All posts in “Behind the Scenes”

Native Interpretations of Land: Art Encounters at Olympic Sculpture Park

Every year brings the creative process of local artists to the Olympic Sculpture Park through our artist-in-residence program, Art Encounters. This year Christine Babic (Chugach Alutiiq) is working away on SKIN SEWERS at the PACCAR Pavilion. Babic—in collaboration with her mother, artist Mary Babic (Chugach Alutiiq), and Alex Britt (Nansemond, White)—is combining performance and installation to create a site-specific experience that explores the gap between contemporary and traditional Indigenous works. Art Encounters are a chance to learn about the practice of making art while participating in experiences that respond to the Olympic Sculpture Park and the Seattle region. This year you can get involved by dropping into one or both of the Art Encounters on January 25 and February 22, from 7–9 pm.

SAM: I love this description of this as an intestinal window into a shared history. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit upon on the connection to land, skin, and history in Skin Sewers.

Christine Babic: Since this residency is at the Olympic Sculpture Park, we wanted to talk about land and what land means for Indigenous people. Through SKIN SEWERS, we’re trying to get a sense of generational gaps and what the spectrum of generations think of land and its meaning. For both my mom and I, who are from Alaska, we’ve talked about subsistence as being the first thing that comes to mind when we think of land—the resources and gifts of the land.

Mary Babic: I was raised in Seattle. I really did not know what Alutiiq meant. I knew I was Alutiiq and I knew I was German. When I moved to Alaska in 1980 I realized I was immersed in Chugach Alutiiq culture. So, I wanted to learn everything I could about my background. I started sewing woods, firs, leathers, and started beading. Friends in the area shared a lot about utilizing the resources we had and living off the land. Not only would you use a seal for its meat (which is very high in iron), but you would also use every part of it. You wouldn’t waste anything. You were always grateful. You would always thank the animal for giving itself to you. That was one thing I learned right away about subsistence. So, I started sewing with the fur. I also learned how to clean the intestine and to blow it out and make things out of it.

Christine: It’s an interesting material because it’s a waterproof material, and it’s semi-opaque. And it has this simultaneous fragility and strength to it. You get it wet to sew with it and then it dries. It can be used as rain jackets. Seal intestine was also used for death masks. It was a kind of protection—a spiritual protection. Not only from the rain and weather but this spiritual protection that comes with using these materials. So, there’s a lot of dualities when using these materials. For us, it’s not only an experiment in Indigenous materials but also this spiritual connection to our culture. Doing these things that your ancestors did—these are Indigenous materials and we are Indigenous people. Only Indigenous people can source seal. They’re protected under the marine mammal protection. The materials used in SKIN SEWERS are synthetics, but we’re going off of tradition and what our ancestors used. When people are displaced from their land, there’s no access to the materials that we’ve always used. Practicing culture and making artwork is part of cultural evolution and is important to us as Native people—SKIN SEWERS is not an answer, this a conversation.

What kind of materials will be involved in this performance?

Christine: For this, we’re using a synthetic intestine which is collagen, pig intestines, and fish skin. So, inner skins and outer skins. Seal intestines is much harder to get. Something I’m addressing is the evolution of Indigenous material and how we use these things in place of seal gut. In my grandmother’s generation, there was a lot of Americanizing going on so she never wanted to be a Native. She wanted to be as assimilated as possible because there was so much racism happening. When my mother moved back to Alaska she was able to relearn our culture and reclaim these things and identities as Native. My mom raised me as a Native person so those ideas are what I’m referencing. I can carry my Native-ness with pride but there is a gap culturally for us, generationally, because my grandmother did not have that option. Through these materials, there’s a lot of acknowledgment happening.

You’ve mentioned learning traditional sewing techniques from your mom. Have you two collaborated creatively before? What does your collaboration looks like?

Christine: Always. In every show, my mom helped. This is probably our first official collaboration. My mom is inspired by tradition, so she’s really obsessed with researching how our ancestors used to do things. I really like performance art and contemporary art. Bringing parts of what my mother taught me into a contemporary context and working together allows me to make performances out of things that you may not necessarily think are performances, like sewing. This lets us look at them in a different lens—that’s interesting for me.

