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Object of the Week: War

Art has always played a key role in the work of protest and social reform. Artists’ reactions to our current moment, filled with social unrest and calls for social change, echo the works of revolutionary artists working during the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920). Amelio Amero, like his contemporaries Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, created murals for the public art projects supported by the Revolutionary government of Mexico.

Rivera’s 1932 lithographic print depicting Emiliano Zapata, the leader of the peasant revolution who became a symbol for agrarian rights, showcases the naturalist style that the Mexican muralists used. These socialist artists were aptly committed to public art and they were committed to creating art that was accessible to the general public. As a member of the Estridentistas artist group, he followed the Italian Futurist groups and believed in non-elitist art. In addition to large public murals, these artists also created prints which could be quickly and cheaply made and disseminated widely. Although highly skilled in the case of Rivera, the lithograph—made using a stone and a crayon—didn’t require the artist to make their image in reverse, nor did it require specialized training. Additionally, the prints could easily be transported and would reach a broader audience.

In War (1944), Amero uses the same lithographic printing technique in an image that combines a critique of violence and militarized conflict with a promise that violence can end through the hands of brave citizens. As the booted, helmeted soldier prepares to thrash a citizen who has been literally brought to her knees, with a hungry child beside her, she raises her face to the sky, closes her eyes, and holds up a strong, oversized hand in an act of faith and protest. The hand reaches out from the shadows to provide hope for those struggling through the unjust times.

Born in Ixtlahuaca, Mexico in 1901, Amero came to the United States in 1925 via Cuba to work in New York, which is where he became interested in Lithography. In 1940 Amero returned to the United States to teach art in Seattle at the University of Washington and the Cornish College of the Arts. During his time teaching in Seattle, Washington, and Norman, Oklahoma, where he taught at the University of Oklahoma from 1946 until the end of his career. Amero continued to create works that depicted Mexico, and worked in the Mexican muralist style, favoring realistic, hyper-cylindrical figures depicted in tempera and lithography, over the abstract and oil paint heavy styles gaining popularity in the mid-century.

As we all confront issues of violence and oppression in our current society, Amero’s work is a reminder for us to support artists calling for change.

– Genevieve Hulley, SAM Curatorial Intern, American Art

Images: War, 1944, Emilio Amero, lithograph, 23 1/8 x 19 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.84 © Estate of Emilio Amero. Zapata, 1932, Diego Rivera, lithograph, 16 1/4 x 13 3/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.623 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

What to Know When SAM Reopens

Come back to SAM! Seattle Art Museum is open again. The museum will initially be at a limited capacity and open Fridays through Sundays, 10 am–5 pm. The Asian Art Museum, and the PACCAR Pavilion at the Olympic Sculpture Park continue to be closed. The outdoor spaces at the Olympic Sculpture Park remain open to the public. 

We have been thoughtfully planning for our reopening in alignment with Governor Inslee’s SAFE START – STAY HEALTHY plan and recommendations of relevant state, local, and federal authorities. Be a part of our safe start by reviewing these details about new procedures visitors will be required to follow during their visit.

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Timed Ticket Required
Ticketing is timed to limit capacity.

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Capacity Limited
Some galleries are closed; some will have capacity limits.

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Masks Required
Staff and visitors over the age of two must wear masks.

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Physical Distancing Required
Follow guidelines in public spaces and galleries.

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Coat Check Closed
Backpacks, large bags, or items bigger than 11″ x 15″ are not allowed

Plan Your Visit

Seattle Art Museum Hours
Friday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm.

Timed Ticketing
To allow for physical distancing, capacity will be limited and ticketing will be timed. With fewer visitors in the museum, you’ll have an intimate art viewing experience.

Online Tickets Only
Please get tickets online in advance for your preferred day and time. Print out your ticket at home or download to a smartphone.

SAM members are always free
Members must have a timed ticket. A percentage of daily tickets will be available online only to members. Not a member? Join today.

Our new ticketing system will look a little different and will require you to create a new password when using it for the first time. Once logged in your complimentary member tickets will be reflected in your cart.  If you have questions about your membership or need assistance with tickets please contact us.

Accessibility Accommodations
If you require accommodations, please contact customerservice@seattleartmuseum before your visit, as we may require advanced notice to provide certain accommodations.

Leave backpacks and bags larger than 11” x 15” at home
To align with physical distancing guidelines, SAM’s coat check will be closed. Please make alternative arrangements to store your belongings prior to entering the museum.

