I arrived at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum to interview Frieda Sondland, finding her in the lobby getting the rock-star treatment from a handful of admirers. Frieda has received much notice, including a feature in the Seattle Times, for being a citizen curator of one of the museum’s three new shows, “Beloved: Pictures at an Exhibition.”
“I’m floating,” says the petite 90-year-old, adding wryly, “I don’t know if I’m a celebrity or notorious.”
She is pleased the exhibits’ opening festivities attracted a record 542 members, but gives credit to the museum staff, particularly director Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, who says Frieda “has added something to my life.”
Frieda and her late husband Gunther began daily visits to the museum in 2004.
“He could spend hours here,” says Frieda.
After his death, she moved to The Summit at First Hill Jewish retirement home and began daily walks to the
Frye. As she grew intimately acquainted with its permanent collection — the legacy of Charles and Emma Frye — she became known to the staff. So when the museum founders’ full-length portraits were
stored away, Frieda boldly asked, “Where are the Fryes?”
When informed, she told Jo-Anne, “maybe you should clean out your storage.”
Jo-Anne and Frieda escorted me around the 23 paintings that Frieda selected from 232 in the permanent collection. Visitors will find the usual detailed descriptions of the works along with Frieda’s thoughts. It’s a different approach that raises the question of who “owns” the art: Trained professionals or museum patrons?
Divided into three sections, religion, landscape and portraits, some paintings evoke childhood memories for German-born Frieda. Oils of two Bavarian lakes, Königssee and Chiemsee, remind her of family vacations. Otto von Bismark
warrants a spot because he was “a great statesman,” she says, presiding over one of the freest social, cultural and religious atmospheres in European Jewish history. (That legacy left many German Jews unable to predict the destructive power of Nazism.)
Frieda’s parents did have foresight and she was 16 they fled in 1937 — aided by her father’s Russian passport. She married Gunther before she left and was pregnant when she arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay, where she became a clothing designer and seamstress. It was eight years before they were reunited. In 1952 they joined relatives in Seattle, eventually opening Fauntleroy Cleaners.
You’ll find some Christian-themed works in Beloved, but those reflect the plight of the weak.
“Religion is not the most important thing, sweetheart” she tells me. “Be a decent human being…I had to learn to be tolerant at an early age.
“I thank God I’m still alive,” she says, “enjoying my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren” (that’s two, five and four, respectively).
• • •
Michael Spektor has been busier than usual since being elected president of the dental fraternity, Alpha Omega International (AO). The volunteer position involves a fair amount of travel to monitor the organization’s many local chapters. (There’s that upcoming trip to Paris, so no complaints there.)
Founded to combat discrimination in dental schools, AO has grown into an international, multi-cultural organization, with about 6,000 members worldwide. It “started as an organization to fight prejudice and now does tzedakah,” Michael explained by phone from Mercer Island, where he’d just had dinner at Stopsky’s Deli.
AO provides education, leadership training, and mentoring to members, and even some political détente. Recently, it co-sponsored a meeting in Israel of dentists from Israel and Ramallah. Working with the Alliance for Oral Health Across Borders and Dental Volunteers for Israel they are using a healthcare model “to break barriers [between] people who don’t want to talk to each other,” Michael said.
Both of Israel’s dental schools were founded by AO.
Our local chapter focuses on fundraising, donating money to charities that include Jewish Family Service, DVI and the Israeli dental schools.
A Chicago native and former professor of periodontics at the UW, Michael practices three days a week with his wife, Wendy. The couple has two grown sons.
He’s a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and remains active in AIPAC, DentPAC (Washington Dental Association’s political action committee) and the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee. A child of Holocaust survivors, he helped start the Second Generation group with Henry Friedman that has become the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center.
Michael laments that fewer Jewish students are going into dentistry, and fewer college students overall are going into health care.
“One of the things we’re [AO] doing is try to encourage all students to get back into sciences,” he said.