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Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Lyta Sigmen

Lyta Sigmen is a graduate of the Cornish College of the Arts design program. She frequently finds herself gravitating towards the arts, for work and for pleasure. She’s currently illustrating and writing her own graphic novel, and is also recording and producing gaming related content for YouTube five days a week under a secret pen name.

SAM: UW Professor Denzil Hurley’s installation Disclosures (May 20–November 5) is currently on display. What stands out to you about this recent addition to the work on view at SAM?

Lyta Sigmen: Walking into the room, you can imagine and feel the energy of the marches and protests that are so abundant today.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast by Albert Bierstadt in the American Art gallery is visually very striking and alive with activity. Be it imagined or painted from reality, this piece is alive with magic and activity!

Who is your favorite artist?

This sort of question is like asking what my favorite food or movie is. It can change on a whim based on my mood on any given day. I respect a lot of artwork you wouldn’t find in a museum. Friends and fellow artists make art based on their struggles in our world, and how it impacts them—from young Asian-American artist, Yao Xiao, to story writer and comics artist Mark Crilley. Ask me again tomorrow, I guarantee the answer will be different.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

With the museum offering such a range of art, not everyone will appreciate the vast collection. I would say, consider the type of art you want to see to help guide you, but keep an open mind in galleries that invoke a “huh” response.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

When I’m not working, I’m either involved in my relationship with my partner, illustrating/writing for my graphic novel, or recording/editing for my online YouTube channel. Sadly the comic isn’t done, and the YouTube thing is under a secret pen name. It’s all part of the allure!

– Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Emily Jones

The middle daughter of three girls, Emily Jones grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, IL. She soon longed for adventure and moved to the city to attend Columbia College in 2008. She graduated in 2012 with a major in Creative Writing and minor in Black World Studies. Her coursework in bookbinding, cartooning, and metalsmithing affirmed her passion for working with her hands. Her love for the arts led her to seek employment in the museum shop at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she daily visited two of her favorite paintings: George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day. After two long years at an office job in the promotional products industry, Emily decided to shake things up. In 2016, she made the cross-country journey from Chicago’s Logan Square area to West Seattle (in the dead of winter) with her aquatic turtle, Flapjack, and handsome tuxedo cat, Duke Ellington. It is there that she can be found toiling in her greenhouse or frolicking on the beach with Duke.

SAM was naturally calling her name.

SAM: What do you think of the Sam Gilliam installation (May 6–November 26)? 

Emily: Holy Color! I love this gallery. I am particularly drawn to Union. I can’t imagine having to handle and care for that painting with all the textured pieces and chunks of paint. Another VSO showed me a few pictures of his draped work and it is spectacular. My mind just keeps trying to imagine a garment made out of his colorful polypropylene fabric. It has a beautiful sheen to it.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

I have such a hard time picking favorites! I am pretty in love with Der Orden der Nacht by Anselm Kiefer lately. It wasn’t my favorite at first but the more I stared, the more enamored I became. A lot of people see it and remark about how the man looks dead, but to me he looks completely at peace. Although the scenery is completely haunting (a sunlit haze over a field of looming dead sunflowers) and a little creepy, I can’t help but imagine what it must’ve looked like ablaze with yellow, alive and lush. That man lying beneath those flowers knows what I’m talking about.

I also really enjoy dissecting the craftsmanship in the Men’s tunic from Cameroon in  . There is so much appliqué and embroidery. I’m also obsessed with all of the jewelry pieces we have—especially the gold serpent bracelet in the Ancient Art gallery and all of the Maassai beadwork and Fulani earrings.

Who is your favorite artist? 

Again too many favorites! I love the impressionists and art nouveau. I’m a sucker for the female form and flowers. That being said Alphonse Mucha comes to mind. The way he adorns women (swoon). Beautiful!

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM? 

See it all! You never know what you are going to glean inspiration from and appreciate. It’s not aways the things you expect to like that you fall in love with. You might be surprised.

