Joan Mondale, whose lifelong support of the arts earned her the name “Joan of Art,” has died at the age of 83, leaving behind a lasting legacy of art appreciation. Mondale earned her nickname while her husband, Walter, served as vice president under Jimmy Carter.
Born Joan Adams in 1930, Mondale was the oldest of three daughters born to a Presbyterian minister and his wife. Although Mondale was born in Oregon, her father’s ministry moved the family to Ohio and Philadelphia. Settling in St. Paul, Minn., Mondale’s father became the chaplain of Macalester College. Mondale attended college there and graduated with a degree in history and dual minors in French and art in 1952.
After college, Mondale moved to Boston where she resided for one year while working in the Museum of Fine Arts. She took a job at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts giving lectures and tours and came back to Minnesota.
Joan Mondale moved with her husband into the official vice presidential residence at the Washington, D.C. U.S. Naval Observatory in 1977. At the time, Walter Mondale was the first vice president to reside there. Mondale quickly made her mark by filling the residence with art loaned to her from Midwestern museums. After only one year, she began the process again with pieces from the Southwest U.S. Joan Mondale’s dedication to art became well known and it was here that she earned the name “Joan of Art” and began crafting a legacy of supporting the arts that would survive even after her death.
Mondale explained her decision to fill the residence with borrowed art by saying that the vice presidential residence was a more intimate place to view art than a museum and that perhaps viewing the art up close and personal would make people more receptive to art. While residing in D.C., Mondale led tours at the National Gallery of Art and in 1972 wrote a young adult book based on her lectures, Politics in Art. In addition, Mondale led a campaign urging the Department of Transportation to create art galleries within railroad stations. She also raised money by auctioning off donated pieces at political fundraising events.
In a statement by former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalyn Carter, Mondale was remembered for her unique gift of using her public role to advance the arts. They also recalled that when Walter Mondale served as U.S. ambassador to Japan, the Japanese people respected Mondale greatly because of her passion for the arts. Carter himself appointed Mondale an honorary chairperson of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, a position she used to push for more government backing for the arts throughout the U.S.
Joan and Walter Mondale returned to Minnesota when Mondale’s political career had ended. There, in addition to creating her own sculptures, she continued her lifelong advocacy for the arts by sitting on the boards of the Minnesota Orchestra and the Walker Art Center.
A statement released by the Minneapolis Westminster Presbyterian Church announced her death without mention of a cause. She had been moved to a hospice on Jan. 31. Mondale died on Sunday surrounded by her husband, sons William and Ted and family members. Although she has died, Joan Mondale aka “Joan of Art” has left a national legacy through her dedication to the arts and will continue to live on through the art she so tirelessly championed.
By Jennifer Pfalz