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Information in this article, originally published April 21, 2006, was corrected April 25, 2006. Artist Virginia Shaw was admitted several times during the 1980s to Harborview Medical Center and died this year of throat cancer, according to the artist's sister Kathryn Shaw. Incorrect information about the artist in a previous version of this story was provided by the Edison Eye Gallery, which is hosting a memorial exhibition of Shaw's paintings.
Celebrating a life through light-filled art
Seattle Times art critic
In the flower-power days of the 1960s and '70s, she painted under the name Aurora Jellybean. Friends knew her as the lovely and spirited Virginia Shaw. Saturday, admirers of the woman and the work will gather to celebrate Shaw's life through the joyfulness of her paintings, when a retrospective exhibition called "Wonder Woman" opens with a memorial reception at Edison Eye. Shaw died Feb. 15 after a prolonged struggle with lung cancer.
Gallery owner Dana Rust has assembled the show, with many paintings on loan from private collections. The work traces back to the psychedelia of the '60s and concludes with paintings left unfinished in Shaw's studio. "She made this amazing art," Rust says. "She never made a painting that is dark. She wanted to get people high."
"Wonder Woman" opens with a reception 5-10 p.m. Saturday and continues 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Sundays, through May 7, Edison Eye Gallery, 5800 Cains Court, Edison, Skagit County (360-766-6276).
Born in Seattle in 1944, Shaw studied art at the University of Washington and Cornish College of the Arts, then found her way up to Skagit Valley to become a kind of legend around La Conner. Her paintings were included in many regional exhibits of the period. "She really said no to nothing," Rust said. "I think Tom Robbins named her. She officially changed her name to Aurora in about 1970, and then had this amazing kind of life. She was quite beautiful and smart."
Her full-throttle lifestyle, spiked with alcohol and drugs, took its toll. Shaw ended up in and out of Harborview Hospital and a half-way house during the 1980s.
One day around 1990, Rust got a call from his old friend. She said she had been painting, so he went to visit her. "She was this bag lady in Burien — just sort of got let out and landed there. On the table she had these 22 marvelous paintings she had just made." Rust took them home, framed them up and in three days sold all of them: "They just grabbed these things."
Rust continued to sell Shaw's paintings, which he says earned enough for her to live on. "She didn't drive. Didn't have any friends. Just lived this isolated life with her cats in Burien. She was quite something: Had a mind, her mind was very intuitive, and her art is that way. It has this kind of anticipatory thing, like she did. She's just the best. She was our Helmi, she really was."
Sheila Farr: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company