A Toast to Sam Davidson

Saturday, June 24, 2023 1:34 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

After 50 years as a defining presence in the Seattle arts community, Sam Davidson—owner/director of the Davidson Galleries—is retiring. We can’t let this milestone pass without raising a toast to Sam.

When Art Access launched, we featured the Davidson Galleries on the cover of our first issue. That was over 31 years ago, but Sam already loomed large on the scene even then.

He had started the First Thursday Pioneer Square Art Walk in the early 1980s (with nearby art dealers). And Sam was already gaining international recognition: the Davidson Galleries hosted the first exhibition of contemporary Chinese paintings in the United States.

Similarly, in conjunction with the Goodwill Games in 1990, Sam showed contemporary Russian painters whose work had not been allowed outside their own country. Pretty good for a man who started his arts career by dashing all around the US in an old station wagon, selling antique and modern prints. (Prints were his first love, and eventually became his focus.)

Sam’s dedication to local artists is perhaps his greatest legacy. He gave exposure to sculptures by John Grade, acrylics by cartoonist Lynda Barry, oils by Susan Bennerstrom, etchings by Art Hansen, woodcuts by Lockwood Dennis—the list goes on, with a range and variety as impressive as the depth of talent. All told, Sam and his staff presented over 800 exhibitions, and published over 100 catalogs.

Before relaxing into retirement, Sam must contend with “18,000 pieces of paper” as he refers to the galleries’ holdings. These include works by “old masters” like Dürer, Goya, and Hiroshige; by modernists like M.C. Escher, Leonard Baskin, and Käthe Kollwitz; and by contemporary artists who prove that the printmaking tradition is vividly alive both here and afar.

Sam Davidson knows that tradition as well as anyone in the field. He’d love to find a buyer for the business, but what he won’t find is a true replacement: Sam is an extremely limited edition, a one-off. It has been our great pleasure and honor to be in his orbit all these years, and we can only add our voice to a much larger chorus…

“Printmaking often is challenged to find its place in the contemporary art world. It’s a medium beloved by those who know it and shrouded in misconceptions by those who don’t. Sam Davidson created a place for prints, and contemporary printmakers, that’s influence and significance mean more to artists than he will probably ever know. By dedicating his professional life to printmaking and hosting exhibitions of contemporary printmakers in a grand space, he made a bold statement as to the medium’s significance and surely educated truly countless art goers—some of whom undoubtedly went on to love, understand, and support printmaking.

Without the opportunity Sam gave me as a barely-ink-on-thesis-dry young art professional to take over the contemporary printmaking department in 2013, I would not have come to know some of my dearest friends, started my podcast, nor met my husband. I doubt I will come across another person who has influenced the course of my life more significantly than Sam Davidson. Even though I know him well enough to know that he will resist the compliment of this statement, it is not an exaggeration to say that I would not be who I am today without him. Thank you, Sam.”

Miranda K. Metcalf, founder and co-host of the Hello, Print Friend podcast

“I am so thankful to Sam Davidson for his longstanding and undivided dedication to historic and contemporary printmaking. I am honored and forever grateful to be among the artists he has supported in his gallery for over twenty years now. Also, as a collector myself, I am thrilled with the amazing prints he has made available to me and the other print lovers out there around the world. I cannot think of anyone who has contributed more to the world of printmaking than Sam. And to top it all off, he is such a wonderful and amazing person, with masterful vision!”

 —Michael Barnes, printmaker

It’s been a joy showing with Sam these past 10 years. His opinion is grounded in such a vast knowledge of and passion for the entire history of printmaking. No one knows more than Sam about this medium but he’s never arrogant or condescending. He’s deeply curious—always open to new ideas, new artists, new techniques. I love his deadpan sense of humor—a genuine surprise to me when I brought my tonal monotypes to the gallery for the first time, and he said ‘But where’s the color?’ Silence...and then a slight smile….”

Wendy Orville, printmaker

“I’ve been married to Sam for 42 years and he is and always has been deeply committed to art, artists, art patrons, and the community. His authority and expertise in original prints is internationally and nationally recognized. He’s earned it. He’s intelligent, honest, ethical, and fair. He’s not afraid to take risks, showing work that is often difficult or controversial. He’s also handsome and a lot of fun. Bravo, Sam, and thank you for your wonderful contribution to the rest of us.”

—Elizabeth Donnally Davidson, ceramicist

“It has meant so much to me to be represented by Davidson Galleries for 30 years! It has been a wonderful connection and source of pride for my prints to be included among so many great artists and in context with the history of the print that Sam has promoted with his knowledge and ‘old world’ gentlemanly charm. As a gallery dealer Sam has consistently presented, preserved, and taught about a full range of wonderful art, an invaluable role. It is impressive that so many of my works are out in the world to art patrons and collectors through the efforts of Sam and the gallery staff, allowing me to feel supported in my art making throughout this time and with encouragement to continue.”

—Karen Kunc, printmaker

“Sam was the first gallery dealer to take a chance on me, when at the time, I was a single-mom who had the wild thought of starting an art publication. Not only has Sam continued to be a valued client for over 31 years, he has also supported me in my personal and civic life—attending my wedding and cheering me on over the years in my elected roles as city council person and now public utility district commissioner. So forever, I will have a soft spot in my heart for Sam because he believed in and cared for me.”

—Debbi Lester, Art Access Publisher

Tom McDonald

Tom McDonald is a writer and musician living on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Davidson Galleries, located at 313 Occidental Avenue South in Seattle, Washington, is open Friday through Saturday from 11 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. and Tuesday through Thursday by appointment. For more information, email info@davidsongalleries or visit www.davidsongalleries.com.

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