The first book Patricia Kathleen Condon Johnston McDonald published in 1994 was a collection of artwork by Francis Lee Jaques. Printed on the book jacket's front panel is a quote from the Minnesota wildlife painter.
"The shape of things has always given me the most intense satisfaction," Jaques wrote. "Such beauty one wants to preserve — to make it available, as far as one can, to others."
McDonald embodied that quote for a quarter century as a publisher, curating more than 60 works of local art, history, education and cultural achievement — even when she grew sick later in her career. Her 10-year battle with cancer ended on March 26. She was 78.
"My mom was a flower. A dreamer. Powerful, yet feminine," McDonald's daughter Mary Susan (Englund) Oleson said. "She was a fighter and she believed things could be done. Started her press on a hope and a dream and made things happen."
McDonald's oldest daughter, Patricia Johnston, said her mother remained inspired and passionate about her work to the end, making decisions for a future publication even while bedridden.
McDonald co-founded Afton Historical Society Press in 1993 with former Cargill board member Whitney Duncan MacMillan. The nonprofit's first book, "The Shape of Things: The Art of Francis Lee Jaques," written by McDonald, won a Minnesota Book Award and Minnesota Independent Publishers Award in 1995, the first of many award-winning publications.
McDonald shared a passion for the outdoors and art with her first husband, Charles James Johnston, an artist and photographer whom she credited with sparking her interest in Jaques.
"I think it really was a combination of living in beautiful places," Johnston said. "That was my mom and dad discovering life together that way."
After her children moved out, McDonald earned a degree from Metro State University and started her own publishing company before meeting MacMillan. She helped him write and publish his family history, leading to the founding of the Afton Press, now located in St. Paul.
McDonald persuaded MacMillan to buy a collection of 19th-century paintings by Seth Eastman that documented American Indian life. The paintings, which had never been seen by the public, were published in "Seth Eastman: A Portfolio of North American Indians" and displayed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in 2001.
McDonald's mission was to publish books that had regional importance to help people understand history and how they fit in, Johnston said.
Johnston and Oleson plan to finish publishing their mother's final project, "Nicholas R. Brewer: His Art and Family," and then begin publishing more works through Jane's Parade Books, an imprint of Afton Press devoted to inspiration and healing. The division is named after Jane Neumann, a daughter who died in 1993. Oleson, a musician and designer for Afton Press, is set to publish her second book through Jane's Parade Books, "Just for Today," which is inspired by a song she wrote during her mother's battle with cancer.
Besides her two daughters, McDonald is survived by her son Charles James Johnston, her husband, Malcolm McDonald, and many grandchildren. Services have been held. Memorials can be made to Afton Historical Society Press, P.O. Box 2556, Inver Grove Heights, MN 55076.
Trevor Squire is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.