Fishing Boats at Etretat by Claude Monet

Object of the Week: Fishing Boats at Étretat

There’s nothing like a good rivalry to spice up a moment in history. I’d say it’s a rare historical note that isn’t improved by some verbal sparring or a gauntlet being thrown. Happily for us, the European Impressionists not only created a remarkable group of paintings, but also produced a natural rivalry in Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and Claude Monet (1840-1926). Manet was a leading influence in the years before Impressionism flowered, and when it did, Monet took the torch from him, becoming the new movement’s unquestioned leader.

In John Rewald’s History of Impressionism, we read about Manet’s first encounter with the younger Monet. The scene is the Paris Salon exhibition of 1865:

The two canvases shown by Monet were views of the Seine estuary, done near the lighthouse of Honfleur. Since the works at the Salon were now hung in alphabetical order to prevent favoritism, Monet’s works found themselves in the same room with Manet’s. When the latter entered this room on the opening day, he had the disagreeable surprise of being congratulated by several persons upon his seascapes. Having studied the signatures on the two pictures attributed to him, Manet at first thought it to be some cheap joke; his anger was conceivably not lessened by the fact that the seascapes continued to have more success than his own works. He left in a rage and openly complained to some friends: ‘I am being complimented only on a painting that is not by me. One would think this to be a mystification.’

Although in time Monet and Manet grew to be friendly artist-peers, sometimes painting together outdoors, such was Manet’s frustration at the Salon that he refused his first chance to meet Monet. “Who is this rascal who pastiches my painting so basely?” spouted Manet, in a masterful artist burn.

Oysters by Edouard Manet

“Oysters” by Edouard Manet, 1862.

Argenteuil by Claude Monet

“Argenteuil” by Claude Monet, ca. 1872.

The two names were often confused in those years of Monet’s ascension and are sometimes still confused today, even with 150 years of distance. Comparisons were always inevitable, given the similarity of their names. It’s a great chance for some amusement, too. A famous caricaturist in 19th century Paris, Andre Gill, sketched a figure painting by Monet and attached the caption “Monet ou Manet?—Monet. Mais, c’est a Manet que nous devons ce Monet; bravo, Monet; merci, Manet.” (“Monet or Manet?—Monet. But it is to Manet we owe this Monet. Bravo, Monet; Merci, Manet.”) Cartoons over the years have picked up on the joke and taken it a number of directions. One of my favorite renditions is this Harry Bliss cartoon, originally published in The New Yorker (and for the record, it was Manet).

Comic "I said, was it Manet or Monet who had syphilis?"

Not only for the syphilis, fate was pretty cruel to Manet: Here’s an artist who cared deeply about being recognized and accepted, who continually submitted paintings to the Salon in search of official stamps of approval—and he was frequently confused with, or overshadowed by, a younger artist who ends up leading the Impressionist movement and becoming one of the most popular artists of all time. And the two were only separated by one letter!

Today, being so far removed from the historical moment makes it easier for us to appreciate Manet’s work on its own, and his contributions to art and painting are widely recognized. Here at the Seattle Art Museum, we also love Monet: our permanent collection features the beautiful harbor scene Fishing Boats at Étretat. So we all arrived at a happy ending. But, just because those rivalries are so much fun, here’s one more spat from Impressionist lore.

On one occasion, Manet went to Argenteuil and set up to paint the Monet family—the artist, his wife, Camille, and his son, Jean—in their garden (this painting is The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Colin Bailey, a scholar of French painting and director of the Morgan Library and Museum, recounts what happened next: “While Manet was at work, Renoir arrived, borrowed paints, brushes, and a canvas from Monet, and executed a vivid close-up of Camille and Jean, joined by the rooster. Irritated by Renoir’s intrusion, Manet is reported to have told Monet, ‘He has no talent, that boy. Since he’s your friend, you should tell him to give up painting!’”

Madame Monet and Her Son by Auguste Renior

“Madame Monet and Her Son” by Auguste Renior, 1874.

