Short Foray Away: The Frye Art Museum and Cafe, Seattle, Wa.

Directions and Hours #alwaysfree

Courtesy of Frye Art Museum/Adam Weintraub- one exhibit of the Frye Collection.

The literature for the Genius / 21 Century / Seattle exhibit – 3D like it used to be!


Background: Jon had the day off. It was feeling really like fall – unusually blustery, Seattle grey drizzle with brightly colored leaves swirling in the wind. We had an errand on First Hill so we decided to visit the Frye Art Museum for a few hours away.

The Frye Art Museum is a great gift to the City of Seattle from German immigrant couple Charles and Emma Lamb Frye who made their first fortune in the meat packing business. Charles was born in Iowa, joined the migration to the west and opened his first meat markets in Montana. He traveled back to Iowa, married Emma Lamb and eventually made it to Seattle where his meat business and other ventures made them wealthy. In their travels, they began to collect art concentrating on European realism of the “Munich School” of artists in Germany during the late 19th century. Their collection of 230 paintings and the wonderful frames they are displayed in filled the walls floor to ceiling of their Seattle home salon on First Hill by 1934 when Emma died. They had no children.

Most importantly, Charles Frye’s will stipulated that after his death in 1940 the collection be open and free to the public in perpetuity funded by the Frye estate.

The Museum mission: “The Frye Art Museum is a living legacy of visionary patronage and civic responsibility, committed to artistic inquiry and a rich visitor experience. A catalyst for our engagement with contemporary art and artists is the Founding Collection of Charles and Emma Frye, access to which shall always be free.” Including a fair amount of free parking! Interesting to me were the other stipulations, according to HistoryLink: “…that natural light be used to illuminate the galleries; and, that no abstract art be displayed.” The directors have worked since to respect those wishes.

The original Museum built in 1952 and designed by renowned modern architect Paul Thiry, has been redone by Olsen Sundberg Architects and has well lit, modern and pleasing exhibit spaces with café, educational spaces, auditorium and gift shop. I love going there. Each new exhibit is curated using the space differently and wonderfully. This always adds to the allure of a visit. Some of the original collection is always exhibited in some form or other.

“The Frye Art Museum — once dismissed as a sensibly shod maiden aunt muddling along in the stiletto-heeled art world — has entered middle age with a new sense of style and self-confidence. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2002, the museum boasts an award-winning makeover, new leadership, and an endowment that makes it the envy of its peers. The “old girl on Pill Hill” (at 704 Terry Avenue) is now “a chic young heiress whom everyone will want to date” (Art Guide Northwest, 1998).”, also stated on HistoryLink, is a good description of this museum and its current stature in the Seattle Art Scene.

Personally, the Frye has been a long standing part of my past as my mother would take us there as kids; and, I, my children. I have strong memories of the collection’s starkly realistic, interesting and mostly darkish paintings. In 2014, with most of those voting in the #SocialMeduim exhibit of 2015 I selected Molting Ducks by Alexander Max Koester as my fan favorite a wonderful light and fluffy textured painting unlike most of the others.

This visit favorites are again on exhibition in Favorites: The Frye Founding Collection beside the main exhibit the Genius / 21st Century / Seattle Exhibit, September 26, 2015 thru Jan 10, 2016. This is a show melding together the work of Genius Award winners, a distinction given since 2003 to Seattle artists by the Seattle weekly newspaper The Stranger. Each winner is selected for their artistic contributions and given a chocolate cake with “You’re a Friggin’ Genius!” in frosting.

Literature for the exhibit describes it as: “…sixteen weeks…featuring twenty-five commissions and premiers, immersive installations, durational performances and collaborations across disciplines…present[ing] film and literary festivals.”

Genius / 21 Century / Seattle is interesting, creative and will have you scratching your head at times. And, like it or not, expanding your notions of what “art” is. That is the intent here. It is an ambitious and interesting “in theory” project that intermixes works of visual art, literature, dance, civic responsibility and more. It is a revolving exhibit with works coming and going in the little over three months it is up and interesting events with the artists. We saw filmed dances and interaction projected on long lines of white circular fringe, were reminded why the 3D film techniques of coloration and cardboard glasses have given birth to more eye friendly technology when we watched Jim Woodring’s “Frank in the 3rd Dimension” and had our curiosity peaked with two too short excepts of Sherman Alexis work “Capitalism” and “Sense Memory” on the walls which appeared in The Stranger. There is a lot of experimental film most of which did not hold our interest.

Read my friend Nancy Worssam’s review of this show at her blog: Arts Stage – Seattle Rage.

After viewing the exhibits we headed for the Café. I have eaten there several times and have always enjoyed its from scratch inventive menu and daily seasonal offerings. So, to be honest, I always head to the Café when I visit the Frye! We split the fresh kale and mandarin lentil salad with feta and an apricot vinaigrette (wow!), a toasted turkey + apricot sandwich with bacon and melted provolone cheese (amazing!); and, their vegetarian homemade French onion soup…(I Iooove this café!). I had a delightful pot of lemon hibiscus tea, Jon a cup of coffee and for dessert a dark, so moist chocolate cupcake with salted caramel frosting from the Macarina Bakery cleverly tucked into its folded parchment paper holder. We sat warmly and watched fall weather and leaves swirl outside as we enjoyed this treat. (Honestly, we would have eaten the parchment paper if we could – as it was, we scraped off every morsel of the moist cake and frosting with our forks!).

The Final Word: Go! The Frye is a wonderful museum! My favorite in Seattle. It is one of the great free things you can do and the free parking…that speaks for itself. The Café is always delightful with great food. We spent $38 for this 3 hour foray and walked away full and feeling like we had a gourmet meal. The exhibit was interesting with more to come. Donations and membership to the Frye help the museum provide a wide array of interesting classes and programs – special art programs for folks with dementia, noise yoga and even mindfulness meditation.

I am on their email list and get notices of events and new exhibits. I recommend you do, too.

Added bonuses: This is an interesting neighborhood. St. James Catholic Cathedral is close by and worth a visit if you have time – the classic and modern mix of architecture and liturgical design is beautiful and majestic. The setting peaceful and spiritual. The music programs are worth investigating.

I found a free publication in the Café – Fall Seattle Art and Performance compiled by the Stranger newspaper. It is newsy, very comprehensive and worth getting your hands on…great ideas for short forays away thorough out the entire fall season! Publication is online as well.

4 thoughts on “Short Foray Away: The Frye Art Museum and Cafe, Seattle, Wa.

  1. It has to be a great place to get away for awhile. Not too far and very reasonable too. Love to hear about your discoveries. Your good times are wonderful to be able to share.

    My Bob is in an Adult Home, and so we are no longer able to enjoy together things. In fact, after about a year and a half of being away from Arizona, my Linda and Greg and Luanne will be going with me tomorrow for the winter to their place and Bob’s and mine in Florence. Lots of changes have happened there, so it will also be a discovery trip too. Enjoy.

    • Oh, many changes…glad you are off to Florida with kids…glad you are traveling along with me! I hear Florence is a nice place to be! Safe travels!

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