Exhibit prompts story of how Monroe Library got its Close ‘Self Portrait’

By Betsy Lewis

After seeing the exhibit “Chuck Close: Prints, Process &Collaboration” at the Schack Art Center in Everett, I want to share the story of how an original work by the artist came to the Monroe Library, where it hangs today, a gift of the artist to the library and the people of Monroe.

In 2002, the Monroe community was excitedly planning for a new library facility on Village Way. It came to the attention of two library supporters, Monica and Tony Wisen, that Chuck Close, an artist of international repute, had been born in Monroe. It seemed a long shot to Monica and Tony, but they sent off a letter to Close, care of Pace Editions, his New York gallery. Maybe Close would send a poster or similar token.

Months went by. One day Monica was at home ironing and taking care of her preschoolers when the phone rang. On the other end of the line was Close’s gallery representative. Close wanted to know how much space was available for a work of art.

I was managing librarian at the time and will never forget the thrill of taking delivery of the magnificent silk screen, “Self Portrait,” one of an edition of 80, that arrived from Pace.

Years later, I met Chuck Close. He was giving a talk in conjunction with an exhibit of his work at the Tacoma Art Museum. I was struck by his stories of childhood influences on his life and career: the easel his father built him for a birthday gift; how he would entertain the neighborhood children performing magic shows to gain their approval; his undiagnosed dyslexia; and how the patterns his grandmother’s crochet squares made hanging on the clothesline influenced his work.

Some of Closes’s former Everett Junior College classmates had travelled to Tacoma to see him. They stood in line for Close’s autograph on copies of the exhibit catalogue. Even Close’s EJC art professor was present, and Close introduced him, with affection, to the audience, as someone who had taken him under his wing.

My story is about an artist who long ago left a small town behind but didn’t forget his roots; an artist who was fondly remembered by his fellow junior college art students; and an artist who persevered to overcome a learning disability and later a health crisis to continue to make art; and how his Everett Junior College education laid the foundation for an artist of Close’s stature and achievements.

Betsy Lewis lives in Kirkland.

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