Mary: You definitely take me out of my comfort zone. I do tend to be more traditional in my artwork and I have been working on a curriculum for Chugachmiut Heritage Preservation that teaches about traditional artwork and how to make clothing. I’m working on that project right now. Working a little more contemporary with the material has definitely opened my eyes. The fish skin that we have in the show, we made a non-traditional and traditional tan. We’ve used brains from the deer and some of that is in the window that we have on display. We also did a non-traditional tent which was using glycerin and rubbing alcohol and that I have a video on that I hope to show during the presentation as well.

Have you collaborated with Alex Britt before?

Christine: No, but I really am a fan of their work. They’re very image-based and a photographer. I always liked how they explained their relationship to the body and land. Bringing in different Indigenous perspectives is important to SKIN SEWERS. Obviously, there is such a wide spectrum. Alex’s photos will be a part of the installation. So, I think it will just kind of show the distances and the different ways we think about land and Native perspectives.

When people come to your Art Encounter, what should they expect to experience?

Christine: This is an active installation, where people can move freely about and get close to the materials and watch how we work with the materials. You’ll get a sense of how our ancestors used and talked about these. We’ll also have texts about the duality of materials and how we want to continue to use them and bring these materials and traditions wherever we go and think about them as they evolve. We’re going to have a demonstration to inflate the pig intestine. This is similar to the way that ancestors used seal intestines—blowing them up, drying, and cutting them. The labor that goes into using them, how much time and care goes into the work—the performance parts of SKIN SEWERS are an act of care and respect for the material, the land, and our tradition. The process is valuable and beautiful, using these materials involves being meticulous, careful, and loving. We come from people who are sewers, who sew skins. SKIN SEWERS, as a project, is really to highlight how important the action is and not just the finished object. I wanted to show other people the performance through the physical actions and what that looks like.

For the third year of our winter Olympic Sculpture Park artist residency, we changed things up a bit. Unlike the last two years, this year’s artist was not selected through an open call, but selected in collaboration with yəhaw̓, an exhibition celebrating the depth and diversity of Indigenous art made in the Pacific Northwest. Curated by Tracy Rector, Asia Tail, and Satpreet Kahlon, yəhaw̓ opens at King Street Station March 23, 2019. You can see more of Christine Babic’s work when it opens! We’ll see you there.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM Content Strategist and Social Media Manager

Photo: Jessa Carter. Photos: Nina Dubinsky
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An Ethos of Equity: Learn About SAM’s Exhibition Advisory Committees

Over the years, SAM has from time to time brought together a group of community members from diverse backgrounds and affiliations to advise on the presentation of a special exhibition. In 2009, SAM met with leaders of the city’s South Asian community when a set of exquisite royal paintings from Jodhpur would be presented at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. A group of fashion designers and instructors advised the museum—and helped create a fashion show featuring local designers at the museum—for SAM’s fall 2016 exhibition celebrating the work of the legendary Yves Saint Laurent.

These, and numerous other examples, signify the importance to SAM of connecting with people outside of the organization to fulfill its mission of reflecting the community it serves. This ethos guides much of SAM’s work already; for example, the Education & Public Engagement Division nurtures ongoing relationships with local artists, performers, writers, and other culture-makers in presenting dynamic programming and events.

Now it’s official: going forward, the museum will bring this community-centered process to the development of all major special exhibitions presented throughout the year, convening Advisory Committees who will meet and advise the museum throughout the planning process.

A major impetus for making this process official? The deeply rewarding experience working with an advisory committee for Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson (June 14–September 9, 2018). As plans for this major exhibition came together, it was clear that the complex subject matter would require thoughtful execution at every step.

The exhibition would be held for the sesquicentennial of the birth of photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952), but far from a celebration, SAM would present a richly nuanced re-evaluation of his legacy. “While Curtis made many contributions to the fields of art and ethnography, his romanticized picture of Native identity has cast a lingering shadow over the perception of Native peoples,” noted Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art. “Today, Indigenous artists are creating aesthetic archives reclaiming agency over their visual representation.” Brotherton worked with three contemporary Indigenous artists—Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, and Will Wilson—to conceive of Double Exposure, an exhibition that would thread their works in conversation with Curtis’ iconic photographs, as well as objects from SAM’s collection.

This collaboration between curator and contemporary artists also included the advisory committee, whose feedback helped make space at the museum for a reckoning with Curtis’s legacy. With Double Exposure, SAM took a big step in its efforts to decolonize the museum. We’d like to acknowledge the committee members once again: Dr. Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht / Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation), Jarrod Da (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi (Pawnee Nation / Upper Ahtna Athabascan), Andy Everson (K’ómoks First Nation), Jason Gobin (Tulalip Tribe), Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation), Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot Tribe), Lydia Sigo (Suquamish Tribe), Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation), and Ken Workman (Duwamish Tribe).