Come tour our brand new exhibition Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art to see Renoir’s painting of that day in the garden—and judge his talents for yourself! And don’t miss a related SAM Talks event this month with Colin Bailey and SAM’s own director, Kimerly Rorschach. —Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

References Bailey, Colin. “The Floating Studio.” The New York Review of Books, April 23, 2015. Rewald, John. The History of Impressionism, 4th revised edition. New York: New York Graphic Society, 1973.
Images: Fishing Boats at Étretat, 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 in. Partial and promised gift of an anonymous donor, 92.88. Oysters, 1862, Edouard Manet, French, 1832-1883, oil on canvas, 15 7/16 x 18 7/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Gift of the Adele R. Levy Fund, Inc. Argenteuil, ca. 1872, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 19 13/16 x 25 11/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection Cartoon by Harry Bliss, © Condé Nast Collection. Madame Monet and Her Son, 1874, Auguste Renoir, French, 1841-1919, oil on canvas, 19 13/16 x 26 3/4 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection
Auguste Renoir, Madame Monet and Her Son, French, 1841 - 1919, 1874, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection

Your handy guide to opening night of Intimate Impressionism

It’s almost here! Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art opens tomorrow in the Seattle Art Museum special exhibition galleries, and we’ve got an array of opening day activities in store for you. Because we’ve got a robust day of art planned, read on for the complete breakdown of ticket prices, events, hours, and more.

As tomorrow is First Thursday art walk, the museum will be open late until 9 pm to accommodate your art-loving schedule.

As this exhibition will be popular, tickets for Intimate Impressionism are timed, so when purchasing online or in person, select a specific day/time in which you’ll plan to visit the exhibition.



SENIORS (62+):  $11
TEENS (13 – 19): FREE


Ticket prices for Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art are listed below. ​This ticket includes access to all collections and installations.

ADULTS: $24.95
SENIORS (62+): $22.95
TEENS (13 – 19): $14.95​


Save up to $5 per ticket when you purchase your tickets in advance online! This is a limited time offer. Visitors purchasing tickets onsite will not be eligible for the discount. This online discount not valid on the First Thursday of the month, or for seniors on First Friday.


7–8:30 PM

Experience an overview of the new exhibition Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art with Chiyo Ishikawa, Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, followed by a live performance from Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra’s String Quartet featuring works by Impressionist composers.

The SMCO String Quartet is composed of members of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra, an innovative ensemble that brings unique musical experiences to the ears of young and diverse listeners.

6:30–7 PM

My Favorite Things tours bring some of the most opinionated and fascinating artists, cultural producers, and community figures into the galleries to discuss their favorite works of art. This tour will be led by Mary Anne Carter, a Seattle-based visual artist and curator of the Fashion Hot Dog 225 art space.

Humor, wildness, and structure define both Carter’s character and body of work, which includes printmaking, fashion design, textile design, and performance. Tour starts at 6:30 pm sharp. Don’t miss it!

Non-flash photography will be allowed in the galleries, so feel free to take a selfie next to your favorite painting, with your best friend, or with your Impressionist doppleganger while experiencing Intimate Impressionism! Be sure to tag your photos with #SAMImpressionism.

We’ll see you tomorrow for an extraordinary night of art with Monet, Renoir, Manet, Cézanne, Degas, Van Gogh, among other Masters!

Madame Monet and Her Son (detail), 1874, Auguste Renoir, French, 1841–1919, oil on canvas, 19 13/16 x 26 3/4 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa M​ellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.60.
The Poem of Ariwara no Narihira (Ariwara no Narihira Ason)

Object of the Week: The Poem of Ariwara no Narihira (Ariwara no Narihira Ason)

Unheard of
even in the legendary age
of the awesome gods:
Tatsuta River in scarlet
and the water flowing under it.

(Poem by 9th-century poet Ariwara no Narihira; translation by Joshua Mostow, from Pictures of the Heart: The Hyakuni Isshu, in Word and Image).

We’re welcoming the first week of fall here in Seattle. The Autumnal Equinox—when night and day are nearly the same in length, and summer officially gives way to fall—took place Wednesday, September 23. Most people won’t be checking their calendars for that date, but instead will know the change by the fresh chill in the air and the striking color contrasts we start to see in nature. It’s my favorite season for the beauty and the change visible all around us.

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate fall. Long before the term “fall” was coined, and also before the French-derived “autumn” entered the vernacular, the same season was known simply as “harvest.” It meant a time of reaping, gathering, enjoying abundance, and cozying up for winter.

