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SAM Connects: Youth Artists Reflect on COVID-19

Founded in 2007, The Seattle Art Museum’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive program for highly opinionated high school-aged youth who are interested in learning about themselves and the world through art. TAG is designed to cultivate the voice and leadership of diverse young people who share their passion for the power of art to build community.

When the world came to a halt, TAG put that passion into the power of zines. In this publication, you will find creative expressions addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Seattle-area youth. Their responses range from life before stay home orders to the impact of school closures and everything in between. What they created together is a powerful, moving zine titled, Peering Through the Looking Glass: Youth Artists Connect and Reflect on COVID-19.

As the world continues to navigate this pandemic, it is vital that those of us who work alongside, support, teach, and love young folks, do not exclude them in these conversations about the future. Our youth have a big stake in the future and they should be at every table advocating and fighting for it alongside the adults in their lives. They recognize the value and necessity of working together and using this shared experience to heal and move forward. The opening of the zine, created solely by the members of TAG, says it best.

Images: Alex depicts the loneliness this pandemic has caused and finding ways to reach the ones they love and miss. One work in a series of four that Lucia created for the zine. Grae & Zya collaborated to pair Grae’s original poetry on top of Zya’s designs.

Object of the Week: Seattle Cloud Cover

For over a month, Seattle’s public spaces, like those in cities around the world, have experienced a marked transformation. Bustling downtowns are eerily empty, with freeways, bike lanes, and sidewalks much quieter. Our parks, however, have remained (when open) as vital as ever to the collective life of the city and the publics they serve.

For landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1902), who with his brother designed Volunteer Park, home to the Asian Art Museum, parks should be socially valuable—“gregarious” (inclusive) rather than “neighbourly” (exclusive) spaces that bring people together, no matter where they live or who they are.[1] This may seem like a given today, but in the 19th century it was a radical notion. Another beloved public park with a SAM connection is, of course, the Olympic Sculpture Park. In keeping with Olmsted’s vision for inclusive, truly public spaces, the park’s nine acres have multiple entrances, an abundance of native plants, zigzagging pathways, over 20 artworks, and is free and open to the public. Like Volunteer Park, it is a place meant for physical, mental, and spiritual relaxation.

Throughout this pandemic, I have found myself reflecting on the role that such public spaces hold and the value they bring, especially when the very nature of “a public” has been recast. I keep returning to one artwork in particular at the Olympic Sculpture Park: Seattle Cloud Cover by Teresita Fernández. 

A glass bridge above a working railroad, Seattle Cloud Cover features images of a changing sky whose cloud formations are high-keyed and highly saturated. Appearing at consistent intervals throughout the image are small apertures, or holes, through which visitors can catch glimpses of downtown Seattle and their environs. Demonstrating Fernández’s interest in light and vision—specifically the relationship between seeing and not seeing—this visual layering of the built and natural environment encourages us to more deeply consider our surroundings, and our place within them. For Fernández, a landscape is not only that which is seen, but inhabited. 

Celebrated for such installations that interrogate notions of landscape and place, Fernández has demonstrated, in her words, a “20-year interest in landscape, perception, and the viewer as someone who is constantly moving, walking, and shifting in real time.”[2] For Fernández, the activation of her work with a viewer—a public—is essential. Seattle Cloud Cover mediates our surroundings, allowing us to both move through the work and see beyond it, all the while drenched in its colorful shadows. The passageway augments our relationship to the world around us, and hopefully prompts us to reflect on the value of public spaces—mutable and fluid as they currently are—and our place within them.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Images: Seattle Cloud Cover, design approved 2004; fabrication completed 2006, Teresita Fernández, laminated glass with photographic design interlayer, approx. 9 ft. 6 in. x 200 ft. x 6 ft. 3 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.140, © Teresita Fernández.
1 Richard Sennett, Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 45.
2 Teresita Fernández, “Artist’s Statement,” in Fata Morgana (New York: Madison Square Art, 2015), 16.

Virtual Art Talks: All About Walkabout

As we continue to reflect on the ways that living in quarantine impacts our daily rhythms, Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art, is here to share artwork propelled by walking. Walking becomes one of our rhythms that adjusts to each landscape we cross. Translating that rhythm into paint became a goal for Dorothy Napangardi who walked hundreds of miles across her homeland. She spoke of the unconditional happiness and freedom she felt when she traversed her family’s country and slept beside them with stars as a canopy.

