POURING THEIR “ART” OUT IN MILL VALLEY
Donna Seager & Suzanne Gray
By Alexandra Fee
In this issue of Mill Valley Living, we are honored to highlight the creative force behind Seager/Gray Gallery, Donna Seager and Suzanne Gray. Beginning with Susan Cummins Gallery and Robert Green Fine Arts who paved the way as the first original art galleries, Mill Valley has emerged as a bonafide destination for fine art with its exceptional art galleries. Seager/Gray has now been joined by Kim Eagles-Smith Gallery’s relocation here from San Francisco and most recently, Emebet Korn with Desta Gallery, originally in San Anselmo.
Photos by Laura Reoch
In the world of art, the role of a gallerist is critically important. Successfully combining business savvy with personal adoration of the artworks takes passion, dedication, experience and hard work. Gallerists must collaborate symbiotically with their artists and collectors to communicate and spread their collective, creative expression. While art education is certainly necessary, good gallerists spend years honing their eyes for talent to solidify their role as tastemakers. As gallerists identify the artists that interest and excite them, it is through their tried and true experience that great gallerists understand the nuances behind working a conduit between their artists and collectors.
University of Texas graduate of Art History and English, and New Orleans native, Donna Seager’s original intention to write about art shifted to directly immersing herself in the art world by working in art galleries — in New Orleans on Royal Street and then on to Boston where she was a director of a gallery on Newbury Street. She eventually landed in the Bay Area where she worked for various galleries, including stints with fellow gallerists, Kim Eagle -Smith and Robert Green. Through her experience, Donna developed her own aesthetic which led her to open Donna Seager Gallery in 2005 on Fourth street in San Rafael to showcase her particular appreciation of works of art.
Suzanne Gray was raised in upstate New York and attended Syracuse University where she graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She eventually followed her parents to the Bay Area during the Tech Boom and after a few moves and settling her youngest child in Kindergarten, a close friend introduced her to Donna—this marked the beginning of both a beautiful friendship and partnership. Art had always been a part of her life. During our interview she recalled how much she enjoyed her college art history classes and watching her parents collect art from local artists, so when the opportunity to work for Donna at her gallery in San Rafael arose, she jumped at the chance. After two years of working side by side, it was clear to both Donna and Suzanne that their appreciation for each other’s talents and shared passion for art was mutually inspiring and well worth a shot at forging a formal relationship and opening their own gallery. Ten years later, Donna is still quick to point out what “a great gallerist” Suzanne is which led us to ask Donna what makes a great gallerist? Donna quickly asserted that the ability to wear many hats is key. There are so many levels to running a successful gallery, including the curation, client relationships and understanding installation whereby the individual art pieces speak to each other within a space, an aspect both of them particularly enjoy .
Donna and Suzanne brought their partnership to life when they opened Seager/Gray Gallery on Sunnyside Avenue in 2011 but quickly outgrew that space as their business continued to grow. Their current location with gleaming, enormous and inviting windows, an abundance of natural light and high ceilings has proven to be an ideal space to showcase works of art from various genres. Located on Throckmorton, in the heart of downtown Mill Valley, the move has represented a sort of homecoming for Donna as she raised her children, John and Emily here. For Suzanne, also a Mill Valley resident for the past ?? years, it, too, was a natural fit as she also raised her two sons, Van and Jack in Mill Valley. . .
Seager/Gray’s distinctive ability to curate group shows including Donna’s passion project, The Art of the Book—now 16 years and running is just one of the areas they excel in. Donna not only loves books but appreciates them as true works of art. She educated us about how many artistic decisions there actually are in book making—from the book artists, binders, printmakers, handmade paper, letterpress, fonts, etchings and original structures. Donna explained how these books convey a “museum quality” feeling that classifies them as “fine art”. Seager/Gray is well recognized for their expertise in this field, having curated shows around the country, including an annual show for the Brooklyn Public Library for the past 10 years — 10 Years of Artist Books, for the Sun Valley Writers Conference and the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art to name a few As this program grew, artists from all over the world wanted to show with them. Universities and large institutions are avid collectors of fine art books so the opportunity to present these in the context of contemporary fine art attracts prominent book collectors as well as collectors who see them for the first time. They provoke conversation.