Download a gallery map in advance
To help create a contactless experience, we will not be distributing a printed map and guide. Download a map to your smartphone to use during your visit.

Park for less!
The neighboring Benaroya Garage has offered SAM visitors a flat $8 rate. The Russell Investment Center garage is $8 on weekends only, for up to 4 hours. Learn more

Keep our community healthy! Please visit at another time if you:

  • Are feeling sick or experiencing symptoms
  • Live with or care for someone who has been ill
  • Have traveled in the last 14 days
  • Live with or care for someone who has recently traveled

Please contact customerservice@seattleartmuseum.org to exchange your ticket for another day and time if any of the above applies to you.

Recognize Risk
SAM has implemented many safety measures but cannot guarantee zero risk; a risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public setting.

When You Arrive

Enter at First and Union
The south entrance (the Hammering Man entrance) and the South Hall will be closed.

Wear a mask
Face masks will be required for all visitors over the age of two. Use of masks is mandated by the Governor and will be enforced; staff will confirm you have masks for every member of your party before you enter the building.

Check the entry time on your ticket
Have your print-at-home or smart phone timed ticket ready to be scanned and be in line 10 minutes prior to your time. If you are more than 20 minutes late, we may not be able to accommodate entry.

Follow physical distancing guidelines
One-way traffic flows and helpful guidelines throughout the museum will identify safe distances between visitors. Children must stay with adults at all times. Physical distancing will be enforced.

Expect some areas to be closed
The Porcelain Room, the Italian Room, and the Jacob Lawrence Gallery will not be open to the public when we reopen. The Ann P. Wyckoff Education Resource Center, Bullitt Library, and children play areas will also be closed. TASTE Café will be closed.

Prepare for limited capacity in restrooms
Selected restroom stalls will be closed. Capacity limits will be posted on bathroom doors.

Wash your hands and use hand sanitizers
We have instituted rigorous cleaning procedures using EPA registered disinfectants throughout the museum, with a special focus on high-touch and high-traffic areas and restrooms. We ask that you do your part by washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitizers located throughout the museum.

Expect a contactless experience
Shared materials have been removed from the galleries and interactive touchscreens have been disabled.

Visit SAM Shop!
The SAM Shop and SAM Gallery will be open during museum open hours with limited capacity. Please visit SAM Shop if you need to purchase water during your visit.

Help Contract Tracing
In alignment with guidance from the Governor’s Office and King County public health officials, SAM is storing ticket buyer information and requesting contact information for all visitors for contact tracing purposes. Learn more

Also please note that if we are unable to reopen as planned because of changes to public health guidelines, SAM will contact ticket holders via email to present options for moving tickets to a new day and time. 

We have worked hard to make visitors and staff comfortable during their visit and hope to see you soon! 

The International Exhibition of Northwest Printmakers

A collection of checklists and other ephemera related to The International Exhibition of Northwest Printmakers is now available as a digital collection on the SAM Libraries Digital Collections site.

The physical print collection, housed at the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library, contains checklists, images, and other ephemera connected to these annual exhibitions that spanned 42 years, from 1929 to 1971. The recent digital transformation of the collection will bring accessibility to the public at large, allowing printmakers and other artists, historians, researchers, or simply the curious student to view its contents and read about the history of the annual exhibition, held primarily at the Seattle Art Museum throughout its tenure.

The International Exhibition of Northwest Printmakers began in 1929. However, planning for the exhibition started in 1928 by a society made up of Seattle artists hoping to highlight printmaking in the Northwest.[1]  Interestingly, information regarding the history of the annual exhibition is relatively scant. The University of Washington Special Collections houses the Northwest Printmakers Records, a small (two boxes) collection that includes correspondence, notices, flyers, and other documents of the Northwest Printmakers Society—the group of artists that started and maintained the international exhibition. Aside from the collection housed at the UW Libraries, there is very little historical documentation regarding the annual exhibition.

This new digital collection collates and provides access to the historical background of the annual exhibition alongside images, exhibition checklists, and other documents. Interestingly, some of the checklists include handwritten notes from various attendees that highlight the number of women artists present that year, prints of interest, or point out artists with local significance, among other interesting insights. All of those notes were maintained in the digital collection. The collection also includes a handful of entry forms, flyers, and notes.

