To see the world, then bring it back in a knapsack – and within the pages of a sketchbook, a watercolor pad, a camera and, say, a shipping crate or two.
Traveling the world has been one magnificent treasure hunt for Mary Dewey, who at age 77 has returned to, shall we say, the refined bohemian lifestyle she once led.
After a 14-year period of home caregiving for her late, Alzheimer’s-stricken spouse, Bob Dewey – a prominent Spokane restaurateur and business owner who founded The Import Market – and 45 years of raising their four children and tending to the family businesses, she is finally embarking on the career she was born into and educated for: as a visual artist.
Dewey is presenting a collection of recent watercolor landscape paintings from her travels through France, Italy, Russia and Washington state in an exhibit at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which she has attended since its beginnings.
A visit to Dewey’s South Spokane home, several miles west of the airport down the Pullman Highway, is like a getaway to the south of France.
Her sprawling country estate is set on five acres of manicured gardens abloom with pink dogwoods, lilacs, willows, a carpet of bright sunflowers and a forest of pine, centered around a gleaming pond complete with a shady gazebo – somewhat like Monet’s gardens at Giverny.
Dewey’s architect brother designed the home with her 22 years ago. A pile of her sketchbooks are stacked on shelves in the large, overflowing library, where wide, cerulean blue bookshelves line the walls, dripping with art books, travel books and world history.
Skylights filter natural sunlight down into Dewey’s art studio, centered in the core of the home, where an antique wooden work table is placed under an enormous, multitiered crystal chandelier. Persian, Turkish and Oriental rugs drape the third-floor catwalk balcony and are scattered throughout the main level on Old World-style red tile floors.
Hundreds of paintings are hung salon style on walls from floor to ceiling, or stacked in rows in closets. Dewey’s poignant watercolors mix with works from around the world, including those of her current teacher, Spokane realist watercolor painter Stan Miller, and her late mother, Henryette Stadelman Whiteside, founder of Delaware’s Wilmington Academy of Art.
Stadelman Whiteside ran in social circles with the likes of American illustrators Howard Pyle and Frank Schoonover, and realist painter Andrew Wyeth.
“There were an awful lot of artists around us,” Dewey says of her childhood. “Frank Schoonover had a studio across the street. Andrew Wyeth was a little boy.”
She recalled a clothesline show at a Christmas exhibit she attended with her mother that had works by a youthful Wyeth on the line. She said that her mother had exclaimed, “Can you imagine Andy charging $100 for one of his paintings!”
Wyeth’s works now are auctioned for multiples of millions.
Stadelman Whiteside gave her children art lessons on the kitchen table, while bringing them into direct contact with the art world. Dewey’s father, an architect, designed the Wilmington school that they attended.
Dewey attended The Art Students League of New York, an influential art academy run by New York artists, many who had practiced and studied in Europe. She also studied at Mount Holyoke, a liberal arts college for women (at the time) in Massachusetts, for two years.
“Then I met (Bob) and got married,” she said.
Pointing to a picture of her husband on the dining room hutch, Dewey said fondly, “He looks like he’s a bit of a devil, and he was. He passed four years ago (at age 77).
“One thing about Bob was, he was so adventurous and loved to travel. So I can say he contributed so much to my life because of the things we did,” she said.
“It was such fun to be with him because he was always interested and curious about everything.”
The Deweys owned three Spokane import markets, the Town and Country fashion store and Henney’s Restaurant, which featured continental cuisine. They sponsored a booth at the Expo ’74 World’s Fair where they showcased imports from India.
“When we moved to Spokane, it was really pretty primitive,” Dewey said of their arrival 55 years ago.
The Import Market was the first large retail operation of its kind in the region. The original riverfront building, on North Division Street, later burned down. The second location on North Monroe Street is currently the REI store.
Dewey was unable to produce artwork during the time she cared for her husband after Alzheimer’s set in.
“(It was) too much of an overseeing job, and (full of) frustration,” she said. “It wasn’t nearly conducive to painting.”
Dewey “returned to her paintbrushes four years ago with prolific output,” wrote her daughter, Deborah Dewey, a Seattle pianist, noting her mother’s “strong sense of composition, architectural structure and love of gardening evident in (her) paintings.”
Her current exhibit is her third at St. Stephen’s, and she has also shown her works at Gordy’s Sichuan Restaurant on the South Hill.
The French pieces are from the Dordogne area, along the Dordogne River that flows through Southern France, resulting from a trip Dewey took with her daughter and granddaughter.
The scenes are set along charming village streets, with abbeys and stone country homes with flowering balconies.
The Russian works are “mostly from a trip from Moscow up to St. Petersburg, along a river,” Dewey said. The paintings titled “Russian Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg” and “Russia Reborn” focus on architectural domes.
If you miss Dewey’s current show, perhaps she’ll invite you to her next living room concert – where the likes of her daughter or Spokane Symphony conductor Eckart Preu may be performing on the Steinway grand piano – and you can view the full collection.