Mary Beth Percival, a beloved Missoula artist who shared a downtown gallery, travels and parallel career with husband Monte Dolack, died early Wednesday after a years-long bout with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 71.
Dolack said Percival passed away “very peacefully” at 3:30 a.m.
“She’d been in hospice for several months and they did such a wonderful job,” he said. “Sometimes I feel so blessed to be in Missoula. She got a lot of love and care.”
Percival was best known for her watercolor paintings, “many of which illustrate her strong bond to the country where she grew up,” according to a biographical sketch on Dolack’s website. “Her paintings also celebrate the simple pleasures of daily life – sun streaming through a window on a bouquet of spring pussy willows or the gathering of fresh laundry from the clothesline.”
Percival received a commission from the city of Missoula to design bronze plaques of Bitterroot flowers on the walkways of the new Orange Street Bridge in 2002.
“She was a prolific artist in the community, an important figure in the art world in Missoula,” said Geoff Sutton, a longtime friend and fellow gallery owner. “It was a little different role than Monte’s. She did book covers and posters for events, along with her beautiful florals and Montana scenes.”
Claire Sherwood said Percival was her first friend when she moved to Missoula.
“She was a force to be reckoned with,” said Sherwood, who helped Dolack care for Percival. “I just know that we are all so saddened, because she was such a free spirit and a fabulous and generous soul.”
M.B., as her friends knew her, grew up in the Big Hole and Boulder valleys where her father was a U.S. Forest Service ranger, according to her online bio.
A graduate of the University of Montana, Percival supported herself through the 1970s and beyond as an artist and graphic designer while co-managing an art publishing company and gallery with Dolack.
“She did these beautiful watercolors early on, sort of looser than Monte’s tight work,” Sutton said. “Monte was so tight in everything he did, really detailed, and M.B.’s stuff just kind of flowed.”
The two traveled extensively, often overseas.
“Our travels in and beyond the Northern Rockies have provided inspiration and adventure, as well as the opportunity of viewing art in many of the world’s great museums,” Dolack wrote a few years ago.
Dementia forced Percival’s retirement from the active art world in 2010.
“We worked as a team for a long time, until probably about seven years ago," Dolack said. "Then she couldn’t participate any more. I had to take over a lot of things.”
He closed the gallery on West Front Street in 2015 so he could spend more time caring for her, said Dolack. Percival went into Edgewood Memory Care in August 2016.
She continued drawing and painting as long as she was able.
“That’s one way we would spend time together,” Dolack said. “I would set up a drawing table in my studio where she could sit and paint while I was working on my paintings.”
An "amazing draftsperson, drawer and painter," Percival produced art that became “quite abstract, but very interesting,” her husband said.
“As the disease progressed she could barely make a mark, but I kept track of them all, dated them, and when I have the time I’d like to put that together and see the change and how this disease affects the art-making process.”
Arrangements are in care of Garden City Funeral Home and Crematory.