”Carly’s Mystic Flower” by Joel Brock is on display at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner.

”Carly’s Mystic Flower” by Joel Brock is on display at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner.

La Conner exhibit features prominent arts patron’s collection

The late Betty Black collected Northwest art produced over a 100-year span in all mediums.

Taking a Valentine’s Day trip to La Conner?

Be sure to drop by the Museum of Northwest Art, where you can see — for free — a fabulous exhibition from the estate of one of Skagit County’s leading art patrons, Betty Black.

If you are a fan of Northwest art, especially from Edmonds native Guy Anderson, you won’t want to miss this survey of the genre.

In Black’s collection are works produced during a 100-year span in a variety of media, including oil, watercolor and acrylic paintings; bronze, steel and wood sculpture; glass and photography.

In her home near Mount Vernon, Black, who died in 2018, amassed her collection, using every available space to display it.

Guest curator Kathleen Moles has spread it out and designed a breathtaking exhibition of work by Anderson, Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Paul Horiuchi, Alden Mason, Sonja Blomdahl, Richard Gilkey, Clayton James, Philip Levine, Paul Havas, Claude Utley and William Cumming.

Painter Chris Elliott said that many people in Skagit County and around the Northwest “had the great good fortune to catch Betty’s eye.”

“To be included in her wondrous collection is a great honor,” Elliott is quoted in the exhibit.

Anderson, Gilkey and James lived and worked in Skagit Valley, along with other artists in her collection, including, but not limited to, Joel Brock, Arnie Garborg, Mark Iverson, Anne Richards, Bill Slater, John Simon, Max Benjamin, Barbara Straker, Steve Klein, Kris Ekstrand, Kevin Paul, Jim Farr and Dick Weiss.

Black became close friends with many of these artists.

“Betty gave so much to this community,” curator Moles said. “She understood her role as a patron. Like a pebble thrown into a pond, her influence radiated out to all the arts programs of Skagit County.”

The night of an auction in which Black bought the Joel Brock oil painting titled “Carly’s Mystic Flower” — shown above — Brock was standing at the back of the room holding his daughter Carly’s hand. When Black finally won the bid, Moles remembered that Brock said, “My life just changed.”

Black was a world traveler as well, and her collection also includes numbered lithographs by Picasso and Chagall.

The exhibition is full of information about Black and her life. As a cousin wrote following Black’s death in 2018, “We are all special, but Betty was especially special.”

Upstairs at MoNA, don’t miss a mural by William Cumming that he painted in 1941 for Burlington High School. The large canvas was stored in a barn for decades and nearly taken to the dump when mistaken for an old tarp, but recently was restored. The story behind this painting is another good one, and worthy of a stop at the museum.

If you go

“Especially Special: A Celebration of Betty Black and her Collection of Art” is exhibited through March 15 at the Museum of Northwest Art, 121 S. First St., La Conner. Admission is free. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday.

Downtown La Conner is replete with good restaurants, galleries and boutiques. There is fine bird watching nearby, along with other outdoor activities. Make a day of it.

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