By now, I’m sure most of you have learned that Bernadette Mahfood has passed away. I have been struggling to find words worthy of this talented woman’s life and career. Bernadette was a force that helped to transform the arts community in Winona; she was my friend and coconspirator/founding mother of River Arts Alliance.
Many of you know that Bernadette was instrumental, along with sculptor Lynette Power, in creating the Blue Heron Project that we all enjoyed almost a decade ago. Despite naysayers who said we wouldn’t be successful (and those who said, “Blue herons? There are no blue herons in Winona!), she was determined to see the project through. As a result, Winonans and visitors alike were able to enjoy these majestic and whimsical birds for an entire summer. Their eventual sale at auction raised $45,000 for Winona’s Fine Arts Commission.
After this successful project, BH project participants discussed the need for an arts organization in the Winona region that could help unify, promote, and support area artists as well as organizations such as GRSF, MMAM, and Theatre du Mississippi. Smaller communities such as Northfield and Lanesboro were able to do this, why not Winona? After all, Winona can boast of so many individual artists, musicians, writers, and festivals. We decided to move forward to create River Arts Alliance (RAA) forming a nonprofit umbrella arts organization designed to promote regional arts as well as to find funding for public art projects.
As we garnered support from arts supporters and artists, Bernadette conceived of Family Art Day, where people of any age could play, experiment, and discover ways to create in a variety of media. Since 2008, this has been an annual event sponsored by RAA and the City of Winona. Bernadette wrote the grant applications for Family Art Day as well as our newest enterprise, the HBC Fence Project, featuring a multi-media history of communications. She coordinated the Winona Art Walk. She was our go-to, get-it-done person, and she did it all with a smile and good humor.
In her art, her relationships, and the causes she championed, she was dedicated, playful, and deeply spiritual.
It has been my great privilege to know her as a friend, artist, businesswoman, environmentalist, and model citizen of this community. I’m so glad she was able to see the official membership launch of RAA and to have helped create this necessary organization for the Winona region.
She leaves a strong and deep legacy in Winona. We have been the fortunate recipients of her generosity and creativity.
Rest in Peace, Bernadette. We already miss you.
Bernadette’s Celebration of Life gathering will be Saturday, January 2, at 2:00 p.m. in the Masonic Theater, at the corner of Main and 5th Sts., downtown Winona.
Chair, River Arts Alliance
Visit Bernadette’s Artist Page to see samples of her amazing work.