White Dove Gallery’s Retha Heyward has too much to do retire

For a quarter of a century, Retha Hayward and her White Dove Gallery have been part of the Tacoma-Lakewood art scene. We recently discussed her involvement with the arts, and in many ways her story is like a good novel in which there are several plot points upon which the action spins around, taking the story in a different direction.

Part of her story is a familiar one:  A college student earns a BA, with double majors and double minors, from a local prestigious university but can’t find a job on graduation. There was in this case, however, one semester’s class that bore no relationship to the rest of her academic work and that was a class in accounting principles. That accounting course was what qualified Hayward for her first post-graduation job.

Retha enjoyed her work in accounting over the years, learning to utilize the various computer programs that were available, working hard, steadily gaining experience and responsibility as a valuable employee.  Suddenly, mid-stream in her career, Hayward lost her job because the company she worked for was being downsized. She put her accounting skills on the shelf for the time being.

Fortunately, she had a resiliency that helped her adapt to change, having been an Air Force brat whose family moved from place to place. When it became apparent that she had to change career direction, she took stock of what she had and what she could do.  Tentatively, she turned to her hobby of working with stained glass, building three-dimensional items.  She took a few pieces to the nearby White Dove Gallery and left them there on consignment. Often she would hang out at the Gallery, sometimes even waiting on customers.

That connection to the art world felt comfortable for Hayward. In addition to her undergraduate degree in liberal arts, Hayward had grown up with art. That is, her parents sponsored a young Hungarian woman, an artist, who was fleeing from the communist takeover of her country. The artist and Retha’s family were long-term friends, and as a child, Retha learned some art basics in color, form and style.  Eventually, the émigré landed a job at Boeing, working as an illustrator during the week, and on weekends setting up shop in a department store where she painted portraits. Her entrepreneurial spirit was an important influence in Hayward’s life.

More and more often, Hayward was drawn into the life of the gallery, continuing to sell her work as well as expanding her art to include fused glass and staffing the gallery on frequent occasions. In a little more than a year, Hayward was offered a partnership in the gallery where her accounting skills were taken off the shelf and put to good use.  The partnership lasted through two decades ending only by the death of her business partner.

In addition to the gallery, Hayward manages three studios at the Manitou Art Center. There she teaches classes in fused glass, stained glass and making mosaics.  And from the kiln located there, many of the Empty Bowls are created for each year’s community effort to help feed the hungry. Jeff  Klein of Emergency Food Network is quoted in Tacoma.com as saying, “Retha Hayward has been on the committee to make this event happen for more than a decade. She runs the Manitou Art Center and knows most of the potters in our region. She spends months poking and prodding artists in the community to donate bowls, and probably half of what’s sold, approximately 600 to 700 bowls, are glazed and fired in her kiln. It’s incredible, the amount of work she puts in to make this happen.”

She makes that community event happen because she believes it is a necessary component of what a good city can do. Likewise, she believes that cities should enhance the life of their citizenry by emphasizing and supporting the arts. Consequently, when Lakewood formed its first arts commission in 2006, Retha was one of the first members, an office she still holds today.

At an age that many people would consider as time for retirement, Retha Hayward is busy rearranging the gallery, looking to find funding to keep the Manitou Art Center open, and getting ready to once again gear up for Empty Bowls 2013.  You can find her at the White Dove Gallery Tuesday through Friday, 12 to 5 p.m., and by appointment at (253) 582-7859.White-Dove-Gallery-display-color-web