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Object of the Week: Children Drinking Milk

This small porcelain sculpture, which measures less than seven inches tall, is one of a thousand remarkable objects found in SAM’s Wyckoff Porcelain Room. It’s a reminder that every object here has a story. Through this work, Children Drinking Milk, we learn the story of European porcelain collecting in Seattle among a group of women with a strong desire for learning, who had the wherewithal to work with knowledgeable dealers, grow spectacular collections, and then share their objects with SAM and all of its visitors.

Children Drinking Milk, made at the Sèvres Manufactory between 1766 and 1773, is an example of unglazed biscuit porcelain.[1] This technique allowed for the modeler, Etienne-Maurice Falconet (French, 1716-1791), to create detailed designs which wouldn’t be diminished by glazing. For Children Drinking Milk, the unglazed technique allowed Falconet to create details such as the older boy, enjoying the bowl of milk, looking cunningly out of the corner of his eye at a younger boy, who is anxiously waiting for his turn. [2] Falconet, a court sculptor and chief modeler in the Sèvres Manufactory, is one of the most well regarded modelers of biscuit porcelain. He was adept at translating the drawings and designs of artists, like François Boucher (French, 1703-1770), into detailed three-dimensional objects like this one. [3] Children Drinking Milk was considered one of the “Falconet children” representing characters familiar on the streets of eighteenth-century Paris.[4]

So how did Children Drinking Milk get here?

Eighteenth-century European porcelain collecting in Seattle really developed out of the interest of one woman, Blanche M. Harnan (American, ca.1888-1968). Harnan’s interest originated as a result of a study group in which she was involved that focused on world geography and culture. Through her daughter’s interest in teapots, she discovered that the study of ceramics provided a rewarding history of styles and taste in eighteenth-century Europe. Harnan acquired an extensive research library and began collecting European porcelain for study purposes. Her enthusiasm attracted other Seattle women and, under her leadership, the Seattle Ceramic Society was founded in the 1940s.[5]

In the 1950s and 1960s, the group established a relationship with New York porcelain dealer, William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains, one of the premier European porcelain dealers in the US. Because Lautz and the Seattle Ceramic Society were 3,000 miles apart, an interesting way of doing business arose between the two. Lautz would photograph items from his showroom and send them along, with corresponding descriptions and price lists, in binders to the Society. The members would make their selections and notify Lautz. Lautz would carefully pack the items in a crate and send them to Seattle. The crate would be unpacked, and then returned, empty, with a check in the bottom for payment. Lautz would refer to this as his “Seattle scheme.”[6] We know from documentation that Children Drinking Milk came from Lautz. The Bullitt Library holds several of Lautz’s binders sent to the Seattle Ceramic Society and the work appears several times. In a letter sent from Lautz—after the piece was donated to SAM—he reveals his own insights on the piece:

“The French name of the figure, or group rather, that I have called the soup or milk drinkers is ‘Les Gourmands’ or ‘Enfant Buveurs de Lait.’ We might even call them the greedy ones…”[7]

Blanche Harnan continued developing her own collection and leading the Seattle Ceramic Society, which would grow to three units and garner more than sixty members. She would also develop an important affiliation with the Seattle Art Museum. Harnan was appointed Honorary Curator of Porcelain in 1954, “in recognition of her knowledge in a specialized field and in appreciation of her service to the Museum.”[8] At the time, the museum was beginning to build its European porcelain collection and welcomed exhibitions of the Society’s collections, like the 1956 exhibition, 18th Century English Porcelain: A Special Exhibition. The exhibition was arranged and the catalogue written by Harnan and another important Seattle Ceramic Society member, Martha Isaacson (American, 1901-2000).

Since the days of those exhibitions, many of the Seattle Ceramic Society members have generously given objects in their collections to SAM. Many of those are currently on view in the Wyckoff Porcelain Room. Importantly, several significant pieces in SAM’s European porcelain collection were donated to SAM by the Seattle Ceramic Society in honor of Blanche M. Harnan—note “Blanche M. Harnan Ceramic Collection, Gift of the Seattle Ceramic Society” on an object’s credit line.

