New gallery

Thais Oliveira
Posted 8/23/23

When curating a gallery, Chicago artist Mary O'Shaughnessy believes each piece of art should have breath around it: “You look at a piece, walk away, take a breath and then see another one.”

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New gallery


When curating a gallery, Chicago artist Mary O'Shaughnessy believes each piece of art should have breath around it:

“You look at a piece, walk away, take a breath and then see another one.”

She also believes in monthly shows, a dynamic rotating system, and in building new collectors by giving them a payment plan option. She has also been concentrating on giving local artists an opportunity to curate for the first time. 

Starting in September, local sculptor David Eisenhour will curate “Process,” focusing on the process used in the creation of 11 pieces, including local artists Karen Hackenberg, Margie McDonald, Karen Rudd, and Sandy Johnson. A meet-and-greet with the curator and participants will be held on Saturday, Sept. 2, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

In October, local painter Julie Reed curates for the first time also with “Surreal,” featuring artists from the peninsula and Julie’s open studio classes. November brings “Kim Kopp and Suzanne Lamon…Story,” with Kopp showing a scroll started during the pandemic while on a residency in the Palouse, and Lamon with oils with personal iconography but universally understood. And finally, December brings “These Are a Few of My Favorite Artists,” a group show of smaller work, all under $300.

O’Shaughnessy opened Aurora Loop Gallery earlier this year to bring her wealth of curating experience to a new corner of Port Townsend. Neighboring Lila’s Kitchen and Discovery Bay Brewing, the new space holds her print, photography, and art in a warehouse-style edifice designed by the artist herself. 

O'Shaughnessy moved from Chicago to Port Townsend with her husband and fellow artist Charlie Van Gilder nine years ago after selling Wood Street Gallery, her 12,000-square foot residency, gallery, ceramic, photography, print, and woodworking studio. Once home to a Jewish orphanage and the Polish army veterans hall, the three-story building was crumbling. After 15 years curating and making art there, O’Shaughnessy decided to follow Van Gilder to his favorite town: Port Townsend. The artist had lived here in the 1970s after picking the spot in a Time-Life book of Washington state as a kid. 

After a few years here, exhibiting around the peninsula (her multimedia prints are now showing at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art) and making art in their home and converted garage, O'Shaughnessy realized she missed the interaction with other creatives that she had when in Chicago.

A self-described worker bee and social being, O'Shaughnessy was also a member of countless boards in arts and education for 40 years. In her portfolio are the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, Chicago’s Children Museum, Chicago Art Dealers Association, International Sculpture Center, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, High Line Park Art Center, and the list goes on.

“When I moved here, I wanted to focus on my own art. I am 72 years old, and I don’t know how long I have,” said O’Shaughnessy, who always wanted to be an artist despite her father's disapproval. That stemmed from her uncle, a famous stained-glass artist, developing a bad rap in the family after pawning off his children to be raised by relatives when his wife died of the Spanish flu in Chicago. Still, she got a degree in set design, a bachelor’s in photography, and a master's in architecture.

“I was always making art. I opened my first gallery in the 90s. That was my arts education: being around artists, working with them. It gave me permission to make mistakes,” explained O'Shaughnessy.

Photography was her first medium, the one that has always been part of her creative process. First, she sold her travel photos to agencies for posters. Then came letter printing, paper making, glass, and sculpture. Today, she combines her love of photography and letterpress making polymer plates — a relief kind of process, like Lino graph — in an intricate juxtaposition of images often colored in pencil or soft pastels. You can see multimedia prints of this work at Wilderbee Farm and Meadery in Port Townsend during September. 

For that kind of work, O'Shaughnessy brought her 100-year-old press and modern polymer machine from Chicago, along with her collection of “doubles,” an adjustable dress form made of bendable wire used by women in the 1930s when sending their measurements to the dress maker. The artist has used them to make paper female torsos in a series about body image. One is a book, another is a little doll house, and another is a cage of paper bingo balls called “Bingo, Life is a Game of Chance.”

“I also squished one really tight and printed million-dollar bills with the Duchess of Windsor’s face on it. It had so many layers of paper that it looked like a beetle shed skin,” O'Shaughnessy said about the piece named after Wallace Simpson’s famous quote, “You can never be too rich or too thin.”  

The Aurora Loop Gallery is open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. or by appointment at 971 Aurora Loop, Port Townsend.