Legacy on display

New MONCA exhibit pays tribute to influential arts maven

The late Maria Phillips with one of her paintings.

The late Maria Phillips with one of her paintings.

CN&R file photo by Debra Lucero

Two exhibits:
Remembering Maria & the Avenue 9 Art Guild and Something Old & Something New
Showing through Jan. 19.
Closing reception: Jan. 17, 6-8 p.m.
Museum of Northern California Art
900 Esplanade

Maria Phillips brightened any room she was in. She was tirelessly enthusiastic about everything she did, which is why people gravitated toward her, and today, four years after her death from cancer, the Chico community continues to celebrate her many contributions.

She is perhaps best remembered as the co-founder and executive director of the Avenue 9 Gallery, which for 11 years was a vital part of Chico’s visual-arts life. But her legacy extends well beyond that.

A new exhibit at the Museum of Northern California Art, titled Remembering Maria & the Avenue 9 Art Guild, showcases works by numerous locals who were a part of the collective of artists at Avenue 9, which Phillips, along with Dolores Mitchell and Giovanna Jackson, founded in 2004. The exhibit is testimony to the diversity and talent among local artists and Phillips’ ability to recognize quality work.

Phillips was was one of Chico’s most cosmopolitan residents. Born in Rome, she lived for eight years as a child in Venezuela before her family moved to the United States. She spoke fluent Spanish and Italian in addition to English, earned a doctorate in art history and taught at Georgia State University before moving to Chico.

In addition to the Avenue 9 Gallery, she co-founded ChiVAA, the Chico Visual Arts Alliance, which sponsored monthly ARTabouts (walking gallery tours) and the annual springtime Art Fiesta at the Matador Motel.

And in 2007, when a group emerged to oppose creation of a huge gravel pit west of town, near the Sacramento River, she became its media-relations spokeswoman and public face. As such, she led the charge that compelled the Butte County Board of Supervisors to turn thumbs down on the huge project. Four years later, when budget cutbacks threatened to close Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park, Phillips served as press secretary for the Bidwell Mansion Community Project formed to raise money to keep the mansion open three days a week.

Her death in October 2014 left a hole that was partially filled when MONCA opened in April 2017. That, combined with the re-emergence of the 1078 Gallery the following year, along with the continuing presence of the Chico Art Center, greatly enriched Chico’s art scene.

Phillips was a prolific collector, one who filled every wall in her home with artwork. It was a way of maintaining daily contact with her many artist friends, she once said.

Remembering Maria is reminiscent of her passion. Located, appropriately, in MONCA’s Maria A. Phillips Gallery, it’s a busy exhibit with lots of pieces in numerous mediums. Included are photos of her own artwork as well as works by Mitchell, Lenn Goldmann, Waif Mullins, Valerie Payne, Cynthia Sexton, Jim Woronow, Chris Yates and others. Many of the pieces are for sale.

A second exhibit, now up in the museum’s Ginochio and Headley galleries, is Something Old & Something New, a selection of works taken from the museum’s collection. More than half of them were donated by local collector Reed Applegate, whose large contribution of artworks is the foundation of the permanent collection.

Some of the pieces are by artists who have been featured at MONCA before (Paul DiPasqua, James Kuiper, Dennis Leon, Ann Pierce), and several are truly “something new” works received as donations. Among these last is a stunning large study in yellow by the late (and great) Sal Casa, who died on Dec. 4 at the age of 92. The exhibit is worth its $5 cost just to see that amazing painting.