Contributor: Katie Jaeger, Studio TJP
Zoë Dusanne—gallerist, curator, and cultural mover and shaker—opened Seattle's first private art gallery, introduced the region to modern and contemporary artists, and championed Northwest artists to the international art demimonde. Her gallery was viewed as the beating heart of the regional art scene, attracting artists and patrons from across the region, the nation, and internationally. She was hailed in her lifetime as a crucial cultural force; her collection formed much of the basis of Seattle Art Museum's modern collection.
Zoë Dusanne was born Zola Maie Graves in Kansas, to parents Letitia and James Graves. Both of her parents worked as successful chiropodists, and James was a self-taught stone carver. Both were culturally-minded and took their daughter to Chicago annually, to visit the Art Institute and attend theater productions.
Dusanne attended Oberlin College and subsequently UIUC at Urbana-Champaign. Around 1905, she married George Young. Their daughter Theodosia was born in Omaha in 1909. Dusanne and Young divorced in separated in 1911, and the following year Dusanne and her young daughter and moved to Seattle, where her parents had been living for six years. Dusanne intended to study interior design at the University of Washington, but due to the family's economic circumstances, Dusanne instead studied electrolysis and opened her own shop for the service.
Theodosia attended Cornish College of the Arts and wanted to become an actress; at the urging of Cornish founder Nellie Cornish, mother and daughter moved to New York City in 1919, settling in Greenwich Village. Dusanne would live in New York for the next 24 years. Thanks to a letter of introduction from painter Mark Tobey, Dusanne began attending the salon of Romany Marie, meeting and befriending many artists of the time. Dusanne began buying art, often paying for pieces in installments of a dollar per week. For paid work, Dusanne worked variously as an illustrator, theater prop designer, costumier, and art gallery salesperson.
Dusanne moved back to Seattle in 1942, having amassed a substantial art collection and contacts in the art world. By 1947, Dusanne and her collection had accrued a reputation such that the Seattle Art Museum mounted an exhibition of works selected from Dusanne's collection, featuring pieces by Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Hand Arp, Paul Klee, Marcel Duchamp, and Fernand Leger. This was one of the city's earliest exposures to abstract and expressionist art.
Dusanne purchased a piece of land on the slope rising above Eastlake, overlooking Lake Union and the Lake Union Steam Plant. From architects Roland Terry, Bert Tucker, and Robert Shields, Dusanne commissioned a house that would serve both as her home and as an art gallery. She financed the construction of the home by selling several of her paintings. In 1950, Dusanne moved into the house, 1303 Lakeview Place, and launched the gallery's first show, which included works by notable Northwest artists Mark Tobey, Virginia Banks, Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, and Viola and Ambrose Patterson.
In 1953, Dusanne decamped to Europe, a trip she financed by selling her grand piano. In Paris she met Modernist luminaries Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Constantin Bransuci, among others. In Venice, she stayed with heiress and patron of the arts Peggy Guggenheim.
At her gallery and home, Dusanne continued to show the works of local and international artists. Paul Horiuchi, Japanese American painter and collagist, best known for the titular background of the Mural Amphitheater (City of Seattle Landmark) at the Seattle Center,5 had his first solo show at the gallery. The show sold out. Yayoi Kusama's first show in the United States was held at the Dusanne gallery in 1957.
In 1959, the house and gallery on Lakeview Place was condemned by the city to make way for construction on Interstate. She was paid $13,350 for the property, nearly half of the $25,000 the state had offered her four years previously. Dusanne established a new gallery at 532 Broadway; consensus seems to have been that this second gallery was never the same as the Lakeview Place location. The gallery operated for five years, until Dusanne's retirement in June 1964. In September of that year, 99 paintings—the bulk of Dusanne's collection—were sold at auction, touted as the "biggest art sale in the history of Seattle."
Dusanne's impact was recognized within her lifetime. Announcement of her retirement was lamented as "truly mark[ing] the end of an era in Seattle culture." When Dusanne opened her gallery in 1950, hers was the first of its kind in the city; by the time of her death 22 years later, Seattle had more than two dozen art galleries. In 1964, a Seattle Times article assessing her legacy stated "we feel inadequate to even hazard a guess at the impact [Dusanne] has made on the culture of the community and Seattle's comparatively recent but obvious and healthy awareness in the arts."
Dusanne died in March 1972, leaving her estate to her daughter Theodosia. Within months of her death, the Henry Art Gallery held an exhibition of artworks bequested to the gallery in honor of Dusanne.
Five years after her death, the Seattle Art Museum mounted an exhibition called "Tribute to Zoe Dusanne," comprising 53 artists who Dusanne either represented or whose works she owned. The exhibition was In a feature article about the exhibition, Seattle Times art critic Deloris Tarzan wrote "It is rare that a seller of art is more important than its creators… She did it all with minimal money, no precedent and little help from her friends. Her principal assets were a sensitive eye and seemingly endless determination… [it is] impossible to give her too much credit for developing the city's cultural awareness."
Paula Becker, “Dusanne, Zoe (1884-1972),” HistoryLink.org essay 5222, February 16, 2003, https://historylink.org/file/5222.
Jo Ann Ridley, Zoë Dusanne: An Art Dealer Who Made a Difference (Fithian Press, 2011).
Tifa Tomb, “Black Arts Legacies: Curators Creating Space,” Crosscut, June 1, 2022, https://blackartslegacies.crosscut.com/articles/zoe-dusanne-and-elisheba-johnson.
Paula Becker, "Dusanne, Zoe (1884-1972)," HistoryLink.org essay 5222, February 16, 2003, https://historylink.org/file/5222 (accessed September 2023).
Gayle Clemans, "'Infinity Mirrors' is spectacular, surreal—and, yes, reflective," Seattle Times, June 30, 2017, p. B3.
Louis R. Guzzo, "Mrs. Dusanne, Pioneer in Arts, Retiring," Seattle Times, July 5, 1964, p. 97.
Julie Peterson, "Deaths, Funerals," Seattle Times, August 30, 1999, p. B6.
John J. Reddin, "Coming Up: Biggest Art Sale in Seattle," Seattle Times, September 18, 1964, p. 2.
Deloris Tarzan, "Tribute paid to Zoe Dusanne," Seattle Times, April 3, 1977, p. 76.
Michael Upchurch, "She shaped our arts scene," Seattle Times, June 12, 2011, p. H3.
John Voorhees, "First part of Dusanne collection on view," Seattle Times, August 16, 1972, p. E16.