I wonder what we can learn from those other 999 objects?

– Traci Timmons, Librarian

Images: Children Drinking Milk, 1766-1773, Sevres Porcelain Manufactory, Model by Etienne-Maurice Falconet (French, 1716-1791). Soft paste porcelain, 6 5/8 x 5 3/8 x 3 7/8 in. (16.8 x 13.7 x 9.9 cm), Blanche M. Harnan Ceramic Collection, Gift of the Seattle Ceramic Society, Unit 2, 56.179. Photograph sent in binder to the Seattle Ceramic Society showing Children Drinking Milk in William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains, New York, 1950s.
[1] Seattle Art Museum. Annual Report of the Seattle Art Museum: Forty-Ninth Year, 1954. Seattle Art Museum Libraries: Digital Collections, accessed September 21, 2017, http://samlibraries.omeka.net/items/show/29.
[2] Emerson, Julie, Jennifer Chen, and Mimi Gardner Gates. Porcelain Stories, From China to Europe. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 2000, pg. 216
[3] Savill, Rosalind. “François Boucher and the Porcelains of Vincennes and Sèvres.” Apollo 115, no, 241, pp. 162-170.
[4] “Eighteenth-Century Porcelain in Seattle.” Antiques 85 (January 1964), p. 82.
[5] Emerson, Julie. The Collectors: Early European Ceramics and Silver. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1982, pp. 6-7.
[6] Nelson, Christina H. and Letitia Roberts. A History of Eighteenth-Century German Porcelain: The Warda Stevens Stout Collection. Memphis: Dixon Gallery and Gardens; Easthampton, MA; New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2013, p. 20. Also see Kuhn, Sebastian. “Collecting Culture: The Taste for Eighteenth-Century German Porcelain,” in Cassidy-Geiger, Maureen et al. The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain, 1710-50. New York, NY: Frick Collection in association with D. Giles London, 2008, p. 107-108.
[7] Letter to SAM Registrar’s Office from William Lautz dated July 9th, 1965.
[8] This is the name given to porcelain and other pottery after having undergone the first firing, and before being glazed, painted, or otherwise embellished. For more, see: Gordon Campbell. “Biscuit.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed September 20, 2017, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T2070959.
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The Western Mystery by Spencer Finch

Ephemeral Art, Lasting Effects: Temporary Installations at the Olympic Sculpture Park

Spencer Finch’s The Western Mystery portrays one of our most familiar temporary experiences: a sunset. This new installation of ninety glass panes suspended from the PACCAR Pavilion’s ceiling opened at the Olympic Sculpture Park in April. The glass panes are sixteen shades of yellows, oranges, blues, and pinks based on the hues found in the artist’s photographs of Seattle sunsets. As the glass squares subtly rotate overhead, their surfaces capture fragmented reflections of the park that fade in and out of view.

The Western Mystery by Spencer Finch

Much like a sunset itself, The Western Mystery is an ephemeral experience. Over the past 10 years, the Seattle Art Museum has hosted 15 temporary installations by local, national, and international contemporary artists. SAM celebrates the sculpture park’s 10th anniversary this summer with Spencer Finch’s installation, as well as a new sculpture by Tacoma artist, Christopher Paul Jordan. Titled Latent Home Zero, Jordan’s “interactive silent film” is experienced through a binocular telescope that integrates collaged imagery related to the migration of African American people across the US with distorted, real-time views of the sculpture park.

SAM first began installing temporary art with Dennis Oppenheim’s five, massive Safety Cones, in the summer of 2008. But, the first temporary work appeared unexpectedly in 2007, shortly after the sculpture park opened. Mimi Gardner Gates, SAM’s Director from 1994–2009, recalled, “Early on, the artist group PDL created Eaglets under Alexander Calder’s The Eagle—a nest with three little Eagles. I loved that because it was Seattle’s artists responding to the sculptures in the park. To me, that really brought the park alive.”

