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Connect: Imagination for sale in the Garland District

In 1969, Sue Bradley was standing at the stove in the tiny Boston apartment she shared with her husband, Scot, getting ready to make dinner. She had two eggs and toast and that was pretty much it. She took one egg in one hand and one in the other.

” ‘Here’s an egg for Scot and here’s an egg for Sue,’ I said, and then I dropped Scot’s egg,” Bradley says, laughing at the memory. “That turned into this ‘I dropped your egg’ thing we still have going on.” At the time, Scot was a medical student and Sue worked as a secretary taking home $165 every two weeks.

“The rent was $200, so by the time we reached the end of the week, there really wasn’t anything left,” she says. “When I dropped the egg, I thought to myself: ‘This has got to be the low point. It’s only going to get better from now on.’ ” It did.

Last fall, the Spokane Arts Commission gave Bradley the Individual Benefactor Award for her “generous contributions of time, expertise and finances to all manner of arts activities throughout the community.”

Since dropping the egg, 60-year-old Bradley – the president of the board at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture – has worked as a trial lawyer and a sports promoter, opened the Tin Man Gallery on West Garland Avenue in Spokane, and a year ago ventured into retail with the Ruby Slipper, a funky shoe store next to the gallery.

She has volunteered for the Spokane Art School and countless other art projects and institutions, been involved in political campaigns, and served as director of the Goodwill Games and as a trustee with the Spokane Parks Foundation – to mention a few of her roles.

“I had to cut way back on everything else once I took on the position with the MAC,” Bradley says, almost apologetically.

Bradley grew up in Bloomfield, a suburb of Detroit, where her dad was an engineer who worked for the automotive industry and IBM. He developed assembly lines and later went into robotics, all to the benefit of the family-owned manufacturing business.

“I was raised in an entrepreneurial family – he was way ahead of his time,” she says.

Bradley met her husband in high school.

“We dated my senior year, and that was it. Then he went off to school at (the University of) Michigan,” Bradley says. “I went to Holyoke but didn’t last there. I headed back to Michigan and graduated with a major in American history.”

The newlyweds headed to Boston, where Scot enrolled in medical school and she went to work.

“We didn’t take an allowance from our parents. Most of our friends did, but we wanted to do it on our own,” Bradley says.

“My dad called it character building, you know – we had loans, I worked.”

The tiny apartment at the bottom of Beacon Hill was a contrast to her childhood accommodations.

“There were rats – what can I say? But it was the late 1960s. Boston was the hippie capital of the world,” Bradley says. “At one point we rented an apartment over this leather shop owned by the most wonderful woman. I’m telling you, we got all the secondhand pot smoke.”

But life wasn’t all hippie dreams: Bradley was admitted to Harvard Law School, but she says she’d have graduated and become “one of those high-stress, East Coast corporate attorneys.” She decided against that life.

Scot Bradley’s medical studies took the couple to Portland, Maine, and for a two-month stint at a hospital in London, then to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“His career was going in a straight line. We didn’t want to interfere with that, so we moved,” Bradley says.

“I enrolled at the University of Minnesota and had my first child in the middle of my second year in law school. At the time, that was something I couldn’t have done at Harvard.”

Bradley and her husband have three sons: Chris, 32, who works with Bradley at the Tin Man Gallery; Nate, 27, who’s finishing a master’s in business administration at Duke University; and Matt, who’s 26 and lives in Portland, Ore., where he’s pursuing a degree in computer science.

Bradley liked the time in Minnesota.

“There are lots of Scandinavians there. I love the Scandinavian psyche, the history of a commitment to social services,” she says.

“It really is the only socialist state in America. I still have dreams of going back.”

Scot’s career required yet another move. As a pulmonologist – specializing in lung conditions and diseases – he was looking for a clinical setting.

In 1979, the family moved to Spokane so he could take a job at the Rockwood Clinic, where he’s still employed.

“This town has the most wonderful community spirit. We expect everything to work correctly; nobody gets away with anything here,” Bradley says.

It was in the early 1990s that Bradley began to really get involved with arts in Spokane.

“The visual arts scene here is never as healthy as it wants to be. I opened a gallery five years ago to support artists and encourage new collectors,” she says.

“When I did that, the only other gallery that was worthwhile was Lorinda Knight. Today, the listings of galleries have exploded.”

She calls the loss of funding for arts education in K-12 public schools “a tragedy” but says the college-level arts programs in town have developed in a positive way. Bradley says those programs may have hurt the Spokane Art School, which just announced that it’s selling its building.

“The people who used to need the art school now have different opportunities, but I’m sure the school will continue to exist,” Bradley says.

Bradley has managed to combine some of her passions – art, books and shoes – in such a way that she can make a difference and make a living.

“I want people to leave my place with a new thought – with a book they really want to read, a piece of art they’ll look at and treasure and admire, or a pair of shoes their feet really love,” Bradley says.

“My cousin came out here not long ago, and I think she said it really well when she said, ‘What you do is, you are selling imagination.’ That’s exactly what I want to do.”