Susan MacDonald figures there’s no better moment than Valentine’s Day to celebrate two Vallejo icons: The 109th birthday of the downtown Empress Theatre and the life and work of the recently-passed artist, Pearl Jones Tranter.
Tranter, who died Jan. 18 at 87, was a diminutive force in the arts scene in Vallejo and around the county. And she was not only a frequent visitor to the Empress, but had genetic ties to the venue — her grandfather was the theater’s architect.
So on Sunday, Feb. 14, the property adjacent to the Empress at 710 Marin St. offers an exhibit of Jones Tranter’s vast collection. And at 6:30 p.m., blues performer Alvon Johnson and guests perform in a live-streamed birthday show from the Empress.
MacDonald said Jones Tranter’s familiar smile will be missed.
“She liked to sit in the first seat in the loge,” MacDonald recalled fondly. “She was just really part of the Empress.”
MacDonald is thrilled that Jones Tranter’s work can be showcased, challenging as it is during COVID-19 restrictions.
A video narrated by Celeste Smeland will discuss Jones Tranter’s work, which will also be available on the Empress Theatre website.
Retired Solano Community College photography instructor Rick Mariani knew Jones Tranter for many years. He says the show “is a good idea. I will try and lend a hand where I can.”
It’s a challenge gathering so many of Jones Tranter’s work by next week, Mariani added.
“First is moving so many pieces down to the space. We decided to move everything we can and then organize what pieces to hang,” he said.
Jones Tranter exhibited her work all over the county through the years, Mariani noted.
“The Naval and Historical Museum had a show a few years ago. I hung a few small displays of her work at (downtown Vallejo coffee shop) Java Jax.”
Jones Tranter also had a few windows for the Art Window Project on Georgia Street and she had her work gracing the walls at the Mira Theater and at Arts Benicia, as well as shows in Taos, N.M., where her oldest child, Heather Miro, lives.
Miro said by phone Sunday that the last time she and her three siblings gathered in Vallejo was almost two years ago when Jones Tranter had major surgery.
“That was the beginning of the end. She never really bounced back from surgery,” Miro said. “She wasn’t even going for her walks on the waterfront anymore.”
Growing up, Miro said she would think, “That’s my crazy mom the artist. There would be items I didn’t understand. She was in the art world and I was in my own life doing other things. I enjoyed that she was an artist as I grew older. She was always making something.”
There are certain Jones Tranter creations “that remind me more of phases” of Miro’s life, she said.
“There are some pieces she went to Turkey for that I loved. I think they’re all gone. There was one image of a window and landscape reflective on a pool of water that was a real stunning image.”
Mariani said he was always a big Jones Tranter fan.
“I am impressed how Pearl kept growing and learning new techniques over the years,” he said. “From the old photography days of darkrooms and chemicals to adapting to the digital world and learning computer programs and printing techniques. She kept going to classes at Berkeley City College up to a few years ago where she produced her recent imagery and printed them herself on their massive printers. She kept experimenting with Photoshop and using graphic borders around her photos as well as doing what she called ‘Duets’ — two scenes combined into a single image.”
“I was always amazed at her eye and creativity which was never mundane but always blossoming in new directions,” Mariani said.
The community is fortunate that Jones Tranter has “left a treasure trove of art behind,” MacDonald said. “Pearl is an icon.”
In addition to the Jones Tranter exhibit and Alvon concert, MacDonald said 109 virtual candles are being sold for $109 each in a tax-deductible project to help keep the Empress lights on.
For more information about the celebration of the Empress Theatre’s 109th birthday and the Pearl Jones Tranter “50 Shades of Pearl” exhibit, visit empresstheatre.org.