All posts in “SAM Staff”

Docents Defined: Celeste Ericsson

Get more intimate with SAM’s collection by becoming a docent! Docents will learn about our global collection of artwork and then share their knowledge and passion for art with a diverse range of visitors. No experience necessary! SAM docents have a wide range of reference points and experiences that they each bring to the art in SAM’s collection and that is what makes our public tours so unique. Making room for new perspectives is how we continue to offer engaging and informational tours throughout the year. Here’s a chance to get to know Celeste Ericsson, just one of our many docents who volunteers their time at the museum. Are you interested in becoming a SAM docent and leading tours of the museum? Apply now! Applications are accepted through July 12 and new docents start training in fall 2017!

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you become a docent?

Celeste Ericsson: I’ve always loved art museums ever since I was a child growing up in New York City. My favorite New York museums were/are the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters. I have always been interested in history in general, and in symbolism/iconography. As an illustrator and a graphic designer, a knowledge of art history and art movements both inspires me and helps me to communicate in my artwork.

What’s the best part of being a docent?

I get to share my interests with others, and I love doing it with kids. I’m constantly adding their insights to my tours. I do like talking with adults also. In order to communicate clearly, I have to figure out the most important things I believe about art and art philosophy. And in order to make things relevant I need to figure out the connections and the contexts for the art I’m touring so that the pieces do not become disembodied objects. In other words my docent work clarifies my own understanding of art.

What work of art is your favorite to tour?

The works of art that are my favorite to tour definitely differ from the works I’m personally drawn to. I’m drawn to the Archaic Greek Antefix with Medusa or Akio Takamori’s Blue Princess. For art to tour I liked Cai Guo-Qiang’s Inopportune Stage One, definitely a favorite before it was deinstalled last winter. Aesthetically, I found it horrifying, but it tells the story of art so clearly. I can’t think of even one class that it did not connect to, or who failed to figure out the story of a car flipping and exploding.

I’m finding that kids are really drawn to John Grade’s Middle Fork also. My favorite description from a third grader is that it looks like a Jenga game.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

My favorite touring experience lately was Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series for kindergarten, no less. I hadn’t expected the kids to get it, but the themes of having to leave home and everything familiar, and the theme of fairness really resonated with them. They created the most amazing drawings afterwards. A couple were very personal, and the kids were kind and appreciative of each other’s creations.

What advice do you have for people considering applying to the docent program?

This is a hard one to answer, but I’d say to be in it for how art can be inspiring. Really try to find those paths of wonder and fun for the kids. Discover your own genuine voice. Finally, it’s great to not take oneself too seriously, and to have a sense of humor.

– Kelsey Donahue, Museum Educator, School & Educator Programs

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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
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Docents Defined: Nhi Nguyen

Are you interested in becoming more intimate with SAM’s collection? Our docents receive training on the artwork from all over the world hanging in our galleries and get to share their love and knowledge with a diverse range of visitors. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be an educator or well versed in art history, new docents start training in fall 2017! SAM docents come from many different backgrounds with an incredible range of experience. Having a group of docents that each bring their unique perspective to SAM is how we offer engaging and informational tours. Find out about Nhi Nguyen, just one of our many docents who volunteers their time at the museum. Maybe being a docent appeals to you? Apply now to the docent program. Applications are accepted through July 12.

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you become a docent?

Nhi Nguyen: I’ve always had a love for art, but didn’t know anything about it. My degrees are in social work, psychology, and math, and I work in public policy! When I moved home to Seattle after a 3-year stint in DC, I was looking for a way to reconnect to the Seattle community, make some friends, learn something new, and have fun along the way. The docent program was a perfect fit!

What’s the best part of being a docent? 

I love the constant learning. SAM does a great job of training its docents on its permanent collections as well as on the excellent special exhibitions that come through the museum. I’ve learned about many types of art, from ancient aboriginal to abstract expressionism. I have also been able to practice my presentation skills in relaying the most interesting stories about this art to the public. These skills have helped me in my professional life as well.

What work of art is your favorite to tour?

My favorite piece currently on view is Katharina Fritsch’s Mann und Maus. It’s great to see initial reactions to this piece, as it can appear funny and playful. Kids especially like this one. However, closer observations can reveal a darker meaning, depending on you and your life experiences.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

When I first began touring, I tried to make a connection between several works of art that dealt with alternative realities with a South Park episode I had just watched, called “Imaginationland.” In the episode, the kids of South Park get taken to a land of their imagination, where Mickey Mouse, Santa, and Jesus live. Conflict arises when the bad parts of Imaginationland appear, including the Joker, Freddy Krueger, and Satan, and war ensues. While I thought it was a pretty funny and culturally relevant comparison, no one on the tour had even heard of the show! After some explanation of the story and premise, it ended up working out. I even got some people to say they would check the show out. Who knew that an art tour would help recruit more South Park fans!

What advice do you have for people considering applying to the docent program? 

While it’s a bigger time commitment than other volunteer positions at SAM, being a docent is extremely rewarding. Not only do you get the personal benefit of learning about art for free, but you also become a part of a community that supports one another and cares about helping the public learn and reflect on life through art.

– Kelsey Donahue, Museum Educator, School & Educator Programs

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Karthik Jaganathan

Docents Defined: Karthik Jaganathan

SAM is now recruiting new docents to start training in fall 2017. You don’t need to be an art historian or a former teacher to apply! In fact, SAM docents have a variety of interests and experiences. Having a diverse group of docents is how we’re able to offer tours that are engaging to all visitors. Read below and find out more about some of the docents who volunteer their time at the museum.

Want to join Karthik Jaganathan in connecting art to life? Apply now to the docent program. Applications are accepted through July 12.

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you become a docent?

Karthik Jaganathan: I grew up in Tamil Nadu, a state at the southeastern tip of India, across the Bay of Bengal from Sri Lanka. When I graduated from college, I wanted to travel—I’d never been more than 500 miles from my home town. I applied to graduate school at Purdue University. Purdue was a shock weather-wise. I grew accustomed to the cold, but the snow lingered in Indiana even after winter. After graduating, I was ready to move to a more temperate climate. I loved the beauty of Seattle (although the rain sometimes gets to me). I’ve now worked at Microsoft for 15 years, mostly developing security products for Windows, Bing, and Azure systems. I like to stay active and since moving to Seattle I’ve been involved in the Rotary and the Junior Chamber of Commerce, taught yoga, and even tended bar at the Jet City Improv. I wanted to learn more about art and was looking for something different to be involved with, which is what drew me to SAM’s docent program. I’ve been a docent since 2007.

What’s the best part of being a docent?

I like having the opportunity to attend special events when I’m leading private tours. The museum is a great place to make friends, too! I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of the museum’s security guards.

What work of art is your favorite to tour?

My artistic taste has been evolving. As a docent I get to tour works that range from old masters to modern art. Modern art wasn’t something that I appreciated when I first became a docent, but the Picasso exhibition was one of the first things I toured—it was my entryway into modern art.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

I just finished leading public tours of Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series. This was one of my favorite exhibitions. Some weekends visitors were waiting in long lines to see this work!

What advice do you have for people considering applying to the docent program?

You’ll have the chance to get to know all of SAM’s collection, which consists of more than 24,000 objects!

Kelsey Donahue, Museum Educator, School & Educator Programs

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SAM at American Alliance of Museums 2017

The theme of the American Alliance of Museums 2017 Annual Meeting was Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion. I appreciated how the various sessions I attended and the conference overall tackled this themes in all aspects, from identities (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity) to abilities. It is apparent that these things are at the forefront for professionals in the field from museums of all sizes, of all types, and from all areas of an institution, and that these issues are incredibly integral to shaping the future of the museum.

The #AAM2017SlaveAuction incident in the MuseumExpo during the conference however, indicated that even though these conversations and the work around these things are happening, we still have a long way to go. We need to find ways to hold ourselves accountable, have everyone on board at all steps in the process, and ensure we have the right voices at the table. To me, much of the work to shake up our institutions needs to start from within before our museums and cultural spaces can have external influence. Even though these conversations are happening at large in this moment, it’s also important to acknowledge that the things we seek to undo and change have been embedded in the fabrics of our institutions. In many ways these conversations are not new and have been happening outside of our institutions for years already. The conference left me optimistic and hopeful, so I’m excited to see where things go!

– Marcus Ramirez, Coordinator for Education and Public Programs

For more on SAM’s participation in AAM 2017 and thoughts from our staff on this year’s themes listen to the panels the SAM staff presented on during the conference.

Radical Equity and Inclusion featuring David Rue, SAM’s Public Programs Coordinator

Beyond the Buzzword featuring Sarah Bloom, Senior Manager for Teen, Family & Multigenerational Programs and Learning

Co-curating in a Changing City: Library/Museum Partnerships featuring Regan Pro, Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs

It’s Critical: Evaluating Museum Volunteers featuring Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs

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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.
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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.
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Migration Series: Cindy Bolton

A Father’s Dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream: to live in an America where all people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

I’d like to tell you about the dream of a man who made the best of what Dr. King, and many other civil rights leaders, worked for throughout the history of our great nation. It begins with the dream of this man’s parents. This man’s father was born in Mississippi in the early 1920s, grew up there, and attended the best schools available for a Negro. He had a typical life for a Negro boy. He met a lovely young lady when he became a man and eventually married her.

The war was on, so he enlisted in the Army and went off to serve his country. While in the Army, he guarded German POWs and had the chance to serve in several parts of this country. One assignment took him to Sioux City, IA. While he was there, he had a chance to observe the school system. Though he had received the best education a young Negro could get in Mississippi at the time, he quickly realized that “separate but equal” education systems in the South were indeed separate, but far from equal. He made up his mind at that point that his children would be given a chance at a better education than he had received and a better chance to realize the American Dream.

At the end of the war, he and his wife left all they knew and loved—family, friends, loved ones—and moved north to Sioux City, IA and then across the Missouri River to South Sioux City, NE because it had only one school system, totally integrated and with high standards.

There this man’s parents raised a family of six: four boys and two girls.

The oldest of these was a son who, from the very earliest stages of life, dreamed of flying. He read books about flying, he made drawings of futuristic flying craft, he built models, and he studied to become a pilot. His father had never been a pilot. In fact, no one in the family had ever flown. However, his father and mother constantly encouraged him and all the children to follow their dreams. The children were taught that they were as good as anyone else and that hard work, persistence, and good will towards others would ultimately make their dreams a reality. That spirit was also all around them in their small Nebraska town. That spirit was in their school, and that spirit was in their church. No one ever said, “No you cannot do that because you are a Negro.” Instead, he was taught and he was told, “Yes, you can!”

That son went on to be an A student and honor student in high school. He was an honor student in college. He was the first to solo and get his pilot’s license in ROTC. He graduated with an Air Force commission and honors. He went on to graduate in the top 1% of his pilot training class where he was the only African American pilot. He went on to become a distinguished Air Force fighter pilot, combat pilot, test pilot, instructor, and a successful program manager before retiring as a two star general. He then became the first African American Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

That man, who owed so much to another man’s dream, was my father. He worked hard and was able to accomplish a great many things because of the sacrifice his mother and father made to uproot themselves from all that they knew and journey north for a better life. The selfless decision my grandparents made more than seventy years ago continues to bear fruit. Their legacy lives on, in the encouragement my sister and I received—that we could do anything and be anything—and which we now pass down to our own children.

When given opportunity and encouragement, immigrants have done wondrous things for their communities, for the country and for the world. As my grandparents’ example shows, immigration is not only between countries, but also between regions within a country where dreams and the potential for a better life burn brighter elsewhere. To willingly give up all that you have known for a chance for a better tomorrow is the American Dream, and this spirit endures.

– Cindy Bolton, Chief Financial Officer

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Seattle Art Museum’s Equity Team and staff has shared personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community. The Migration Series is now closed and we leave you with this perspective from our Chief Financial Officer to consider how our personal histories connect to the larger histories that define us all.

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Migration Stories: Pam McClusky

I migrated twice before I was 20. When I was 11, my brother and I got on a plane to meet our mother in Liberia, West Africa. She had worked for Peace Corps, but now had a job with a San Francisco State University team to set up schools. She found a house for us in a place known as Sunken Heights. Liberians always laughed when you said you lived there. They had watched Americans come in, not ask many questions, and begin building houses in the dry season—not realizing the ground was part of a swamp. All the houses sank lower and lower every year. Ours was at the end of the block, closest to the deepest swamp where wild creatures seemed to party hard every night. My first morning, I woke up in a room with bars across the windows that were overgrown with vines. As the sun rose, the vines seemed to move. I walked over to look carefully and realized that snakes were twisting around in the vines and using the bars as a gym for their morning workout. This was their house too. We soon got someone skilled with a machete to cut away the vines and encourage the snakes to move on.

We learned to adore living differently. There was almost no TV, but there were masquerades. There were no concerts, but ceremonies at dawn. I came to savor rice with hot sauce, fried plantains, and tonal languages. We had no father there, so my mother hired a man who became our guardian. He happened to be a zo, or traditional spiritual leader, so our house was the counseling center for the community. The only fights I ever saw were on the soccer field. Our school was international, and one of my heroes was a tall mysterious Swedish ballet teacher who drove a convertible red sports car and gave us cold bottles of Coca-Cola to drink after every class. Vacations took us to other parts of Africa, including a spring in Kenya where a viewing window allowed us to watch hippos swimming underwater.

After nearly five years, we returned to San Francisco. Walking into a public high school was one of the worst experiences of my life. I went to stand in line and was pushed into another line. When I tried to talk to other students, they were the wrong students. When I went into the bathroom, I got beat up and had all my jewelry torn off. Someone said a rumor was circulating that I was retarded. I began to internalize this misguided insult, most of all at PE, when teachers gave me a horrible blue jumper to wear, ushered me out onto a concrete playground, and handed me a bat. I had no idea what to do with it, thereby perpetuating my peers’ taunts. Lunch was a nightmare. I hid in the library as eruptions were heard coming from the cafeteria. There were reports of razor blade attacks, and a student waved a sawed off shotgun in my face, then hid it in his jacket. I finally began to realize that everyone was organized by the color of their skin and I was in the middle of a daily battle over issues I had no clue about. Classes also had conflicts. One day, the English teacher began reading a story I had written and made fun of it as being an example of someone going too far with their imagination. Several students turned to look at me, grinned, and did the sign of being cuckoo. When the class was over, I walked out and wished I had that bat so I could hit the walls.

I decided to go see my mom at the University and explain why I had to drop out of high school. She was assistant to the President of San Francisco State University and I found her office surrounded by police in full riot gear. The President, S.I. Hayakawa, had become the target of a student protest movement led by the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). I saw a tin that we had filled with chocolate chip cookies the night before for my mom’s co-workers. Now it was marked “evidence” as it held the makings of a bomb left in the hallway. We saw the tin on the news that night, and then a report on the high school riots. I argued that it made no sense to live in America anymore and urged us to find a way to return to Africa as soon as possible.

Forever after, whenever people speak harshly about violence in other cultures (particularly Africa), I pause to remember these days. No one has the copyright on disasters and destructive behavior. When Americans speak of equity and diversity as ideals to strive for, I think about how the entire world is in need of as much equity as is humanly possible. Diversity to me requires looking at the big picture with people from more than America. If we don’t, we run the risk of building more Sunken Heights, where we sink into a swamp filled with more slithering creatures than we know how to handle and eternal difficulties in getting along with each other.

–Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Seattle Art Museum’s Equity Team and staff is sharing personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community. We hope this blog series inspires you to consider how your own perspective and history relates to the works on view in Jacob Lawrence’s artwork. See The Migration Series before it closes April 23 to begin gaining the bigger picture that Pam discusses in her Migration Story.

Image: “My brother Duncan, myself and Fostino in Kenya”, Courtesy of Pam McClusky.

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