With fewer cars on the roads and the rare airplane in the sky, more of us are walking as a way of getting outside. Often, we are walking without destination, but rather, just to walk. How have you become aware of your surroundings differently on your daily walks? Let the artwork of Dorothy Napangardi, on view in Walkabout at SAM, inspire you to put on your mask and take a stroll through your neighborhood, giving plenty of space to the other pedestrians around you. Maybe your path will follow the one suggested by Pam at the end of the video, and lead you to the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Walkabout: The Art of Dorothy Napangardi at Seattle Art Museum is filled with Napangardi’s paintings from 2000–13 and takes us to the shimmering salt lake, where she absorbed indigenous laws and stories from the land and her family. Visit these large-scale and intricate paintings in person once SAM is able to reopen.

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Tour the Olympic Sculpture Park’s Trees

As the weather shifts toward spring many of us are staying indoors but that doesn’t mean we have to miss out on the hopeful awakening of all the plant life around us. SAM ‘s facilities and landscape manager, Bobby McCullough, is here to give you a tour of a selection of the trees at our Olympic Sculpture Park! The park includes four distinct habitats: The Valley, the Grove, the Meadow, and the Shore. This innovative design achieves a wide range of environmental restoration goals, including brownfield redevelopment, creation of a salmon habitat, extensive use of native plantings, and the capture and use of rainwater on-site. Bobby’s description below share some ways the many plants in the park contribute to making the park an important green space in downtown Seattle.

The Olympic Sculpture Park is open to the public so you can go get your fill of art and nature, we just ask that you practice proper social distancing while you do so. This is the last in SAM’s series of Earth Day posts, but it’s not the last of SAM’s celebrations of the Earth. As we celebrate, we’d like to acknowledge that SAM is located on the ancestral land of the Coast Salish people.

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)

An ancient tree with an amazing story. Fossils of the needles have been found in dinosaur footprints. Thought to be extinct, it was rediscovered in China around 1944. This deciduous conifer drops all its foliage in fall after turning a beautiful golden color. A small handful of these can be seen on the valley floor.

Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)

“Big” is the perfect word, as far as maples go. Nothing about this abundant species is anything but big. With leaves often the size of dinner plates, these stately trees can easily grow to 120’. Very common in many Seattle parks. The mature, gigantic canopies act as host to a variety of ecosystems. There are four of these in the sloped wedge overlooking Bay street.

Pacific Crabapple (Malus fusca)

A little known tree, often merely a large shrub, is remarkably slender in form. This specimen is a unique addition, as it was chosen from the nursery of the late Richard Haag, a landscape architect who was best known for designing Gasworks Park, the Bloedel Reserve, and founding the University of Washington’s landscape architecture department. This tree was procured because of its perfect “V” shaped trunks that help make Roy McMakin’s Love and Loss sculpture complete.

Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)

This variety is actually the Cornus “Eddies White Wonder.” A hybrid of the native, it is a heavily flowering deciduous tree with large, white, rounded bracts (flowers) that appear in spring. These showy trees can be found on the west slopes of the Valley and are always a sight to behold when in bloom!

Lupine (Lupinus latifolius)

Just one of many native Lupines, this variety is an attractive semi evergreen with interesting foliage and lovely flowering stalks that we always look forward to seeing in the Meadows at the Olympic Sculpture Park throughout the summer months.

Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)

Also known as Canoe Birch or White Birch, this short lived (pioneer) species is right at home on the waterfront. It is named for its thin white bark that often peels in paper like layers from the trunk. It was once used to make canoes after being hollowed out by the Native peoples.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

Oregon’s state flower, the Oregon grape, is widely used throughout the park for its’ reliable early blooms and hardiness. The long hedge that greets you upon entering the park along the west side of the Pavilion was planted during the park’s second year, successfully acting as a human and canine deterrent. In their natural form, these would easily grow to 8 to 10 feet tall.

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)

Perhaps Salal is our most important and common native shrub. Ranging from Alaska to California, it is abundant in the most widely varied habitats, and is planted in many areas of the park. April into July is the main blooming period. This gives rise to the purplish, blackish sticky berries valued by humans and animals alike often into December.

Bobby McCullough, OSP Facilities and Landscape Manager

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Photos: Bobby McCullough

Object of the Week: Caterpillar Suit I

I wrote Walter Oltmann this morning to let him know I missed seeing his suit. Whenever I walk through the galleries, it always lures me in with its gleaming corona of gold bristles. Who dares to wear a suit that merges their identity with a caterpillar? We know Spider-Man and Batman embody the superhuman strength of hybrid gene pools, but the fuzzy caterpillar is not in that realm. The courage of the artist to envision this unheard of combination inspires new thinking––about how we relate to bugs, to defensive barriers, and to “other” identities. Of course, today, the word corona sticks out. 