Blue Sun by Victoria Haven

That lively spirit returns to the park every year through the temporary projects SAM commissions. For some artists, the short-term nature of their installations can lead to experimentation they wouldn’t always attempt in a permanently sited piece. In April of 2016, Seattle artist Victoria Haven created Blue Sun, a large-scale wall drawing that was based on the path and reflections of the sun as she experienced them from her studio window in South Lake Union. “I think the process involved a sense of immediacy that gave Blue Sun an energy and an aliveness,” Haven said. “It was like a breath on the wall; it was there and then it was gone. And, there’s something beautiful about the rigor and commitment involved in creating a monumental project that exists for a relatively short amount of time.”

YOU ARE HERE by Trimpin

The sense of immediacy also played a role in Seattle artist Trimpin’s 2014 temporary sound sculpture, YOU ARE HEAR. The installation’s three listening stations were comprised of repurposed tractor seats and oversized sets of “headphones.” Visitors who interacted with the piece experienced sounds created within their immediate environment, both from mechanisms the artist constructed and the sounds that naturally occur around the park. The artist himself became immersed in the sculpture park environment as he installed YOU ARE HEAR over a period of three days.  He explained, “I noticed there were lots of regulars coming through every day and that they were noticing how something unusual was going on. It was great to have a conversation with them . . . . It was an exciting chance to engage with the public as they were walking their dogs or jogging through the park.”

The Olympic Sculpture Park offers a unique experience for both seeing and creating works of art. Just as the spinning reflections of The Western Mystery create a new perspective on the Olympic Sculpture Park, all of the temporary projects have given visitors reasons to rethink their surroundings over the last 10 years, both within the park and out in the world.

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

This post is the fifth installment in a series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.

Images: Installation view of The Western Mystery (detail), 2017, Spencer Finch, American, b. 1962, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Mark Woods.  Installation view of The Western Mystery, 2017, Spencer Finch, American, b. 1962, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Mark Woods. Installation view of Safety Cones, 2008, Dennis Oppenheim, American, b. 1938, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Paul Macapia.  Installation view of Blue Sun, 2016, Victoria Haven, American, b. 1964, acrylic, 57 x 14 ft., Seattle Art Museum Commission 2016, Photo: Natali Wiseman. YOU ARE HEAR, 2014, Trimpin, German, b. 1951, three part sound installation at SAM Olympic Sculpture Park, commissioned by the Seattle Art Museum. © Trimpin, Photo: Nathaniel Willson.
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What Do You Disclose? An Interview with Denzil Hurley

Seattle-based artist and University of Washington professor Denzil Hurley’s glyph paintings are aptly titled. A glyph is a symbol. One that typically conveys an agreed upon or shared meaning. These can be the unique marks of the written word, a graphic element, or an inscription. More broadly, a glyph can be a shape or color that we understand to have an agreed upon purpose separate from language, such as a circle with a slash through it for “no,” or red for “stop.” In Hurley’s work, shape and color are paramount.  Well known for his monochrome paintings and impact on the world of abstract painting, a selection of these glyph paintings currently hang at SAM in Denzil Hurley: Disclosures, on view through November 5.

In Disclosures these paintings become sculptural by being mounted on repurposed sticks and poles. As objects, the glyph paintings become reminiscent of signs and harken back to Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 painting, Black Square which was intimately tied to social and political discussions at the cusp of the October Revolution in Russia. Deceptively simple, there’s a density to Hurley’s black canvases in his layering of the paint and in his use of materials. Spend some time in Disclosures the next time you come by SAM and consider what you derive from a redacted painting involving the form of signs and the framing of the wall. What does your understanding say about our socially constructed meanings of these symbols?

SAM: The works at SAM came out of visits to Barbados. Can you tell us about these trips? I’m thinking specifically about how they informed the material concerns of your work.