The collection at Seattle Art Museum includes a memorable homage to fall: a print work by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). One of the most important producers of ukiyo-e, a grouping of woodblock prints from Japan’s Edo period (1615-1868), Hokusai is represented by 27 works at SAM, including prints and ink drawings on paper and silk. Through the aesthetic in his work, Hokusai became an important influence on the European Impressionists. Seattleites and our visitors will have the opportunity to see many of the best of the Impressionists in the upcoming exhibition, Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art, opening October 1.

Hokusai’s tribute to fall, The Poem of Ariwara no Narihira (Ariwara no Narihira Ason), gives visual form to the poem at the top of this post. There’s a lot happening in the print. Blue-green hills set a backdrop in the distance while auburn leaves rise above them. The color contrasts that we identify with fall are beautifully visualized here. Closer to us, several pairs of figures are bustling about—active, but also joyful in their work. Beaming smiles match the visual warmth of the scene. A flowing river cuts across the landscape with an infectious life and energy, carrying a bunch of colorful maple leaves with it. Both the print and the poem that inspired it capture the sense of mystery and magic surrounding the cycle of the seasons. It’s a phenomenon beyond our control that informs everything—how we work, play, dress, and live.

Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

To learn more about this artwork and other treasures in SAM’s collection, visit our website.

IMAGE: The Poem of Ariwara no Narihira (Ariwara no Narihira Ason), ca. 1838, Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760-1849, woodblock print: ink and color on paper, 10 1/4 x 14 3/4 in., Gift of Mary and Allan Kollar, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.47.5.
The New World by Jack Daws

And the winner of the 2015 Betty Bowen Award is…

On September 21, 2015, The Betty Bowen Committee announced that Jack Daws is the winner of the 2015 Betty Bowen Award. The award comes with an unrestricted cash prize of $15,000. A selection of Daws’ work will be on view at the Seattle Art Museum beginning November 19, 2015. The award honors a Northwest visual artist for their original, exceptional, and compelling work.

Eirik Johnson was selected to receive the Special Recognition Award in the amount of $2,500, and Lou Watson was awarded the Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award, also in the amount of $2,500. Six finalists—including Susan Dory, Samantha Scherer and Sadie Wechsler—were chosen from a pool of 537 applicants from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and competed for $20,000 in awards. Daws, Johnson, and Watson will receive their awards on Thursday, November 19 at 6 pm at SAM. The award ceremony and reception are free and the public is invited to join the celebration.

2015 Betty Bowen Award Winner
Jack Daws, Vashon, WA

Critical Reflective Discourse Free Zone by Jack Daws

Jack Daws is a self-taught artist who lives on Vashon Island and is originally from Kentucky. In his practice, Daws cross-examines the blind spots of salient moments in American history, from Chief Seattle to recent social and political events. Frequently, his appropriated objects seem innocuous and everyday but upon close inspection, they reveal a more troubling undercurrent that asks us to reconsider established truths and values. He recently exhibited The House That Jack Built at Mercer Gallery of Walden 3 in 2014, and contributed to the ongoing site-specific exhibition Duwamish Revealed, organized by the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle. His work satirically asks ponderous questions in order to enlighten the public. Through visually common and memorable works, he encourages his audience to reexamine their world.


Special Recognition Award
Eirik Johnson, Seattle, WA

weighing Matsutake, Tsukiji Market, Tokyo by Eirik Johnson

Eirik Johnson earned his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute after graduating from the University of Washington with a BFA in Photography and a BA in History. His current body of work is Mushroom Camps, in which he documents the unique economy and culture surrounding the Matsutake mushroom. By recording the people and places along the mushroom’s journey from Oregon to Japan, Johnson reveals unexpected connections, reflecting current commercial and social issues.


Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award
Lou Watson, Portland

Billboard Duet Interrupted (detail) by Lou Watson

Lou Watson attended the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theater in Blue Lake, California and graduated with her BFA in Intermedia from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. Her recent work includes an experimental concert, Suite Sandy Boulevard at the Hollywood Theater (Portland, Oregon); In Celebration of Pig Pens, an installation at the Regional Arts and Culture Council’s Portland Building, and a film entitled commute that showed at the Experiments in Cinema Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Working in a variety of media, Watson discovers a sense of wonder in the mundane. She refashions her regular routine into a concert, a dance, and a work of art, adding splendor and excitement to the experience of daily life.