Walter writes back from Johannesburg, a city filled with lots of wire barriers. He, on the other hand, is a very calm and careful man who doesn’t bristle at all. He let me know that South Africans are now on total house confinement, no walks allowed. Everyone is concerned about the potential spread to communities that are ill equipped to handle this pandemic. At the moment, he’s busy working and has a new exhibition coming up. So many artists savor isolation, the chance to let their minds move freely, and focus on what to create. One upside of this time is the reminder that being quiet and alone is not to be feared. 

But back to why this caterpillar stands out. It has a most unusual point of inspiration, conveyed in the opening line of a book, “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature.” Franz Kafka wrote this to begin The Metamorphosis, published in 1915, a novella that tells the story of Gregor, a travelling salesman who is trapped by the tensions of not fitting into any social world. He works tirelessly for an oppressive firm, his family exploits his income, and he’s filled with tormented anxieties. So he wakes up and can’t move, and has been turned into an outcast insect. Right now, we are also waking up and unable to move in our usual routine.  The new normal is lock down.  We don’t have an insect body to contend with, but we do have the constant surrounding of the unknown keeping us on edge. 

Illustration of Gregor Samsa, 2013

Meanwhile, Walter continues to weave wire, a medium he chose deliberately. He recalled seeing it used to create barriers for Johannesburg gold mine dumps and road embankments, and thought about how it was inexpensive, but underestimated, as he first wove carpets out of it. He also cites the way women of the KwaZulu-Natal region have woven with wire, and particularly colorful telephone wire that continues to be made into baskets. For this caterpillar, Walter chose gold anodized wire to elevate the insect to new heights. Gold has luminous and enduring allure, both as monetary wealth, and as a choice for the making of holy relics with images of saints and gods. Can a caterpillar be a new version of a very different kind of saint?

Close-up image of salt marsh moth caterpillar. Photo: Alexey Sergeev. http://www.asergeev.com/pictures/archives/compress/2012/1064/01.htm

The 2015 PBS documentary Of Ants and Men highlights the life and work of famed American biologist E.O. Wilson, and highlights the often-overlooked value of insects in our ecosystem.

As Walter once said, “Spending an inordinate amount of time on making something that is usually considered insignificant, like an insect, does make us look differently at them. Observing misunderstood insects closely and interpreting them on a magnified scale throws up their particular adaptations and plays with our perspective that is fixed on their mechanical features and alien behavior and the threat they pose to us.” So here is a caterpillar that is inviting us to wear its suit, as we’re in the midst of an unprecedented metamorphosis, and ideas that encourage new awareness of the species on the planet, beyond human control, who are bound to be part of our transformation. 

Pam McClusky, SAM Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Image: Caterpillar Suit I, 2007, Walter Oltmann, anodized aluminum and brass wire, 46 7/16 x 23 1/4 x 16 9/16 in., Gift of Josef Vascovitz and Lisa Goodman in honor of Kimerly Rorschach, 2019.25.1, © Walter Oltmann.

My Favorite Things: Ramzy Lakos on Amerocco

“As an American Egyptian, born and raised in the Middle-East, living in the US, I could see myself reflected in this piece, which is unique for me, because my identity mostly exists in-between spaces.”

– Ramzy Lakos, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Under the unique circumstances of SAM’s closure, our amazing Emerging Arts Leader Intern, Ramzy Lakos adapted the culminating tour of his internship into a video! Go inside Aaron Fowler: Into Existence with Ramzy as he shares his personal approach to understanding and connecting with the large-scale work, “Amerocco.” The exhibition is slated to be on view through October 25, 2020, and we hope you will have a chance to experience it in person once SAM can reopen.

Aaron Fowler’s larger-than-life works are at once paintings, sculptures, and installations. They are made from everyday discarded items and materials sourced from the artist’s local surroundings in Los Angeles and St. Louis, among other places. Items include cotton balls, security gates, afro wigs, hair weaves, broken mirrors, djellabas, sand, broken-down movie sets, found car parts, ropes, lights, and much more.

Emerging Arts Leader Internships 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.

SAM Book Club: Parable of the Sower

50 years ago, who would’ve imagined that Earth Day’s 50th anniversary might occur on a day like today? As we all stay home and our days are full of uncertainties, there are also comforts; news articles about Venice’s canals flowing clear, video call birthday celebrations, and much more—amidst it all, we desire to honor Earth Day more than ever.