More than 250 prints in the Seattle Art Museum’s collection came to the museum by way of the Northwest Printmakers Society—either as purchases, prizes from the annual exhibitions, or as gifts from the society. Learn more about those prints here.

Explore the interesting history of printmaking in the Pacific Northwest by clicking through the Seattle Art Museum Libraries’ digital collection, The International Exhibition of Northwest Printmakers, 1929-1971.

– Brynn Zalmanek, Intern, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Images: Checklist for the Thirtieth Annual Exhibition of the Northwest Printmakers, held at the Seattle Art Museum from February 11 – March 1, 1959. The exhibit featured a diverse array of international artists due to the Printmakers Society’s proactivity in seeking international artists that year. Checklist for the Fifteenth Annual Exhibition of the Northwest Printmakers, held at the Seattle Art Museum from April 7 – March 9, 1943 (Note: The Seattle Art Museum Annual Report 1943 lists the dates as April 7 – May 2, 1943.). Jury members (left to right) Ian M. White, Ed Merrill, and Gordon Gilkey examining prints for the 40th International Northwest Printmakers Exhibition, held in 1969. Courtesy of the Seattle Art Museum Photo Archives. Flyer advertising print submission for the Eighth Annual Northwest Printmakers Annual Exhibition held at the Checklist for the Eighth Annual Exhibition of the Northwest Printmakers, held at the Seattle Art Museum from March 11 – April 4, 1936 | Note: The 1936 Seattle Art Museum Annual Report Lists the Exhibition dates as March 11 – April 5, 1936.
[1] Notice of exhibition flyer, June 1928, Northwest Printmakers Records, 1929-1970 (Box 1, Folder 3), University of Washington Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries.

Object of the Week: Mandala: Zone of Zero

I witnessed 9/11, and was very much shocked and affected by the traumatizing and violent terrorism. This terrorism made me contemplate a lot on dogma of religion and its extreme violence against humanity, and at the same time, on peace for the world. I wish for a harmonized society: a Utopia.

– Kimsooja

In the inaugural exhibition Be/Longing: Contemporary Asian Art at the transformed Seattle Asian Art Museum, Mandala: Zone of Zero by globally acclaimed artist Kimsooja triggers memories of a recent past—9/11—but also sadly echoes what is happening in our even more divided world today. Displayed in its own dark room, the mixed media installation consists of three circular jukeboxes spinning in mesmerizing circles, each casting its own dimly-colored glow. Playing simultaneously from the jukeboxes’ speakers are Tibetan, Islamic, and Gregorian chants, all three hymns mixing and blurring until they are indistinguishable from one another.

Kimsooja was first inspired to create this work when she came across a gambling shop on New York City’s bustling Broadway. The circular jukebox, which she saw in the shop’s window, struck her as astonishingly similar to traditional Tibetan Mandalas—intricate designs meant to symbolize the universe and aid deep meditation. From its Obangsaek color scheme (the five traditional Korean colors of white, black, blue, yellow, and red), to its circular movement mimicking the cycle of life, to the speaker at the center symbolizing the completion of the self as an awakened being, for Kimsooja “all the elements of this kitsch jukebox speaker that matched with the sacred and religious Mandala system were ironical and intriguing to me, and that urged me to create a piece of art.” The subsequent combination of American pop culture and Buddhist symbolism is even expressed in the title: Mandala: Zone of Zero. However, what makes us ponder further is the meaning of “zone of zero.” Does it refer to the spiritual unification of mind and body, creating a perfect state of “zero”? Or does it simply express an emptiness—a sense of “zero”— that comes with the commercialization of religion?

The work is further enriched by the three chants, which surround the viewer in an almost dream-like fashion. Each recording was sourced at a different religious location. Most notably, the Buddhist Monks’ “Mandala” chant was recorded by Kimsooja’s brother in the same Tibetan temple that is home to the Dalai Lama.

Mandala: Zone of Zero’s call for religious tolerance was particularly topical at the time of its creation in the years following 9/11. Kimsooja herself was in New York on the day and bore witness to the tragedy, as well as to the years of violence and war that followed between the United States and the Islamic world. But the catastrophic event also made Kimsooja long for peace in the world, wishing for “a Utopia.” This duality between discord and harmony can be heard quite literally in the entrancing chants that Kimsooja sources in her piece. At times, the different hymns seem to clash against one another harshly and, in other moments, blend lullingly together, mingling and merging until they approach a sound of unity, a feeling of tranquility, a sweeping state of zero.