For more information about the Betty Bowen Award and how the winners are chosen, visit our website.

IMAGES: The New World, 2013, Jack Daws, Douglas fir, acrylic, stainless steel bolts, 48 in. x 36 in., Courtesy of the artist © Jack Daws, Photo by Richard Nicol. Critical Reflective Discourse-Free Zone, 2015, Jack Daws, custom aluminum sign, 48 in. x 72 in., Courtesy of Duwamish Revealed, Organized by Sarah Kavage and Nicole Kistler, in partnership with ECOSS (The Environmental Coalition of South Seattle), © Jack Daws. Kyoko Ishikawa weighing Matsutake, Tsukiji Market, Tokyo, 2014, Eirik Johnson, Archival pigment print, 37 in. x 45 in., Courtesy of the artist © Eirik Johnson. Billboard Duet (detail), 2015, Lou Watson, performance, Courtesy of the artist © Lou Watson.
Pomponne II de Bellièvre by Anthony van Dyck

Object of the week: Pomponne II de Bellièvre

Did you know that in the 1930s the Mona Lisa hung in the halls of the newly opened Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill? And that it was joined by other European masterworks from the Louvre, the Uffizi, and other renowned collections?

They were all here. Or rather, editions of the originals were here. SAM’s founding director Richard E. Fuller initially devoted some of the museum’s gallery space—which was at a premium—to a display of faithful facsimiles of European Old Master paintings. Showing replicas alongside originals might seem problematic or just plain tacky to us today, but we can’t say his choice wasn’t a practical one. Collecting European paintings was never a priority for Fuller, and the costs for these kinds of historical works were often above his budget. Still, Fuller understood the importance of this chapter in the history of art-making. Even while he and his mother, Margaret MacTavish Fuller, were building the museum’s collection by selecting Asian art objects and patronizing local painters, Fuller couldn’t imagine telling a story of art history without the Old Masters.

Asian Art Museum in the 1930s

About 100 years before Fuller was hanging his facsimiles, American painter Samuel Morse (1791-1872) was considering the same issue. Morse’s first profession was painter; he would later become the inventor of the electromagnetic telegraph, immortalized in the term “Morse” code. Like Richard Fuller, Morse was deeply interested in connecting the art of the European masters with America’s present and future cultural production. How to bring the best of European painting to America, so that our local artists might learn and grow from its examples? Using the skills and technology available to him, Morse began a monumental painting that would feature dozens of Old Master artworks in miniature, for the instruction and reference of his fellow American painters.

Gallery of the Louvre by Samuel F. B. Morse

Morse worked on what would become his masterpiece, Gallery of the Louvre, between 1831-1833, in both Paris and New York. The painting depicts the Salon Carré, a prominent gallery in the Louvre. The artwork has an impressive scale, at roughly six by nine feet. Within Morse’s “gallery picture,” one can spot references to important artists such as Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio, Rubens, and Watteau. A portrait by Anthony van Dyck, much like the SAM’s own Pomponne II de Bellièvre, is prominently featured. See if you can spot Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Thanks to a traveling exhibition organized by the Terra Foundation for American Art—the proud owner of Gallery of the Louvre—this significant historical painting is now on display at SAM in Samuel F. B. Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre and the Art of Invention. To view this massive work is to see and appreciate Morse’s skillful execution and his faithful attention to the like-minded artists who came before him. Come see and enjoy!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Pomponne II de Bellièvre, 1638-39, Anthony van Dyck, Flemish, 1599-1641, oil on canvas, 54 x 43 1/2 in., Purchased with a major grant from an anonymous donor; additional funds provided by Louise Raymond Owens; Norman and Amelia Davis; Oliver T. and Carol Erickson; Seattle Art Museum Guild; Pauline Ederer Bolster and Arthur F. Ederer in memory of their sister, Milli Ederer Kastner; Mr. and Mrs. James D. Burns; gift in memory of Andrew Price by Mrs. Mary Price and their family; bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Archibald Stewart Downey; bequest of Charles Moseley Clark; Max R. Schweitzer; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Stimson, Thomas D. Stimson Memorial Collection; Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection; Silver Anniversary Fund; Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund; Seattle Art Museum Purchase Fund by exchange, 98.15. Photo: Seattle Art Museum Archives. Gallery of the Louvre, 1831–33, Samuel F. B. Morse, American, 1791–1872, oil on canvas, 73 3/4 x 108 in., Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1992.51. Photography © Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago.