One way SAM is celebrating this Earth Day is to launch a new edition of our book club, and we encourage you to participate! Calling all bibliophiles, humans, pets, plants, and everyone—join us as we read Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Set in an apocalyptic dystopia of 2026, Lauren Olamina and her family reside in one of the last, safe enclaves of society in Los Angeles. As Lauren’s father struggles to salvage the remains of a society crumbling under global warming, wealth disparity, and crime, Lauren seeks to establish a new community founded on a revolutionary religion that may bring reparation. 

We selected this book because it connects powerfully with John Akomfrah: Future History at SAM, which features video essays on migrant diasporas across the globe, Afrofuturism, and visions of the natural world. Good news, the exhibition will be extended until September 7 so you can come consider it in person after reading the book!

While we read, SAM staff will be reflecting and posing questions for you to join along in your own reading. Check back here every two weeks on May 6, May 20, June 3, and June 16 to hear from us and share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll conclude this virtual book club, with a Zoom meet up for all of our book club participants and beyond! 

If you are looking for a copy of the book, here’s a list of independent bookstores with direct links to the book.

  1. Ada’s Technical Books & Cafe (Usually ships in 1-5 days)
  2. Queen Anne Book Company 
  3. Phinney Books 
  4. Secret Garden Books (Usually ships in 1-5 days)
  5. Elliot Bay Book Company (Usually ships in 1-5 days)
  6. Edmonds Bookshop (Usually ships in 1-5 days)
  7. Powell’s Books (Ships in 1-3 days)

Please join us back here in two weeks on May 6 for our first discussion of the book. We are so excited for you to join us with your comments and questions while you stay home with SAM!

Have a Happy Earth Day!

– Lauren Farris, SAM Campaign Assistant & Equity Team Member

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Photo: Elisabeth Smith

Things To Do For Earth Day & Every Day

In the spirit of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day tomorrow––and our current stay-at-home situation––we’ve compiled a few resources and recommendations from members of SAM’s Green Team for April 22 as well as a fun art activity for all ages!

Earth Day is the first holy day which transcends all national borders, yet preserves all geographical integrities, spans mountains and oceans and time belts, and yet brings people all over the world into one resonating accord, is devoted to the preservation of the harmony in nature and yet draws upon the triumphs of technology, the measurement of time, and instantaneous communication through space.

– Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist, 1978


Check out Earth Day Northwest 2020 

#Next5 actions features tips to effectively reduce your home energy bill and work toward zero-waste! A few ideas below, since we’re all at home more these days.

100% Clean Energy

  1. Turn off lights, use turn-off power strips and unplug all appliances that you are not using. 
  2. Set the thermostat to 68°F or lower when you’re at home and awake, and lower 7°F to 10°F when you’re asleep or away.
  3. Turn down your water heater to 120°F or the “low” setting. 
  4. Run your washing machine and dishwasher only when full.
  5. Using a ceiling fan to circulate air can lower both your cooling and heating costs (counterclockwise recirculates warm air).

Zero-Waste

  1. Recycle right: Empty. Clean. Dry. 
  2. Reduce, reuse and up-cycle: donate or give new life to old clothes and home goods instead of throwing them out.
  3. Target food waste – reduce, donate, and compost. 
  4. Reduce or eliminate single-use plastic.
  5. Avoid last-minute purchases and reduce excess by making a shopping list- and sticking to it.

Articles 

Books/Poetry

Podcasts

Movies

  • Ice on Fire, 2019  (Hulu and HBO)
  • Chasing Coral, 2017  (Netflix)
  • Before the Flood, 2016  (Disney and Amazon Prime)
  • How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, 2016  (iTunes)
Takpekpe (Conference), 2006, El Anatsui

In SAM’s galleries, you will find artist El Anatsui’s sculpture, Takpekpe (Conference) draped on the wall. From a distance, the artwork appears to be a gold, purple, and red tapestry, or wall hanging. But up close, you will notice interesting materials the artist has chosen for his artwork – metal tops from recycled bottles and cans. El Anatsui, who lives and works in Nigeria, creates his sculptures from metal, wood, and reused materials from bottles and packaging. The artist works collaboratively with a team to create sections of theses materials, arrange the sections in different positions on the floor, and then take pictures of the arrangements to document the process. Through a practice of experimentation and play, El Anatsui creates sculptures of different patterns and colors that represent abstraction in African Art.