— Isabelle Qian, former SAM Curatorial Intern; Xiaojin Wu, Curator of Japanese and Korean Art

Image: Mandala: Zone of Zero, 2003, Kimsooja, Three-channel sound installation with three jukeboxes, 9 min., 50 sec., Gift of William and Ruth True in honor of Chiyo Ishikawa and the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum, 2020.13 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

Virtual Tour with Susan Kegel

SAM Docent, Susan Kegel is taking us downtown to the Seattle Art Museum to do some close looking at an abstract painting by Auguste Herbin on this virtual tour. Kegel has been a school tour docent at SAM since 2007. She loves touring with students because they have fresh and amazing insights about the art, and are not afraid to share them. 

Auguste Herbin’s painting  Fleur (Fruit) (translated to Flower and Fruit) is abstract. Rather than painting flowers and fruit exactly how they look, Herbin chose to think about the essence of them, focusing on color and shape. Mathematicians make things abstract, too. For example, the number three is an abstraction. We can’t see three! We can see three trees, three cats, or three triangles, but three-ness is a mathematical abstraction. Abstraction can sometimes  be confusing and unapproachable, but  we can explore abstraction by borrowing a simple approach from Dan Finkel and Katherine Cooke of Math for Love. Take a look at the artwork above and ask three questions: What repeats? How many? What if?

You can try this at home. What repeats?

I see lots of shapes that repeat: triangles, semi-circles, circles, and rectangles. Some stand out because Herbin used strongly contrasting colors—warm colors layered on top of cool and vice versa. Other shapes are more subtle. For example, did you see the orange rectangle in the lower left side?

Let’s look closely at the triangles. Triangles are shapes with three sides, but the lengths of the sides can vary. Some triangles appear to have two sides of the same length—these are isosceles triangles. Equilateral triangles have all three sides of the same length. Can you find any triangles with no matching sides? There are three: one is orange, one is blue, and one is yellow. These are scalene triangles. 

How many triangles are there? This is tricky because there are also implied triangles, where the artist has not quite finished the edges but your eye fills in the missing parts. Shall we count? I see 14.  

Besides shapes, what else repeats? What about the colors? Are there any colors that don’t repeat? Why do you suppose the artist chose to have only one sky blue shape?

Now, let’s imagine what if: what if the painting were hung upside down?  

When right-side up, the shapes seem to be balanced on top of each other or on top of imaginary horizontal lines. When upside down, the shapes are tumbling down towards the floor.  It feels quite different to me. What differences do you notice when imagine the painting upside-down?

We typically learn mathematics starting with physical things, such as counting apples or blocks. Only later do we learn how to manipulate the abstract numbers. Artists often progress in the same way, first learning how to draw realistically before experimenting with more abstract styles. Herbin’s early works were much more realistic.

– Susan Kegel, SAM Docent

Image: Fleur (Fruit), 1945, Auguste Herbin, oil on canvas, 38 × 28 3/4in., Gift of Gladys and Sam Rubinstein, 2014.26.14 © Estate of Auguste Herbin/Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Object of the Week: Portrait Drawing of Gwendolyn Knight

In this delicate drawing Henry Bannarn depicts 21-year-old artist Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence using soft graphite markings and subtle blending and shading. The sketch, folded and preserved by the sitter throughout her life, was gifted to the museum in 2006 as part of her estate. Bannarn’s drawing remained in Knight’s collection until the end of her life, and was stored among many of her own drawings and sketches. Knight moved to Harlem at the age of 13, and attended Howard University and took classes at the Harlem Community Art Center and the Black Mountain College before settling in Seattle with her husband, painter Jacob Lawrence.

Henry Bannarn, c. 1937

Although Bannarn created drawings and paintings throughout his career and taught drawing at the Wheatley House, Minneapolis, his best-known works are his sculptures. Born in Oklahoma and trained at the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts, Bannarn moved to New York City to study sculpture at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design. Bannarn’s sculptures were praised by Howard University art history professor James Porter and included in Porter’s 1943 publication Modern Negro Art. Porter praises Bannarn’s sculptures as daringly original.

The Family, 1955, Charles Henry Alston
 

While living in New York, Bannarn rented a studio with fellow artist Charles Alston in Harlem at 306 West 14st street. By 1940 Bannarn and Alston had turned their studio into an exhibition and artists’ space which they named the 306 Group. The 306 Group became a hub of African American artistic production in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The group focused on admitting members who “reflect[ed] and represent[ed] the African American community’s standards for Black American art.”1 Prominent members of the group included Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence.

