Eyes," which was published in Photo-American in 1894. That year, she married Fred Wiggins, with whom she would have one daughter.

A lover of the outdoors, Wiggins specialized in travel photography, and her work benefited from the many trips she took around the United States and abroad. An athletic woman, she won several awards for one photo series in particular, taken during an expedition over Oregon's Cascade Mountain range. Her book Letters of a Pilgrim detailed her journey to the Middle East through both text and photographs, while her poetry, which also reflected her love of travel, would be included in the anthology Our Present-Day Poets: Their Lives and Works (1926). After 1903, Wiggins' photographic work began appearing in journals both in the United States and internationally with increasing frequency, causing her to be one of three members from Oregon admitted to Photo-Secession, a national organization of women photographers. A move from Oregon to Toppenish, Washington, in 1907 presented the photographer with new vistas to shoot.

In addition to her outdoor photography, Wiggins developed something she called "Dutch genre" because of its roots in the paintings of the Old Masters. Using specially constructed sets, Wiggins would costume her subjects—often her daughter—in Dutch folk dress and other historic garb and pose them in a manner recalling the Dutch painters of earlier centuries. Many of these photographs were exhibited, interspersed with her travel photos, in the retrospectives of Wiggins' works staged at museums in Seattle and San Francisco in the early 1950s.

In 1929, at age 60, Wiggins ceased to pursue her photography, deciding instead to concentrate on painting, which she considered her primary form of artistic expression. Over the remainder of her career, she completed a number of landscapes and portraits. She and her family moved to Seattle in 1932, where she lived until her death in 1956. Her daughter donated 400 of Wiggins' photographs to the Portland, Oregon, art museum; a major exhibition of these works was held in the early 1990s.


Rosenblum, Naomi. A History of Women Photographers. NY: Abbeville, 1994.

Pamela Shelton , freelance writer, Avon, Connecticut

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