Edie Kellar Mahaney:
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Laura Arick and submitted
The art of the late Edie Kellar Mahaney graced the walls of the SullivanMunce Cultural Center gallery last month, reminding those who had met her and were fans of her work of her keen sense of color, line, design and originality. For those who witnessed her work for the first time, they were treated to a remarkable exhibit that featured several pieces representing seven decades of Mahaney’s work. The exhibit was designed to honor Mahaney’s devotion to the town of the Zionsville and the SullivanMunce and to celebrate her unique talent.
The Mahaney family (her husband, Jack; her daughter, Lolly; and her son, Jackson) collaborated with Cynthia Young, executive director of the SullivanMunce, on the exhibit, “Edie Kellar Mahaney: A Retrospective.” In an excerpt of Mahaney’s biography composed by Jackson specifically for the exhibit, it described Mahaney’s passion for art and family by stating, “Her passion for art was matched only by her love of family and friends.”
Many longtime residents had a personal relationship with Mahaney who was devoted to the Zionsville community and was beloved by all who knew her. In the mid-‘70s, the town of Zionsville received a $100,000 grant given by Elizabeth Hopkins Munce for the establishment of an art center. Mahaney, a charter member of the Sullivan Museum Guild, was hired by the Sullivan Museum Board to spearhead the development of The Munce Art Center that opened in 1981. Mahaney’s background included curatorial work and art center direction, making her the logical choice for the position as director.
Mahaney was committed to making the center and art available to all members of the community, both children and adults. The first community exhibit that Mahaney organized, “First Come, First Hung,” remains a favorite exhibit at the center today. The idea is that any work brought to the center is hung in the order in which it is received. According to Mahaney’s bio, this was important to her as the exhibit allowed children to see their artwork hung in a gallery alongside professional artists. This exhibit cultivated a love and appreciation for art at a young age, which was also very important to Mahaney.
Along with Jackson, Mahaney organized classes that included pottery, silkscreen techniques, painting, drawing for teens and other popular programs. Mahaney was promoted by the Sullivan Museum Board to executive director of both the P.H. Sullivan Museum and The Munce Art Center.
Cynthia Young shared her earliest memory of Mahaney and her thoughts on Mahaney’s legacy and art.
“I went to an artist/business workshop at Hoosier Salon, and she was there. She wasn’t one of the speakers, but she did offer a lot of her knowledge to the artists there,” Young recalled. “That’s the first encounter that I had with Edie. Once I became more involved here [SullivanMunce], I got to know her better. She was the second executive director here and really moved the whole institution forward with her involvement with the art center. She got the classes started, and her son, Jackson, helped to establish the ceramics studio and other programs. She was instrumental on the museum side too, getting the library started and collecting things for the museum. I can say this of the entire Mahaney family that they are genuinely nice people. As an artist, Edie liked pure color, and I think she liked spontaneity, which you can really see that in her later work.”
“I started working with Mom at The Munce Art Center in 1981 shortly after it opened,” Jackson shared. “She brought me in to set up the pottery studio downstairs and to teach classes. I was involved with the art center for probably 20 years and worked with Mom closely when we were developing the art center. There were a lot of things that we instituted together, and I am very happy to see the ceramic room grow, expand and develop. We worked pretty hard on getting all that together and on finding artists, hanging exhibits and developing classes. It was a great time. It was a very creative and enjoyable time but definitely a labor of love. My Mom was forward-thinking in that she worked through what she felt the community would need and appreciate and worked to make those programs happen.”
Mahaney also worked very closely with her daughter Lolly and together launched the Kellar Mahaney Gallery in 2008. Lolly shared a few memories of her mother when she and Jackson were young as well as some of her most intimate thoughts on her mother’s life as a mother and as an artist.
“My brother and I reflected a great deal while putting the exhibit together, going through her resume and the details of her life, and realized that she was always a hands-on mom,” Lolly said. “She even hated to get a babysitter, and so we didn’t even realize how much she was involved at the Lafayette Art Center where she was assistant director and how much she actually painted. She painted at night when we were asleep, so that impressed us because we don’t remember her ever being gone as little children. She integrated her family and work life so well and made it all work.”
Lolly spoke about her mother’s early work and the influences that impacted her works at various times of her career.
“One thing about her early work, she had such abstract expressionistic inspiration and training, so the way she painted was completely turned upside down, so as kids, we learned a new way to think and a new way to see things,” Lolly said. “She was always able to capture in her work spontaneity, energy and movement. Those things were always part of what she was thinking. She would work on a canvas specifically in different areas of the canvas that would lead your eye a certain direction.”
Lolly shared that Mahaney was very involved in sorority life while attending Wittenberg University and was president of Kappa Delta for a couple years.
“In the ‘50s, Mom was very busy and very involved in sorority life,” Lolly said. “She felt very fortunate to have the support of her friends, her professors and her mom. Her dad had passed away when she was 16. She was finding her way as a young woman and artist, and she chose an interesting path with abstract expressionism. That time period, the ‘50s and ‘60s with the music and the art and the influences of the professors at that time, it [abstract expressionism] was the new happening thing, and she gravitated towards that and jazz. She was busy socially and kept up with her college and sorority commitments but was doing really fun work at that time.”
As the years went on, Mahaney reached a point in her career where she let go of any inhibitions she may have had in regards to her art and became her own artist.
“Artists learn the techniques, and they study all that they can, but what is really cool is when an artist makes their work their own,” Lolly contemplated. “That’s what Mom did. She took all of the elements, foundations and lessons and made her work her own in her own voice.”
Mahaney’s husband, Jack, was very supportive of his wife’s career and her work at the SullivanMunce. When she decided to step away from the SullivanMunce at the turn of the new century and decided to return to her career as a painter, Jack built a studio for her where she could be free to explore and create.
Lolly concluded, “Mom was so steady, kind and unconditionally loving. She had a genuine interest in people. Her inner strength allowed her to be able to create bold paintings and make bold decisions.”
Edie Kellar Mahaney passed away on November 8, 2017. Her brushes sit motionless in their cups. Her easel holds her last unfinished painting of her son’s house, splashed with shades of yellow, but the spirit of Mahaney lives on in the programs that she established at the SullivanMunce, in the stories that are shared by her friends and family and in the art that she created and left for us to enjoy.
For more information on the Kellar Mahaney Gallery, visit kellarmahaney.com.