The Studio, 1977, Jacob Lawrence

Bannarn met his subject Gwendolyn Knight when he was teaching at the Harlem Community Art Center, where Knight came to study sculpture with Augusta Savage in 1934. Savage was assigned as Project Supervisor for the Federal Art Project under the Works Project Administration (WPA) and taught a broad group of influential African American artists during that time. Many members of the 306 Group worked for the WPA in the 1930s including Bannarn, Knight, and Lawrence. Having grown up in a poor family in Florida as one of fourteen children, Savage went on to study in France, exhibit at the Salon d’Autumne, and Carnegie Foundation grant to travel through Europe. Savage’s longest lasting impact was in her role as director of the Harlem Community Art Center, where she shaped the careers of a whole generation of African American artists.

Gwendolyn Knight, 1934-35, Augusta Savage

SAM is lucky to have these two portraits of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence by Bannarn and Savage as they illustrate not only the artist at the height of her youth, but also give a sampling of the broad artistic talent that came out of Harlem Community Art Center and the important role of the WPA as a support system for American artists in the 1930s. The discovery of Bannarn’s drawing illustrates the hidden depths of the rich collection at SAM.

Genevieve Hulley, SAM Curatorial Intern, American Art

Image: Portrait drawing of Gwendolyn Knight, 1934, Henry Wilmer Bannarn, pencil on paper, 16 x 10 1/2 in., Gift of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, 2006.58 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Henry Bannarn, c. 1937, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington. Federal Art Project, Photographic Division Collection. The Family, 1955, Charles Henry Alston (American, 1907-1977), Whitney Museum of American Art. The Studio, 1977, Jacob Lawrence, gouache on paper, 30 x 22 in., Partial gift of Gull Industries; John H. and Ann Hauberg; Links, Seattle; and gift by exchange from the Estate of Mark Tobey, 90.27 ©️ Jacob Lawrence. Gwendolyn Knight, 1934-35, Augusta Savage, painted plaster, 18 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 9 in., Gift of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, 2006.86.
1 Buick, Kirsten Pai. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Sculpture of the Harlem Renaissance.” In A Companion to the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, 317–336. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015, 327.

SAM Performs: Trapsprung Dances

In Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Trapsprung, a dancer reaches to the tip of their outstretched leg while balancing perfectly on the toes of their other leg. In Interview Magazine, the artist describes being drawn to “the very kind of visceral physical power and grace of dancers, and their occasional closeness to losing control.”

A split second before or after the moment in this painting, and the dancer’s balance will shift into another movement. Here, though, the dancer’s strength and poise are captured in an instant, while Yiadom-Boakye’s brushwork evokes the energy of the movement. Painted from memory and imagination, Yiadom-Boakye features portraits of Black people exclusively, creating images that explore “the wider possibility of anything and everything.” In the current socio-political climate, David Rue, Public Engagement Associate at SAM, initiated a project that celebrates and elevates incredible Black artists living and working in the city of Seattle through connecting them with this work by a prominent Black artist in SAM’s collection. Local artists Amanda Morgan, Michele Dooley, and Nia-Amina Minor, responded to Trapsprung in brief, personal dance works, and offered reflections on the artwork and their lived experiences.

It’s easy to assume that each and every work made by Black artists living right now will only be about police brutality, slavery, or protest. Plot twist! While these are important conversations to be had, it’s also critical to remember that we’re a very dynamic group of people capable of exploring a multitude of artistic experiences. 

What I believe is on the other side of this socio-political monstrosity is the beauty, power, and grace that exists within Black artists. These are qualities that I see within Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s work as well as within the dancers commissioned to respond to Trapsprung. Now is the time to celebrate and elevate their artistic excellence. 

David Rue

On my first visit to the Seattle Art Museum I immediately took notice of Trapsprung.  A Black ballerina dancing in a piece of art is not a common subject that you find in much of the art that is created, so I instantly saw myself in the work, being a Black ballerina myself. The aspect about the piece that I probably enjoy the most though is the perspective and action taking place within it. We are placed behind her and given her perspective as she moves; she moves with intent and direction as opposed to being static and placed in the space only to be seen. I think this demonstrates what women, and particularly Black women are capable of. We are not there to just be viewed or seen, we are a statement in just our being and use this as our power to go forth in all we do rather than let this inhibit us. I like to think the woman in that portrait would take on the world as such. 

