Alma Mitchell might not sleep too well tonight. But that’s to be expected. The Tumwater resident finds out tomorrow if she’s the winner of the 2012 New Yorker magazine’s annual Eustace Tilley cover contest.
Each year, The New Yorker encourages artists to submit likenesses of the iconic man who appeared on the cover of the first issue of the magazine in 1925.
This year’s contest attracted nearly 400 entries. The field has been pared to 12 finalists whose work will be featured at newyorker.com. The grand-prize winner – expected to be announced Monday – will receive a $1,000 shopping spree at Strand Books in New York City and have his or her image immortalized on a Strand Bookstore tote bag.
Mitchell is one of the 12 finalists. Here’s what makes the accomplishment even more remarkable: Mitchell is 99 years old.
“I’m absolutely astonished that I’ve done this,” Mitchell said in an interview Friday, surrounded by family and her art teacher, Paul Steucke Sr., at Olympia West Inn retirement home in Tumwater, which has been Mitchell’s home since 2009. “If I win, it will be the highlight of my year.”
Mitchell produced the cover design in the weekly art class Steucke teaches at the retirement home, working with students 66 to 99 years old. He started the Wednesday afternoon class 18 months ago with two instructions to his students: Have fun and draw from the heart. I’m sure Mitchell is a model student. She is fun-loving, smiles and laughs a lot, and cracks a lot of self-deprecating jokes.
She used crayons for her attention-grabbing cover design, which includes the long-necked New York dandy sporting a top hat and peering through a monocle at a butterfly framed against a bright yellow background.
“Why yellow?” I asked.
“Isn’t that wild?” Mitchell responded with a hearty laugh. “I don’t know why I did that.”
A subscriber to The New Yorker, Steucke, 72, was looking at the contest winners last year and thought it would make a good class project. He submitted eight entries from the class and learned a couple of weeks ago that Mitchell was a finalist.
All of the entries can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/tilleycontest.
“Most of the other entries are very commercial,” the volunteer art teacher said. “I suspect that the spontaneity in Alma’s work caught the judge’s eye.” The judge for the contest is The New Yorker’s art director, Francoise Mouly.
Mitchell comes from a family of artists and musicians and did some oil paintings as a younger woman.
“I painted a picture of Jesus Christ for our church Sunday school class,” she offered. “But I’ve never won a prize.”
“I think she’s always been very artistic,” said her kid sister Bonnie Shedd of Lacey. “And she was always a lot of fun.”
Born Nov. 3, 1912, in Miles City, Mont., she was one of seven children. Her father, Norwegian immigrant Anton Stomsuik, lived to be 106. Her surviving siblings include a 100-year-old sister and a 102-year-old brother.
She and her pharmacist husband, Ivan Mitchell, moved to the Olympia area in 1960 from Big Horn, Wyo. Long deceased, her husband worked at Southgate Drug in Tumwater, and she was employed at the state Department of Natural Resources. She also volunteered as a Girl Scout leader and Sunday school teacher.
The Mitchells raised a daughter, who is 60, and a son, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1940.
“She just keeps going and going,” said her granddaughter, Anna Root. “It wasn’t that long ago she was still driving a car.”
“I’ve never been in jail,” Mitchell said for no apparent reason. “I did get stopped by the police while driving one time, but that was because I had a cup of coffee on the roof of my car.”
She said that if she wins the bookstore prize, she’ll buy her family a bunch of books.
“It’s been a good ride,” Mitchell said of the New Yorker fame.
“At my age, good rides are hard to find.”
John Dodge: 360-754-5444