Denzil Hurley: The idea of repurposing materials arose out of observations I made over many years, and several trips there. The paintings in the exhibition were selected from a larger body of work that began around 2006–07. Each piece was thought of, and developed individually out of my interests in modular forms and structures involving squares and rectangles.

Do you see these paintings as a whole? If I think about the public protests being referenced through the work, and the “power in numbers” philosophy behind taking to the streets, do you feel that viewers can derive a larger meaning by seeing the group than by seeing a single work in the series?

I exhibited related pieces from this larger body of work in the Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum in 2009, and a Francine Seders Gallery group exhibition in 2012. I welcome the curatorial decision at SAM to select, and present the work in a particular way. It certainly serves to open up the room and bring certain referencing to the fore.

You talk about density in your paintings. In your monochrome paintings how do you use a single color to create layered meaning?

My working process and painting ideas involve color, layering, stacking, erasure and concerns with surfaces that allow individual differences to be developed and realized in each piece.

In a work such as the piece framing the empty wall, does density continue to play a part in the work?

Within the context of one piece relating to another and involving the wall, the floor, and bringing together painting ideas, sculptural form, and installation practice, it allows for conjunctions between differences.

Images: Installation views of “Denzil Hurley: Disclosures” at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photos: Mark Woods.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Christine Kline

April 23–29, 2017 is National Volunteer Week and we want to recognize the amazing 469 volunteers who generously give their time to SAM. Volunteers assist us in a variety of roles (Coat Check, Docents, Information Desk, and Park Stewards, just to name a few), and you probably encounter at least one volunteer each time you visit SAM. Volunteers make it possible for us to do all that we do!

This week we kick off a new feature on SAM Blog: a monthly volunteer spotlight. Volunteer Christine Kline, our current Docent Chair, agreed to be the first volunteer spotlighted!

SAM: How long have you been a volunteer at SAM? 

Christine: I joined the student tour docent training class in 2010.

Why do you like volunteering at SAM?

I have always loved SAM—I’ve enjoyed being a member for many years. In addition to the remarkable array of art at the three sites, the people who volunteer are just wonderful. Since I entered the docent training, I have found volunteers and staff to be warm, caring, and passionate about art and learning—could there be a better combination?

What is your favorite piece of art at SAM?

I think one that I hold dearest is the beautiful little (about 5x9”) ivory belt mask, Belt Mask of Iyoba Idia from the Nigerian Benin Kingdom, carved in the early 16th century. The delicacy of the carving, with the regal resolve in Queen Idia’s face is so compelling. I could gaze at it forever.

What do you do as Docent Chair of SAM Volunteer Association (SAMVA)? 

A little bit of everything. As part of chairing the Docent Executive Committee (DEC) meetings, I meet and talk with the DEC chairs who work in the areas of docent training, docent program development, special events in the arts, and the care and maintenance of central areas like membership, docent days, evaluations, budget, and records. I meet regularly with education staff members to assist in furthering the work of the docent body. One of the features of being Docent Chair is attending the SAMVA meetings and I have found them to be fascinating and informative.  The meetings give me perspective on all the ways volunteers support SAM—I am really learning!

What do you do for fun?

I love going to museums and galleries, attending interesting lectures at these sites, and just engaging with the art. I also love going to the ballet, chamber music concerts, and jazz concerts. I enjoy cooking and dining out. I recently moved to Seattle from Tacoma and, oh, do I love experiencing the range of eateries in Seattle!

What’s your most memorable moment as a volunteer?

There are so many memorable moments. In working with student groups, the surprise of their observations is a constant delight. One recurring moment that comes to mind, from older students as well as younger, is the query, tentatively but touchingly offered: “Is that painting the real thing? Did she or he [Jacob Lawrence, for example] really paint this with his own hands?” That moment of realization never ceases to move me.

–Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs

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For the Love of Art: Mariana Tomas

MARIANA TOMAS
35–44
Change management consultant
Dual member since 2011

Why do you love art?