Amanda Morgan

Amanda Morgan is originally from Tacoma, WA and is currently a corps member at Pacific Northwest Ballet. She joined the company in 2016 as an apprentice and was promoted to corps in 2017. In addition to dancing, Morgan is a choreographer and founder of her own project titled “The Seattle Project”, which aims to collaborate with multiple artists in Seattle and create new work that is accessible to the community. She has choreographed for PNB’s Next Step at McCaw Hall (2018, 2019), Seattle International Dance Festival (2019), and curated her own show at Northwest Film Forum this past February of 2020. She is currently continuing to still create and connect with artists during this time, and has a dance film coming out in collaboration with Nia-Amina Minor for Seattle Dance Collective this July.

Unstoppable.

Power and dynamic combined with softness and beauty.

Remembering all it is and what it feels like to be a Black woman.

Always acknowledging how much strength and resilience it requires to become the Black dancer in this artwork and the Black artist that painted it.

Michele Dooley 

Michele Dooley is a native of Philadelphia and began her dance training at The Institute of the Arts under the direction of Cheryl Gaines Jenkins. She graduated from the High School for Creative and Performing Arts under the direction of LaDeva Davis and earned a BFA in dance at The University of the Arts, under the direction of Donna Faye Burchfield. While earning her degree, she spent three seasons with Eleone Dance Theatre. Michele trained at Bates Summer Intensive, BalletX summer program, and DCNS Summer Dance Intensive, worked with choreographers such as Gary Jeter, Tommie Waheed-Evans, Dara Meredith, Milton Myers, Nora Gibson, and Ronen Koresh, among others. 

I see her and she’s flying.

Purposefully turned away from a world that is often drawn to her image partly because she makes it look so easy. But I see the effort, the commitment, and I can stand to learn something from the subtlety.  I remember reading that a bird’s wings have evolved to provide lift and reduce drag.  They use their strongest muscles to lift while their wing anatomy minimizes turbulence, friction, and all that would drag them down to the ground. 

I see her and she’s flying.

Nia-Amina Minor

Nia-Amina Minor is a movement based artist and dance educator from South Central Los Angeles. She holds a MFA from the University of California, Irvine and a BA from Stanford University. Nia-Amina is a co-founder of Los Angeles based collective, No)one Art House, as well as a Company Dancer and Community Engagement Artist Liaison with Spectrum Dance Theater.

Virtual Tour with Nana

Next in our series of virtual tours from Suzanne Ragen, aka Nana, we’ll be looking at an ancient Hindu sculpture and a Chinese sculpture from the 14th century. A SAM docent since 1965, Ragen began writing what she calls Nana’s Art History 101 for her grandchildren when the Asian Art Museum had to close for the safety of the public in March 2020. She recently started to share these virtual tours of SAM’s original home with us and we hope you enjoy them!

Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Auspicious Beginnings

Do you remember our first object, the Indian Story Scroll Cloth that featured the Hindu god Ganesh? He starts the story on that scroll because he is the God of Auspicious Beginnings, which means the story gets off to a good start. 

This stone sculpture of Ganesh was located in a niche of a Hindu temple wall. In Hinduism, there are three main gods: Brahma has four heads and is the creator of pretty much everything; Vishnu often wears a top hat and is blue and comes to earth to help when needed in the form of nine different avatars; and Shiva who is the destroyer and can end the world and then you start all over again.     

This Ganesh is connected to Shiva, we know that because the snake across his round belly is Shiva’s snake. When you look at Ganesh, what’s the first thing you notice? For me, his most striking feature is his elephant head. He also has four arms, a big belly, wears jewelry, and a crown. You might notice his candy dish in his left hand (he loves candy). What do you see near his right foot? That’s Mooshika, his rat sidekick who helps Ganesh trample down or wiggle through obstacles.

Why do you think he has an elephant head? The reason starts with Shiva and his wife Parvati, who live in a big, fancy house. Shiva is gone a lot, destroying things and Parvati misses him. One day when Shiva is gone Parvati makes a child out of clay to keep her company and breathes life into him. Once she goes to take a bath and tells her child, “Don’t let anyone in the house!” But Shiva comes home unexpectedly. Ganesh stops him and says “You can’t come in!” This makes Shiva so angry that he takes his sword and cuts off Ganesh’s head.

