All posts in “Object of the Week”

Object of the Week: Veronica

Veronica is a telling image from a larger body of work that examines what it’s like to be an erotic dancer. For the photographer, this series sheds light on the commitment artists make to produce meaningful work.

Erika Langley (American, born 1967) moved across the country in 1992 after attending the Rhode Island School of Design and working as an aspiring photojournalist. She quickly learned that photojournalism work in Seattle was hard to come by, being turned down by several potential employers. One told her to go out and do something “really gutsy and personal” and then come back.[1]

Upon arriving in Seattle, Langley had noticed Seattle’s many topless bars and thought she could do a project on strippers. She stumbled upon the Lusty Lady–the legendary peep show establishment formerly located across First Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum—and was intrigued to learn it was women-run, that the dancers were protected from the patrons, and that they were paid a reasonable wage in 1990s dollars: $9/hour to start with a $1/hour raise every week if you came in on time and were doing well. Some dancers made $27/hour. This operation was defying industry stereotypes.[2]

There was one catch. If she wanted to take photographs, she had to become a dancer. “If you really want to understand this, you have to work here,” she was told by one of the supervisors. “You have to dance to gain people’s trust and be taken seriously.” There was no access to the locker room until she was a Lusty Lady employee. So, she became a dancer. “I want to learn about a world I know nothing about, I want to see what I’m capable of.” She took the stage name, Virginia, after her home state: Southern, Gothic, exotic. She got to know her co-workers. They were married and single, straight and queer, some were doting mothers, and some had degrees or were working their way through school. She was interested in “showing these women as whole women…it’s just a job.”[3]

In 1997 the body of work she’d created at the Lusty Lady was transformed into a book produced by European publisher Scala called The Lusty Lady. She delivered a copy of the book with a handwritten note–“Howdy, neighbor!”–to then SAM Deputy Director of Art/Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Trevor Fairbrother. Shortly thereafter, he encouraged her to be part of a group show. In 1999, several of her works–from the Lusty Lady series, including Veronica—were included in the exhibition, Hereabouts: Northwest Pictures by Seven Photographers, one of the Documents Northwest: The PONCHO Series exhibitions. SAM ultimately brought five of Langley’s photographs into the collection.[4]

Langley’s work reminds us that women like Veronica (that’s her stage name) work legal jobs, just like other women. “There are no venues like this for women, this is the intersection of public sex and fast food. Sometimes I feel like a naked waitress—other times, a quarter-operated social worker. It’s not so unlike other jobs. I punch a time clock, look forward to my breaks, and then I go home. But I love it best when my friends and I are howling with merriment in the shadow of Hammering Man.”[5]

“Had the Lusty Lady not told me I’d have to dance to photograph, I’m sure I’d have made some competent but average pictures. Instead, working there changed my life, how I looked at myself and my sexuality, and it taught me about my own erotic power.” — Erika Langley[6]

– Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

[1] Peggy Andersen, “An f-stop and a G-string Mark Woman’s Dual Career” in The Seattle Times (January 30, 2000), p. B4.
[2] Erika Langley, The Lusty Lady (Berlin: Scala, 1997), p. 10 and Andersen, p. B4.
[3] Langley, p. 7, 13 and Andersen, p. B4.
[4] Andersen, p. B4 and Trevor Fairbrother, Documents Northwest: The PONCHO Series: Hereabouts: Northwest Pictures by Seven Photographers (Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1999), p 3.
[5] Langley is referring to Hammering Man, the monumental public sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky, sited in front of the Seattle Art Museum. Learn more here. Fairbrother, p. 3.
[6] Langley, p. 7.
Image: Veronica, 1993, Erika Langley, Gelatin silver photograph, 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm), Mark Tobey Estate Fund, 2000.57, © Artist or Artist’s Estate.
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Object of the Week: Illumination from the Book of Kells

No celebration of Women’s (or Womxn’s, if you prefer) History Month would be complete without a mention of International Women’s Day, a holiday in March celebrated worldwide with roots in early 20-century Socialist demonstrations for increased visibility and support for female workers.[1] Although International Women’s Day 2019 has already passed, Theodora L. Harrison’s meticulous reproduction of a medieval illumination is a wonderful reminder of the value of artistic work created by women.

Harrison (born in Ireland in 1890) lived in Seattle for over 20 years and enjoyed a prolific career as an illustrator, watercolorist, local art gallery director, and president of the Women Painters of Washington association. Throughout her life, Harrison achieved international success as an illustrator, and championed diverse artists at the Little Gallery in the Fredrick and Nelson department store, right here in Seattle.