And put down your phones! I know I am guilty of this too sometimes but there is nothing worse than when I see people texting, not even looking at the art, or just snapping quick, blurry pictures that they will probably never look at again, and moving on. You really can’t get scale or the impact of an artwork from a picture. If you really love it, take the time to stop and stare for a few moments—maybe even minutes—and really connect with the piece first. Being at a museum is an experience. Savor it.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

My favorite things to do are travel and visit other museums. I love to be outside, so hiking, running, and kayaking are a regular occurrence. I also enjoy seeing live music and am an avid reader who loves comics and graphic novels. I am always trying to make more time to create art and explore new mediums. I just started volunteering at the Northwest African American Museum and am interested in volunteering with the Frye Art Museum as well. I can’t imagine life without art, so I intend to drown in it.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: John Jung-Simard

Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, John Jung-Simard moved to Seattle in 1984. He received his bachelor degree in French from University of Washington and his masters in theology from Seattle University. He worked in a variety of settings including pubic health research and a library shipping warehouse before coming to SAM in 1997. Although there was a period in 2001 when John took on another job, he eventually came back to SAM, where he considers the job similar to being part of a family.

SAM: In the Brotman Forum, John Grade: Middle Fork has been on display since February. What stands out to you about this new addition?

John: John Grade’s Middle Fork sculpture is so large, it’s amazing it got completed. It’s the teamwork involved that amazes me the most.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Among many others, the Asante gold pieces on the 4th floor could be my favorites. They might seem inconsequential, but they’re actually prized possessions in that culture. I love so-called emphera, and these works could be seen that way. They are pristine and lovely. The Soul Washer’s Discs are really great.

Who is your favorite artist?

I love Cy Twombly. There’s a whole museum dedicated to him in Houston. His paintings look like children’s doodling, or graffiti, but I find it very moving: it’s like ancient scribbling on a wall from some obscure place.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Take it slow. Unless you’re here for a specific show, just go with the flow. That will help you find unexpected gems.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

I’m not a practicing artist, but I love art, old & foreign films, off-kilter music, and reading. I love animals, and often say hello to them, even when I’m driving in my car.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Kittie McAllister

Kittie (known as Katie by her family) grew up on a beautiful farm in Carnation, Washington, riding horses and exploring the woods with her dog. As part of her Associate of Arts and Sciences Degree at Bellevue College, she excelled in hand-drawn animation classes (and was published in her mentor Tony White’s book, How to Make Animated Films) but decided she wanted to be an oil painter. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Studio Art from Central Washington University in 2016, where she discovered her love of making three-dimensional objects and using her painting skills to give them sophisticated surface qualities. Working as a Visitor Services Officer in the galleries of the Seattle Art Museum keeps her engaged in her greatest interest—art history.

SAM: Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series opened January 21 and is running until April 23. What is your favorite piece in this series?

McAllister: Every painting in The Migration Series is full of earth tones, so Panel 5 struck me for its vibrant colors and total absence of browns. A black locomotive speeding through the deep blue night, with its yellow bell swinging in the force of the wind and light penetrating the darkness ahead, gleams like an emblem of hope for the migrants leaving deplorable living situations behind. The yellow paint of the bell is even brighter than the bold yellow seen throughout the series, perhaps emphasizing it as a symbol of liberty and progress.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

The huge Mann und Maus sculpture by Katharina Fritsch, for the BIG reactions it always gets! I often hear adults say that waking up to giant vermin on their bed is their worst nightmare, while children perceive the “mousy” as cute and funny; one child thought he got so big from eating too much cheese! I see dark symbolism in the piece and feel a little uneasy when posted in its imposing presence.

Who is your favorite artist?

As I delved deeper into John Lennon’s music, I became curious about the woman he wrote such desperate love songs about, and I discovered the avant-garde artist Yoko Ono. Her sculptures and poems are minimalistic and give simple commands to the viewer—the act of physically, or mentally, carrying out those actions focuses your cognizance in the moment. A brief writing example of Yoko’s:

LIGHTING PIECE

Light a match and watch till it goes out.