Parvati comes out and says, “How terrible! You have cut off the head of our child!” Shiva realizes the situation and tells his servant to go to the market and bring back the first head he sees. It is an elephant. Shiva places the elephant head on his child’s body. Ganesh comes back to life and in Hindu mythology, stays as a helper to his father and a good son to his mother.

 Many Hindus pray to Ganesh for good luck when they set a new goal. After hearing this story, what do you think is lucky about Ganesh?

Dragon Tamer Luohan

This Chinese wood sculpture from the 14th century came to the Seattle Art Museum soon after it opened its doors in 1933. How do I know this information? I looked at the label! If you look at the last numbers on any label (no matter what museum you go to), you’ll see there are a series of numbers. The numbers before the first period tell you what year the museum acquired the work, after the period is the number in which the object came into the collection that year. This is called the accession number. The accession number for this object is 36.13. This means that the object was acquired in 1936 and it was the 13th object acquired that year.

For the past 84 years this object was titled Monk at the Moment of Enlightenment. While the museum was closed for a recent renovation and expansion, our Chinese curator was able to examine it very carefully, using medical equipment like x-rays and CT scans, as well as looking closely. We can do that, too.

What we discovered from the scans is that the figure is hollow, made up of five different pieces of wood, held together with long iron pins, and was painted in reds and greens with a topcoat of gold, most of which has worn off. The curator was able to remove a panel in his back and found a single Chinese character inscribed inside that the museum had never seen before! It is part of the name for the Dragon Tamer Luohan. Luohans are Buddhist monks and this one’s particular job was to control the Dragon King. The Chinese believed that rainfall was controlled from the clouds by the Dragon King, so farmers would pray to this Luohan for the right amount of rain for their crops. Because of his size  (more than three feet) and quality, it is thought that he was originally in a temple in Beijing.

The other big surprise that was found inside him was a mud wasp nest in his head! It must have been there for 800 years. A fragment of a wasp was sent to a UW entomologist, who was able to determine its species. 

He is sitting on a tree stump, his body is twisted, legs with one foot touching the ground and the other crossed over that knee. He is grasping his robe in one hand and probably held a pail or a pearl in his other hand.  He is looking upward at the sky, communicating with the Dragon King for more or less rain to fall. He seems totally animated with his swirling robes and vigorous body language. Notice his elongated pierced ear lobes, a symbol of the Buddha, who began life so wealthy that he wore heavy gold earring which stretched his ears.

Many years ago I was leading a high school group on a tour and we were talking about enlightenment and what it is? (This was when he had his first title). I suggested that it might be what happens when you are puzzling over a math problem and the symbols and numbers are just making no sense. You keep looking at them and suddenly they fall into place. Eureka! Enlightenment! When I said that, I snapped my fingers, and at that moment there was a minor Seattle earthquake. The guards came and rushed us into a doorway. I did feel a certain odd sense of power.

– Suzanne Regan, SAM Docent

Image: Dragon Tamer Luohan, ca. 14th century, Chinese, wood with polychrome decoration, 41 x 30 x 22 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 36.13. Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Auspicious Beginnings, ca. late 10th to early 11th century, Indian , Odisha, possibly Bhubanesvara, sandstone, 18 1/4 x 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 39.33.

16 Books on Race, Racism & Resistance for Grade Pre-K–8

We’ve curated a list of grade-level books with free online read-alouds on the topics of race, racism, and resistance for you to spend some time with over the summer. Many of these books will be available at Seattle Art Museum’s Ann P. Wyckoff Education Resource Center (ERC) when the museum can reopen. Others are available through the Seattle Public Library or the King County Library System. This book list caters to grades Pre-K through 8 but can spark conversation between people of all ages.

Family Fun Workshop, Dec 2018

PRE-SCHOOL – GRADE

Skin Again, by hooks, bell.  (Pre-K – K) New York: Jump at the Sun, 2004. 

This award-winning book introduces a strong message of loving yourself and others and offers new ways to talk about race and identity. Watch the read aloud above, find the e-book at the Seattle Public Library, or find this book at the ERC.

The Colors of Us, by Katz, Karen. (Pre-K – K) New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1999.  

Seven-year-old Lena and her mother observe the variations in the color of their friends’ skin, viewed in terms of foods and things found in nature. Find this book at the ERC!

