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Curator Ben Mitchell is putting together an ambitious traveling retrospective exhibit of the works of Spokane artist Ric Gendron. Click here for a previous column detailing how this exhibit died during the MAC's financial crisis and was then miraculously revived.
Yet neither Mitchell nor Gendron can track down four powerful and uncommonly important paintings that, by any measure, should be included in the exhibit. These are part of Gendron's dark "Indian Boarding School Series," which were a prominent part of a 2002 exhibit at Whitworth University. They were later displayed for sale at the Tinman Gallery in Spokane.
There were five paintings in the series. Gendron knows what happened to only one of them, "Inside Looking Out." He was frustrated that it didn't sell, and he needed a new canvas, so he painted over it.
The other four? Nobody, including Gendron, has a record of where they ended up. Mitchell suspects they are hanging in homes somewhere.
I'm posting photos of the four paintings here. If anyone out there owns them and knows where they might be found, they should contact Ben Mitchell at email@example.com.
These are particularly important pieces because of the Indian boarding school theme. Gendron is an enrolled member of Colville and Umatilla tribes. His mother was sent from her home on the Colville Reservation to Indian boarding schools in DeSmet, Idaho and Chemawa, Ore.
The depth of emotion he brought to this subject is evident.
I wrote an update for Wednesday's paper about the MAC's layoffs, which you can read here.
I would like to expand on Ben Mitchell's legacy as art curator at the MAC. I do not consider myself an authority on visual art, but I am nevertheless convinced that Mitchell did an outstanding job of honoring our region's cultural life. He is responsible for giving Harold Balazs the serious, comprehensive retrospective he so richly deserved. He worked hard on this for years, because — well, because our important artists must be given their due.
He did the same for another local artist, Ruben Trejo, who was less well-known, but incredibly influential not just in the region but in the country.
And most recently, he introduced many of us to a Colfax artist, Timothy Ely, who was legendary among the cognoscenti, but had been relatively under-the-radar here.
And when Mitchell did exhibits like these, he went all the way. In the case of Balazs and Trejo, he even helped produce handsome coffee-table-sized art books which will enable their influence to continue to spread.
I do not blame the MAC for making the decision to lay him off. The MAC is stuck in an impossible financial position. The MAC was forced to make a decision it would never have made except under severe budget duress.
Yet I suspect that someday, and soon, we will look back on Mitchell's tenure as a remarkable age of art at the MAC, in which local artists got the shows, and the scholarly, intellectual respect, that they had earned.
Ben Mitchell, the senior curator of art at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC), was laid off this week.
The museum had to make a five percent budget cut, after it barely escaped closure when the state budget was finalized.
One other position, was also cut, in the collections department, but I could not get confirmation of a name.
With staffing already cut to the bone — the museum's staffing was already down 40 percent over the last two years — finding any positions to cut was agonizing, according to Rebecca Bishop, the museum's marketing and communications director.
It came down to the fact that the museum felt it had "backup" in the area of art — other staffers who can step in to do art exhibits. But don't expect to see as many art exhibits in the future.
Will the MAC be able to do exhibits of the caliber and scope of the Timothy Ely exhibit, the Ruben Trejo exhibit and the Harold Balazs exhibit, just to name three examples of Mitchell's exceptional work?
I'd say it's doubtful. Right now, we don't even know if the museum will even have the position of art curator.
I'll try to find more information next week. If anybody has any insight, please weigh in.