In honor of Earth Day, we want to consider ways to minimize our waste and reuse items in our home recycling bins. What types of packaging or plastic do we often have in our homes? Where might these items go when they leave our homes? How can we creatively reuse items like packaging, bottle caps, and plastics?

Art Activity

El Anatsui gathers packaging, bottle tops, and other items to create artwork. Through a process of play and experimentation, the artist creates patterns and documents these with photographs. These images help guide El Anatsui to create new sculptures.

Play, experiment, and create your own recycled material artwork!

  • Gather recycled materials in your home over a week. Ask yourself if an item could become an interesting art material before you place it in the garbage or recycling bin. Rinse off the material and set aside until you are ready to begin creating.

Some items you could collect include: cardboard boxes, paper tubes, bottle caps, aluminum can tabs, foil yogurt lids, egg cartons, twist ties, and cereal boxes.

  • Once you have some recycling gathered, imagine how these items can be transformed. Can they be cut, twisted, folded or combined to create a new material?

For example, you could cut paper tubes into rings, cut shapes out of cardboard boxes, or trim egg cartons into smaller objects.

  • Lay your materials out on a surface and move them around to see what patterns you can create. Take pictures along the way to document your experiments! Try arranging the materials into groups by size, color, shape, texture, transparency. Or into patterns!
  • Once you find a pattern you like, glue or tape your materials to a piece of cardboard to finish your artwork. Share your abstract recycled artwork on social media using #StayHomewithSAM.

– Maggie O’Rourke, Program Associate for Arts and Environment

Images: Installation view of Takpekpe (Conference) by El Anatsui, photo: Natalie Wiseman. Art making images: Maggie O’Rourke.

Object of the Week: Landscape

On Earth Day, we tend to take stock of the impact humans have had on our planet: how our polluting, mining, deforestation, and other acts have affected this round wonder that we call home. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, however, the Earth is seeing a brief respite from this negative human activity—we’ve all seen the reports of air pollution temporarily plummeting. As many of us are limiting our contact with others, staying at home, or even sheltering in place, the Earth’s beauty—blooming flowers, the sounds of animals, lapping waves, or the sound of wind through the trees—has become a source of comfort. I’d like to focus on those gifts the Earth provides for this Earth Day post.

For my family, this time of human isolation has brought an enhanced appreciation of nature and all of the beauty that can be found right in our own yard and neighborhood. We’ve been taking two walks a day (practicing social distancing, of course) and spending whatever time we can in our backyard. We’ve noticed many more flowering trees and plants, and the new gardens that people are eagerly starting. Friends who live in apartments have mentioned pulling chairs up close to a window so that they can be closer to nature while they work from home—even if they lack a view, the sounds of birds help.

Margaret Gove Camfferman’s Landscape elicits this sense of the appreciation of nature for me. This work, sometimes called Orchard on Sound, was painted for the Public Works Art Project of Washington in 1933.[1] The view is from Camfferman’s property on Whidbey Island looking across to Camano Island. It demonstrates a deep awareness of her surroundings. How much I appreciate these flowering fruit trees, the shrubs and other trees, the view of the Sound and the cliffs across the water. Camfferman moved to Langley in 1915, soon after she married the Dutch painter Peter Camfferman, whom she had met in New York. They built their home, called Brachenwood, there and established the Camfferman Art Colony on the property, which included cabins for visiting artists and instructors.[2]

Camfferman, who often painted flowers and landscapes, studied with artist Robert Henri in New York (we even have a painting of her by him in SAM’s collection) and André L’Hôte in Paris. Landscape, which was painted shortly after returning from France, illustrates her development toward modernism. One scholar notes that her work “relied on the theme of nature for her point of departure and attempted to create an analogy between music and painting.”[3] (We recently shared an art activity inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s work, Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1 which helps us better understand that connection between music and art. Check it out!)

Obviously, nature was important to Camfferman, and, perhaps, it’s more important now to many of us—especially during the current COVID-19 crisis. Has your perception and appreciation of nature changed during this time?

– Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

[1] Rebecca Bruckner and Cindy Beagle, Pioneering Women Artists: Seattle, 1880s to 1940s (Seattle: Kinsey Gallery, Seattle University, 1993), p. [9].
[2] David Martin, An Enduring Legacy: Women Painters of Washington, 1930-2005 (Bellingham, WA: Whatcom Museum of History & Art, 2005), p. 57.
[3] Bruckner and Beagle, Ibid.
Image: Landscape, ca. 1933, Margaret Gove Camfferman, oil on board, 25 x 29 3/8 in., Public Works of Art Project, Washington State, 33.213 © Margaret Gove Camfferman