An upcoming exhibition at VALISE has a special significance: It’s the final curatorial effort of Mia McEldowney, a force in the Seattle art scene who made Vashon her home for the past nine years.
McEldowney, who was not only an art dealer but also instrumental in founding the artists’ support organization Artist Trust, died on Feb. 1 at the age of 62 after a long battle with a rare autoimmune disease. But even as her friends and admirers on Vashon and beyond mourned her passing, they learned that she had been busy in the months prior to her death preparing one more show to offer them.
The exhibit, aptly named “Lessons from the Heart,” will showcase the work of Joe Max Emminger, Julie Paschkis and Terry Turrell, Northwest artists whose work McEldowney championed for years. All three were part of her stable at Mia Gallery, a Seattle venue she owned from 1983 to 1997 that was known nationwide for its all-embracing mix of work by folk and “outsider” artists as well as works by other emerging and formally trained, contemporary artists.
“This show is very indicative of who she was and is,” said Bill Mitchell, McEldowney’s husband.
“Lessons from the Heart” marks the second time in six months that McEldowney curated a show at VALISE, a small collectively run gallery on Vashon. In September, she presented “Eccentric Visions,” a museum-quality show of paintings, sculptures and assemblages from her own collection, at the gallery.
She joined VALISE as a supporting member about a year ago, said Carol Schwennesen, a gallery member.
“She was invited by us to be a supporting member and she totally flowered with that opportunity,” said Schwennesen. “She used it as a way to bring art to Vashon that would have never been shown here without her.”
According to Schwen-nesen, “Lessons from the Heart” was almost completely ready for presentation at the time of McEldowney’s death. In the last few months, Mitchell added, Mc-
Eldowney had invited the three artists, as well as their current dealer, Susan Grover of Grover Thurston Gallery, to meet with her to help conceptualize every detail of the show.
“She had all the P.R. ready to go, and what is going to happen in the show is exactly what she would have done,” she said.
Schwennesen also marveled at McEldowney’s timing.
“You hear stories of people dying on the mountain, doing what they want to do,” she said. “So when I heard about this, I thought, what a wonderful way to depart, with all your knowledge and focus traveling forward.”
McEldowney closed her Seattle gallery in 1997 and slipped into a quiet life after the onset of her illness. In 2004, she and her husband moved to an artful, secluded home they built in the Needle Creek area of Vashon, a far cry from the urban life they had led while living on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill.
Her connection with VALISE and the enthusiastic response to her September show, “Eccentric Visions,” marked her re-emergence as a curator. The show drew a steady stream of visitors to the gallery, and when McEldowney delivered a special gallery talk from her wheelchair, the room was packed.
“She came out of that really excited that she could still do this, and that it wouldn’t require the same heavy responsibilities that came with her gallery,” Mitchell said.
Others were thrilled by McEldowney’s return to the art world as well.
Paschkis, an author, painter and book illustrator, said she had been surprised when McEldowney contacted her several months ago about the possibility of including her work in “Lessons from the Heart.”
“It felt like a real coming home,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh yes, it’s going to be Mia, Terry and Joe and I all together again.’ I was happy to see her dipping her finger back into the world because she always had so much to bring to it.”
Now, Paschkis said, with McEldowney’s death, the meaning of the show has changed for her. “It’s a way to stay connected to her,” she said.
Paschkis and Emminger, who is her husband, have created a portrait of McEldowney that will serve as a centerpiece for the exhibit at VALISE and a reminder of the passion McEldowney brought to her work as a dealer, collector and supporter of the arts.
“She touched many, many people with her vision and generosity,” Paschkis said. “She’s an extraordinary person and she is still with us.”