The Benham Gallery on First Avenue has closed after 22 years. I only had a “passing” connection to it, never even went in unless it might have been on one of the First Thursday Art Walks two decades ago. However, the loss of any gallery along one’s route is a nasty hit, given the likelihood that what will replace it in that space will be something less inspiring and even simply less visually interesting. This has got me thinking of other galleries, gone and not gone, on my commute.
I pass several art galleries every morning on my way down from the bus stop on Third Avenue to my workplace on Western Avenue. The first one is the Patricia Rovzar Gallery on the southwest corner of Second and University. The large windows of this location are put to good use. From the sidewalk I have as good a view of a rotating portfolio of artists’ works as if my daily route took me through the halls of the Seattle Art Museum, which is across the street but does not have fine art hanging in its windows. My favorite artist in the Rovzar gallery is Jerri Lisk, an Idaho artist who paints in acrylic on aluminum.
She paints landscapes that are true in a simple way like the observations of children and often include the white trunks of aspens or birches or oaks and blue shadows that suggest a kind of cool underlying the warm sunlight. I don’t often feel strongly about the plastic arts, but I often pause at one of the windows when Jerri Lisk’s paintings are hanging and just fill my soul up. I did it this morning. If that gallery ever closes I will surely perish.
The other two are the Benham Gallery and, right nextdoor, the R. E. Welch Gallery. Until the closing of the Benham, which was a gallery established specifically to showcase photography, these two narrow-fronted galleries were sandwiched between Ancient Grounds on the north side and the Cherry Street Coffee House (not on Cherry Street, obviously — it’s a branch location) on the south side, so that they formed a strange, doughty little rampart of storefronts that offered either coffee or art or both. The two fine art galleries dealt only in art, but Ancient Grounds serves espresso amid a shop full of First Nations tribal artifacts, art and curios, and Cherry Street, like many coffee houses, displays art by local artists on its walls.
I have always appreciated this dense little reach of my walkamute, where the windows are full of interesting people, art and crafts to view and reflect upon as I pass by, and where the smells of coffee and tea waft out onto the sidewalks. The retreat of the Benham Gallery from this cluster is like a direct hit scored by the anonymous, non-malevolent economic forces that lurk behind all such closings. I don’t imagine the gallery’s closing will negatively affect Cherry Street Coffee, but with a sudden gaping hole now between Ancient Grounds and R. E. Welch, I think it would be good time to visit them if you haven’t yet gotten around to it.
On my homeward route, I go up Spring Street. There used to be a tiny gallery on the northeast corner of First and Spring called Isis on First, the only good thing about a tragically ugly concrete building there. The gallery is gone now and I can’t even find an online presence for it, which is sad, because I wanted to mention an artist whose name I think was Edward Sugar, although I cannot find anything on him either.
My recollection is that Sugar is a First Nations painter, though I don’t recall why I think that; maybe there was some info in the window. His art was very bright and…I want to say splashy and imprecise, but that doesn’t really sound very appealing. One of his paintings that hung in the window of Isis last year was of an owl on a tree limb with a moon behind, but it was not “photographic” in style, nor was it abstract. I don’t know anything about styles or schools of painting, so I don’t know what to call it, but the technique was the heaping of large swirls of colorful paint with a palette knife. You could see it was an owl, by its shape and posture and the size of its eyes. The rest was all strokes of color swirling every which way, and the moon was just a whirlpool of yellow and white paint. It looked as much like a painting of paint as it did a painting of an owl. Anyway, I liked it a lot.