When Francine Seders closes her gallery doors for the last time on Christmas Eve, it will mark something like the end of an era. She has run one of Seattle’s most important galleries since she took over the Otto Seligman Gallery, located at the time in the University District, in May 1966.
Though she will continue to represent artists and work with collectors, she will do it all from her home. The December exhibitions of work by Norman Lundin, Dale Lindman and Diann Knezovich will be the Francine Seders Gallery’s last.
“I turned 80 last year,” she explains, “and I’m a little tired of being tied to the gallery every day.”
Seders also says that physical galleries are not as important as they once were. So much business is done online nowadays, she finds that “clients don’t even come to the gallery so much anymore.” Still, she says she wonders why people are willing to buy works of art that they have seen only on a computer screen and without knowing more about the person who made them.
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“A painting isn’t just an object,” she insists, and she is clearly unhappy with the lack of personal contact that e-commerce entails. “We have more people buying now,” she says, “but we don’t know them as well.”
In her mind, the whole business of making, showing, selling and buying art is about human contact and the insights it can bring. The artists who have worked with her over the years will tell you as much.
Collage artist Gail Grinnell, who has shown at Seders’ gallery since 1993, puts it like this: “Chatting with Francine was balm for my achy soul. For artists like myself, it is important to risk failure in order to progress. Francine made literal room for risk-taking.”
Other artists on the gallery’s roster include Alan Lau, Norman Lundin, Barbara Earl Thomas and Marita Dingus. Seders also represented Northwest masters Mark Tobey and Guy Anderson during their lifetimes.
Not surprisingly, when Seders is asked about the highlights of her nearly 50 years as a gallerist, she responds in terms of the people she has worked with.
“It was wonderful handling the work of Jacob Lawrence,” she recalls. Lawrence was probably the most celebrated African-American artist in the country when he began teaching at the University of Washington in 1971. He was introduced to Seders by another of her gallery artists, Michael Spafford, and he showed with her until his death in 2000. (In fact, a Lawrence-Spafford exhibit opens at Seders’ gallery on Sept. 13.)
Lawrence brought collectors from all over the country to her Phinney Ridge gallery, and if her decades at the gallery have given her any regrets, it is only that more Seattle-based artists have not been able to enjoy similar success.
“It makes me a little bit sad,” she says. “It’s hard for them to make it.”
Seders puts some of this down to what she sees as a dearth of the published art writing that might validate their work. She has tried to do her part by producing regular catalogs of her gallery artists’ work, and it is something she intends to continue.
She also has her own stories to tell, and she is working on a book tracing not only the history of her gallery but the history of the Seattle art scene, of which the gallery has been a key part.
Seders is not a woman who gives the sense she will be slowing down anytime soon, and as Grinnell points out, “Francine knows that if you follow any worthwhile project through to its conclusion, it actually amounts to a new start.”
Robert Ayers: firstname.lastname@example.org