To bring together the advisory committees, invitations are sent to leaders, artists, and thinkers whose own work and communities are reflected in the particular themes of an exhibition. These selections are drawn from SAM’s already-rich network of partnerships and more importantly provide opportunities to create new connections with community leaders and organizations in the region. Reflecting the value of this work, and ensuring that the opportunity to serve is accessible to everyone, SAM offers a stipend to all committee members. Each committee meets with a cross-divisional group of SAM staff who are charged with taking the feedback and guidance of the members back to their colleagues. Interacting with each step of the exhibition-making process over the course of multiple meetings—including curatorial, marketing, education, and more—the committee’s input contributes to the development of exhibition content, communication, and interpretation.

Advisory Committees for upcoming exhibitions are already at work. SAM is grateful for their dedication—and eager to experience how this community-centered model contributes to SAM’s mission to connect art to life.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

Photo: Natali Wiseman. Pictured, L to R: Ken Workman (Duwamish Tribe), Jarrod Da (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Dr. Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht / Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation), Curator of Native American Art Barbara Brotherton, Double Exposure artist Tracy Rector, Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation), Lydia Sigo (Suquamish Tribe), Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot Tribe). Not pictured: Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi (Pawnee Nation / Upper Ahtna Athabascan), Andy Everson (K’ómoks First Nation), Jason Gobin (Tulalip Tribe), Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation).

 

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Seattle Asian Art Museum: A Storied Past Inspires a Bright Future

“Renovating a museum that is an architectural icon is no small task,” explains Sam Miller, Partner at LMN Architects, the firm overseeing the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s renovation and expansion design. Preservation of the landmark building is essential, but modern demands necessitate change. These changes include improved ADA accessibility, seismic and climate control upgrades, and other electrical/mechanical controls imperative to present-day museum standards. The renovation features a modest expansion that adds exhibition and educational space, allowing the museum to better serve the community.

The Art Deco building is considered one of architect Carl F. Gould’s greatest achievements. “Our goal has been to impact the existing spaces as minimally as possible,” Miller says of LMN’s approach to the renovation process. “When there’s any new intervention that’s not replicating or preserving the historic architecture, we’re distinguishing the work with a more contemporary detailing so it’s clearly different from the building’s historic fabric.”

Gould’s original design serves as inspiration to LMN’s renovation plan, as does historic Volunteer Park, designed by the Olmsted Brothers landscape architectural firm in 1903. “There is this beautiful building in a beautiful historic park, and yet the two weren’t connected. We felt restoring some of that connection would be a great opportunity,” Miller says.

He explained how Gould’s design incorporated skylights that flooded the galleries with light, as well as windows with views into Volunteer Park. However, later building additions and a transition towards artificial lighting closed off many of those elements. The renovations will include LED light boxes that allow display of light-sensitive objects in an environment inspired by the original skylights. LMN also designed a glass lobby addition that improves building circulation while also providing park views. Conceived by Gould as an indoor-outdoor space, the Fuller Garden Court will also offer those views, through two new openings that will connect it to the lobby. “As you stand in the Garden Court, you’re going to have this incredible view of the park,” Miller says.

The community was integral to the design process. SAM received feedback from the City, local parks groups, and other community members. In addition to suggesting changes to a building staircase and landscaping that were incorporated into the final design, the community also led the museum back to an important source of inspiration—the Olmsted Brothers’ historic design for Volunteer Park pathways. In response to this feedback, SAM is restoring a set of Olmsted-designed paths. This opportunity to complete and augment these walkways through Volunteer Park speaks to the nature of the restoration project: historic preservation that has led to design inspiration.

In the months ahead, we will continue exploring the future of the museum as the renovations progress towards the much-anticipated re-opening in 2019.

– Erin Langner, freelance writer

Images: Eduardo Calderón.
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Conserving SAM’s Asian Art Collection

Thanks to funding from Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, a pair of important 17th-century Japanese screens, Scenes in and around the Capital, are currently being restored by specialists at Studio Sogendo, a private studio in California. The screens, likely created by a machi-eshi, or “town painter,” present a panoramic view of Kyoto during the Edo period. They show both Kyoto’s center and its periphery, and give insight into the daily lives of different social classes, in addition to representing seasonal festivals.