Art makes us ask questions. It makes us stand on our tippy-toes peeking around the painted street corner. It sparks our curiosity. It inspires us, charges our batteries, and makes our souls richer.

What are your hobbies or passions?

In my free time, I explore caves. When you’re in that cave, there is nothing else. The world outside does not exist, because the possibility that you will never see daylight again is always present. In a way, caving is like space travel, the last frontier, the ultimate mission into unknown. The promise that it holds is breathtaking beauty, exploration, adventure, and, of course, discovery of something we didn’t know about ourselves. You’re testing your own limits, you’re watching your every move, and you’re trying to absorb as much as you can from your surroundings. To me, this is very primal.

Do you see any link between your hobbies of cave exploring and art?

I think it’s curiosity, because what I wrote about art is actually what I used to do when I was a little kid. My aunt had a painting of a street corner that veered off and you couldn’t see where it was leading so I thought if I got myself in the right position, somehow I would see the other side of the street. It’s the same thing about caves—it’s searching for the next thing around the corner and just being curious. The curiosity that we have as the human race, I guess.

You’re a change management consultant. What does that mean?

Change management is an emerging field that’s growing here in the Pacific Northwest. We have an international organization where we help organizations to transition. It could be anything from companies moving or implementing new software or having a merger with another company. We help with preparing people for the new world. I’ve been doing this for 7 years.

What’s your favorite SAM location? Do you have a special spot to visit?

SAM’s Asian Art Museum. The museum has such historical value and it’s just so beautiful. The setting in Volunteer Park—and all of it—is just great. I love to visit Monk At The Moment Of Enlightenment. I found looking at the other Asian art that’s exhibited there from that period that you don’t see a whole lot of expression on the face (in general) and he has this expression of bliss that I think is so hard to capture—even for something that is that old and made in wood. That moment of enlightenment that we all hope—well, maybe not all but some of us hope—to maybe live someday. I think it’s a really uplifting piece of art and pretty unique to what I’ve seen. I don’t claim to be an Asian art connoisseur so I just enjoy it.

Yes, we like the things we like. You’ve been a member since 2011?

Yes. I really didn’t realize how easy it is to be a member. I got a gift membership that year and I was thrilled. I just love coming to the museum and it definitely pays in multiple ways. Not just financially. Here you get that sense that art is accessible and that’s really the appeal to me: being a part of it, being able to support it in some way.

If you, like Mariana, love the Asian Art Museum, get enlightened on what’s happening as we begin our renovation and expansion of the historic home of SAM. Members make our world go round and you can help ensure the future of the Asian Art Museum by becoming a member today or making a donation to the renovation of the iconic Art Deco building.

visitsam.org/inspire

Photos: Natali Wiseman
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My Favorite Things: Barbara Earl Thomas on Vuillard’s Dining Room

Fresh for your viewing pleasure, the newest video of our My Favorite Things YouTube series featuring Seattle-based artist, Barbara Earl Thomas.

Thomas’ storytelling and humor move seamlessly across media as she works in both painting and writing. Earlier this year Thomas won the Stranger Genius Award in visual art and later this year she’ll be honored with a Governor’s Arts and Heritage Award. With a social commitment to her community that is broad and inclusive, she values good citizenship and social responsibility. Numbered among the SAM collection is Echo Tides, a 1991 painting by Thomas depicting the tension between transition and stability.

In her My Favorite Things interview, Barbara Earl Thomas unpacks her interest in Edouard Vuillard’s Dining Room, Rue de Naples, ParisDining Room portrays the home of Vuillard’s longtime family friends. Thomas is drawn to the sensuous and gentle responses to color, light, and form in the painting, noting, “My house looks like this, my living room looks like this. But when I paint, I don’t paint like this.” Responding strongly to the use of Vuillard’s established painterly technique, Barbara Earl Thomas explains, “You get an indication to everything, but nothing is in clear view.”

