In Memoriam: The White Grande Dame of Oysterville

Posted on November 06, 2013, 12:00 pm
8 mins

Slide Polly Friedlander photographed by Anna Skibksa

Polly Friedlander, one of the first gallerists in Seattle’s history and a lifelong advocate for the arts, passed away on October 29, 2013. Artist Anna Skibska was a close friend and associate and has written the following tribute:

I met Polly Friedlander in the year 2000 at one of her Garden Parties in Oysterville.

At that time my English was very limited, but I knew enough to recognize the incredible importance of Polly’s idea: to establish and to cultivate the Espy Foundation.

I was impressed by Polly at first sight—her inborn grandness, her natural sense of design and winged imagination, reinforced by knowledge and passionate reading. In Polly’s library, to my joy, I found among others the Greek classic tragedies and comedies, so rare to see these days. Through these books—which we had read in different languages and different times—we began to get to know each other.

Unavailable bear

Polly was not only classy and stylish but also granted with a great wit. I remember how gracefully she encouraged a participant of the Garden Party to go for a walk. The participant heard about bears on the peninsula and hesitated to go out. “The bear is not available…today,” she remarked, cooling the feverish imagination.


Polly had all the attributes which I admire and treasure. She fostered an infectious love toward Oysterville. It was a passionate love, elegantly and lavishly shared with others. She opened wide the door of her tastefully designed home and the gate of her white garden to her guests.

The gate of the white garden was guarded by a bush of white roses. Every year, the bush made an amazingly beautiful stunt, blooming abundantly and kindly greeting the guests of the Espy Foundation congregating in the garden on the third weekend of July, year after year.

…”and what is left of the rose is only its name”. (The Name of the Rose”, Umberto Ecco)

The beauty of Oysterville was enhanced by Polly’s presence, by her hard work creating a sanctuary for visual artists and writers. The idea of place and time fully devoted to art and literature enchanted me. Therefore, I decided to support the Foundation by donating my work to all the auctions. I am emphasizing: I did it, because of Polly and her energy.

Sadly, O’ville will never be the same without her.

Espy Foundation

Polly, the White Grande Dame and the Foundation and its mission—providing artists and writers with vital, formative time and space—were inextricably linked. When Polly asked me to be a member of the advisory board, I was bursting of pride to work with her for the common good, for the Foundation.

Andrews Garage

We had never talked about art. There was no need to do so, as we understood each other deeply and implicitly. I was so honored to share this connection with her.

In the year 2008 Polly asked me to present my work in Oysterville. That’s how my exhibition designed for the Orangerie of Versailles (France) and originally presented there was brought over to Andrews Garage in Oysterville. Polly hoped that despite the roughness of the time and the economy, the exhibition would help to raise some money for her beloved the Espy…

Empty space and hope

Then Oysterville was deprived of Polly and her faithful dog, Elmo. The Foundation has been “hibernated.”

Let’s hope it will wake up some day bearing not only the name of Willard Espy but also Polly’s.

For Polly and the Foundation were the same entity.

“La la”

Last summer P. and I visited Polly in Friday Harbor. She recognized neither my friend nor me.

I was standing in front of Polly senselessly stammering and feeling as if tidal waves of tears were rushing to my eyes. All of the sudden I understood that I needed to make the connection another way. So I said “la la, la la la.” Polly’s eye blinked with sparks and a shadow of a smile went though her face. She smiled as I was progressing saying “boom, boom” which in our code meant fireworks. “Zoom, zoom” was “to accelerate” and “bubbles” meant sparkling wine or champagne. The mutual understanding was established again. Her smile stopped my tears. We have never suffered from a lack of communication. We have always understood each other on our private way.


I have visited Oysterville in July. I must say that Polly’s absence there was painfully larger for me than her presence had ever been. Everyone in Oysterville talked about her…

One of the conversations on the peninsula brought me two trivets. They belonged once to Polly’s elegant household. In Seattle I incorporated them into my interior, transforming them into a piece of art. They also made a priceless and singular souvenir from Polly.

A print of a Magnolia blossomMagnolia

As I visited Polly in Friday Harbor I noticed a carefully framed print hanging on the wall of the living room. The print depicted, with all botanical details, a white magnolia flower. It was probably engraved and printed in the early nineteenth century in Europe. The print must have adorned an expensive botanical book. Later, many of the exquisite books were torn to single pages and sold piecemeal for a higher profit.

There would not have been anything special about that print or even that barbaric butchery of books, but…another print made out of the same plate has been hanging for the last decade on a wall of my studio in Seattle.

I had received “my white magnolia” as a present in 1988 in Silesia, and then I brought it here.


Thus with the flower of a white magnolia and with a painful sadness in my heart I close my tribute to the White Grande Dame of Oysterville. Who, as legend has it, liked white flowers.


Anna Skibska.   Written in Seattle.   AD  2013