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Upper Valley Art League director retires

The Upper Valley Art League has some big shoes to fill.

Maxilou Link, the president and director of the UVAL, recently retired from her position after nearly two decades. The 95-year-old calls herself a “jack of all trades, but a master of none,” a phrase that most people who have worked with her would not agree with.

Maxilou Link during her retirement party at the Upper Valley Art League
in Mission last month. Courtesy photo.

“I’m self-taught,” Link said. “The kindness of everyone just sometimes blows you away.”

Link, a major supporter of the arts and their role in the community, said she became “obsessed” with the UVAL when she first discovered its existence. Originally from Ohio, Link was a Winter Texan for several years before becoming a permanent resident in Mission.

“I came here in 1979, and one of my neighbors had seen some of my artwork on my walls,” Link said. “So she said, ‘why don’t we go over to the Upper Valley Art League,’ so I went and that’s how I got started – I took classes, workshops, anything that came along.”

The Upper Valley Art League is a non-profit organization in the Rio Grande Valley that started in 1935. They open their doors to all, but are housed at 921 E. 12th St. in Mission.

The shift from Winter Texan to Mission resident occurred when Link felt she was in the right place.

“It’s all the friendly people,” Link said. “I came from a small town, so I felt like I was coming home.”

Artists from all over the state, even the county and internationally, have been able to find a place to create at the UVAL. Link has been there for several renovations and upgrades, and according to her support from the city has been crucial to the development of the South Texas artistic community.

“The city has been so cooperative with us,” Link said, noting that former council member Gen Long advocated for them to be housed at their current location from the beginning. “The city of Mission has been tremendously good to us; they’ve encouraged us.”

Walking into the main gallery, one is met with colorful paintings, sculptures, murals and photographs cultivated and inspired by icons in the area. There are no bounds, and Link has worked tirelessly to ensure artists of every medium find a space to develop and grow.

Members and volunteers from the UVAL threw Link a retirement party at the end of February, and presented her with a cake adorned with a sculpture of her. They also presented her with an art laureate award, which she said blew her away.

“Of all the parties I’ve ever been to, this was the most amazing,” Link said. “I never felt so much love as I did that afternoon. I’ve gotten a lot of awards along the way, but that one was really amazing.”

Link began her artistic endeavors years ago, and calls it her salvation in life.

“My life was really not going well, so when I started painting it was better than paying a lot of money for a psychotherapist,” Link said. “I went out and got my therapy that way.”

She expressed her love for the way creating makes her feel. She’s seen several artists come through the UVAL go on to work in museums and in art spheres across Texas and the country.

“When you’re painting or doing any kind of artwork, there’s no outside world,” Link said. 

Support for art and artists in the community is vital, she says, because of its promotion of unity and diversity.

“We talk about fun and therapy, but it’s not only that – it includes science and math,” Link said, adding that art can help anyone in coping with situations, teamwork and communication. “I could go on and on – it’s part of everyday life.”

Link has also seen the increase in younger members of the UVAL, including the new Oxhair group of 19- to 29-year-olds that meets once or twice a week to work on demonstrations and workshop new ideas.

Link hopes to see growth continue for the UVAL. She’ll be overseeing the exhibits and workshops through March, and will still be a familiar face around the building.

“I’m still in charge of the butterflies, and am also workshop chairman,” Link said. “I’m going to play and do my artwork. I’ve already started back on ceramics, I’m going to get back into life drawing again, and I’m going to clean my garage and have fun.”

At the end of the month, the Upper Valley Art League will be meeting to discuss who will be taking over for Link. Because of how much time she dedicated to its mission, they are even considering two people at the head.

“Our mission is to promote the arts in the Valley, and give everybody a time and space where they can get away and create,” Link said, speaking on the friendly nature of everyone that can be found at the UVAL. “Some people may say I was addicted – I was here every day, and it’s all I cared about. It’s my passion.”

The success of the organization, which currently boasts 175-200 members, wouldn’t be possible without the help of several volunteers, as well as the city. Link expressed thanks to everyone who helps out with the UVAL, adding that “amazing things” are done there in painting, fiber art, welding, sculpture, photography and ceramics.

“Not one person gets paid a salary here, everybody gives in their own way,” Link said. “It all makes a big difference.”

For Link, it doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are – there’s a place for you to thrive creatively at the Upper Valley Art League.

“There’s no discrimination here at all, period,” Link said. “And that’s what we need more of in the world.”

This story was originally published in the Friday, March 6, 2020 edition of the Progress Times.

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