1955 autumn

One of my favorite works is a white ladder that, when you climb to the top and look through a magnifying glass hanging by a delicate chain, you can find the tiny word, “Yes” written on the white ceiling. John Lennon fell in love with Yoko when he felt refreshed by her positive message in this interactive art piece.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Make a day of it! I always recommend starting back in time on the fourth floor with our most ancient art objects, and working your way back to the present with our more contemporary works on the third floor. SAM celebrates diversity and is a safe space to be yourself and unabashedly explore the eccentric world of art.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

Recently I had a painting in the Erotica exhibition on Capitol Hill for Second Thursday Art Walk—it was such a hoot! Now that I’m finished with school I have time to get back into my guitar and I love spending lazy days just journaling. My shorthaired black cat, Tobias Funke, always demands my attention, and I’m simply enjoying my time with friends and family now that I’m back in Seattle. I’m always making little plans and schemes for my creative notions—working at Seattle Art Museum keeps my creativity fueled!

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: David Nevarrez

Originally from Southern California, David has traveled all over the USA and beyond. He studied theatre arts, psychology, film, video, and photography. He moved to New York City and became involved in the theatre as a director, playwright, actor, and stage manager, even winning several awards for poetry. In 2001, he moved to Seattle and found his favorite day job as a barista. For a year in 2006, David moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to teach English. Upon returning to Seattle he joined the SAM family since being around art has always been inspirational to him. He started writing for a small British movie digest in 2015 and traveled to take a marionette carving workshop in Prague, Czech Republic. With his experiences in the arts and travel, David enjoys the inspiration he gathers at SAM and continues to dabble in experimental film and photography, writing a novel, and writing poetry.

SAM: Pure Amusements: Wealth, Leisure, and Culture in Late Imperial China is a new addition to the downtown location’s Asian art display. What is your favorite piece in this section?

Nevarrez: The Scholar Rocks, as I had not known of them. Not only are they fascinating, but I learned something new. 

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Film is Dead . . . by Jennifer West—draped rolls of large format film stock, which has been painted on (as was done by such experimental filmmakers as Stan Brakhage), or has abstract images (some resembling digitization) hung up as a curtain (like the old “hippie bead” curtains popular in the ’60s), reaching the floor, and rolling up to 3 large screen TVs showing rolling film images of the abstractions. Is film dead? More and more, movies are shot with digital video because it’s easier to manipulate. While film had twice the light reception of analog video, digital has more than film, though for DV to look cinematic it must be manipulated in post-production. This does not mean some filmmakers don’t still use film; I have seen an announcement at the end of several big budget films that they were shot on actual film stock. Even so, with DVallowing filmmaking to be more accessible, has not the idea of “film,” that is cinema, simply become un-reliant on celluloid and more egalitarian? 

Who is your favorite artist?

As a cineaste, I first think of filmmakers when asked such a question. Over the last couple years have immersed myself in three directors of note: Andrzej Zulawski (who sadly died last February), Abbas Kiarostami (who sadly died last June), and Aleksandr Sokurov. All there are very poetic in their respective styles. Zulawski (best known in the States for Possession from 1981 starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill) features intense emotions between characters, especially lovers, in an almost musical style. Kiarostami (best known here for Taste of Cherry from 1997) has more of a cinema verity style, wherein his films seem unscripted and very natural. Sokurov (best known for Russian Ark (2002)) looks at different aspects of power, from the personal to the epic.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Give yourself time to wander about at first, so as to note some area that especially interests you, then return to the area for a more in-depth exploration.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

After a 9 year hiatus on my novel, I have gotten somewhat back to work on it, partly helped by expanding out to include it within a long saga, concurrently working on other parts. I also work on some films and videos.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Alyssa Norling

Alyssa Norling

Aly moved from Hillsboro, OR to Seattle in 2011 to pursue her BFA in Theater from Cornish College of the Arts. After spending a summer working for a trapeze studio in exchange for high flying trapeze lessons, she decided she should find a paying job while in school. She took up her position as a VSO at SAM and graduated with her BFA with a concentration in Original Works in 2015. Aly continues working as a VSO to gain inspiration while working as an actress, playwright, director, dancer, and singer.