When the screens first arrived at SAM in 1975, they were already in fragile condition and by the time this conservation work began in 2017, extensive repairs were desperately needed. Painted using ink, color, and gold, and mounted on wooden frames, the screens are being restored using traditional Japanese methods and materials. I was able to visit Studio Sogendo while one of the panels had been stripped of its backings and laid on a light table, allowing a rare perspective of the materials and quality of the painting. The conservation treatment has been invaluable, not just in terms of preserving the paintings, but also in offering opportunities for examination and study. The internal frames must be replaced and expert craftsmen in Japan made new custom frames for the work. The incredibly precise joinery of the new frames can be seen in these images. The conservation phase of the project is nearing completion and the reassembly of the structure, replacement of the mount fabrics, and retouching of the areas of loss is underway.

 

This crucial project would not be possible without Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, one of few programs dedicated to preserving historically or culturally significant artworks. We look forward to the return of Scenes in and around the Capital, which will be on view among SAM’s extensive Asian art collection when the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in late 2019!

– Nicholas Dorman, SAM Chief Conservator

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Inside the Asian Art Museum: Demolition Today, Reinforcement Tomorrow

We are thrilled to see significant progress on our construction at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Our construction partners BNBuilders have completed the interior demolition in preparation for rebuilding reinforced walls. Many structural upgrades are also underway, in addition to preparing for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing improvements. The foundations for the East Addition have been completed and preparations for installing the North Addition foundations have begun.

For detailed information and continued project updates, visit the BNBuilders project website.

In the image above, the translucent panel ceiling of the Fuller Garden Court has been removed to access the concrete walls above that require seismic retrofitting. With the ceiling taken down, the beautiful laminated glass skylights (original to the 1930’s design but replaced in the 1990s) have been temporarily revealed.

South exhibit hall looking south

In addition, the demolition of interior gallery walls has been completed. The hollow clay tile walls at the perimeter of the galleries will remain, but have been opened up for seismic upgrades. Structural improvements are continuing inside the existing spaces. As is common with historic buildings, asbestos was found and safely removed.

Auditorium looking south

The seats have been removed from the auditorium, along with the sound booth that previously stood in the middle of the back row.

Alvord Board Room looking southeast

The interior wall of the Alvord Board Room has been removed. Once the expansion is complete, this area will be transformed into our new education space.

Want to know more about what’s happening at the Asian Art Museum? See renderings and get more news on the website about the project.

Photos: Courtesy of BNBuilders
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New Cedar for Bunyon’s Chess

A brilliant conservator[1] once noted that “art conservation is a fight against entropy.” This is especially visible for works sited outside which require conservators, artists, and stakeholders to carefully consider what is essential for an outdoor sculpture to continue to exist for future generations. When the carved cedar elements of Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Bunyon’s Chess were no longer structurally stable, di Suvero and his studio worked closely with the Seattle Art Museum to explore the artwork and discover solutions.

Bunyon’s Chess was created by Mark di Suvero in 1965 for Virginia and Bagley Wright’s residence in Seattle. The family’s documentation of the creative process provides wonderful insight into the artwork.

In 2006 the Wrights promised the work to the Seattle Art Museum and it was moved to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The cedar elements had begun to show degradation in their original site but this accelerated at the park partially due to the exposed location and partially due to the natural deterioration of cedar. As cedar ages in an outdoor setting a number of events occur: the natural biocide slowly migrates out with water, the wood absorbs water at an increasing rate as it deteriorates, fungal deterioration is common, as well as insect and wildlife damage. The logs of Bunyon’s Chess were treated annually with a fungicide to slow the fungal deterioration but without major visual interventions such as end caps or moving the sculpture to an interior location, deterioration continued at a fairly rapid pace.

In 2009 an in-depth condition assessment was performed which determined that the deterioration, particularly on the interior had progressed to a state where the logs were in danger of falling. In 2010, the logs were consolidated, the large losses filled and the exterior coated to prolong the life. During this period research and conversations with di Suvero regarding the replacement were begun as this treatment could not prolong the life of the cedar indefinitely. Di Suvero determined that new logs could be carved to replace the original cedar, as it is the visual integrity of the work that is important.

After much research, new cedar of the similar dimensions and tight ring growth was sourced for carving. Seattle artist Brian Beck peeled the logs in preparation for carving.