This illustration is a precise rendering of the Latin text “Tunc crucifixerant,” from folio 124r from the Book of Kells, one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts in Western European Medieval History, created sometime in the ninth century.[2] The original work is famed for its intensely detailed illustrations, featuring teeming organic forms which bring its religious text to life. These illustrations were incredibly labor intensive and show an undeniable level of devotion, labor, and skill. A millennia later, Harrison’s renderings demonstrate an equal level of devotion and exertion, though for a different cause. Her vibrant pigments sharply contrast with the blank white background, forcing the viewer to focus on minuscule details and dizzying intertwined forms, which she recreates deftly.

Her fantastic illustration, along with numerous other reproductions of medieval manuscripts, was sponsored as part of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) in an effort to instill public confidence in government-subsidized projects following the Great Depression. Along with changing public perception, this federally funded project also aimed to catalog and elevate the work of artists in the United States, showing a commitment to the social and economic value of artistic labor. Along with works of so-called fine art, this project also elevated other types of art production in the United States, including illustration and arts and crafts, which featured far more works by women.

Harrison’s valued contributions to the PWAP show an estimation of her time, effort, and skill as a female working artist. Her work in the Seattle Art Museum’s permanent collection help continues to celebrate her contributions to the artistic community in Seattle, and participate in the long legacy of hard work and dedication of women artists.

Siri Benn, Curatorial Intern

Image: Illumination from the Book of Kells, from the Series, Examples of Illumination and Heraldry, Federal Public works of Art Project, Region #16, Washington State, 1934 or 1935, Theodora Harrison, ink and watercolor on simulated vellum, sheet size: 7 3/4 x 10 3/4 in., Federal Public Works of Art Project, Region #16, Washington State, 2013.6.8 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

[1] “International Women’s Day History | International Women’s Day | The University of Chicago,”  https://iwd.uchicago.edu/page/international-womens-day-history#1909TheFirstNationalWoman’sDayintheUS
[2] “Book of Kells,” https://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v
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Square bowl

Object of the Week: Square Bowl

In honor of Women’s Herstory Month, I would like to give a shout out to two awesome Asian women. First is 34-year-old Marie Kondo, an entrepreneur who turned her passion for tidying into a consulting business starting at age 19. Her method of organizing is known as KonMari method. After watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix, I appreciated her philosophy that everything from a container to a t-shirt has a purpose if it sparks joy.

This idea of everyday objects having purpose and sparking joy reminds me of the folk art movement, mingei 民芸. Mingei celebrates beauty in everyday ordinary and utilitarian objects. A few criteria of mingei are that the objects are produced by hand, used by the masses, functional in daily life, and representative of the regions in which they were produced.

To me, this square bowl, ca. 2000, is mingei.

Square bowl

The second awesome Asian woman is Kim Yik Yung 김익영.  At 84 years old, she is one of Korea’s most celebrated and respected ceramic artists, and a pioneer in the ceramic arts. In the museum, this bowl is art, and it certainly is—it’s beautiful, flawless, made with ancient techniques, but with modern sensibilities. However, if I brought this home to my mom, this bowl would be a banchan 반찬 (small side dish) dish. I love that that’s the first thing that came to mind when I saw this object. It brings wonderful, tasty memories of eating at home with my family, or eating at Korean BBQ restaurants with my friends. In our culture, all dishes are served at once to share, rather than in courses. So the table is filled to the edges with lots of simple and flawless small dishes and bowls!

In an interview with Seoul Magazine on the future of Korean ceramics, Kim Yik Yung said Koreans need to protect and develop this culture. “We don’t need to protect and preserve things just because they are old. We need to protect and develop things because they have value. This Korean culture is a global idea we can share with all humanity.”

I think Kim and Kondo and I should go out for KBBQ and soju.

#toastingwithtina

– Tina Lee, Exhibitions and Publications Manager

 Image: Square bowl, ca. 2000, Kim Yik-yung, porcelain with clear glaze, 2 1/4 x 8 3/4in., Gift of Frank S. Bayley III, 2008.15 © Kim Yik-yung.
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Object of the Week: Moon Jar

In honor of Women’s History Month, Object of the Week will—throughout the month of March—highlight works by women artists in the SAM Collection.