Get to know Regan Pro, SAM’s new Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs

On August 28, 2015, SAM announced the appointment of Regan Pro as the museum’s next Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs. We sat down with her to ask her some questions about her role, her vision for SAM, and to learn more about her life outside of the museum.

SAM: First off, congratulations on your new role as the new Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs!

Regan Pro: Thank you!

SAM: You held your last role for a little over a year, but you’re not a new employee to SAM. What will change in your day-to-day as a result of your new role?

Pro: I’ve been at SAM for six years, and started out as the Museum Educator for School & Educator Programs, and then became the Manager of School & Educator Programs. After that, I became the Associate Director of Education and Public Programs then went on to become the Interim Director, which is the role I’d held since the departure of Sandra Jackson Dumont in June of 2014.

In terms of what will change, we’ve continued to evolve and grow our programming during the interim period but now I think we will be able to focus on more strategic thinking, and aligning our work to a new vision and mission. This is a chance to make some more long-term plans for the division, which is very exciting.

SAM: What are your goals for SAM in the coming year?

Pro: Some of my immediate goals are: growing the role of our reciprocal community partnerships, embedding a social practice more deeply in our programming, building out new content and programming focused on onsite experiences across the three locations, and to increase staff focus on equity and social justice. I’d like to take a reflective and critical look at how our programming is representing and responding to the communities we serve, particularly as Seattle is changing so rapidly. Additionally, I’d like to grow programming at the Olympic Sculpture Park, especially during the winter season. I’m also thinking more about the Asian Art Museum, and how we can embed it more in the Capitol Hill creative community.

SAM: As a Capitol Hill resident, I think that’s very cool.

Pro: Definitely. Focusing on young people, SAM hopes to do some new programming this year that brings more light to creative career pathways. Through programs like Design Your Hood, Teen Arts Group and our school partnerships work, I’d like the museum to be a space to not only foster creativity and youth voice but also give young people new access to creative careers through internships, site visits and partnerships, ideally raising the visibility of the critical role creativity plays in all careers- from tech and beyond.

SAM: That sounds like a fantastic goal and resource for the community. It’s also a great segway into my next question: what do you love most about your role, and about SAM?

Pro: I really love my job at SAM and feel grateful everyday that I get to engage in this work. The arts and artists transform people’s understanding of what is possible. They are powerful tools for social equity and perspective sharing. There are so many complex, incredible narratives that you can learn from works of art in our museum and so many complex, incredible narratives you can learn from the people looking at these works. I think to advocate for art as a transformational tool from the platform of a museum is powerful. But what I love most about this job is the people, and the relationships that I’ve cultivated with staff, artists, and community members. I’m lucky to have a job where I share ideas with brilliant, curious and committed people all day long.

SAM: What are you most proud of accomplishing at SAM?

Pro: I’m proud of the work we’ve done with school partnerships, helping to fill in the gaps of arts education, and of the Creative Advantage program, (which offers free professional learning workshops focused on sharing best practice for K–12 arts learning).

Internally, we’ve built some great collaboration across museum divisions. Within the department we’ve helped cultivate a space where everyone can continue to grow in their roles, work on the projects that they feel strongly about, and to develop better best practices at work.

I’m also proud of the moments when we’ve leaned into our discomfort and asked difficult questions of ourselves as an institution. I hope this is an area where I can continue to push the work.

SAM: Last question: what do you like to do when you’re not working?

Pro: I love to geek out on all of the opportunities to experience art and culture in the city. I go to a lot of exhibitions and performances. I’m excited for the upcoming On the Boards and Seattle Arts & Lectures seasons particularly, Alison Bechdel and Ta-Nehisi Coates, coming up soon.

My husband is a musician, and music is an important part of our lives. I also have an 18-month old son, so I have a newfound appreciation for our local parks and libraries. And the more time I spend floating in bodies of water, the better and happier I am.

Amor Caritas at Seattle Art Museum

Object of the Week: Amor Caritas

One of the many wonderful qualities of visual art is its ability to lead people forward in response to tragedy. Amor Caritas, a bronze relief sculpture at SAM by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), was meant to serve just that purpose.

Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland, and immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was just seven months old. He lived through the divisive years in America leading up to the Civil War and the catastrophic war at a formative time in his life. While his experience of the Civil War left a lasting mark on his art, its effects didn’t surface in the way one might expect.

Amor Caritas detail

Saint-Gaudens contributed to the American Renaissance, a broad movement that flourished in the decades following the Civil War that inspired not just art and architecture, but also politics and finance. The visual artists of the American Renaissance looked to the iconic examples of ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration, aiming to express an equally grand vision for America and its culture. The foundation of their art was a firm belief that art could inspire healing and progress.

In the figure of Amor Caritas—a composition that Saint-Gaudens returned to multiple times and that earned him international recognition—the artist felt that he had achieved a perfect female form, and that was essential to his purpose. Feminine beauty here personifies our human capacity for amor (love) and caritas (charity). Physical beauty provides a visual form for these lofty, encouraging sentiments.

Amor Caritas detail

I find it very telling that in a private letter, Saint-Gaudens wondered about titling the sculpture “Peace on Earth” or “to know is to forgive.” For the artist, each of these themes was equally present in the idealized human form. As today marks fourteen years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we can appreciate the artist’s positive response to a tragedy of his day, and the call this sculpture gives for us, as people, to move forward in a spirit of love, togetherness, and forgiveness.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Amor Caritas, modeled 1898, cast probably 1898, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, bronze, lost wax cast, bronze: 39 7/8 x 4 1/2 in., frame: 52 x 32 x 6 3/8 in., Gift of Ann and Tom Barwick, the General Acquisition Endowment, the Gates Foundation Endowment, the Utley Endowment, the American Art Endowment, and the 19th Century Paintings Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.4.
Hammering Man at Seattle Art Museum

The Hammering Man is the worker in all of us

Twenty-four years ago this month, a near-disaster kept one of the iconic artworks at SAM from swinging into motion.

Johnathan Borofsky’s Hammering Man—a monumental moving sculpture owned by the City of Seattle and situated just outside SAM on 1st Avenue and University—honors the women and men of the working classes in impressive style. Measuring 48 feet tall and weighing in at approximately 22,000 pounds, he needs a long, powerful swing to bring down his hammer, which he manages at a clip of two and a half times per minute. His massive size caused serious issues for the team that took on the tall task of installing him on September 28, 1991. On that unlucky day, a lift-strap supporting the sculpture snapped, causing it to fall roughly one foot. Photographer John Stamets captured the carnage from across 1st Ave., atop the roof of the notorious Lusty Lady exotic dance parlor.

Hamming Man Collapses in 1991, Photo by John Stamets

The damage was significant enough that the sculpture had to be sent back cross-country to the foundry in Connecticut where it had been produced. Seattleites were left to wait another year to see Hammering Man installed again, which happened successfully in September of 1992. Opportunistic vendors turned out for that second installation, selling postcards with Stamets’ crash photography at $2.50 a piece. The multiple efforts and the wait were well worth it. Today, Hammering Man remains one of Seattle’s most popular artworks and public monuments.

As a silhouette, the figure is anonymous, lacking any particular features that might help us to identify him. This allows him to serve as a global symbol—a champion of all working classes and a celebration of their accomplishments.

We hope you’ll visit SAM to see this monument to the worker on Labor Day! As a bonus, you can look forward to the last day of our critically acclaimed Disguise: Masks & Global African Art exhibition, a multi-sensory experience featuring art by contemporary artists of African origin or descent. Cheers!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Photo: Benjamin Benschneider. Collapse of Hammering Man during installation at Seattle Art Museum photographed by John Stamets from the roof of the Lusty Lady exotic dance parlor (and detail), September 28, 1991, Photo by John Stamets,© 1991, John Stamets
African Masquerade Installation at Seattle Art Museum

How Picasso Brought Masks to Europe and Left the Masquerade Behind

Throughout the 20th century, vast collections of African masks made their way into foreign lands and are now on display as the heads of missing bodies. Masks are constantly seen in museums and galleries, on eBay, and at sidewalk sales. In this dislocated state, African masks have sometimes found themselves cast in roles that are shockingly counter to their original intent.