Watch the interview, and head to our My Favorite Things playlist on YouTube to watch more of our artist interviews.

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Norbert Herber on “Mobile Section”

“Everyone has a part to play in this tradition, whether you work with indigo or not. Anyone who wears blue jeans has a part to play in this tradition.” – Norbert Herber

What sound does a seed make? How about compost? Experience how digital images and color can translate to timber in the hands of Norbert Herber.

As you enter Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World you encounter a contemporary compliment to the historic scope of the exhibition exploring this vibrant dye. A collaboration between textile artist Rowland Ricketts and sound artist Norbert Herber, “Mobile Section” is a responsive and immersive installation combining a large-scale, hanging textile and field recordings of Ricketts’ indigo dyeing process synthesized using data from various conditions that produced the dye and color gradations of the cloth in the installation. Sensors in the gallery register people as they move around the installation and accelerate or decelerate the sound mix so that the audio element on “Mobile Section” will never sound the same twice.

See this work before it’s too late—it will be on view through October 9 in the exhibition Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park.

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‘Tis The Season To Be Jolly…

With a permanent collection that spans the globe, featured exhibitions Pop Departures and City Dweller’s: Contemporary Art from India, special Seattle holiday events such as SAM Lights at the Olympic Sculpture Park, and extended hours, a trip to the museum is a great way to spend the holidays.

Bring your family, friends, or out-of-town guests and have fun wandering around the galleries and interacting with fascinating pieces. Stop by SAM Shop or SAM Books for Pop art mementos, and turn your selfies into a work of art by stepping inside our Pop photo booth, selecting a Pop art filter, and snapping a shot!

SPECIAL EXTENDED HOURS

  • 10 am-­5 pm Tuesday, December 23
  • 10 am-­5 pm Tuesday, December 30
  • 10 am­-5 pm Tuesday, January 6 (Pop Departures final week)

The museum is open on December 24 (closing early at 3 pm) and New Year’s Day (10 am to 9 pm which is First Thursday).

HOLIDAY CLOSURES

  • Christmas Day

Please call 206.654.3100 for more information about SAM exhibitions and programs, or visit the our website for up-to-date scheduling and hours.

–Bianca Sewake, Seattle Art Museum Communications Intern

Image: Some lovely SAM visitors in our Pop Departures Photo Booth!

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A Portal to the Past

Have you ever looked at an art work at SAM and thought, “I bet there’s a great story behind that?” I think this all the time. Today, a friend of mine tells us a fantastic story that she imagines lies behind a needlepoint image. Her story, a portal to the past, is about a work that looks like a painting but was made by a young girl from tiny, tiny stitches in thread. This story is written by Lorelei Timmons-Herrin, a fifth-grader at Whittier Elementary school (my friend, and daughter of SAM head librarian Traci Timmons). 

Do you have any stories to tell about the art at SAM, or the art in your home? If so, please share it with us in the comments!

Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections

Needlework mourning picture, ca. 1805-07, Eliza Gravenstine (American, Philadelphia, 1792-1821), embroidered and painted; watercolor paint on silk, approx. 24 x 28 in., Gift of Ruth J. Nutt, 2014.24.44

 

NEEDLEWORK MOURNING PICTURE

I made this picture to remind people of what cholera did to us living in the 1800s.

It was a cold sad day as I trudged through the mud to my brother’s grave. He had died of cholera two years ago. I was only eight years old then. I miss him a lot. I shall tell you all my story.

“I want John to get better mother” I whined.

“I know you do, but we haven’t found a cure yet” my mother said. I could see she was getting inpatient. My mother was a strong woman, she had raised all three of us all alone. My brother, John loved reading and writing, he was a caring young man. My sister, Samantha loved reading like John. She also likes playing with our kittens. And there’s me, I love doing needlework.

You can see that my mother (in the middle) is decorating the grave. My sister (on the right) is holding an olive branch, a sign of good luck. I am (on the left) mourning for my dead brother. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I cried many times in the making of this picture.

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