Kent Johnson and Daniel Roberts from di Suvero’s studio traveled to Seattle and carved the new logs using the original cedar elements as a guide.

Beck worked with Johnson and Roberts to create the same join between the two logs. Much of the original hardware such as the 36” bronze bolts and galvanized steel eyehooks were presevered and reused on the newly carved elements.

If you look carefully, at the top of the sculpture you will note a slight bend in the top tube. Di Suvero wanted this natural bend to remain but believed this opportunity should be used to reinforce the structure.

Fabrication Specialties Ltd. worked with the di Suvero studio to create an interior support which was welded in place.

The logs were strung with new stainless steel cabling and were carefully measured and marked to the lengths of the original cables to assist with the rigging. Larry Tate, Andrew Malcolm, Tracy Taft, Ignacio Lopez, and Travis Leonard of Fabrication Specialties placed the new logs within the original steel frame working closely with images and a model of the original. The di Suvero studio generously participated in video calls throughout the day.


Special thank you to: Mark di Suvero and Studio, Virginia Wright, Fabrication Specialties Ltd, Equinox Studios, Alta Forest Products, Brian Beck, Christian French, and Catharina Manchanda for helping preserve this public artwork free for everyone to enjoy at the Olympic Sculpture Park year round.

– Liz Brown, SAM Objects Conservator

Photos courtesy of Virginia Wright and Liz Brown.
[1] Lauren Chang
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SAM Gallery Artists on Seattle: Laura Van Horne

Seattle is that rare location where it isn’t trite to make conversation about the weather. Right now it’s that time of year where elsewhere in the world the sun is beginning to shine again, but in Seattle the sky is still a solid grey. SAM Gallery artist, Laura Van Horne doesn’t mind the muted monochrome of Seattle in the spring. Instead, she feels it is the perfect backdrop for the colorful paintings she currently has on display at TASTE Café. Learn more about the artist and see her paintings on view through May 6. If a pop of color is what you need in your life right now, consider renting or buying art from SAM Gallery.

Laura Van Horne (@lauravanhorneart)

I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and moved to Seattle, WA in 1994. During my schooling I spent several winters in North Dakota, Boston and New York, so was thrilled to move to mild-weathered Seattle. I am not bothered by the rainy season here in the Pacific Northwest, as it gives me a perfect excuse to spend the day inside, painting at my studio. I feel my work is greatly influenced by my surroundings. Living in Seattle is breathtakingly beautiful. I love to go for walks and photograph everything around me, and am especially drawn to the trees, which frequently show up collaged into my encaustic paintings. My body of work is often abstract and landscape inspired with lots of layering.

The Geode Series, which is on display now at TASTE Café in the SAM is packed full of color which is in contrast to the gray palate of Seattle. Gray is the perfect backdrop for these pops of color.  These abstract paintings have evolved from years of experimentation with an elixir of inks, pigments, paints, and resin used on a variety of substrates. The result appears organic and scientific with geodes, human cells, irises and orbs coming to mind.

Images: Kiwi Cocktail, 2018, Laura Van Horne, encaustic, ink, metal on board. Courtesy of the artist.

 

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Inside the Seattle Asian Art Museum Renovation: Plan Today, Exhibit Tomorrow

During the few months between the Seattle Asian Art Museum closing its doors and the start of the renovation and expansion, our staff was keeping busy. While the entire Asian art collection was relocated to our downtown location to store and protect it during the construction, the curatorial staff began thinking about how to display it when the museum opens again in fall 2019. Xiaojin Wu, SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, and Ping Foong, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art made use of the empty museum walls to brainstorm how the future of the galleries will be organized.

L to R: Xiaojin Wu, Ping Foong

One traditional method of curation is to group objects according to the region they come from. When the museum reopens, the goal is to move beyond this method and explore new ways of integrating and presenting the eclectic artworks. “The challenge,” says Wu “is attempting to create accessible art while embracing how complex art and history can be.”

 

Cross-cultural display is interesting but it can be confusing to present as a museum and to understand as a visitor. “We’re more concerned about boredom,” Says Wu. “The key is excitement—making people want to learn.”

L to R: Rachel Harris, Amelia Love

There are 13 galleries in the Asian Art museum to use for the collection works and the items within them will need to rotate regularly since all Asian paintings and textiles are light sensitive and every six months, or so, they need to rest, sometimes for years at a time!

