Esteemed artist and Gig Harbor resident William Turner passes away
William Turner was an artist’s artist.
Bill, as he was known to friends and family, died Christmas Eve from Parkinson’s disease at the age of 81 with his wife, poet Josie Emmons Turner, at his side. He was a prolific painter, teacher and mentor who left a large body of work that exuded color and energy.
His paintings are included in public and private collections throughout the United States, and at the Tacoma Art Museum, the Museum of Northwest Art in La Connor and in the permanent collection of the Washington State Arts Commission.
Turner was born in Tacoma to Eileen and William H. Turner. He grew up in Lakewood, graduated from Clover Park High School and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Puget Sound. After serving in the Navy and then traveling extensively through Europe, he returned to the U.S. and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Washington.
Although he lived and worked in Tacoma and Seattle most of his life, Turner spent his final year in his dream home in Gig Harbor at the mouth of Crescent Creek.
“Bill had a generous spirit and a mischievous sense of humor,” Josie Turner said. “He loved to travel and he loved a good, strong glass of Irish beer. He loved literature and poetry — and most of all he loved art.”
Many local artists benefited from their close association with Turner. Gig Harbor painter Ann Stockdale, who won the Best of Show award in Peninsula Art League’s Open Juried Show last fall, recalled her first meeting with him.
“He came to demonstrate (his painting techniques) at a Peninsula Art League meeting years ago and he invited me to join him and a few other artists to paint in his studio every week,” Stockdale recalled. “The atmosphere was terrific, and it was so great to share the energetic, interactive frequency with other artists.”
Tacoma painter Sharon Carr, whose work can be seen locally at Gig Harbor’s Gallery Row, painted with Turner and the Wednesday painting group for about 10 years.
“He was a wonderful mentor and a wonderful man and he was a lifelong and very talented painter,” Carr said in an email. “His creativity was spiced up with a wild imagination and a sense of humor, and his paintings danced and twirled and some parts just seemed to fly right off the canvas.”
Joan Teed, of Gig Harbor, was also a member of Turner’s Wednesday painting group.
“We met and painted in his wonderfully eclectic studio. We became a tight group over the years,” Teed said. “There was always music — Bill loved jazz and had a great collection of old LPs. And there was always lively discussion involving favorite artists, muses, music, books and life stories. Bill was our mentor and my dear friend and had a major impact on how I approach my own practice as a painter. His critiques were invaluable because he took time and always gave thoughtful consideration into what he saw in our work.
“The best part for me was just having the opportunity to watch him paint from beginning to end – the process, the many layers, the wonderful color combinations and brushwork, and always generously sharing his thoughts along the way. I learned so much from him,” Teed said.
“Bill’s paintings brought joy and spontaneity and were an eruption of color,” Josie Turner said. “He painted to jazz music and his work demonstrates rhythm, profound energy, improvisation and a resolution of opposites.
“And he kept painting until the very end, even if it was just in his head. He often spoke about what he was imagining while painting on a canvas only he could see.”
Turner is best remembered for the bodies of work Spiral Abstractions and Figurative Abstractions (1982-2000) and his various Landscapes series (1994-2019).
In addition to being a prolific, much-admired painter, Turner was also a war veteran.
“He looked at obstacles as something to capture and learn from and this determination shepherded him throughout his life,” Josie Turner said. “He built his career as an artist after proudly serving his country as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam conflict.” He was awarded two Bronze Star Medals for his service.
In addition to his wife, Josie, Turner is survived by son Whitman Turner, sister Kay Duguay, nephews William Duguay (Jennifer) and Tom Duguay (Jon Curtis), niece Debbie Duguay (Sue Kangiser), numerous great-nephews and nieces, and his loyal, loving companion in and out of the studio, his dog Charlie.
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, June 21, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 7701 Skansie Ave.
Two retrospectives of William Turner’s work are planned for 2022, including a summer exhibit at Ryan James Fine Arts in Kirkland and a four-month show at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Connor, starting in mid-October.