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Nina Freudenheim, 83, gallery owner and vital member of the art community

Nina Freudenheim in her gallery surrounded by the work of Peter Stephens in 2012. (Robert Kirkham/ Buffalo News)

Oct. 2, 1936 – April 10, 2020

Anyone who has ridden the Metro Rail system has experienced the influence that gallery owner Nina Freudenheim had on art in Buffalo.

She was the consultant that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority hired in the early 1980s to commission art for its newly-constructed light rail rapid transit stations.

Artists for the project, one of the largest and most successful public arts initiatives in the area, included such prominent figures as Scott Burton, Charles Clough, Robert Lobe, Beverly Pepper, John Pfahl, Milton Rogovin, George Sugarman, Sam Gilliam and Carson Waterman.

The owner of what has been considered Buffalo's major commercial art gallery, which has borne her name since it opened on Franklin Street in 1975, Mrs. Freudenheim served as consultant and project director on numerous public art projects.

She also was an adviser, consultant and appraisal expert to many corporations and institutions in the area. Rich Products hired her to collect art for its new offices in 1980.

She had a strong commitment to supporting and exhibiting the finest in contemporary art, craft and photography throughout the United States and abroad, her family said. She often featured nationally-known artists with Western New York connections.

Works from her gallery, currently located in the Hotel Lenox on North Street, have been placed with leading collections, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Smithsonian Museum’s National Portrait Gallery.

Mrs. Freudenheim died Friday in Erie County Medical Center of organ failure, her family said. She was 83.

"Losing her in the art community marks the end of an era," said Gerald Mead, an artist, collector and independent curator, who had known Mrs. Freudenheim for 30 years. He said she was a "personal inspiration" to him.

"Throughout her over 45-year career as a gallerist in Buffalo, she has been the standard bearer for commercial galleries in this region. She was a vital link between artists, collectors and art museums in this area and beyond and the influence that she had in that regard cannot be underestimated. Quite simply, she enriched the cultural landscape of Western New York in incalculable ways," Mead said.

Born Nina Burgio in Pittston, Pa., she moved to Buffalo as a child with her family. She graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in 1954.

In her 20s, she studied acting at University of Buffalo and the Studio Theatre School, appearing in numerous productions at UB, Canisius College and the Studio Theatre, predecessor to the Studio Arena Theater.

In the late 1950s, she worked as a model, did live television commercials for the Your Host restaurant chain and worked at the Risman Advertising Agency, where she put on an art fair.

While working at Risman, she met her future husband, Robert L. Freudenheim, who sold printing jobs to the agency, according to a December 1993 feature story in The Buffalo News written by then-art critic Richard Huntington. He later became a partner in Thorner-Sidney Press.

When they married in 1961, Mrs. Freudenheim gave up her acting career.

"It was one of the vows," she told Huntington, who described Mrs. Freudenheim as "a vital cog in the cultural machinery in the old Rust Belt town of Buffalo, N.Y."

"She is a person totally committed to art and art's place in society," Huntington wrote.

In the mid-1960s, she was a fashion consultant who coordinated fashion shows at Shea's Performing Arts Center.

Mrs. Freudenheim became involved in the arts and arts organizations in the early 1970s, her daughter Julie said.

In the 1980s, she raised awareness about AIDS by co-founding, with Cecile Biltekoff, Western New York Art Against AIDS.

In recent years, she showed exhibitions of work by noted artists Peter Stephens and Kyle Butler in her gallery, Mead said.

Mrs. Freudenheim was honored with a show last September at the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University. The title of the exhibit was "For the Love of Art: A Tribute to Gallerist Nina Freudenheim."

She was a member of the Appraisers Association of America and is the recipient of numerous awards, including Outstanding Individual Arts Professional, given by the Arts Council and the Greater Buffalo Chamber of Commerce in 1989.

Survivors also include another daughter, Rachel; a son, Leigh; a brother, David Burgio, and four grandchildren.

A celebration of her life will be held at a later date.

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