If you Google Fryma (pronounced, Free-ma) Mantel’s name, you’ll find it: two black figures, hands clasped together, standing between pine trees with electric red and green boughs; flecks of purple and white merge seamlessly to form words, giving the two bodies in the center a kind of shattered aura. There’s really no better way of putting it than to say that this painting has a way of holding your attention: even if you know nothing about art, it’s easy to see that Mantel has talent.
Fryma Mantel sells Real Change — and a lot of it — but she is also an accomplished poet and painter. Her art has been displayed in Seattle’s Garde Rail Gallery, and her poems have graced the pages of a few publications, including this one.
Though she spent most of her childhood and adolescence in Duluth, Minnesota, Mantel was born in Frankfurt, Germany. By the time she moved with her family to the states, Mantel spoke a smattering of Yiddish, along with what her mother used to call “a beautiful German.”
By the time she was 19, Mantel was getting a little too big for Duluth’s britches, so she headed for the Big Apple. There, she worked as a secretary, enjoying the Coney Island neighborhood she’d come to call home. Along with her husband, a French expat, she visited Paris and France’s southern coast.
When work at her brother’s retail store brought Mantel to Seattle, she happened upon, by accident, a gift for painting. At the time of her exhibition, critics hailed her work as “refreshingly primitive” masterpieces from an “outsider artist.”
Since she started selling Real Change two years ago, painting, writing, and selling the paper have kept her busy.
“I love my customers,” she said last Monday. “I love their conversations and their caring about me.”
You can find her on afternoons at the Walgreen’s on 15th Ave. E., Capitol Hill.
—Story and photo by JP Gritton.