Picturing a Passion

January 15 – March 6, 2011

Seattle patrons of the arts Charles and Emma Frye were passionate supporters of music as well as the visual arts. Through historical photographs of their art collection as it was presented in their home and offices, Picturing a Passion celebrates the Fryes’ commitment to the arts in a bygone era.

Married for nearly fifty years, the Fryes hailed from Scott County, Iowa, a farming community. They made their way to Seattle in 1888 and established meatpacking, cattle ranching, and agricultural businesses in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Once these endeavors proved successful, the Fryes turned their attention to art collecting. Charles once said, “Art is, indeed, the perfection of good-nature.”

The couple may have begun collecting art in 1893, when they attended the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Sixteen years later, they loaned a French painting to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle.

In the early summer of 1914 the Fryes sailed to Europe, where they acquired German, Dutch, and a few French canvases; they returned to Europe four times in the next eleven years. Their enthusiasm for collecting deepened through personal friendships with American artists such as Henry Raschen (1854–1937) and Eustace Ziegler (1881–1969), and their art collection eventually grew to 232 works.

The Fryes housed their collection in their 1902 Seattle home, at 722 Ninth Avenue. They added a gallery annex in 1914, shortly after their first European adventure. In addition to hanging their collection “salon style,” with paintings installed floor to ceiling, the Fryes covered some works with curtains, which they would dramatically unveil for dinner guests. They Fryes combined their passion for music and art by piping music into the gallery; operas and sonatas swirled around the landscapes and portraits they cherished.

In addition to displaying the collection in their home, the Fryes installed a number of artworks in their meatpacking plant offices. However, this arrangement had tragic consequences when a B-29 Superfortress bomber, under secret development at Boeing, crashed into the Frye business headquarters in 1943. The crash killed thirty-two people, severely damaged the plant, ruined an unknown number of paintings, and destroyed most of Frye business files, including archival records of the art collection.

After Charles and Emma Frye died, their collection, consisting primarily of European art, was gifted to the people of Seattle in perpetuity and today forms the Founding Collection of the Frye Art Museum, which opened in 1952. This living legacy continues to celebrate the art of the Munich Secession, founded in 1892, and its predecessor, the Künstlergenossenschaft (Munich Artists’ Association).

Picturing a Passion is organized by the Frye Art Museum and curated by Jayme Yahr. The exhibition is funded by the Frye Foundation with the generous support of Frye Art Museum members and donors. Seasonal support is provided by ArtsFund.

Image Credits:
Interior of the Fryes’ gallery annex (detail).
Portraits of Charles and Emma Frye exhibited in their gallery annex.
Interior of the Fryes’ gallery annex.
Exterior of the Frye family home, circa 1925.
Frye business office, 1942.
Destruction of the Frye meatpacking headquarters due to the B-29 Superfortress bomber crash.

Charles and Emma Frye's collection was gifted to the people of Seattle in perpetuity and today forms the Founding Collection of the Frye Art Museum.