The Skin You Live In, by Tyler, Michael and Csicsko, David Lee.  (Pre-K +) Chicago: Chicago Children’s Museum, 2005.

Rhyming text and illustrations celebrate being happy with the skin in which one lives, whatever that skin might be. ERC available and the e-book is at SPL & King County Library System.

All are Welcome, by Penfield, Alexandra. ( Pre-K – Grade 3) New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018.

Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms, where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions. You can find the e-book at Seattle and King County Library System.

I Am Enough, by Byers, Grace. (PK – Grade 3) New York: Balzer + Bray, 2018.

A story of loving who you are, respecting others and being kind to one another. The ERC has this book and Seattle Public Library has the e-book.

Let’s Talk About Race, by Lester, Julius and Barbour, Karen. (Pre-K – Grade 3) New York: HarperCollins, 2005. 

This children’s book introduces the concept of race as only one component in an individual’s or nation’s “story.” Find this book at the ERC.

Something Happened in Our Town, by Celano, Marianne.  (Grades K – 3) Washington, DC: Magination Press, 2018.

This story follows two families—one White, one Black—as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children’s questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives. Check out the e-book through SPL.

 Enough! 20 Protesters That Changed America, by Easton, Emily.  (Grades K – 3) New York: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018. 

America has been molded and shaped by those who have taken a stand and said they have had enough. In this dynamic picture book, stand alongside the nation’s most iconic civil and human rights leaders, whose brave actions rewrote history. The e-book can be found at the Seattle Public Library & King County Library System.

GRADES 3 – 8

Not My Idea: A book about Whiteness, by Higginbotham, Anastasia. (Grades 3 +) New York: Dottir Press, 2018.

A children’s picture book that invites white children and parents to become curious about racism, accept that it’s real, and cultivate justice. For a limited time, you can download a free pdf version from the publisher’s website.

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Hudson, Wade and Hudson, Cheryl Willis. (Grades 3 – 7) New York: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018.  

What do we tell our children when the world seems bleak and prejudice and racism run rampant? With 96 lavishly designed pages of original art and prose, 50 diverse creators lend voice to young activists. E-book is at Seattle Public Library and a digital audiobook is available through King County Library System.

Little Dreamers: Bold Women in Black History, by Harrison, Vashti. (Grades 3 – 6) New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.  

Based on her popular Instagram posts, debut author/illustra​tor Vashti Harrison shares the stories of 40 bold African American women who shaped history.

Find the e-book available through Seattle Public Library & King County Library System or find the book at the ERC when SAM reopens.

Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History, by Harrison, Vashti. (Grades 3 – 6) New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 

Vashti’s follow-up to Little Leaders documents the lives and accomplishments of Black men throughout history, spanning centuries and continents. This e-book is available through the Seattle Public Library & King County Library Systems.

Rise Up! The Art of Protest, by Rippon, Jo. (Grades 3 – 7) New York: Charlesbridge, 2020. 

Celebrate the right to resist! Human rights belong to every single one of us, but they are often under threat. Developed in collaboration with Amnesty International, Rise Up! encourages young people to engage in peaceful protest and stand up for freedom. Get the e-book on the Seattle Public Library website.

A Good Kind of Trouble, by Ramée, Lisa Moore. (Grades 4 – 8) New York, NY: Balzer + Bray, 2019. 

After attending a powerful protest, Shayla starts wearing an armband to school to support the Black Lives Matter movement, but when the school gives her an ultimatum, she is forced to choose between her education and her identity. E-book & digital audiobook available at Seattle Public Library & King County Library System.

 Ghost Boys, by Rhodes, Jewell Parker. (Grades 5+) New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 

After seventh-grader Jerome is shot by a white police officer, he observes the aftermath of his death and meets the ghosts of other fallen Black boys including historical figure Emmett Till. E-book & digital audiobook available through Seattle Public Library & King County Library Systems. 

 Raise your Voice: 12 Protests That Shaped America, by Kluger, Jeffrey. (Grades 5 – 8) New York: Philomel, 2020. 

Starting with the Boston Tea Party, moving to the Women’s March, and ending with the Standing Rock/Dakota Pipeline Uprising, this book covers 12 protests that shaped our nation. The e-book is available through the Seattle Public Library.

– Kim Christensen, Education Resource Center Education Assistant

Photos: Robert Wade & Jen Au.