Ping Foong organizing our collection

It’s hard to gain a sense of scale from print outs, but planning how the rich and diverse piece of our Asian Art Museum will fit back together again is underway! Learn more about the entire renovation and expansion process on our website or, if you’re a SAM member, don’t miss Ping Foong and Xiaojin Wu discussing their plans for the museum in more detail at Conversations with Curators, June 20. From large Buddha sculptures to delicate hair clips, how you would place these priceless objects in the newly upgraded museum when it reopens?

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Images: Xiaojin Wu
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Wyeth’s Cast of Characters: Christina Olson

One day I came in and saw [Christina] on the back door step in the late afternoon. She had finished all her work in the kitchen and there she was sitting quietly, with a far-off look to the sea. At the time, I thought she looked like a wounded seagull with her bony arms, slightly long hair back over her shoulder, and strange shadows of her cast on the side of the weathered door, which had this white porcelain knob on it. ―Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth met Christina Olson through his wife Betsy and first painted her in 1947. He would paint Christina every summer in Cushing, Maine for the next 20 years until her death in January, 1968. As Betsy explains it, “The key to the Olson pictures is Andy’s relationship with Christina—absolutely at ease with him.” Christina Olson, a New-England native, refused a wheelchair for much of her life, despite being without the use of her legs. Rather, she used her upper body to pull herself through the fields and house where she lived and worked. Her tenacity and intelligence captivated Andrew Wyeth and their friendship blossomed easily.

 

I think one’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes. I see no reason for painting but that. If I have anything to offer, it is my emotional contact with the place where I live and the people I do. – Andrew Wyeth

Even in death, Andrew continued to draw inspiration from Christina through her house and the objects that had defined her. Wyeth considered this painting of the two entrances to her home a double portrait of the siblings, Alvaro and Christina Olson. When first introduced to the Olson siblings, Andrew was initially taken with Alvaro and painted his portrait before he become focused on the indomitable Christina. Alvaro died on Christmas night, 1967, and Christina, without him, died only weeks later. The house and remnants left abandoned in their wake struck Wyeth as symbolic of the lives they lived—the shadowy Alvaro, who only posed for Wyeth once and remained always in the background as Wyeth painted in the Olson house; and, by contrast, the brilliant, captivating Christina.

 

The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless . . . limited physically but by no means spiritually. – Andrew Wyeth

Anna Christina is Wyeth’s last portrait of Christina Olson. She died only months after the tempera was completed. The trusting relationship of artist and model is evident: Christina confronts the artist and the viewer completely unselfconsciously, and Wyeth returns the favor with unflinching honesty and respect. “A powerful face with a great deal of fortitude. The Quality of a Medici head,” Wyeth described his friend. He painted Christina against an open doorway filled by a milky gray rectangle of fog that had enshrouded the house for weeks.

 

This drybrush is intended to be a portrait of the Olson house both outside and inside. Outside is total fragility. Inside is full of secrets. There’s Christina sitting in the kitchen, on the left, and everything’s in there—the stove, the geraniums, the buckets, and the trash. I had to overdo it here and reveal all the secrets. I like to paint in places that are not too nice. ― Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth saw the world around him resounding with hidden meaning. Occasionally considered a magical realist for his emphasis on the inner life of objects such as the stove or the bucket in this painting, Wyeth was certainly a storyteller. His paintings can be seen as stills in a moving image—the story of Christina’s Olson’s life surrounding her and continuing right outside the open door of her kitchen.

 

This curtain that had been lying there stale for year began slowly to rise, and the birds crocheted on it began to move. My hair about stood on end. – Andrew Wyeth

Christina Olson was a muse for Andrew Wyeth that helped launch his career. As a subject she is forever seated due to the degenerative disease that made her a paraplegic, but in Wyeth’s paintings, the figure of Christina stands out, singular and strong in the stories of Wyeth’s characters. See Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect before it closes, January 15.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Images: Christina Olson, 1947, Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917–2009, tempera on hardboard panel, 33 x 25 in., Myron Kunin Collection of American Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota, © 2017 Andrew Wyeth / Artist Rights Society (ARS). Alvaro and Christina, 1968, Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917–2009, watercolor on paper, 22 ½ x 28 ¾ in., Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine, Museum Purchase, 1969, © 2017 Andrew Wyeth / Artist Rights Society. Installation views of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at Seattle Art Museum, 2017. Photos by Natali Wiseman.

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