Mia Gallery Will Close; Had Unique Artistic Niche

In a move that will mean the end of one of Seattle's most unusual and respected art galleries, Mia McEldowney is closing Mia Gallery on May 11.

McEldowney said that after 14 years as a gallery owner, she is simply tired and feels "drained creatively."

"I've tried to think of all kinds of different formulas, like representing fewer artists or only going to art fairs," said McEldowney, "but I think it's just time to let it go."

McEldowney, 46, said she will continue to live in Seattle and remain active in promoting the arts, especially through Artists' Trust, an organization that directly supports individual artists through grants and other means. McEldowney is vice president of the organization and was for three years its president.

But the closure means that Seattle will lose a gallery that has carved a unique niche in the local art scene. McEldowney has specialized in showing work by self-taught artists, a genre that is related to folk art and so-called "outsider" art.

Even when she has exhibited work by artists with college art degrees, the aesthetic has always been figurative and narrative. McEldowney's college-trained artists obviously feel more aesthetic kinship with self-taught artists than with whatever the latest art trend happens to be. Ironically, in sticking with both self-trained artists, McEldowney found herself in the vanguard of what has become a wave of collector interest in "outsider" art.

McEldowney said that the past year has been her most successful in terms of sales. "If we weren't doing well, I'd feel even worse about closing," said McEldowney.

Meg Shiffler, a gallery assistant at Meyerson & Nowinski Art Associates who worked for McEldowney for six years, said McEldowney's passion for certain art often meant that she would promote an artist for years before the artist gained any sort of commercial success.

"There were a lot of raw folk artists that she started out with that she stuck with purely out of a love of their work," said Shiffler. "Now some are famous and doing well. But that wasn't always the case."

The gallery represents about 50 artists, perhaps half of whom are from the Pacific Northwest. Among the best-known are Carl Chew, Joe Max Emminger, Tim Fowler, Dale Gottlieb, Anne Grgich , Julie Paschkis, Daniel Minter, Rosemary Pittman, Selen Santucci, Carl Smool and Terry Turrell. Mia Gallery was also one of the few places in the region to regularly exhibit art jewelry, and she showed work by some of the region's top jewelry artists, including Laurie Hall, Micki Lippe, Gina Pankowski, Lori Talcott and Karen Gilbert.

Because their work is so different from what is shown in most Seattle galleries, it's likely that many of Mia's artists will not find representation elsewhere in Seattle.

As an undergraduate in Colorado, McEldowney studied studio ceramics and art history. A trip to Indonesia sparked an interest in textiles, and in the late '70s she enrolled at the University of Washington, where she earned graduate degrees in museum studies and the art history of textiles. Later, at local junior colleges, she taught courses in the cultural aspects of clothing.

In 1983 she opened a small shop on Queen Anne called Mia Folk Art and Textiles, and in 1986 she moved to gallery space on Occidental Avenue South in Pioneer Square. Needing more space, she moved to First Avenue South near the Kingdome in 1991. She later moved a couple of doors up the street. The gallery in recent years has been at 512 First Ave. S.

As a founding member of both the Seattle Art Dealers Association and the popular Seattle Gallery Exhibitions Guide, McEldowney has always been one the city's most involved and hardworking gallery owners. "Mia will continue to be known for the tremendous goodwill she put into this art community," said Greg Kucera, president of the dealer's association.