SAM: Material Difference: European Perspectives is a new addition to the Big Picture: Art after 1945 exhibition featuring artist Anselm Kiefer. What is your favorite piece in this section?

Norling: Anselm Kiefer’s Die Welle (The Wave). You know something is deeply wrong with the world when you see it, and then you learn that Kiefer is using the myth of Lilith at the Red Sea to evoke the destruction, despair, and death of the holocaust. It’s remarkably haunting and effective. It’s inspired me to take a closer look at the myth of Lilith and create art of my own about her because, to me, the myth sounds like it was created to keep women from demanding equality with men.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

I have to cheat because my favorite was JUST taken down. Untitled by John McCracken,the monolith-type thing with perfectly clear reflective surfaces, became my favorite over time. When patrons took their time and really considered our stainless steel McCracken (in ways other than to fix their hair and take mirror pics) it inspired so much play and creativity. The possibilities for interacting with it were endless. It evoked a wider variety of response from patrons than any other piece in the museum, in my experience. The McCracken was a different work of art every day, every minute, depending on who was in its presence and how they chose to interact with it.

Who is your favorite artist?

My brain goes to playwrights. I’ve been in love with the structure, themes, and feminism that live in the plays of Maria Irene Fornes and Caryl Churchill for a very long time, so probably one of those two. Read one of their plays someday! Seriously.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Spend time with art. More time than you think. More time than you want. I took this job because I was curious about what discoveries I’d make if I spent a ridiculous amount of time in the presence of a work of art. Interesting things happen when you push yourself to give art the time and attention it actually needs from you. This sounds like really basic advice, but spend a day in the life of a VSO and you’ll be dumbfounded by how many patrons experience art at hyper speed through smart phone cameras. Snap. Move on. Snap. Move on. Snap. Move on. So many people don’t experience art through their actual eyes, brains, and hearts. And very few push themselves to really investigate a work of art and discover a relationship with it.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

Rehearsals, performances, or research really just take up most of my time! Currently, I perform at Café Nordo in Pioneer Square Thursdays–Sundays in a crazy, geeky, hilariously weird Christmas, shadow-puppet play called Christmas is Burning that runs all of December. I’m also rehearsing with a group that will be performing a piece at On The Boards in the spring, which I’m really excited about. But when it’s not one of those current projects, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of art I want to make in the future. My education is in theatre, but I grew up a dancer and surround myself with visual art, so I feel a need to explore which of these (or which combination of these) will allow me to tell stories most effectively.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Greg Thompson

A Seattle native, Greg found his way to the Seattle Art Museum after working as a Brick Mason and attaining his Mechanical Engineering degree. His love of art and personable nature make him a popular guard in the galleries. Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi opened on November 11 at the Asian Art Museum. Her works are mostly digital animation, with four pieces made specifically for this exhibition. Those pieces are based off SAM’s permanent collection pieces that are also displayed throughout the exhibition. Many artists take inspiration from the world around them, including Greg. In the galleries, he’s often drawing depictions of the works currently on display or making caricatures of other VSOs.

SAM: What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Thompson: The Italian Room on the fourth floor. The crazy thing about that room is that it was shipped from Italy piece by piece. I could take a nap in there.

Who is your favorite artist?
Kehinde Wiley and Gordon Parks.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
Take your time and enjoy the experience.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
Well when I’m not at SAM, I like to do stuff in my studio like make mix tapes. I like to watch movies and spend time with friends and family. I’m also studying to be a ventriloquist—I can talk while drinking water now!

