The Port Angeles Fine Arts Center is the legacy of Esther and Charles Webster.
Born on a farm in Oregon's Willamette Valley, Esther knew from an early age that she wanted to be an artist. In 1926 she drove cross-country with two girlfriends to study art and seek her fortune in New York City. During the early years of the Depression she worked as a textile designer and studied at the Art Students League. There she met artists such as Arshile Gorky, Alexander Calder, and Ben Shahn.
In 1929 she married Charles Webster, scion to the founders and publishers of the Port Angeles Evening News. The young couple returned to the Peninsula to manage the News in 1934. On the remote Olympic Peninsula, Esther Webster devoted herself to painting and to stimulating a cultural climate around herself. She gained regional recognition for her painting, and in 1947 won a purchase prize from the Seattle Art Museum.
After being diagnosed with cancer in 1979, Esther Webster set in motion a plan to create the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. The semi-circular Webster House, designed in 1951 by innovative Northwest architect Paul Hayden Kirk, sits on the crest of Beaver Hill. Sweeping vistas of the city, the harbor, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the horizons of Canada's Vancouver Island frame the artistic visions in the gallery.
The Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, originally the private residence of Esther and Charles Webster, was designed in 1951, by Paul Hayden Kirk, as both a residence and artist’s studio. The Webster house is a plate-glass-and-timbered classic of modern Northwest architecture.
Kirk’s generous use of voids and indigenous materials offers a low-impact structure - which ushers indoors the abundance of the natural world. Perched on the lip of the Olympic foothills, the house’s great-room-turned-gallery affords a regal vista of the city and a vast territorial view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island. In the other direction, the snow-capped spires of Olympic National Park cast an inspiring shadow, like silent sentinels.
Paul Hayden Kirk, one of the most widely recognized architects of the Post-War Northwest, developed an eclectic style which adapted the principles of Mies van der Rohe, to the nature-drenched environment of the Pacific Northwest.
He designed many private residences in the Puget Sound region, including one other in Port Angeles. Kirk’s great sense of integration and the use of native building material, the merging of the outside and the inside, a blending of public and private space, allows the Webster House to work so well as a showcase for art. With its arching walls of glass and shining concrete floor, it presents an atmosphere conducive to observation and reflection.