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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mary Shirley, Leading Art Collector, Has Died

Posted by on Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 4:48 PM

I'm waiting to hear details from Seattle Art Museum, but it's been confirmed that Mary Shirley has died. She was one of the namesakes and backers of the Olympic Sculpture Park, and she and her husband Jon Shirley, formerly of Microsoft, lived in Medina in a home packed with their art collection, much of which they gave to Seattle Art Museum over the years.

They were the owners of the Alexander Calder collection featured at SAM in 2009. Because of them, Calder's Eagle sits facing the Olympic Mountains in downtown Seattle, rescued from a Fort Worth bank plaza. I've only been to their home once, but it was generous of them to invite me at all, and I'll never forget that my favorite Chuck Close painting lives there: a realistic reclining nude with bikini tan lines who's almost 22 feet long and 11 feet high, executed in 1967. I also recall a purplish neon Ivan Navarro sculpture installed in the floor nearby (I think it was like this one), an infinite regress down into the earth under their living room.

President Obama visited their house as one of his campaign stops in September, at an event where each couple paid $35,800 to get in ("How Obama Spent His Sunday in Seattle").

The Shirleys have given money to Cornish for its new visual arts center, and supported other institutions, too.

I remember Mary as a salty talker and a smoker. This is a pretty cool picture of her looking period classy with their 1938 Alfa Romeo at a car show. She seemed sharp to me.

I'll report more as I get more information.

UPDATE from SAM. It sounds like it was unexpected, but I am not sure:

Mary Shirley was 73 and passed away last evening from a brief illness.

· They have three children and six grandchildren.

Their collection has been promised to SAM:
· Jon and Mary Shirley’s collection features Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space (1926), an icon of modernism, and Alberto Giacometti’s The Dog (1951). The collection is notable for an emphasis on sculpture and studio glass. Other highlights include a special concentration of works by Chuck Close and Alexander Calder, as well as works by Yves Klein, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock that will strengthen SAM’s collection of 1940s-1960s modern art.

· Remembrances in her honor can be made to the Seattle Art Museum or Washington Women in Need.

· "Mary was a brilliant force in the life of the Seattle Art Museum. Her passion for art, love of people, curiosity, compassion and humor enriched everyone who knew her. Certainly the dedicated and loving partnership with her husband, Jon, has privileged this entire community. The Olympic Sculpture Park is one eloquent example of the wide-ranging contributions of time, energy and resources that Mary and Jon have together given to SAM and the Northwest." - Charlie Wright, Seattle Art Museum Board Chair


Comments (14) RSS

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Mary and Jon gave me one of my first major commissions when I was working with rugs as my art form. It was a intimidating at first because she said I could do whatever I wanted -- complete artistic freedom! I'd never had that before with a commission. And they didn't stick the rugs in a bedroom, they put them right out there in the main gallery of their home. I not only lived off of this commission for a year, but it propelled me to the next level of my career. Even though the Shirley's are known for their blue chip art collection, Mary was also a patron to local, much lesser-known artists. And she could've been a snob with all that good taste and money but, like many have noted here, she was as down-to-earth as they come.
Posted by lynnbasa on February 4, 2013 at 1:35 PM · Report this
About 1990 I was working for an aquarium maintenance company and I went to the Shirleys in place of their usual tech who was on vacation. They were so friendly and kind. They treated me like I was a real person. In the years I did service work there were plenty of wealthy people who treated me like crap. Not the Shirleys. They helped me understand that people could have great power without loosing their humanity. I will always remember her.
Posted by donehlen on February 2, 2013 at 1:29 AM · Report this
A so sad notice of Mary's passage,she brought such a sparkle to each meeting at her new home when installing my first water wall sculpture,she and Jon have been such an asset,a legacy, to the seattle art milieu!
Posted by Ted Jonsson on January 28, 2013 at 5:49 PM · Report this
I have to say these are the best condolence letters I have ever read. I am sure Mary Shirley would have loved it. Sorry I never met her but she made the world a bigger place for all.
Posted by Ann-Marie Stillion on January 26, 2013 at 5:56 PM · Report this
Several years ago we took care of Mary and Jon's beautiful Tollycraft. It was very busy right before Opening Day and Mary called to see if we could run over and clean the boat at their home. I politely declined due to the workload for Opening Day. Let's just say she would not take no for an answer. After the raspy good natured tongue lashing, we packed up the cleaning supplies after a long day and were on the way. It of course was a pleasure to make sure "Shirley's Temple" was in tip top form for the big day. They took good care of us for our efforts. Mary told us that she wanted a T-Shirt that said "A & A Detail saved my ass." She was a delightful, fun loving lady and we enjoyed working with her. Our thoughts go out to Jon and family.
Posted by Superdo on January 26, 2013 at 3:34 PM · Report this
I am so sad to hear that Mary has passed away. I really loved working with her and Jon on a portrait commission of them some years ago. All the art events they attended and organizations they supported have brought so much to our community. I believe it was Mary that initiated the art collection that is so extraordinary. Her office was filled with large bound published books of the famed artists they collected. She was so funny. I'll never forget a remark she made at a small event, glass of scotch in hand, she quipped "These hors d'oeurves taste like they were made two weeks ago". We laughed. They were bad. Mary had no problem expressing her feelings and I really enjoyed that about her. To Jon and the family, I am so sorry for your loss. She was an Art Icon to us all.
Posted by Judith Kindler Art on January 25, 2013 at 2:22 PM · Report this
mr. herriman 8
Mary Shirley! She was a client at a veterinary hospital where I used to work, and a delightful one at that. Took impeccable care of her cats. Also she was a huge donor to a non-profit I was involved in, even hosting fundraising events at her home. She was a spectacular woman. Rest in peace, Mary. Condolences to the family and to her large circle of friends and community.
Posted by mr. herriman on January 25, 2013 at 1:31 AM · Report this
I will always remember Mary Shirley for her love of a dirty joke, a glass full and a smoke outdoors. Most importantly she had a kind and gentle spirit slightly belied by that raspy, truck-stop bartender voice. She quietly gave money to artists in need and supported many of the things that make Seattle great. We will miss her big personality and the twinkle in her eye.
Posted by timmiche on January 24, 2013 at 10:46 PM · Report this
They even gave money to little things like the Seattle Art Car Blowout.
Posted by LMcGuff on January 24, 2013 at 10:09 PM · Report this
Do not let Mudede send a condolence letter.
Posted by kinaidos on January 24, 2013 at 9:59 PM · Report this
Jubilation T. Cornball 4
Collecting at that level must have been one hell of a good time. RIP.
Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball on January 24, 2013 at 8:04 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 3
Seriously, "Worst Nightmare", have some goddamn respect for the dead.

Hey, remember when Dr. Memory seriously smacked you down about a week ago? The rest of us do, and it was epic. You got spanked for being a stupid, stupid person.

To Mrs. Shirley's family, I am sorry for your loss. I have terrible mixed feelings about the Olympic Sculpture Garden, because we lost the Waterfront Streetcars for it. But thank you for all the wonderful art.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on January 24, 2013 at 7:46 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 2
Oh #1, that was just dumb. If you aspire to do your "handle" justice, you really have to do better than that.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on January 24, 2013 at 7:09 PM · Report this
An art collector died?!?! Will she be buried in Arlington National Cemetary?
Posted by Stranger'sWorstNightmare on January 24, 2013 at 5:12 PM · Report this

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