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Austen Mumper

AUSTEN MUMPER
After earning his economics degree at Gonzaga University, Austen worked for Colliers International, a real estate services company. Austen currently attends The Art Institute of Seattle studying animation and pursuing his life-long interest in music and art. Working at SAM surrounded by artwork and conversations with coworkers and museum patrons provides him constant inspiration.

SAM: Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style opened on October 11. What’s your favorite part of the exhibition?

Mumper: Seeing the life of a fashion designer and the process that goes into clothing design is a very new perspective for me. The rooms alone are beautifully arranged, completely unrecognizable from past exhibitions I’ve worked. Still owning hand-me-downs, I don’t think people should be taking my fashion advice, but any person interested in fashion must see this show.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
Choosing a favorite piece is incredibly difficult. That said, the section I frequent most is the African Art—in particular, Standing Figure (Nkondi), a religious idol made by the Kongo people. Each nail driven into this figure represents an oath between two people. If that oath is broken, the spirit of this vessel will travel out from its base to harm any violators in play. It’s amazing to have something made by a community to help everyone displayed for everyone to see.

Who is your favorite artist?
My favorite artist is Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter, animator, author, and manga artist. Miyazaki’s goal was to build a studio where the priority was not success, but making good films. The depth of his characters is amazing, it’s like we know them by the end of the film. His fictional worlds use his personal experience, historical facts, and his opinions to tell you how he sees reality and what he has learned form it. Miyazaki said, “Creating animation means creating a fictional world. That world soothes the spirit of those who are disheartened and exhausted from dealing with the sharp edges of reality.” I keep this in mind each step of the way towards my goals in animation.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
I encourage anyone to ask questions or simply share with us. We all have unique insights that can benefit both speaker and listener, although taking your time to experience the art is understandable. I appreciate all of the people I’ve learned from, and I enjoy when I can talk about the art with someone who enjoys it as much as myself and the rest of the people working at the SAM.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
Most of my time is taken up with work and classes, both of which I enjoy. Working at SAM has been its own education—learning about people, places and pieces all telling great stories. I couldn’t have asked for a better position in my attempts to join the art community.

—Katherine Humphreys, SAM VSO

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Michelle Waits

MICHELLE WAITS
Originally from Cincinnati, Michelle lived in LA, Santa Barbara, and spent 20 years in Hawai’i before settling in Seattle four years ago. She has a degree in Cultural Anthropology and her career has been in communications as a writer, editor, and coordinator, and in theatre administration.

SAM: Big Picture: Art After 1945 opened in July. Which artist or piece do you like seeing the most?

Waits: The Rothko—it just takes my breath away. Part of the reason I love it is that I saw a Rothko exhibit at The Guggenheim some years ago where the pieces were displayed chronologically. The early pieces were in bright colors and the canvases gradually got darker and darker as the artist sank into extreme depression. I am so happy to see a painting of his that makes my heart soar instead of feeling sadness.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
In the Go Tell It: Civil Rights Photography exhibit, there is a wonderful picture of Jackie Robinson. It’s meaningful to me because he was a close friend of my father-in-law and was my brother-in-law’s godfather.

Who is your favorite artist?
I couldn’t choose. My favorites change constantly as I discover and revisit art everywhere from the museum to the street. Unlike most VSOs, I don’t make art of have a degree in museum studies. I just have a great love for art.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
My best advice is to spend time with the art rather than just taking pictures. You have an incredible opportunity to see some spectacular things in their original states. A photo may be a good memory but it’s nothing compared to the real thing right in front of you.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I spend a lot of my time in my PJs on my sofa with my laptop working at my other jobs. I co-own Cut Bank Creek Press, a small press dedicated to publishing Native American writers. I also work with and coordinate speaking engagements for my friend and business partner Gyasi Ross, who is a brilliant speaker, author, mentor, and a myriad of other things. When there’s any time left over, I read and like to go listen to my friends’ bands.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.