The Gallerists

In photographs and words, K.B. Dixon profiles three leading Portland gallery owners: Martha Lee, Charles Froelick, and Elizabeth Leach


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


No one (or almost no one) goes into the gallery business for the money—they go into it for the art.

I once published a piece titled An Artist’s Alphabet. It was a satiric tour of the art world in dictionary form. A was for Aerial View: “When an artist looks down on you.” B for Brushstroke: “The painter’s declaration that ‘Kilroy was here’.” C for Craft: “To the Classicist what ‘invention’ was to the Romantic.” D for Dada: “The movement that was, in a sense, MOMA’s papa.” E for Easel: “The rack upon which an artist’s hopes are tortured.” F for Form: “The shape ships are in.” And G for Gallery Owner: a person I cavalierly defined as “Satan in a black turtleneck.” I was, of course, parodying a barnacle-encrusted stereotype. When it comes to gallerists the opposite is true in most cases—most cases outside of New York, anyway.

Gallerists are, in fact, the hidden heroes of the art world. They are the people who promote our established artists and who bring new artists to our attention; the people who provide those artists a place to exhibit their work and a chance to pay their rent. They have a unique and valuable set of skills—they are part aesthetician, part businessperson, part soothsayer.

The three gallerists here have been a vital part of our artistic community for decades. They have played a major role in the creation and development of this city and states cultural history.


MARTHA LEE: Owner of Russo-Lee Gallery


“It doesn’t seem that long ago,” Martha Lee writes, “that I sat with Laura Russo as she worked on her introduction for the gallery’s 20th Anniversary catalogue…and suddenly here it is ten years later and we are celebrating our 30th.” That was in 2016. “While much has changed, so much remains the same. The Laura Russo Gallery remains firmly rooted in a deep commitment to the Pacific Northwest art community. The fourteen years I worked with Laura instilled in me a passion for the art and artists of this region. And since taking ownership of the gallery over [ten] years ago, my own commitment to promoting and celebrating the careers of local artists has only grown stronger.”

Russo-Lee Gallery represents artists such as Lucinda Parker, Mel Katz, Michael Brophy, and Sherrie Wolf.


CHARLES FROELICK: Owner of Froelick Gallery


Charles Froelick opened his gallery 25 years ago. An active (some might say hyper-active) member of the arts community, he has been president of the Portland Art Dealers Association and a board member of the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts. He has worked with the Friends of the Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts at the Portland Art Museum as a member of the Board of Advisors as well as its President and has served on the Regional Arts & Culture Council’s Public Art Advisory Committee. An artist’s art dealer, Froelick credits much of his success to his close, long-lasting relationships with both artists and collectors.

Froelick Gallery represents artists such as Katherine Ace, Tom Prochaska, Kevin Kadar, and the Estate of Rick Bartow.


ELIZABETH LEACH: Owner of Elizabeth Leach Gallery


Elizabeth Leach Gallery was established in 1981. Its mission was “to create a dynamic dialogue between the local community and the global art world.” A member of the Art Dealers Association of America, the gallery is focused on International and Northwest artists working in a wide variety of media. “Led by the charismatic and passionate Leach, the gallery has always prided itself on engaging in a full-throated conversation about contemporary art,” writes Briana Miller in The Oregonian.

Elizabeth Leach Gallery represents artists such as Lee Kelly, Stephen Hayes, Judy Cooke, and Christopher Rauschenberg.

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