Spotlight on Dr. Yadviga Halsey


Dr. Yadviga Halsey stands with some of her art currently on display at WCSC. Art is just one of her many interests. (Photograph: Megan Wiebelhaus)

Dr. Yadviga Halsey is a cornerstone of the Wallingford Community Senior Center. An artist, academic, and active participant at WCSC for the past seventeen years, she plays bridge here twice a week, has her art on display, and even brings flowers to brighten the rooms. And once, she taught a class on tripping.

“I’m an expert in tripping,” she said with a laugh.

The class, taught a few years ago, was on the Tai Chi method of walking to avoid tripping and injury. Dr. Halsey has been taking Tai Chi for eleven years and says the key to safer walking is to remember to pick up your feet. It’s not enough for the aging body to learn exercises, she says; inactive seniors lose mobility and need to use their bodies “the same way that kids do. They use everything…”

Her paintings, on display at WCSC, are vibrant and provide a glimpse into decades of creativity. She brings paintings nearly every week to the Center, swapping some out, putting new ones in, and arranging them herself.  Dr. Halsey began painting early in life but paused between grad school and the birth of her third child. Her art has garnered several accolades, including the merit award at the Poncho Auction in 2007 and first prize at the Mercer Island Arts Festival in 1989. Dr. Halsey paints mostly in acrylics, with the occasional use of crayon, graphite, pastel, and ink.

Her CV explains her work and the stories it tells: “Most of my work has a narrative element or is strongly evocative of an emotional or psychological state … I delight in layers of meaning but not in the sense of plotting them out; rather, they are there to be found or invented by anyone who enters the painting.”

Dr. Halsey earned her PhD in biochemistry at Yale in 1952. She arrived on campus hoping to enroll in a few undergraduate math classes not offered at the University of Chicago, her alma mater. Unfortunately, she soon discovered the courses were only open to men. (Yale began admitting women to their graduate programs in 1896, but they didn’t start granting degrees to female undergraduates until 1969.)

A fellowship at the University of Washington brought Dr. Halsey to Seattle, where she met and then married a chemistry professor in 1954. But because of the school’s strict anti-nepotism rules, Dr. Halsey was never allowed to become a full member of the UW staff, instead relying on contract work.

She found ways to teach and do research at other institutions, including Seattle University’s drug and alcohol studies program, and was added to a King County taskforce created to evaluate drug laws.

Halsey Art

Dr. Halsey’s art, most of which she describes as having a “strong narrative element,” is currently on display at WCSC. (Photograph: Megan Wiebelhaus)

Dr. Halsey has been a part of the Seattle senior community for over a decade. She attended the (now closed) Tallmadge Hamilton House before coming to WCSC.

“I think the WCSC is doing a very good job,” she said.

She admires how Executive Director Kathleen Cromp works to incorporate different ages and activities, and says the Center provides something invaluable to the senior community,

“It really is all-important to have a place to go and things to do.”

Dr. Halsey attends bridge at WCSC twice per week: once for social bridge and once for duplicate bridge. She is quietly good at the game; when it comes to winning, she says it “helps to have a good memory, and it helps to be lucky.”

Asked for highlights from her life, Dr. Halsey recounts a small but long-lasting memory: Coming home to a house she used to live in, she went to the garden. It was the end of the raspberry season, and she wanted to make sure the dog didn’t eat all the berries. She was next to the garden fence, bending down to reach a bright red berry, when she looked up and came nose to nose with a field mouse.

“We both looked at each other, and we kept eating raspberries. It’s just funny the things you remember.”