PORT TOWNSEND — The first Saturday of each month in Port Townsend is celebrated as Art Walk, a sociable affair that attracts art lovers who enjoy fresh exhibitions in galleries across town.
This Saturday’s event was also a tribute to one of the leaders and supporters of the Port Townsend arts community.
Jeanette Best, 79, co-founder of Northwind Arts Center, artist and philanthropist, passed away last Thursday at her home in Port Ludlow after a short illness.
“She passed on the day of her retirement from the board,” said Michael d’Alessandro, Northwind executive director. Best had been the board’s first and only president for 19 years, passing the torch last November.
Almost 100 people were on hand for a moment of silence Saturday.
Best was born in Chicago and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, according to information posted on the Northwind website Sunday. She moved to California and received her master’s degree in art from San Francisco State University.
In California, Best taught English, art and English as a Second Language. She worked as a stockbroker while serving as president of the board of a few nonprofit agencies and the Independent Association of Financial Planners, the Northwind website stated.
Best moved to Port Ludlow in 1990 when she found her home and studio on Mats Mats Bay.
She taught watercolor and design for Peninsula College.
Best served Northwind Arts Center as president of the board and, for 18 years, as the director of Art Port Townsend, according to the website.
Together with Sylvia White and Miriam Lansdon, Best founded the Port Townsend Arts Alliance, which led to the creation of Art Port Townsend and eventually Northwind Arts Center.
“Art Port Townsend and the studio tour survived and thrived thanks to Jeanette, who was its director” said White. “She believed in the shows and the artists, and she believed that Port Townsend should be the central venue of arts on the peninsula.”
“We’ll all miss Jeanette’s dedication to the arts in this community.”
Thya Merz, Northwind board president, said Best “wanted to fill the need for seasoned and emerging local artists to be able to show their work without having to be a member of a co-op gallery.”
Merz, an abstract encaustic painter, joined the board in 2015.
“Jeanette was consciously but subtly handing the reigns over to me for the past couple years,” Merz says. “She was ready to step down, letting me know her vision and mission and history.”
“She advocated staying true to the core mission of supporting artists, but also staying true to the community. Jeanette didn’t want Northwind to become a commercial expression, whether it was commercially viable or not.’
Prior to 2014, Northwind was a volunteer organization. The organization recognized the need for daily management and leadership to address growth and change and hired its first executive director. Michael d’Alessandro said Best imparted a lot of wisdom.
“From the first time I met her, I knew this was someone I needed to listen to” he said. “Jeanette worked well with me, and nothing was ever difficult.”
Best helped him expand the organization with a subtle, steady hand.
“She had the vision of moving to our current location in the historic Waterman & Katz building on Water Street to give us more of a presence downtown.”
“We grew into areas step by step with programs such as Art in the Hospital in conjunction with Jefferson Healthcare; Art in the Library in partnership with city of Port Townsend, hosting the hospitality suite at the Rose Theater during the [Port Townsend] Film Festival; sponsoring the community art film series at the Rose, in addition to collaborations with other organizations in town.”
“The monthly art exhibits continue, with juried calls for artists five times a year. The biggest show is Jeanette’s Art Port Townsend, attracting artists from 5 to 6 states and Canada.”
D’Alessandro said Best often was juried into shows with her own art, the last being the June 2016 exhibit Bits & Pieces, with her piece titled “Emerge.”
For artist Stephen Yates, an abstract expressionist in Port Townsend for 36 years, he’s appreciative of Best’s vision and commitment.
“Jeanette provided venues, which is what an artist needs, and in a small town that’s rare,” said Yates. “There weren’t very many gallery spaces 20 years ago. So to be involved with an arts center that was interested in supporting and promoting local artists was pretty valuable.”
“She was quiet and diplomatic, and got people to agree and move forward. That was one of her talents. Jeanette was a unique mix: always curious, very quiet and dedicated. She was focused and determined. She got a lot done, with no huge drama.”
“I owe her a debt for her leadership.”
The 2017 Small Expressions Juror’s Choice award winner Pat Herkal is grateful to Best for her tutorials. Herkal is a fiber artist, beader and embroiderer who is experimenting with sculptural forms. Her winning piece, “Oscar Fox,” was a successful venture in that direction.
“I have a BS in nursing with an interest in art. I’m a Northwind volunteer and was on the installation committee with Jeanette. She always had something profound and interesting to say.”
“She understood different types of art and how they are made. Because I know so little about painting and printmaking, she could look at a piece and fill in all the gaps for me. Every time I was with her it was like an art education.”
During a short remembrance ceremony Saturday night, it was revealed that Best had bequeathed the contents of her home and studio to benefit Northwind Arts Center.
As a living memorial to their founder, Thya Metz said, “she was subtle and forceful, an interesting combination. Her spirit will live with us. We are naming the Showcase Gallery in her honor, the Jeanette Best Gallery.”
“She created a dynamic place that we will continue in her spirit.”