Joan Mondale, wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale, died in Minneapolis on Monday at the age of 83.
Mondale, who earned the nickname “Joan of Art” during her husband’s vice presidency (1977-1981), was a life-long advocate of the fine arts. After graduating in college in 1952, Mondale worked at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A few years later, she married Minneapolis lawyer Walter “Fritz” Mondale (on their first date, they went to a photography exhibition). After moving to Washington as a Senator’s wife in 1964, she led guided tours at the National Gallery of Art and, in 1972, she wrote Politics in Art, a book examining how political commentary is reflected in artworks.
As Second Lady, she turned the Vice Presidential Mansion into a showcase of American art, with works by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Edward Hopper, Louise Nevelson, and Ansel Adams. It was during this time, reports the New York Times, that it became an annual rite of spring for journalists to gather to see the new paintings, sculptures and crafts that Mondale had borrowed from American museums. She also became de facto arts adviser to President Carter and served as honorary chair of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.
In 1993, President Clinton appointed Mr. Mondale as US Ambassador to Japan, where Mrs. Mondale promoted intercultural understanding through art, redecorating the embassy with American paintings and organizing art tours with a bilingual guide. She studied Japanese art and impressed the mayor of Kyoto by presenting him with a ceramic bowl she had made herself in the traditional Mashiko style. She persuaded McDonald’s Japan to commission art for a Tokyo subway station, explaining to a Japanese newspaper: “Public arts say people who pass through the space are important.”
After her husband retired from politics in 1996, Mondale continued her work in Minnesota, where she created an airport arts program, introduced a film series and joined the boards of the Minnesota Orchestra and the Walker Art Center.