Suzanne’s forte has been proven time and time again and is easily seen when she enters a space and inventively curates a variety of pieces that flow and work beautifully together. Donna and Suzanne encourage their clients to take pieces home on approval, to see a particular piece in different lights and at different times of day and night in their home.
Beyond their gallery space, Seager/Gray’s notable internet platform presence, including Artsy and 1stDibs has garnered them significant international attention. Moreover, as a destination gallery, they ship work all over the world including the likes of Abu Dhabi.
Donna and Suzanne have similar aesthetics and sensibilities. They both love materials—the organic and tactile qualities of materials that provoke curiosity and mystery. “There’s definitely something that resonates in nature with everything we like” Suzanne told us. “Art that has content but with a mastery of materials”, Donna emphasized, pushes the allure of materials to a different level. This has developed into a recognizable aesthetic which often leads Seager/Gray to sell multiple pieces by various artists to the same collectors. Their upcoming show in June — Material Matters–encompasses tactile response- works that trigger your emotions. Material includes paint, glass, thread, books, clay, stone, wood, weaving, and even shredded money. As Suzanne avowed, “It is incredibly rewarding to work with a client and introduce them to something entirely different beyond paintings. Per Donna, “Art in a space tends to talk to each other and when you have paintings, objects and sculptures all in the space, it reverberates and heightens your appreciation.”
Seager/Gray Gallery has remained fluid throughout the pandemic but they are certainly excited to revitalize their exhibition schedule. They openly admitted to us that they have learned a lot during the pandemic and remain focused on continuing to curate and introduce their clients to exceptional works of art in all sorts of mediums. They thrive in their sense of community along with all of the other business owners here and love the lifestyle Mill Valley affords them. To this end, they are firm believers in giving back to their community as they have consistently supported the Mill Valley Public Library, KIDDO, The Mill Valley Film Festival, Doculands, College of Marin zoom classes, jurying shows for non-profit arts organizations, Make-A-Wish Foundation and will be co-hosting the 10,000 Degrees fundraiser- an organization they remain passionate about which evens the playing field in education by shepherding underprivileged youth through college and beyond with scholarships and mentorships–all contributing to their intimate understanding of the fiber of our community.
Seager/Gray is also known for their collaboration with the legendary Joan Baez, and her “Mischief Makers” shows comprised of her painted portraits of people who are not afraid to take risks to change the world. Mischief Makers 1 included portraits of Martin Luther-King, The Dalai Lama as a Boy, Bob Dylan, Maya Angelou and with her latest Mischief Makers 2, she painted Kamala (badass)Harris, Tony (Dr. Anthony Fauci), The Glorious Notorious R.B.G. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg), Alice Walker, Colin Kaepernic and Greta Thunberg. A print of Greta was recently released on Earth Day, April 22 whereby a portion of the proceeds directly benefits climate change initiatives.
Donna and Suzanne told us they “couldn’t be happier” to operate in the presence of the other, fantastic galleries here in Mill Valley. They love the fact that each gallery reflects the sensibility of its owner which subsequently provides art enthusiasts with plenty of options. Moreover, with our outstanding restaurants, hiking trails, theatres, shops and live music offerings, it is clear to see why Mill Valley now reigns as an art destination.
Donna eloquently summarized their experience as gallerists, “at first you are more of pen light without a proven track record whereby you can offer your perspective of what you think is interesting and valuable to your community, but as your reputation grows, your beam becomes brighter and larger and enables you to spotlight the artists you believe in.“ The next time you walk by Seager/Gray Gallery, Donna and Suzanne encourage you to walk inside— their circular, sculptural, organic desk in the center of their space symbolizes their open door policy of welcoming all to walk through their doors so they can share their artistic discoveries with everyone right here in Mill Valley and beyond.