Art Of Our City
11:55 am
Thu December 19, 2013

Francine Seders, 81, Bids Adieu To Gallery Life But Not To Art

Francine Seders, 81, is closing her gallery after 40 years.
Credit KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman

On the first Thursday of every month, Pioneer Square transforms itself into a festival of visual art. Most of the commercial galleries in the neighborhood throw open their doors to welcome the moving feast of art lovers who flit from shop to shop, sipping wine and perusing the wares.

That scene is replicated, on different evenings, in Seattle neighborhoods from Georgetown to Ballard.

For 40 years, one of Seattle's most venerable art galleries has been tucked away from this festive loop. Francine Seders has operated her eponymous gallery on Phinney Ridge since 1970. This month, though, will be her last. Seders is retiring after a long and influential career.

Seders, 81, started her professional life as an attorney in her native France. After emigrating to the US, she studied library science. But after Seders answered an ad for a bilingual secretary for the late Seattle gallerist Otto Seligman, the course of her life changed forever. She says she went for an interview and started work immediately.

"I didn't want to give him time to change his mind," she said. Seders took over Seligman's artists when he died, operating out of a University District storefront.

When her fellow art dealers began to set up shop in Pioneer Square, Seders deliberately chose not to follow.

The Francine Seders Gallery in Phinney Ridge.
Credit Francine Seders Gallery

"I don't like Pioneer Square," she says, laughing.

Even though she's off the main drag of art dealer-dom, Seders is beloved by art lovers. That's partly due to the roster of artists she has represented over the years. That list has included such luminaries as Northwest icons Guy Anderson, Mark Toby, Michael Spafford, Marita Dingus and the late painter Jacob Lawrence.

"I like painting," she says simply when asked what kind of artists and art she has sought out.

According to Greg Kucera, who has run his Pioneer Square gallery for 30 years, Seders has been instrumental in both helping her fellow gallerists and in supporting the artists she has represented over her career.

"She has wedded herself to artists, through thick and thin," Kucera says. "She has done more for her artists than I dare say any other dealer in town has been able to do."

Kucera also appreciates how Seders has helped him at his gallery by providing business advice, moral support and even buying art from Kucera.

Seders says she is ready to take it easier in retirement, although she still plans to represent some of her artists out of her home. While age played some part in Seders' decision, the economy and new technology also influenced her decision. The 2008 recession hit hard at every local gallery, including hers.

She also has had a hard time adjusting to the shift to online retail.

"I like to know my customers, where my art is," she says. "One customer sent me photos of paintings in his apartment, so I could see them." That made Seders' day.

Seders' last business day is Christmas Eve. She'll take another month to pack and move. Some of the art will return to the artists; she hopes other paintings will find last-minute buyers. Whatever happens this month, at the end of January, Seders will say goodbye to her Phinney Ridge business for good. Her biggest worry? How the large Siamese cat that has called this building home for the past decade will adapt to a new abode.

You might ask the same question about Seders herself. How will a woman who has fostered Seattle artists for more than a half century adapt to her new lifestyle? She has to wait and see.

"I'm starting the next chapter of my life," she says. "It probably won't be as long as the last one."