Cinched into a merry-widow corset, with a feather boa draped from her shoulders, Linda Farris used to hold court from the front of her Pioneer...

Share story

Cinched into a merry-widow corset, with a feather boa draped from her shoulders, Linda Farris used to hold court from the front of her Pioneer Square gallery on opening nights, surrounded by artists, patrons and happy passers-by. Those who stopped in to join the party — and who could resist? — often ended up Linda Farris converts, hooked on the art she was selling and wowed by the woman who set herself up as high priestess of the local scene.

Ms. Farris, 61, died Friday, July 22, after a two-year battle with cancer. She stayed active, attending art openings and visiting with friends until nearly the end.

“She was such a force in the art world,” said artist Ginny Ruffner, who showed at Linda Farris Gallery for 10 years. “If you were at all involved in the art world, you were involved with Linda.”

As Seattle’s most flamboyant gallery owner, Ms. Farris was an avid promoter and activist for the arts, whether writing to Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen to chide him about the paper not giving enough space for art reviews or leading a movement to keep Henry Moore’s popular outdoor sculpture “Vertebrae” from leaving Seattle.

Among her accomplishments, Ms. Farris rallied other Pioneer Square art dealers to coordinate their openings for First Thursday gallery walks, donated her time to raise money for AIDS research and supported an annual “Day without Art” to increase awareness of the epidemic.

After closing her gallery in 1995, Ms. Farris took time off to travel with her husband, Seattle developer John Kucher. She later started the Contemporary Art Project with a group of financial backers. Ms. Farris used the money to travel and purchase artworks which were eventually donated to the Seattle Art Museum.

A native of San Francisco, Ms. Farris was born in 1944 and studied communications at the University of California, Berkeley. She worked for a while in advertising before moving to Seattle in 1967.

In 1970, she opened a gallery in Bellevue and a year later moved her business to Pioneer Square, where she quickly took on a group of young Master of Fine Arts grads from the University of Washington. Sherry Markovitz, Jeffrey Bishop, Norie Sato, Dennis Evans and a handful of others became the core of Ms. Farris’ stable. She later spiced up the roster with big names, arranging shows that included works by Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Beverly Pepper, Louise Nevelson, and William T. Wiley, among others.

With her advertising background and a penchant for public relations, Ms. Farris knew how to grab attention. People talked about the wild get-ups she wore as much as they talked about the artworks she exhibited. In 1995, at a gala closing party for the gallery, Ms. Farris showed up in a black lace bustier, Spandex leggings and a wild, feather-and-tulle cape and headdress created by artist Carl Smool.

“If not always dressed to kill, Linda was always at least dressed to maim,” quipped former Seattle Art Museum curator Patterson Sims.

And she was equally happy to take it all off — for art’s sake, of course. Ms. Farris posed unglamorously nude for a portrait by Chuck Close.

Ms. Farris liked to keep journalists supplied with a steady flow of gossipy tidbits to spike their columns. For her, even throwing a garage sale was a gala event. The announcement for her 1994 “Estate Sale” — something that usually occurs after a person dies — caught the eye of Jean Godden, then a Times columnist, who called and wisecracked with Ms. Farris about being dead, typing all the while. Ms. Farris explained that the stuff she was selling was too good to call it a garage sale, thus the title.

“You won’t find any used blenders here,” she remarked.

Services for Ms. Farris will be private. The family suggests donations to the Seattle Art Museum, P.O. Box 22000, Seattle, WA 98122-9700, to help fund the purchase of contemporary art.

Sheila Farr: sfarr@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2270