Published in the Ghosts of Seattle Past Anthology, Released April 2017, Chin Music Press, Ed. Jaimee Garbacik
The Francine Seders Gallery
by Shelly Leavens with Francine Seders
The Francine Seders Gallery closed its doors in 2013 after forty-seven years. For forty-five of those years the gallery was on the corner of Greenwood and 67th, with zebras and giraffes as neighbors. The gallery’s spare façade made it a landmark; the location, the artwork it housed, and the woman for whom it is named made it a destination. In the Seattle art scene it is known that Pioneer Square is where the majority of arts patrons go to see, and sometimes buy, local art. Yet Francine Seders, a slight, bright-eyed French woman, chose to be tucked away among Craftsmans and stroller brigades. She desired to distance herself from the hustle and gossip of the Pioneer Square galleries. Doing so meant that people didn’t just wander in to the gallery. They showed up intentionally, because of her incredible roster of artists, her enigmatic personality, and the warmth of the gallery space itself. She devoted her daily life to the gallery; her sister lived nearby and her father moved to Seattle in the late 1960s, but she never married or had children. Her artists—and her clients to a lesser extent—were her family. So much so that they used her gallery as a place to commune, and, in artist Joseph Goldberg’s case, camp out for a while.
SEDERS: My dad was still living with me in the gallery space upstairs and one day Dad needed something so he went down to the basement, and he came back up and his face was long and he said, ‘You have a bum sleeping near the furnace.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ So, I went downstairs, and it was Robert Sund, the poet, who was a friend of [Joseph Goldberg]. So, I told that to my dad, but he still didn’t quite accept the fact that the bum was [an artist]…his long beard…he had to nearly step over him. Those were the days.
Seders had a very different style of running her gallery than was typical at the time. Seders had built her gallery—both the space itself and the artists it nurtured—around the idea of relationships. The space and the artwork were deeply intertwined, more so than in what Seder’s described as the “cold” feeling of most other galleries. A large part of Seders’s success came from the strong relationships she built with her artists and clients, and her ability to be frank with both. As a result she saw significant changes in the patterns of artwork collecting as the years went by.
SEDERS: I was not the typical art dealer. I didn’t care if people were buying or not, frankly. I wanted people to come and look at the show, so I was insisting more on the presentation of the work, rather than on selling.
Either you show good work or you don’t show. That was my theory, and I think they all accepted it. I didn’t have any problem with any of them. Michael Spafford and Michael Dailey were always ready to talk—and I would discuss things with them. I would ask Michael Dailey sometimes what he thought about an artist I would be choosing, or so on. And he was so good a teacher that he never said anything clearly negative, but he would kind of explain to me that maybe the person wasn’t quite ready, things like that, which was nice.
People knew what to expect from me. I would say it outright. I think the fact that people—even clients—they knew from the start—I’m not going to give you a discount [because] you are a collector, because I don’t believe in it. I never understood discounts. I was always against it. I mean…a price is a price, you know? I didn’t think I had to take somebody for dinner to sell a painting. A client comes to the gallery; he wants to buy or he doesn’t want to buy. Fine.
Most of our works were from, I would say, five hundred dollars to about ten thousand dollars. So, my commission was not that high and my expenses were.
I think there is absolutely no reason why people of all income[s] should not appreciate and have art around them. There’s absolutely no reason, so it has to be affordable enough that they can feel [able to][…] and for some of them it was kind of a sacrifice to buy art. They did it because they felt they needed to. I mean, to me art is a need. It’s not something you just have for display, for decoration. For some reason it pleases me—it makes me feel happy to just sit down and look at some of my paintings that I know by heart. I always discover something new.
When I started, my clients were really following what the artists were doing, they really knew what they were buying, and I knew them well. We were not friends per se, but I knew what they were looking for. I think in the early days, people were building a collection—small or big, it didn’t matter—but they had something in mind, where lately it was just people buying an image that they liked.
Seders did not close her gallery because of financial hardship or because the rent went up. She closed the gallery because she was eighty-one years old and had devoted her life to supporting artists and presenting their work. She was tired and it was time to retire. She has always bucked the system, and people’s expectations. Her plan after closing the gallery at age eighty-one? She bought a bed and breakfast in the Skagit, finally fulfilling her dream of living closer to the land. Now a spry and fiercely independent octogenarian, she keeps her house in the city and her connections to the artists here, but she has a new outlet, and remains the ever-curious entrepreneur that made the Francine Seders Gallery such a success.
SEDERS: Seattle, Tacoma—were so different from Paris, and so quiet and so wonderful. All those mountains, you know? Paris is tiny in comparison, and I liked it but it was too small for me—I wanted space. I’m a country girl. I’m a farm girl. I don’t know from where, but I am. When I came to this country – it must be a pioneer spirit or something —but it’s the idea that you can start something new. That’s exciting. That’s why I don’t think I’ll ever be bored.