SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

February 8, 2014

Shribman: Joan of Art, without pretension

Her husband mastered the art of politics; she mastered the politics of art. Her husband campaigned for the presidency; she campaigned for art in public places. She cared for the couple’s children at the beginning of their lives together; he cared for her at the end of hers.

Joan Adams Mondale, who died Monday at age 83, was an artist, an advocate and an ambassador for American culture. She was also the wife of former Vice President Walter F. Mondale — a path-finding second lady of the United States who left a permanent mark on the American landscape.

The art along the Boston subway’s Red Line, the sculpture on the plazas of the palaces of American commerce, the grace notes of culture that are a part of federal projects across the country, the exhibits that are on the walls of American embassies around the globe — all bear the fingerprints of Mondale, who was instrumental in making the arts part of government and private-sector projects.

Mondale, like her husband, a minister’s child, grew up in Wallingford, Pa., and, like her husband, was educated at Minnesota’s Macalester College. She was not a native Midwesterner, but drank in the spirit of the region and then personified it.

She could speak fluently about the nature scenes of Charles Burchfield, the watercolor-and-crayon creations of Richard Diebenkorn, the sculpture of Kenneth Snelson and the paintings of Richard Anuszkiewicz — and could rhapsodize on the virtues of soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. A Beacon Hill matron never got over the fact that when Mondale stayed in her guest room during a campaign swing through Boston, she insisted on making her bed before leaving the house.

“When the two were together they were like small-town Minnesotans who were no longer small-town,” says Dayton Duncan, deputy press secretary of the Mondale presidential campaign in 1984. “She had the modest Midwestern values without being corny. She had a sophisticated outlook but never gave the impression that she had left something behind and moved up.”

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