Rescuing artist benches for Edmonds | Art & Appetite

By James Spangler | Apr 09, 2017
Photo by: James Spangler Mary Olsen, left, and Tracy Felix prepare to return to Edmonds with artist tables in tow.

Most artists require a few tools of the trade. At the very least, they need a surface, some sort of medium, some way to apply the medium, and maybe an easel. As traditionally trained artists learn the fundamentals of drawing the human form, they often discover another useful tool – the artist’s bench.

Imagine spending hours holding a sketchpad or stretched canvas as you seek to capture the essence of a live model. Or how about spending three hours crouched on the floor of a studio straining your back as you struggle to render some sort of likeness of the model in front of you.

You might begin to understand the artist’s appreciation for the artist’s bench.

It’s because of that appreciation that, while you were relaxing and eating your breakfast last Sunday morning, I found myself in a car headed for Wallingford on a mission to rescue a couple of dozen artist benches.

Let me back up a little.

Artist Sam Dimico, who passed away this last December, left Spokane to try his fortune in Seattle 38 years ago. He began working for Craftsmen Press, eventually becoming head of its art department. Later, he taught for many years at the Seattle Art Institute.

Throughout his entire artistic career, Dimico belonged to an informal group that met each Saturday morning to do live drawing. Initially the drawing sessions were held at Seattle Art – the premier art supply store downtown. Each participant tossed in a dollar to pay for the model and space.

At its peak, as many as 60 artists would attend. Over the years, the class became a movable feast, bouncing from the Firemen's Union to Obie Signs on Eastlake and over to the Burnley School, finally coming to rest at Sam’s place in Wallingford. Sam and Lyle Silver, another well-known Seattle artist, were the group’s prime movers.

“It was a big part of the art community – a big part of our lives,” said Mack Benek, a local artist, sign painter and longtime friend of Dimico’s. “Afterwards, a lot of us would go over to Central Tavern or some place. We'd eat, talk art, drink beer, and maybe visit the galleries. It was a good time. I'm glad to see that the benches are getting new life.”

It was Mack who put the Dimico estate in touch with Art Start Northwest’s Tracy Felix and Mary Olson last week. Although they’ve not yet begun construction at their space on Main Street in Edmonds, they decided the benches would be worth storing for future use.

There’s something cool about preserving these simple, utilitarian benches – some of which are perhaps decades old – passing them on to yet another generation of aspiring artists.

They're not really much to look at – basically just five pieces of No. 2-grade fir, cobbled together with galvanized nails by some guy named Leonard. But their rescue represents a sort of continuity in art instruction in the Puget Sound – that, although Sam and Lyle’s group of artists may have come to its inevitable end in Wallingford, 24 of these essential artifacts of that great drawing group will once again be put to use for life drawing instruction here in Edmonds, helping to nurture new friendships and new connections in our art community for many years to come.

James Spangler is the owner of Spangler Book Exchange in Edmonds and an aficionado of all things art and appetite. Do you know of a Snohomish County restaurant, art gallery or theatrical show worthy of a review? Call him at 206-795-0128 or email him at


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