Over the years, she’s made walk-on appearances in the memoirs and histories of Northwest art. In fact, Zoë Dusanne (1884-1972) seemed destined to remain a wraith-like footnote in so many books.
Finally, a book has been written about Dusanne’s remarkable life: Jo Ann Ridley’s concise biography, “Zoë Dusanne: An Art Dealer Who Made a Difference,” captures the glamorous, enigmatic and percipient force behind Seattle’s first professional, contemporary art dealer.
Dusanne, a light-skinned African American who sometimes claimed south-of-the border ancestry, not only moved among the familiar names of the so-called Northwest School; her reach extended to the European avant-garde, bringing to Seattle the works of Paul Klee, Hans Arp, Giorgio de Chirico and the Belgian-born fabulist poet and painter Henri Michaux.
Ridley, a journalist who covered the arts for six decades, is an honest broker who reminds the reader that when artists’ egos and memories are involved, veracity can be the first casualty.
Dusanne was born Zola Maie Graves into a cultured family in Newton, Kansas. She attended Oberlin College for one year before setting out on a picaresque life that included an early Seattle residence and friendship with Nellie Cornish; a Greenwich Village interlude, in which she collected modern art; and a return to Seattle in the early 1940s as Zoë Dusanne. Her impressive art collection returned home with her.
Dusanne was a renowned beauty. Ridley quotes Seattle artist Thelma Lehman’s first impression of the future doyenne of the Seattle arts scene: “She was from New York and uncommonly beautiful. Dark eyes, prematurely silver hair, ivory skin glow…. Her presence at any gathering, inevitably, was stunning.”
Dusanne set up an electrolysis studio in Downtown Seattle to support herself as her art collection soon made waves in postwar Seattle. Nearly two dozen paintings, exhibited as the Zoë Dusanne Collection, appeared at the Seattle Art Museum in 1947.
In 1950, Dusanne opened her gallery in her new house at 1303 Lakeview Place on Capitol Hill. Designed by three architects, one of them Roland Terry, the modern home with lots of glass and sweeping views became a place of pilgrimage for local and visiting artists.
Four black-and-white photographs of the house reminds us what was lost when the new Interstate 5 plowed across the western face of Capitol Hill in the late 1950s.
Afterward, Dusanne set up shop at 532 Broadway N., but the magic was gone. Her declining years, wistful but dignified, were spent at the Grosvenor House.
Sadly, Ridley, died shortly after finishing her book. Her tale of cutting-edge art being created and exhibited here long before Seattle was “world class” is a story that had to be told.
“Zoë Dusanne: An Art Dealer Who Made a Difference,” by Jo Anne Ridley, published by Fithian Press. 156 pages; $15.95.