Don't call Anne Gerber an art patron. If she had to be categorized, she preferred "artnik," a term she made up to describe her own particular...

Share story

Don’t call Anne Gerber an art patron.

If she had to be categorized, she preferred “artnik,” a term she made up to describe her own particular passion for the arts.

Ms. Gerber, known for her unflagging support of artists and social causes, died Saturday at the Horizon House retirement center in Seattle, where she lived for the past decade. She was 94.

Even in her later years, Ms. Gerber kept her exceptional sense of curiosity and openness. In her honor, the Anne Gerber Fund at Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is dedicated to the support of risk-taking artworks and exhibitions that might not otherwise be funded.

Most recently, the fund made possible a hugely popular exhibit of groundbreaking work by Korean artist Do-Ho Suh. Ms. Gerber continued to visit art exhibits, even with her eyesight failing, letting friends describe the work to her.

“Almost anyone who ever met Anne had a story to tell. It would be an unforgettable time,” said Rachael Levine, a longtime friend. “When she was listening to you, she really paid attention. It didn’t matter who you were.”

Ms. Gerber was born in 1910 and studied painting and sculpture at the University of Washington before being swept off her feet by a tall, dashing Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate named Sidney Gerber. The two married and together began collecting art.

They bought European and American paintings, most of which are now in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum, said art administrator Anne Focke. They also supported the work of Native American artists.

“They traveled and met some of the important Native artists on the Northwest coast and ended up with quite a collection,” Focke said. That work is now part of the collection at the Burke Museum.

But in 1965, Sidney Gerber was piloting a small airplane when it crashed near Stevens Pass, killing him and his two passengers: Seattle City Councilman Wing Luke and Luke’s secretary. The wreckage of the plane was not found until three years later.

After that, Ms. Gerber carried on her collecting and community activism independently. She served on the Seattle Art Commission and was a member of the Contemporary Art Council of SAM. She received a Governor’s Art Award in 1984.

“She was always interested in what was new. She always had that curiosity about art, even when she couldn’t see,” said her friend, Seattle Art Museum exhibition designer Michael McCafferty. “It was the intellectual stimulation.”

Ms. Gerber also felt strongly about social justice. She worked to end segregated housing in Seattle and was a past president and board member of Neighborhood House, a nonprofit organization started by the council of Jewish Women, her friend Levine said. She also was an active member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“She provided me an example of someone who lived her beliefs and showed it’s possible to have a love of art and a political orientation that I respected — and those worlds coexisted in a wonderful way,” Focke said.

Many artists and art lovers in Seattle have a special appreciation for Ms. Gerber, and her avid personality and fearless support of the newest developments.

“Ann did not suffer fools,” McCafferty said. “That’s Annie. She was just candid and as blunt as could be. She wasn’t opinionated per se. But when asked, she would deliver.”

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 23 at Temple Beth Am.

Donations can be made to the Anne Gerber Fund at Seattle Art Museum, Neighborhood House or the ACLU.

Sheila Farr: