All posts in “SAM Staff”

Docents Defined: Nina Vichayapai

Are you a fan of the Seattle Asian Art Museum who loves discussing your favorite artworks? Consider volunteering as a docent at the Asian Art Museum when it reopens later this year! SAM is recruiting new docents to start training to lead tours of the newly installed galleries and you have until May 31 to apply.

Docents bring their unique interests and backgrounds to each tour they lead and that’s what makes them fun and engaging for SAM’s diverse audiences. A docent like Nina didn’t go to museum growing up but later found them to be an important part of her life and started leading tours with SAM to help others become invested in museum visits early in life. Find about more about Nina in the interview below!

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

Nina: I am an artist and studied at an art school in San Francisco. Since I was young, I loved making art and knew I wanted to become an artist. It wasn’t until I was older that I also learned to love looking at art. A huge part of my college education took place at museums and included wonderful opportunities to meet the people who help these spaces function. Growing up I never really visited museums and by the time I became an adult, I somehow fell into the impression that the museum was a space reserved for people unlike me and the stories being told there did not represent mine.

After seeing many different museums, I was blown away by how much these spaces offer our communities. By the time I finished college and decided to move back to Seattle I knew that as much as I wanted to continue making art, I also wanted to find opportunities which would allow me to tap into the joy I have for museums. Becoming a docent with the Seattle Art Museum was really the perfect outlet for that joy. I was especially compelled to become a docent given my previous background of apprehension toward museums. There are many people who avoid museums out of feeling excluded. Having once been one of those people, I have a lot of patience and understanding when it comes to sharing what I think we can all learn from art.

What’s the best part of being a docent?

The best part of being a docent for me is definitely getting to see all the incredible connections people make to their own lives all just from looking at art. I’ve worked primarily with younger students and whether we are looking at a piece from the Pacific Northwest or from somewhere far away, whether it was made last year or hundreds of years ago, I’m always so thrilled to see how quickly the students will begin to relate the work to their own lived experiences.

Another thing I must mention as being a huge highlight is the wealth of resources we have access to! Through the online database, which docents can access, and the library at SAM, there is so much to learn about the art in SAM’s collections. Docents are always contributing to this wealth as well. For any art lover, it’ s really a dream and very fun to get lost in exploring the archives.

What’s your favorite work of art to tour?

My favorite installation to tour is Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. This installation includes the work of Saya Woofalk along with pieces from many other artists, so there is a lot to work within the gallery for the many different tours we do. But what I love most is seeing how students light up when they step into that space. The whole installation really breaks a lot of preconceived ideas about what art and museums are supposed to look like. And the concept of empathy is always one that generates really deep and often touching conversations.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

I gave an Elements of Art tour to a particularly enthusiastic class once. They walked in without much prior experience of talking about art, but by the end of our tour they couldn’t contain their excitement at discovering the different elements we had just discussed in every artwork we passed. It was as if I had revealed a magician’s trick to them and their glee was really contagious!

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

Visit museums! Not just art museums too. Seattle has so many great museums. I think it’s important to get a feel for the culture and approach to education unique to each museum. It helped me understand what qualities I felt were important and how I could bring that to my role as a docent.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

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Docents Defined: Erin Bruce

SAM is now recruiting new docents to start training for the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. You don’t need to be an art historian or a 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 docents like Erin Bruce who volunteer their time at the museum.

If you still want to learn more about being a docent? Join SAM staff and current docents at our Docent Open House on May 16 from 6–7 pm! Or, apply now to the docent program. Applications are accepted through May 31.

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

Erin Bruce: I have always been inspired by all things visual, whether it is nature, a building, a room and especially art. I studied art in college and made art whenever possible. Now I am a technical stock trader and rely on charts for my work—more visual interpretation! It was a three-year wait for a new docent class to start for me after a friend told me about SAM. The chance to participate with our museum is an honor.

What’s the best part about being a docent?

The best part is all of it: meeting energetic, generous, knowledgeable people; constant learning; leading a tour of young people and engaging them in the art and history of objects. It’s all gratifying. SAM’s collections are a wondrous gift to our city and special exhibitions join and expand experiences as well.

What is your favorite work of art to tour at the Asian Art Museum?

The Deer Scroll. Calligrapher Koetsu and painter Sotatsu collaborated to create this iconic masterpiece. Our 30 feet of the original 72 feet contains 12 poems from the Shin Kokinshu, which took four years to write. The beauty and harmony transports you to another time and place.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

Tours were scheduled the week before Mother’s Day so I made a gallery activity “A Gift for Mom.” Given one exhibition room students got to pick an object that they would give to their Mom if they could. It revealed so many wonderful things such as what objects in our Asian art collection young people were most drawn to, what they found beautiful and why. Crafting future tours improved since I had learned some of their favorite objects. The chance to interact with young people is yet another joy and benefit of leading a school tour.

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

Your interests and life experiences offer wonderful and unique perspectives. You will discover and explore the vast and layered connections of art to our lives. It is so much fun.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

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Volunteer Spotlight: Jody Tate

Did you know that many of Seattle Art Museum’s day-to-day operations rely on the commitment and knowledge of volunteers? When Jody Tate began volunteering three years ago, he dreaded being asked what to see while visiting the museum. Now he enjoys asking questions to help people define their own interests in art and connect to art that they will think about for the rest of their lives! Our Manager of Volunteers asked Jody some questions so you can get to know him and learn more about the important role of SAM’s volunteers.
SAM: What is your current role?
Jody Tate: I’m a SAMbassador and very excited this year to be Vice Chair of the SAM Volunteer Association Executive Committee.
How long have you been volunteering at SAM?
Roughly three years. I had a year-long stint around 2010 and then started up again in 2016.
Why is SAM important to you?
SAM has the most historically diverse range of culturally significant artifacts in all of Seattle—where else under one roof can you see a painting by Amy Sherald, a sculpture by Cy Twombly, and Coast Salish art?
What is one of your favorite artworks in SAM’s collection, and why?
One of many favorites is Mann und Maus. I’ve had more conversations about it than anything else. It’s both approachable and petrifying. Some children toddle up exclaiming to a parent they’ve found Mickey Mouse, while some adults call it a nightmare rat. As for me, I can’t see it and not think of the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as mice (if you haven’t read Art Spiegelman’s Maus, you should) and Auschwitz’s gas chambers used Zyklon B, a pesticide. If we set aside historical atrocities for a moment, my favorite response to Mann und Maus was a little girl who told her father firmly: “Too big.”
When not at SAM, what do you do for fun?
I like to read (just about anything), write (poetry), cook, and just wander the city on foot.
What is something that most people might not immediately know about you?
In a former life, I was an academic. I did a PhD on Shakespeare at the University of Washington. Also, when I was supposed to be finishing that PhD, I procrastinated by editing a collection of essays on the band Radiohead.
What is a simple hack, trick, or advice that you’ve used over time to help you better fulfill your role?
I think some of the best SAMbassadors I’ve shadowed know how to ask questions that can help a patron begin answering her own questions. For example, an open-ended question I dreaded when I started volunteering was, “Where should I start?” Instead of having a rehearsed answer that’s one-size-fits-all, asking a patron what they’re interested in helps me come up with a possible starting point for a more personalized experience in the museum.
– Danie Alliance, Manager of Volunteer Programs
Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Stop and Smell the Flowers at SAM

If you have ever walked through Seattle Art Museum’s South Hall, you may have noticed the weekly rotation of beautiful flower arrangements adjacent to the camel sculptures. The flower endowment was created in remembrance of Ann M. Barwick by her husband Thomas Barwick and their children.

From grand peacock feathers in the summer, to miniature pumpkins in the fall, these arrangements light up the room year-round at the entrance of the museum. These flowers are a public declaration of Tom’s love and appreciation for Ann, nature, and SAM.

Ann was an active member of her local gardening and arts community. After raising her four children, Ann decided to pursue a second degree in art history. She began her career in the arts community, where she worked as a Trustee at the Henry Art Gallery and at the Seattle Art Museum. She became a leader in the arts in the city as well as in the state where she was the head of the Arts Committee for the Washington State Governor’s Mansion and the co-founder of the American Art Council of Seattle.

Make sure you take a second to smell the roses the next time you visit the museum!

– Emily Ji, Communications Intern

Photos: Nina Dubinsky

 

 

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Trang speaking on a tour of the Modern and Contemporary galleries at Seattle Art Museum

SAM Connects Culture to Emerging Arts Leaders

Read all about Trang Tran’s experience at SAM as our 2018 Emerging Arts Intern. The Emerging Arts Internship at SAM grew out of SAM’s equity goal and became a paid 10-week position at the museum designed to provide emerging arts leaders from diverse backgrounds with an in-depth understanding of SAM’s operations, programming and audiences. We’re searching for our next Emerging Arts Intern! Does this sound like you? Applications are due April 1!

When I was asked to write a wrap-up blog about my experiences as an Emerging Arts Leader intern at the Seattle Art Museum, I asked myself, “Jeez, where do I even begin?” There are so many experiences, memories, and relationships that I have built at this museum, a place I now consider a second home, that it’s hard to summarize my journey in a paragraph or two.

As I was walking toward the museum on my first day of the internship, the word “anxious” wouldn’t have entirely encapsulated my emotions. I was also thrilled, grateful, and honored to be working at one of the best art institutions on the West coast. My first week flew by as I met staff members who were inclusive, welcoming, supportive, and helpful as I tried to find my way around the maze of the administrative office. Over the next weeks, I began conducting informal interviews with staff members, working on projects with the curatorial, communication, and educational departments, and I ran around the museum trying to find meeting rooms but repeatedly ending up on the wrong floor (“M stands for Maloney”– David). I also toured the Olympic Sculpture Park (Thanks, Maggie!), made multiple trips to the galleries and library as I began research for my December My Favorite Things Tour, spiraled down the rabbit hole in art storage (Thanks, Carrie!), attempted to write a press release for an upcoming exhibition (Thanks, Rachel!), participated in many events hosted by the museum, and more!

One event I was especially honored to participate in was the Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodpur, India Community Opening Celebration. I had the opportunity to interact with the community by greeting them at the door and answering questions about the evening’s programs. Instead of running around the administrative office or staring at a computer screen, I was able to engage with the museum’s audience. It was amazing to witness the enthusiasm, anticipation, and joy radiating from everyone I met at the door. Even though I ended up losing my voice that night, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

I was also fortunate to spend the day with my little brother, Kevin, at the Diwali Family Festival. Diwali, or the “festival of lights,” is one of the most important celebrations in India where people celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The museum’s annual Diwali Family Festival included a vibrant fashion show, numerous art activities, dance performances, live music, and tours of the special exhibition, Peacock in the Desert, as well as tours of SAM’s permanent collections and installations. By attending this event, I hoped to show my brother that art is not just about color pigments on a white canvas on the wall or a sculpture encased in glass that you forget about as soon as you walk away. Art has the effect of bringing people together. People of different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds come together to celebrate, learn about, and appreciate a culture. Art also has the power to encapsulate political struggles, social changes, cultural values, and art movements. These are the reasons why I love, and am passionate, about art. I hope that if I can help the youngest member of my family see how powerful art can be, maybe one day my parents, as well as the wider Asian-American community, will learn to accept and recognize the existence of the art world.

Throughout this 10-week interdisciplinary internship, I found myself learning about the numerous operations that keep the museum running on an everyday basis. Such operations range from researching artworks in the curatorial department to fundraising in the development department, from promotional strategies in the marketing department to writing press releases in the communication department, and from preserving artworks in the conservation department to engaging the public in the educational department. But if I were to selected one main lesson to take away after this internship, it would be that a museum is not just about the artworks in the gallery; it’s also about people coming together to successfully bring these artworks to the public. For an artwork to be displayed in the museum, for a sculpture to be standing in the gallery, or for an exhibition to be showcased for three months, it takes cooperation from every department in the museum. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has welcomed, accepted, supported, challenged, and encouraged me throughout this internship. Thank you for all the hard work that you are doing, not only for the world of art, but also for the public community.

– Trang Tran, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern 2018

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SAM Connects Art to Social Justice with Tours

Every January, SAM honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a week of spotlight tours led by museum staff, focused on artists and artworks currently on view in SAM’s galleries that speak to themes of race and social justice. Free and open to the public, the tours are also a big draw for SAM administrative staff, who step away from their desks on the fifth floor and head down to hear from one of their colleagues. Grounded in a love for, and knowledge of, the collection, the tours are often deeply personal, as the speaker finds resonances in the art with their own experiences of race and social justice.

Since launching the series in 2015, there have been many memorable tours. In 2017, Public Engagement Associate David Rue danced his tour in front of Robert Colescott’s Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, a major work by the Black artist that had been recently been brought into the museum’s collection. He moved to the sounds of The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” simultaneously celebrating the increased visibility of Black artists and wondering whether it was just lip service—or the beginning of a new future of true equity.

Actress and performance artist (and SAM Visitor Services Officer) Adera Gandy led a tour in 2018 that visited the current show Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. Anchored by an immersive installation by contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk, the show includes works selected by the artist from SAM’s African art collection. Adera focused on Fulani and Ghanaian gold jewelry, reminding us that just as practitioners of alchemy attempted to find a universal elixir by turning base metals into gold, we must work towards equity not only with external steps—measurable policies and practices—but with internal shifts to transform the collective mind and create authentic and sustainable change.

In 2019, Social Media and Communications Coordinator Nina Dubinsky visited the current installation Body Language and discussed Akio Takamori’s ceramic sculpture Willy B. It’s inspired by a famous 1970 photo of German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling down and silently bowing his head at a monument to the thousands of Poles killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Nina connected Takamori’s interest in this evocative gesture as a political statement to her generation’s use of social media to unite in social movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #TransRightsMatter, and #MuteRKelly.

Also this year, we expanded the series beyond staff to include tours by Dr. Cherry Banks, a SAM trustee and Professor in Education Studies at the University of Washington Bothell, and Celeste Ericsson, a SAM docent who participates in the SAM docent corps’ Equity Working Group. The Art and Social Justice Tours continue to change the way we all experience the works in our collection. Including more perspectives only deepens their impact. Join us next year when we continue this tradition of honoring the radical and loving legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Best in Show: We Love Lynda Swenson’s Artwork

You probably assume that most people working at an art museum are pretty into art, but what you might not realize is how many of them are artists themselves. A trip to SAM’s community gallery to see the SAM Staff Art Show, on view through February 3, is a great reminder of the talent that fills not just the galleries of our museums, but the administrative offices as well. Make sure to walk all the way to the end of the first-floor corridor to see the work that won our hearts and the most votes during the Staff Art Show reception. What you’re looking for is an indigo diptych by Lynda Harwood Swenson. Her piece, Sticks and Stones 1 & 2 (Lapidation), contains a lot of tension while also feeling calm and contemplative. Give it a good long look the next time you visit.

Lynda is the Art Studio Programs Senior Associate at SAM. She’s the mastermind behind our free Drop-In Studio events on First ThursdayS and summer Sundays and the interactive art-making activities that SAM offers through our education and public programs. She also recently became a member of Shift Gallery in Pioneer Square where you can see her work in a solo show February 7 through March 2.

SAM: When did you begin making art formally? Were you always working in print media? How did you arrive at it?

Lynda Swenson: I was lucky that I went to a high school that really valued art and art making and my art teacher in high school was a printmaker. She introduced me to the medium and I really fell in love with it and continued working in printmaking through college and most of my adult life.

The title of this piece brings a lot of context to the work about both the topic and materials. Can you expand a bit on the meanings you are playing with?

In choosing the title, Sticks and Stones 1 and 2 (Lapidation), I was thinking about all the negative rhetoric directed at women in the last few years. Because the image is a photogram of stones, I thought it was a really simple way of telling the viewer what they were looking at, as well as what my intention was. Adding the word “lapidation,” which means stoning a person to death, where no individual is held responsible—is suggesting an awareness that this is still happening in places and, metaphorically, it happens in our society all the time.

You said the women in this work are not based on actual people, how did you decide to depict them?

The women’s heads in the work are from a found image from a magazine, I think they were carved wooden heads (I don’t know who the artist is). I manipulated them through a copying process and then the transfer process. I really wanted to depict women from many ethnic backgrounds, even subtle skin color differences mattered in the work.

How are the white lines and shapes created? Are these traces of your process?

The white lines are part of the cyanotype process, they are a byproduct that is sometimes left behind on the paper, or in this case on the vellum, it may be from minerals in the water used to rinse the chemistry out after exposure.

The stones that you used in this work, are these actual stones? Where did they come from?

Yes, the stones are real and were from my yard. They were laid very neatly on vellum sheets that were covered in a cyanotype chemistry and exposed to light—the white parts of the image are where the rocks laid and the blue is where the chemistry was exposed to the sunlight.

Tell us about Shift Gallery, the artist-run gallery you joined this year.

This is currently the 15 year anniversary of Shift Gallery. It’s an artist-run space in the Tashiro Kaplan building on 4th Avenue and Washington Street, near Pioneer Square. Shift is a great venue with a mission of supporting Northwest artists of diverse media and rigorous content. I feel like it’s a great launching pad for Seattle artists to show their work.

What else are you working on right now? Where else can people interact with your work?

I have a solo show opening on February 7 at Shift, running through March 2. I also have work on view at the Coos Art Museum, in the West Coast Ink and Print show in Coos Bay Oregon until February 9.

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

Images: Photo: Natali Wiseman. Sticks and Stones 1 & 2 (Lapidation), diptych, 33 x 22 inches, cyanotype photogram with image transfer on vellum, photo: Art Grice
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Say Hi to SAM’s New Emerging Arts Leader: Trang Tran

SAM’s ongoing Emerging Arts Leader Internship continues this winter with Trang Tran, a senior at the University of Washington.

This paid internship is aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. It’s an interdisciplinary internship that allows the intern to interact with diverse aspects of museum work and contribute their unique insights and perspectives. Members of SAM’s Equity Team, representing several departments at the museum, make up the hiring committee for this important internship that is just one way SAM is working to create points of entry into the museum field and work toward equity and inclusion within our own walls. Launched in 2016, the internship program now boasts seven graduates.

Trang started her internship in September and will be here through the end of 2018. Growing up, she was expected to pursue a STEM career and planned to study biology—until an introductory art history course changed the course of her life (art has a way of doing that). Graduating next June from UW, she’s now pursuing an art history degree—with a minor in microbiology! During her cross-disciplinary internship, she’ll explore all facets of the museum field and share her unique insights along the way. Says Trang, “I want to demonstrate to society—especially the Asian community—that every child deserves to have an equal opportunity to choose their career path. I want to become that change.”

Save the date for Thursday, December 6! Trang will lead a free My Favorite Things Tour in the galleries focusing on some of what she’s learned while contributing to SAM. You won’t want to miss it.

We asked Trang: What’s a work of art that challenged your perspective on life?

Trang: The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, which he painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City during the Renaissance era. The stylistic goals of the Renaissance era were rationality, balance, and unity. However, Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment was very dynamic, chaotic, and filled with ambiguity. Michelangelo challenged the norms of the Renaissance movement and as a result, he created one of the world’s greatest treasures. His refusal to conform to the norms of the current art movement encouraged me to pursue a career outside of the ones that children who grow up in Asian communities are generally expected to pursue. I want to demonstrate to society that I can become successful doing something I love instead of chasing a career that society labels as “successful.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

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Volunteer Spotlight: Leanne Hawkins

Volunteers make SAM go! Some of our docents, like Leanne Hawkins, have been volunteering since the 1980s when SAM’s only location was our original home in Volunteer Park (now one of our three locations, Volunteer Park is home of the Seattle Asian Art Museum). Every volunteer has their own reasons for contributing their talents to SAM. For Leanne, the opportunity to see art across centuries through the eyes of children and youth always allows her to learn something new about an artwork. Our Manager of Volunteers asked Leanne some questions so you can get to know her and get familiar with the important role SAM’s volunteer play in the museum.
 
SAM: What is your current role?
Leanne Hawkins: I am the Docent Executive Committee (DEC) chair, though my title as part of the SAM Volunteer Association Executive Committee is Docent Program Chair.
How long have you been volunteering at SAM?
Counting my year of docent training in 1998, plus perhaps a year or so volunteering once a month on Thursday nights in the early 1980s at the original SAM, I’ve been a SAM volunteer for about 21 years.
Why is the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) important to you?
My association with SAM has provided so many ways to learn about artists, eras, cultures, and perspectives that are new to me, or different from what is comfortable for me, and I appreciate the opportunities to be delighted, amused, sometimes upset—but never bored. Most of my docent tours are with school groups, ranging from kindergartners through high schoolers, and I love seeing SAM and its myriad objects through their eyes and reactions—I always learn something new, for which I’m grateful.
What is one of your favorite artworks in SAM’s collection, and why?
This is tough. I feel a kinship with so many of the works. But one of my all-time favorites, which I hope comes back on view soon, is Some/One by Do-Ho Suh. For those who may not have seen the piece in a while, it looks like a chainmail tunic on steroids—the skirt can overflow a gallery space. From a distance, it’s elegant, evocative, imposing. When you get closer and find out that the “chainmail” is thousands of dog tags, each individually stamped with a name and ID number, all of which are made up—well, it provokes a lot of intense looking and thoughtful discussion.
When not at SAM, what do you do for fun?
My favorite non-volunteer activities are reading, doing needlework, attending concerts and lectures, weeding the yard, and walking in places near and far from home.
What is something that most people might not immediately know about you?
I’m often told that I seem calm and organized, but I’m actually quite emotional and reactive. Raising two sons helped me perfect my poker face.
What is a simple hack, trick, or some advice that you’ve used over time to help you better fulfill your role at SAM?
As a docent, I see my role as a facilitator. I’m here to help people, especially children and youth, feel more comfortable thinking about and responding to art. To do that, I supply a framework for guests to look and ponder, and then I try to ask questions that stimulate robust discussion. I also try to have fun, a bit of self-deprecating humor often sets people at ease in the museum.
– Danie Allinice, Manager of Volunteer Programs
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