“First Dance, Wedding Dance, Last Dance,” acrylic on canvas, 2012-2013, 53” x 33”,  by Lavone Newell Reim.    – Photo courtesy of Dick Reim
“First Dance, Wedding Dance, Last Dance,” acrylic on canvas, 2012-2013, 53” x 33”, by Lavone Newell Reim. – Photo courtesy of Dick Reim

If Skagit Valley’s community of artists could be considered a family, and if the family had a mother figure, she would be Lavone Newell-Reim. From 1987 to 2003 she annually hosted and supported this large, familial group at an event that brought the arts to the public in a reunion, celebration and sale. Newell-Reim, an abstract painter, together with fellow artist John Simon, hosted the annual Barn Show. In fact much of what kept the art scene moving forward over the past four-plus decades happened at her Fir Island home, formerly a farm operated by the pioneering Larson family. 

So when she passed away this July, La Conner lost one of its artists, as well as a piece of the valley’s artistic history. She was both painter and author, as well as community organizer and supporter of arts and artists. 

Born in Upper Skagit Valley in 1931, Newell-Reim earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Western Washington University and taught art and English at Cascade Middle School. She dedicated herself to painting relatively late in life, working as a student of Kadinsky’s Philosophy of Abstract art and mentored by painter Peggy Zehring. 

She met her husband Dick Reim around 2000 and they later married, travelled the world and continued to host the Barn Show featuring the valley’s acclaimed artists each year, from Guy Anderson and Clayton James to Kevin Paul, Anne Martin McCool and Maggie Wilder. 

Her garden has been both a setting for her arts and a piece of art itself. Fundraisers, memorials, garden tours and even political events have drawn people from the valley and beyond. Newell-Reim started planting in 1972. She had a knack for growing plants that were compatible in color, blooming schedules, species and visual or textural complexity. The garden grows in a layered effect with compliments of rhododendrons, katsura trees, robinia frisias and Biblical cedars of Lebanon. There are weeping birches and clematises climbing over the top of them. 

At the age of 85 she launched into another artist pursuit: writing “The Barn Shows,” to capture the annual event and its artists, featuring photography from her collaborator Cathy Stevens. The book includes close to 40 artists, including several “up and coming” talents who came along too late for the exhibits

For those in the art world though, Newell-Reim may be best remembered for her conversations about art, life and how the two express themselves together. She spent hours talking with the artists who shared the valley with her. She and Dale Chihuly lay on the floor beneath his chandeliers to watch the play of shadows that, she told him, were as breathtaking as the glass itself. 

There are a few things about her people may not know. She was a diehard Mariners fan. She was a talented cook. Her book, “Skagit Valley Fare,” is still being published and sold. She had a widely diverse love for music: Willie Nelson was her favorite. As an environmentalist she had a keen affection for the Skagit Valley and was a member of the Skagit Land Trust, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland and supported the Museum of Northwest Art as well as the Skagit Symphony. 

Her greatest affinity, though, was for the artists. Few realized she was clipping news and announcements of the successes of each of her fellow painters and sculptors, as if their achievements were her own. Newell-Reim also has written poetry, sharing in words her views on war, the valley, growth, black top taking over fields. “Her heart that was huge,” Dick Reim said. 

“Lavone had an almost childlike enthusiasm and curiosity about so many things,” recalled long time friend and fellow artist Martin-McCool. Even now, she says. “I feel like she’s still in her kitchen or studio whipping up something special.” 

Today her paintings are shown at exhibitions in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. She has paintings in collections throughout the Northwest, Arizona, New York, Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and Sweden.