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Artist Joella Jean Mahoney celebrated in Flagstaff exhibit

Mystery Ridge and title wall.JPG
Museum of Northern Arizona
Mistery Ridge by artist Joella Jean Mahoney. The painting is part of a new exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona celebrating the late painter.

Artist Joella Jean Mahoney fell in love with Northern Arizona when she first stepped off the train in the early 1950s. Her large-scale expressionist paintings recount her passion for the landscape of the Southwest. Now, a new exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona serves as a retrospective for the late Mahoney, who died in 2017.

KNAU’s Bree Burkitt got a tour of the installation from MNA Fine Arts curator Alan Peterson.

So, tell me about this exhibit we're in today.

This exhibit of paintings by Joella Jean Mahoney had its origins in discussions that I had with former NAU President Clara Lovett and Joella's son, Maxim Mahoney Flake. They contacted me because they wanted help with basically bringing attention to Joella estate, which consists of about 200 paintings. And shortly after I began working on that project last summer. You know, in fact, almost as soon as I walked into the storage unit, I said to myself, 'There's going to be an exhibition here.' And so in many ways, this is an exhibition that can be viewed as a memorial exhibition, you know, we're not billing it as that but really, it's a celebration of Joella's life and, and legacy as an artist here in Northern Arizona.

Tell me about her as a person.

Joella was kind of an archetype and had more energy than 10 ordinary people. I think she was incredibly energetic. She was very confident. She... She was utterly devoted to the role that artists play in society and the role that art plays in society, the importance of art and society. And she was an artist who could speak to that role. You know, so she was an advocate not only for her own work, but she was an advocate for especially women artists. She was a fierce feminist. Which I had great respect for her. And you know, she was fun. She was super high energy and was always going was always thinking and she knew how to play you know, she wasn't all work she knew how to have fun. She was an avid backpacker, she backpacked in the Grand Canyon numerous times in Paria Canyon, there is one painting in the exhibition that comes from her experiences in Paria Canyon. So she was... she was... she was lovable. She was energetic... she was, she was also one of those people who just exuded creativity. You know, she was just... she was a great role model. And I think she was a great role model for a lot of artists in this area.

Secret Canyon by Joella Mahoney.JPG
Musem of Northern Arizona
Secret Canyon by artist Joella Jean Mahoney. The painting is part of a new exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona celebrating the late artist.

Now, do you think she's going to be, like so many artists before her, where her work takes on a different life after her death?

That's a good question. I think that's yet to be determined. You know, I think, I think those of us who love her work, you know, see her as a major figure. I think, to some degree, at least early in our career, like, I mean, I hate to say this, but like a lot of women artists, she really struggled for gallery representation. And didn't get the kind of press that men typically get. But I think that you know, being recognized as an artist is a funny thing. Because while you might get great reception and recognition, and you know, a claim from your artist, friends, that doesn't necessarily happen with critics and gallery owners. But I think that, you know, as far as I think that her legacy will grow. And one purpose for this exhibition, you know, this, the secondary or tertiary purpose is to begin the conversation of what is Joella's legacy. And this is really just the first... the first project of what will be many to, to examine her legacy. I hope that, you know, I hope it takes on a greatly expanded life.

Well, Alan, thank you so much. It was so good to be here with you in the exhibit today.

My pleasure today. My pleasure.

Vast Lands, Inner Visions: The Art of Joella Jean Mahoney is on display through 2023. Visit the Museum of Northern Arizona’s website for more information.