Joan Adams Mondale, a longtime patron of the arts and wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale, has moved from her Minneapolis residence into hospice care.
The family was with her Sunday and asked for privacy “as her life on this earth moves peacefully to its close,” saying any news would be issued through Westminster Presbyterian Church, where they are members.
Joan Mondale, an avid potter and former board member of the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, was long known as a tireless advocate for the arts. Her efforts here and in Washington earned her the nickname Joan of Art.
In addition to raising money for Minnesota groups, she played a prominent role on the national level during President Jimmy Carter’s administration when her husband was vice president.
Late in life, her son, Ted Mondale, then chairman of the Metropolitan Council, appointed her chairwoman of the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit Public Art and Design Committee.
Mondale, 83, was a longtime student of the famed Stillwater potter Warren MacKenzie, 89, who works in a rustic “mingei” style treasured in some Japanese art circles. He met her in the 1990s when Walter Mondale was serving as U.S. ambassador to Japan.
After the Mondales returned to the Twin Cities, she continued training with MacKenzie on a weekly basis until a few years ago. He said she never talked politics.
MacKenzie said he didn’t know exactly what was wrong with her. “All we saw was a slow disintegration of her control of things,” he said. “She lost her memory.”
Mondale’s last trip to his studio took place a couple of months ago. “She was really fading rapidly. She was in a wheelchair. She couldn’t carry on much of a conversation, and so the conversation moved around her without really involving her. But she was very happy with that, just to associate with things that she had known,” MacKenzie said.
Mondale graduated from Macalester College with a degree in history and minors in art and French. She worked as a slide librarian at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and as an educator for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. She published Politics of Art in 1972, four years before her husband became vice president.
She chaired the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, and promoted public art in Japan and the United States.
She has served on the boards of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee to the U.S. Postal Service, the Minnesota Orchestra, Macalester College and Walker Art Center.
“She was delightful, and knew everybody, and I think had a good strategic and operating sense, which is really helpful in a board member,” said Emily Galusha, a longtime friend and former director of the Northern Clay Center.
“Plus, if she said she would do something she did it, and she didn’t have to be nagged or reminded or called three times. If she said, ‘OK I’ll make five phone calls and raise x,’ she’d make five phone calls and raise x-plus.”
In 2011, the Mondales’ daughter, Eleanor, died of brain cancer after battling the disease for six years.