This year, legendary Sonoma County artist Mary McChesney will celebrate, if all goes well, the 100th anniversary of her birth. It probably won’t be a very festive occasion, since Mary is in a “rest home” in Petaluma, and as one dear friend put it, “sadly not clear in her mind.”
Longtime Sonoma County librarian Karen Petersen is working overtime to save Mary’s papers, place them in the history room of the Sonoma County Public Library and acquire some of her stunning artwork. She also would like to find someone who might save the space on Sonoma Mountain where Mary and her husband, Robert, made art together for decades. The gorgeous property is on the market for $1.3 million.
Some years ago, Gretchen Giles wrote a piece about the couple that was titled “True Bohemians.” It was subtitled “Artists Robert and Mary McChesney found peace outside the limelight.” They also found the inspiration to paint, sculpt and befriend fellow artists such as Hassel Smith, Agnes Martin and Richard Diebenkorn.
Santa Rosa art dealer Dennis Calabi has been Mary’s number one fan for decades. He still is. Her work is for sale at the Calabi Gallery on 10th Street, not far from Old Courthouse Square. In a world in which art and artists are too often forgotten, it would be a crying shame if Mary’s and Robert’s landmark studio, and Mary’s papers, were lost forever. Isn’t there someone out there who cares about the preservation of art? And isn’t there a painter or a sculptor who would like nothing better than to move into the McChesney’s home, which has been remodeled and turned into a living and working space?
Several years ago, I visited Mary in the Petaluma facility where she was living and where I found her as feisty as ever. Some of her drawings were on a wall. One of them said, “Take it easy, but take it.” Another said, “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even.” If anyone out there would like to make sure that Mary’s work isn’t forgotten, they might contact [email protected].
— Jonah Raskin