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Phinney’s oldest art gallery still going after 40 years

Francine Seders, who has owned and operated the art gallery by the same name in Phinney Ridge for more than 40 years, says the Web and the economy are changing the art industry forever.

“We are going to lose the galleries eventually because of the different outlets and the emerging space available to them through the Internet,” Seders, 77, said in her office at the gallery at 6701 Greenwood Ave. N. “We just don’t get the impulse buying like we used to, and I think it also has to do with hard economic times.”

Francine Seders in the gallery’s basement, with hundreds of paintings collected over the years.

From the back, her gallery looks like one of the houses on the block — older but well kept. Years ago, Seders lived in the gallery until she realized she needed some space from her business. She still works seven days a week.

A few years ago, she thought about closing because of slow sales and the challenging economy. Instead, she let two employees go; today running the gallery with one part-time office assistant.

“That was very hard for me,” she said, petting her house cat in a box on the middle of the kitchen table. “I’m going to be 78 soon, so I feel another two years — maybe.”

“At my age, it’s hard to get up to date with all the technical changes,” she admitted. “Everything is going faster, and it pushes you into a model that is much different than it used to be.”

With certain pieces priced at thousands of dollars in her gallery, she said, “It’s more difficult for the middle class to justify spending that kind of money, especially when they can buy a nice print and a frame for a hundred.”

Seders makes about 50 percent commission on each sale, which can take days in some cases to close. With the cost of shipping artwork increasing, she said her gallery has relied more on local artists in recent years.

She explained pricing as a complicated system, which requires examination of the artist’s accomplishments and how much their work has improved overtime.

“You don’t want to price over the heads of your clients,” she explained as she walked through the recently-expanded gallery. “There are a lot of considerations that go into the pricing, and this is hard for people to understand.

“But, as long as I can pay my bills I’m happy,” she said on her way downstairs to the basement, storage for hundreds of paintings collected over the years. “I’m not in this for the money.”

As for Internet sales, Seders added, “A lot of people buy just to put something on their wall, because it matches their furniture, and in the end, becomes more of an object than a work of art.”

Featured artist Anna McKee understands.

It’s a weird time because of the Web and because of what’s happening with the print media,” McKee, 51, said at her studio in eastern Ballard. The Phinney Ridge resident added, “I don’t think I can really control the changes happening to the gallery, so I try not to think about it all the time.”

“So, it’s the gallery’s job to act as a buffer for this as long as we can,” Seders explained. “But, websites are very inexpensive and are open to the world” in contrast to a gallery, which is “very expensive to open and maintain.”

But when it comes to artwork, she has a difficult time grasping how people can get a full experience from looking at it on a computer, or choosing to buy a piece they have only seen online.

When it comes to art, “I don’t care to look at the computer screen,” she confessed. “Show me something!”

Below: Anna McKee burnishes a copper plate at her studio in eastern Ballard.

““My biggest job is to do the work,” said McKee, whose project “Deep Ice, Deep Time” was featured at the gallery. “The only thing I’m in control of is doing good work.”

McKee has been pursuing art on a full-time basis for the last 10 years. She traveled all the way to Antarctica on a 4Culture Individual Artists grant to do the project and credits Seders for supporting her early on and “saying, yes, I’ll give this person a show.”

“She really does care about promoting artists and helping their careers,” she added, slapping on some rubber gloves before cleaning up. “The bottom line is not what drives her. She certainly doesn’t do it for the money.”

“I’m terrible at selling, so I don’t know why I got into retail,” Seders added with a laugh. “People said I was crazy when I first opened a gallery out here when there was literally nothing, but here I am.”

McKee is grateful for Seders’ support.

“Francine was willing to support me at such an early stage because she saw that I had a lot of energy. She helped open some doors that might not have been available to me. She’s very supportive of her artists,” McKee said while burnishing a copper plate for another project. “She loves it, and it’s her life.”

“Most artists are passionate about their work,” Seders said. “And most have other jobs to support themselves because they can’t support themselves solely on the sale of their work.

“It’s not an easy job — to be an artist or to be a dealer,” Seders said. “But I love the art, and I’m very glad I got into the business.”

Tyler Steele is PhinneyWood’s intern. He is a journalism student at the University of Washington.

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