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Kent's remarkable artist: Danny Pierce dies at age 93; wife Julia died 12 days earlier

Kent artist Danny Pierce sits below a self-portrait of himself at about 25 years old at the Centennial Center Gallery on Sept. 2, 2010. Pierce, a well-known artist, passed away on March 6. He was 95.   - Reporter file photo
Kent artist Danny Pierce sits below a self-portrait of himself at about 25 years old at the Centennial Center Gallery on Sept. 2, 2010. Pierce, a well-known artist, passed away on March 6. He was 95.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

Nationally recognized Kent artist Danny Pierce has died at age 93.

Pierce died March 6 in Kent, just 12 days after his wife Julia Pierce died at age 95 at their Kent home. They were married for 71 years and had a 70th wedding anniversary celebration last year in Kent.

A memorial service for the couple is at noon Saturday at Unity Church of Kent, 218 S. State Ave.

Danny Pierce discovered his skill for art at age 4 in Woodlake, Calif., when he saw a magazine photo of a cow that he wanted to trace. His cousin told him to draw it instead.

"I wanted to trace it but he wouldn't let me," Pierce said during a 2010 interview with the Kent Reporter. "I drew it. That started it."

It helped launched a career for Pierce as an artist and art instructor. He created a legacy of nationally recognized work, being recognized by the Washington Post in 1958 as "...one of America's most outstanding graphic artists."

A painter, sculptor and printmaker, Pierce has works in various mediums included in the permanent collections of many of the world's finest museums. Since the 1950s, he has also been producing hand-crafted books which are written, illustrated and printed completely by the artist.

Pierce also taught at several major universities, and locally after he moved to Kent in 1953 at Seattle University, Cornish College of the Arts and Burnley School of Professional Art (now the Seattle Art Museum). He also established the art department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1959, with assistance from a Carnegie grant.

After teaching art in Alaska, Pierce worked as an art instructor for 20 years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He retired and returned to Kent in 1985.

Pierce celebrated his 90th birthday in 2010 with a display of his art at the city of Kent's Centennial Center gallery next to City Hall. The display included a selection of the artist's oil paintings, watercolors, gouache, metal engraving, etchings and colored woodcuts.

Laura Haertel, a Seattle-based American art historian who helped set up the exhibit, said Pierce's work shows a slice of American life in the mid-20th century.

"It's a chance to see a lot of his work together in one place that spans a period of his life at different places in our country," Haertel said during a 2010 interview with the Kent Reporter. "He has paintings and drawings of a whale hunt in Alaska, logging in Oregon, lobster farming in Maine and cattle ranching in California that are all parts of the American experience in the 20th century."

Prior to teaching in Alaska and Wisconsin, Pierce studied at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles before he was drafted in 1942 during World War II. He served in the Army from 1942 to 1945. While serving in the Army, Pierce met his wife, Julia, in Colorado where she worked as a nurse after growing up in Kent.

Pierce also attended the American Art School in New York and the Brooklyn Museum Art School. He taught drawing for one year at Hunter College in New York and then took a job in 1953 as an art instructor job at the Burnley School for Professional Art in Seattle.

It surprised Pierce that he became a teacher.

"If anybody had told me at the time I would become a teacher I would've laughed at them," Pierce said. "I use to stutter so bad I couldn't talk."

Pierce described in 2010 how much he enjoyed life as an artist and instructor.

"The only ambition I ever had was to be an artist," he said. "I've had a good life. It is a good life."

Julia Pierce was born Oct. 28, 1918 in Kent to Nels and Mary (Beaton) Rasmussen, according to her obituary posted on the Edline-Yahn & Covington Funeral Chapel website.

She was a registered nurse and served as a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II. After marrying Danny Pierce on July 19, 1943 in Topeka, Kan., she became a homemaker, and together they raised four children. She loved ceramics and travelled extensively.

Survivors include their sons Dan L. Pierce and D. Nels Pierce (Carol) of New York City; daughters Julia A. Pierce and Mary L. Alvarez (Patrick) of Kent; three grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

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