Mulvey Watercolor Gallery closing after 48 years of success

Kaye Mulvey-Cowan, remarried widow of late famed Peninsula watercolorist Charles Mulvey, will soon be closing the family's Seaview gallery in order o be able to travel and pursue other interests. "Everything is for sale, including the building," Mulvey-Cowan said of the gallery, a local landmark since 1955. KEVIN HEIMBIGNER photo

SEAVIEW - After nearly a half century and 50,000 original watercolor paintings, the Charles Mulvey Watercolor Gallery at the corner of 46th and L Street in Seaview will close Sept. 15.

Owner Kay Mulvey-Cowan says of the cheery pink gallery that has been a Peninsula icon since 1955, "We will be having a farewell 'thing,' I'm not sure what, and everything is for sale, including the building."

Kaye, who has worked seven days a week from June to October since 1971, said with a laugh, "I'll be able to relax on Saturday and Sunday like regular people do - even enjoy a Sunday brunch."

"The best thing about the gallery has been the people we've met. Charles loved to talk with our customers almost as much as he loved painting," Kaye says. "I was more the marketing person, always on the go, but Charles enjoyed visiting and sharing about his art."

The gallery has been the same pink color since 1955 when Charles' stepson, Bill Morris, suggested he paint the building the color of his pants. Mulvey added black trim to what has become a landmark, even as the style of trousers changed.

The two met in 1960 when Kaye took a class from Charles. "He was a wonderful teacher, great sense of humor, quick with a compliment, but honest with his critiques. Charles used to toss his painting across the floor during a class to show his students not to take their work too seriously - to have fun."

Both had been married before, with Charles' wife and son killed in a gun accident. Kaye grew up in Powers, Ore., and graduated from Oregon State University in 1947 with a degree in business. She worked as a secretary in Portland and later married and moved to Kelso. Beginning in 1958, Kaye says, "I spent most of every summer in Seaview."

Of Charles, she says, "He put God first and his family, painting, and everything else in his life was second." He eked out a living from 1955 on by selling his watercolors, giving lessons and working in Chuck's Gas Station in Ilwaco. Kaye recalls, "He once put his last $10 in the collection plate at church and the next day sales began to pick up."

Soon Charles was a household word in watercolors, often having his works in the homes of three generations of families. "He was probably the most influential watercolorist in the Pacific Northwest. He taught classes from San Diego to Seattle and he kept it simple. Charles used three brushes, a sponge and little else, but he had a perfection of control with the brush," his wife proudly relates.

With Kaye's business sense and her own skill as a watercolorist, the gallery became an economic success. Charles painted an estimated 50,000 originals before his death in 2001, often doing four or five at his corner of the dining room table in one day. "His paintings sometimes took 20 minutes, but with 60 years of experience added."

"Charles loved to paint and his subjects were always peaceful, a tribute to his faith in the face of many personal tragedies in his life," Kaye explains. "He never joined any societies or competed in contests. Charles felt if someone liked his work enough to buy it, then that was praise enough."

A quirk of Mulvey's was that he kept one color secret and never revealed how to create it to anyone. "I will keep two of the last two paintings he did when his failing health had taken his depth perception," Kaye says.

She has found time over the years to be active in American Field Services, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, voter registration, PACE, and an advocate for beach driving. Kaye married Les Cowan last April and plans to spend a third of her time in Seattle where he is from.

A third of the year the couple plan to travel, with St. Petersburg, Russia and Vienna, Austria at Christmas time on the top of their list of places to go. The final part of her year will be spent on the beloved Peninsula.

"I am giving up my garden and will have just four potted plants," she says smiling. "I want to paint for fun and just relax." And she will have Saturday and Sunday to herself to do just that.

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