Though its surface appears to be seamless, Park Young-sook’s Moon Jar is actually made from joining two halves in the heat of the kiln. The process dates back to the Choson period (1392–1910) in Korea, when spherical porcelain moon jars decorated the imperial court and the homes of the nobility. In alignment with the Choson royalty’s Confucian practices, the simplicity of these jars symbolized purity and austerity.[1] Through integrating the techniques of this period, Park has created her own moon jars, which infuse the traditional ceramic form with her own contemporary artistic vision.

In addition to referencing imperial tradition, Moon Jar also reflects Park’s upbringing. She grew up near Bulguksa, a historic Buddhist temple. “If you dig just inches into the ground, the earth was full of ancient ceramics,” she discusses in a 2016 interview. “Bulguksa was my childhood playground. As a child, I’d explore all the ancient histories that surrounded me, which had an enormous impact on who I was to become.”[2] While studying those histories and experimenting with materials as an emerging ceramicist, she connected with mentors in the field. She cites their guidance as essential to the creation of her world-renowned moon jars.

Though Park honors the Choson vessels of the past, Moon Jar is not an exact recreation. She spent years developing her practice and choice of materials in order to produce jars that are more elongated with thinner walls. Drawn from specific deposits to produce the desired white hue of her jars, the clay she uses takes six to 10 years to mature. She is also highly attentive to conditions in the kiln, monitoring aspects such as air flow and variations in temperature. Owning and operating her own kiln since 1982, Park has carefully perfected her methods.

However, she speaks frankly about the precarious undertaking of creating a single moon jar, even when everything is done correctly. Nine out of ten jars will not survive in the high temperatures of the kiln due to splitting or collapsing. As a finished product, Moon Jar appears effortless in its resemblance to the full moon. Though unseen, the immense amount of labor and history that undergirds the work only adds to its luminosity. This work is not currently on view but it will be exhibited when the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in late 2019.

Yaoyao Liu, Museum Educator

[1] Lee, Soyoung, “In Pursuit of White: Porcelain in the Joseon Dynasty, 1392–1910,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, October 2004, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chpo/hd_chpo.htm.
[2] Kim, Hong Nam. “A Conversation With the Artist Young Sook Park in Her Studio, A White Porcelain Story,” July 29, 2016, http://www.yspceramicart.com/interview/2016/7/29/u8ic37xwa0djfi2qvct8jic2hs51h6.
Image: Moon Jar, 2007, Park Young-sook, porcelain with clear glaze, 20 x 19 1/2in., Gift of Frank S. Bayley III, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.86 © Young Sook Park
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Object of the Week: Dug Up from Kitchen Weeds

Ebony G. Patterson wanted to be an artist from a young age. Born in Jamaica to parents raised in rural poverty, Patterson credits her parents for encouraging her to follow her dreams. “Allow her to express herself,” her father said when young Patterson argued with her mother. “Don’t tell her to shut up.” Today the artist is widely recognized for her accomplished work, and last January she was named a recipient of the United States Fellowship Award in the visual arts.

The mixed-media artist explores issues of race, class, and gender. First motivated by the treatment of Tivoli Garden’s working-class community during the 2010 incursion in West Kingston, Jamaica, Patterson is especially concerned with the visibility of social injustices and the value of black and brown bodies.

In Dug Up from Kitchen Weeds,* colorful, patterned paper, and fabric come together with rhinestones and glitter to create a monumental collage garden, measuring seven-by-five feet. Its effect is mesmerizing. In the center of the overgrown flower bed, a figure lies hidden and obscured. Patterson doesn’t offer a face, just a striped t-shirt, animal-print pants, yellow Chuck Taylors, and a red bandana. Remnants of a life. The body itself is present, and yet . . . invisible.

With her highly ornamented works, the artist’s love for fashion and bling is clear. She wants to lure viewers into this beautiful world, then challenge them to look closer. Who is—or was—this person? It is a memorialization to those living on the margins, the viewer’s opportunity to bear witness to this death. When asked about the seemingly dark theme, Patterson responds, “Is it simply dark because we choose not to acknowledge it? . . . Well I’m choosing to turn the light on. . . . Violence happens everywhere. . . .  That’s the truth, and it’s all our problem.”

This is reality, seen through Patterson’s eyes, and she argues for attention and empathy.

– Jenae Williams, Curatorial Associate

*Read the poem that inspired this work: “Brief Lives” by Jamaican poet and short story writer Olive Senior.

Image: Dug Up from Kitchen Weeds, 2014, Ebony G. Patterson, mixed media photo collage on paper, 62 1/2 x 91 1/2 x 2 1/2 in., Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.6 © Ebony G. Patterson
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Object of the Week: Jacob

Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence were married for 59 years, in a harmonious partnership of two prolific and engaged creators that was both romantic and artistic. Though it was Jacob whose star would rise over the years, becoming celebrated around the world for his dynamic pictorial style of historical narratives, Gwendolyn continued her studies—in painting, drawing, design, and dance—and served vital roles in the cultural community of their adopted city of Seattle.

With this intimate portrait of her husband (Jacob, 1986), Gwendolyn explores her own artistic project, distinct from her husband’s grand themes of history and social justice. Instead, she pursues an expressive and personal idiom, reflecting the emotional truths of the immediate world around her.

Gwendolyn—or Gwen, as she was affectionately known—began the portrait in 1960, when the couple was still living in New York City. But she kept returning to it, with final retouches in 1986, when they would firmly be ensconced in their lives in Seattle. She found it challenging to create a portrait of the person she saw every day, in all of the moods and changes that an individual necessarily undergoes over the years. Instead of a frozen moment in time, we instead see the process of a person becoming.

Jacob’s face fills nearly the entire frame, even going out of the bounds of the canvas in one corner. His skin is rendered in broad and unusual strokes of brown, green, and yellow, reflecting against the hint of a red shirt at the neck and glimpses of orange in the background. He wears a calm smile and a somewhat inquisitive brow, exuding kindness.

In the catalogue for Never Late for Heaven: The Art of Gwen Knight, a 2003 solo show held at the Tacoma Art Museum, curator Sheryl Conkleton noted, “As her work developed, Knight became more committed to the interpretation and communication of visual delight in the world around her. It superseded the need to tell a story or to explore the larger meaning of what it meant to be a modern painter.”

When artist Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence died on February 18, 2005—almost exactly 14 years ago—she’d lived in Seattle for 34 years. The city was lucky to have her.

Rachel Eggers, Manager of Public Relations

Image: Jacob, 1986, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, oil on canvas, 14 1/4 x 10 1/4 in., Gift of the Marshall and Helen Hatch Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2009.52.59 © Estate of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence/Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
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Object of the Week: Thicket

In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will—throughout the month of February—highlight works by celebrated Black artists in the SAM Collection.

I never did Minimalist art. I never did, but I got real close. . . . I looked at it, tasted it, and I spat it out.

– Martin Puryear, 1978

Known for his highly crafted, abstract sculptures, Martin Puryear since the 1970s has created three-dimensional works that defy easy interpretation and categorization, at once evoking Modernist sculptures by Noguchi, Arp, and Brancusi, while calling to mind African sculptural traditions and Scandinavian design.

A former painter, Puryear’s hand-crafted sculptures offer a highly original response to the Minimalism of the 1960s. And while he indeed embraces Minimalism’s penchant for reductive sculptural forms, his material and fabrication choices evince a commitment to elevating craft and its complement: the handmade. Using materials such as wood, stone, tar, bronze, and wire, Puryear’s greatest collaborator—the natural world—is made clear.

From a young age Puryear was fascinated by how things are made, and would often construct his own objects from wood—whether it be a guitar or a canoe. Decades later, while volunteering with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, Puryear observed and absorbed local artistic traditions like woodworking, pottery, and weaving. Together, these experiences—coupled with his time at the Swedish Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm, where he studied furniture design—helped shape Puryear’s practice and interest in mobilizing design, sculpture, and craft in the service of examining identity, culture, and history.

The work pictured here, Thicket, is inspired by the shape and volume of a small rock Puryear found while on a trip to the Alaskan wilderness in 1980. Interwoven basswood and cypress give the piece a complex, tangled appearance. Both orderly and chaotic, the crisscrossed beams, struts, and posts are informed by the low Arctic vegetation that houses and protects the snowshoe hare—a rare breed endemic to the region.

In the words of the artist:

I want to make objects that somehow have their own history and their own reason for being and their own sense of themselves. I’m not concerned just with the object’s formal meaning, although it should be an intelligible artifact, a thing of one’s own culture and time. It’s equally crucial that there exist in the work a recognition of the maker, of who I am.[1]

Puryear’s sculptures manage to transcend time and space—blending together artistic traditions from around the world. Further, he is still one of the most important and influential artists working today, a fact confirmed by the recent announcement that he will represent the United States at the 58th Venice Biennale in the spring.

 – Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate

[1] John Ederfield, Martin Puryear (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2007), 173.
Image: Thicket, 1990, Martin Puryear, basswood and cypress, 67 x 62 x 17 in., Gift of Agnes Gund, 90.32 © Martin Puryear (1990)
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Object of the Week: 1974 calendar

Serizawa Keisuke’s 1974 calendar series is a collection of twelve paper stencils done in the katazome style. This is a technique that Serizawa adopted from textile design in which the artist applies a type of resist paste through a stencil before dyeing the fabric.[1] Paper provided a cheaper medium than cloth during the scarcity of wartime, and in the following years Serizawa began producing stenciled calendars like this one.[2] Serizawa’s stencils were later called kataezome, which distinguishes the pictorial quality of his work—e meaning picture in Japanese.[3]

In the 1974 calendar, while every month has similar elements, each one also maintains a unique style, with distinct sets of colors and images. In the January calendar, for example, orange is the dominant color, providing a patterned board upon which the dates are alternatingly carved into or out of. The orange is echoed in the foliage of the trees that sprawl above the calendar, and underneath the two figures that flank the grid of dates on either side. Despite the profuse design, the images themselves are minimal in detail.

In the calendar for the month of May, while orange accents are visible, blue is the dominant color. The neatly patterned grid from January is abandoned, and a procession of figures walks straight through the second and third weeks of the month on what ambiguously resembles a path, a tree branch, or perhaps a river. A bird flies overhead, drawing attention to the misalignment of the weekday letters.

Serizawa was associated with mingei, a folk art revival movement that was established in the early decades of the twentieth century. The movement lauded ideals of the anonymous craftsperson who made inexpensive objects that served daily utilitarian purposes. In this case, Serizawa is not anonymous, but his stencils exhibit several characteristics of mingei.

While mingei looked for beauty in everyday objects, Serizawa’s calendar makes every day into a thing of beauty. As we approach the final days of January, time marches on, much like the figures who cut through the May calendar. Here’s to beautiful days ahead, whether neatly organized or eclectically crafted.

– Maria Phoutrides, Curatorial Intern

[1] Susanna Kuo, Katagami: Japanese Textile Stencils in the Collection of the Seattle Art Museum, (Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1985): 1-3
[2] Hugh Cortazzi, “Keisuke Serizawa (1895-1984),” Arts of Asia, 25, no. 2 (1995): 79
[3] Joe Earle, Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textile Design, (New York: Japan Society, 2009): 94
Images: 1974 calendar, 1974, Serizawa Keisuke, stencil, 14 1/2 x 11 in., Gift of Frances and Thomas Blakemore,98.53.132.5 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. 1974 calendar, 1974, Serizawa Keisuke, stencil, 14 1/2 x 11 in., Gift of Frances and Thomas Blakemore, 98.53.132.1 © Artist or Artist’s Estate
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Object of the Week: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after Delivering His “I Have a Dream” Speech

This black and white photograph, taken by photojournalist Dan Budnik in 1963, is one of a series that Budnik had hoped to publish in a Life magazine photo-essay. His subject is none other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., photographed minutes after delivering a speech that would forever be defined by four indelible words: “I have a dream.”

The image is unrelenting is its focus, framing Dr. King’s face so that he takes up over half of the composition. King, glancing down and to the side, bears a calm demeanor—stoic and pensive. Surely he would have been surrounded by a large group of friends and colleagues, or even a crowd of fellow activists, but Budnik denies us any context in which to situate King. Without the title of the photograph, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after Delivering His “I Have a Dream” Speech, August, 1963, we would have no way to know that this image portrays him after one of the most important speeches in American history.

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is arguably his most famous, but in the spirit of honoring his legacy and rhetorical dynamism, I share below an excerpt from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, given one year after this photograph was taken, in 1964.  King’s continued call for racial equity, social justice, and religious tolerance—delivered with unfettered optimism—is, I believe, an urgent and important message for our present time:

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “is-ness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “ought-ness” that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today’s motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. . . .

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate

Image: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after Delivering His “I Have a Dream” Speech, August 1963, 1963, Dan Budnik, gelatin silver photograph, 11 x 14 in., Gift of Getty Images, 2000.34 © Artist or Artist’s Estate
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