Seattle's Frye Art Museum and the Art of the Salon

Frye Art Museum Exterior photo courtesy of

Recently I found myself at the Frye Art Museum, a modernesque building enmeshed amongst the old Catholic area of First Hill in Seattle, WA. Surrounding it is a hundred year old cathedral, a Catholic grade school, a Catholic retirement home, church offices, and a priest’s home – basically an area you might not expect a museum devoted between modern art and showcasing classics in an unusual style – somewhere a more progressive museum can stand out.

I happened on the museum during a weekend away with family, and at my mother's suggestion. We were staying at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown, next to the busy I-5 Express that runs through the city – like a modern day river carrying people instead of fish. I’ve stayed there once before with my dad – that first time we happened upon cosplayers from an anime expo being hosted in one of their conference rooms, and this time brought a fleet of Drag Queens in town for a competition and some highly entertaining elevator rides as well.

A short and misty walk from the hotel, over a bridge above the highway, past the aging cathedral, we found the heavy brass doors that lead to the main rotunda of the Frye Art Museum. As it turns out, the museum is free all year long (though they do encourage donations).

View from the Cafe

Founded in 1952, by a family of meat-packing tycoons who left behind their awe-inspiring collection, the Frye 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.” That’s according to their website, at least, and after visiting I have to agree. According to the Washington State Arts Commission, “in the last few years, the Frye has changed directions and opened itself to its immediate neighborhood through community engagement programs. It has presented international exhibitions based on the museum’s collections and has developed a renewed attention to contemporary exhibitions and local artists.” Part of that community engagement even involves a yoga class with live musical performers in the Frye Salon. Yes, you can reach a different level of zen in a museum thanks to the Frye.

Photo by Phillip Trey

It also happens that the real masterpiece of their museum is the salon room. After making my way through their modern art exhibits –which I felt to be intriguing yet widely spaced out, sometimes even only housing one installation per room – and somewhat drifting past a striking Russian propaganda art showcase and other Russian artworks,

it was this densely packed salon that really held my attention.