One example is Pablo Picasso’s work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907; Museum of Modern Art, New York), a painting lauded as one of the catalysts in 20th-century art. Pablo Picasso’s decision to take the features of African masks and place them on two naked women was revolutionary, the first step in the radical transformation of space and volume that would become Cubism.

One wonders what would have happened if Picasso hadn’t separated the masks from the masquerade. What if, instead, a full masquerade had come to Paris? For the sake of speculation, let’s imagine the visit of a Dan masquerader from the Ivory Coast, known as a Ge, whose masks were common in French collections. Drummers and singers would escort the Ge masquerader as he moved quickly through the streets to Picasso’s studio. He would have donned a massive costume of raffia grasses, feathers, and fur accents to underscore that he was not from any normal human realm but from the sacred forests. Bells and drums, shouts and songs would contribute to the blur of fast-moving activity that halted in front of the artist’s door.

Pounding to be let in, the Ge would speak in a grave and distorted voice, while a translator would shout a demand to open the door. Picasso would be pushed aside as the Ge entered the room, and pandemonium would break out as African eyes beheld masks like their own were depicted atop the naked bodies of two women with pale skin.

With outrage and confusion spreading, everyone would turn to gauge the reaction of the Ge, the supreme authority. He would stop and stare, then order everyone except Picasso and the translator to leave the studio. The Ge would then sit on the group and gesture for Picasso to sit nearby as he explained a few things.

First: no mask was ever to be worn by a woman, and most definitely not a naked woman in the middle of a room with other naked women. Defying all proper behavior, this breach of etiquette required immediate correction, so songs and offerings for women would be prescribed.

The Ge would ask Picasso why he put masks on such women and who they were. Picasso might bring up difficulties with the women in his life, and how he’d been looking at pictures of masks in books and at a museum, then had collected a postcard of naked women from a place called Dahomey, marveling at their sleek bodies but also worrying about the diseases circulating in the bordellos of Paris.

In response, the Ge might offer practical advice about how to manage relationships and to seek alliances with spirits that would inspire joy instead of dark fears. He could also explain that masks were not to be bought and sold; instead, they were intended to initiate visitations from beings who would emerge from the forests to contribute their wisdom in times of confusion.
Days and weeks might pass as the Ge transferred aspects from the system of thought from the Côte d’Ivoire. It was his role to teach younger men ways to operate in the world, and he would have found Picasso’s troubled mind in need of adjustment. To alleviate some of the artist’s perplexity about life, the Ge would recommend that he consider attending a school convened in the forest, where he would learn about his responsibilities as a young man, how to survive in difficult circumstances, what it takes to manage a family, when and how to show respect for women, the practical skills of life, and all about the art of performance as a means to express visions of human aspiration. Picasso would be offered a chance to immerse himself in a masquerade that was a school, a system, and an overriding ideal.

Instead of this full-bodied experience, Picasso invented his own approach to African masks and sculptures. Masks became heads without any voice or body. They became voiceless ambassadors, who were often cast as characters in other’s artistic fantasies.

Admittedly, exporting an entire masquerade is difficult and can be inappropriate at times. Masquerades are intensely local, requiring special staging developed within communities that invest massive time and effort in them, often in deepest secrecy. They rely on collaborations among a multitude of talented artists who devote their creativity to performers whose identities are concealed, and transporting this cast and crew is not easy.

Artists today in the United States and across the globe are working with new interpretations of disguises that play out in creative ways. They are using digital mediums to bring masquerades into places where they have never been before, and creating new meanings as they empower new actors—such as women—to participate. They adapt iconography from multiple cultures and influences, weaving together inspiration from their family’s varied histories, the far-flung cities and rural areas in which they’ve lived, and artistic traditions from across the globe.

It’s a heady mixture of inspiring havoc. It’s a moving, whirling parade that invites us to respond—to take up or take off our own daily disguises and participate.

This is an edited excerpt of the essay, “Meet Me Where the Masks Are Alive and the Spirits Roam Free,” written by Pamela McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art for the Seattle Art Museum. The essay is included in the exhibition guide, Disguise: Masks & Global African Art.

Disguise: Masks & Global African Art is on view at the Seattle Art Museum. See this dynamic unfixed exhibition before it departs for the Fowler Museum at UCLA in Los Angeles on September 7.