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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



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.


With Unlimited Power and Unlimited Funding, I Would…

This summer, intern Sholeh Hajmiragha has been working with me on two projects. Her first project was to sift through years of accumulated notes on SAM’s maiolica collection, and update our records according to the best and most recent information. Her second project was different. She tells you more, below.

-Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections


In the last three weeks of my curatorial internship at the Seattle Art Museum, I was given a project – to imagine that I had the power and the unlimited funding to acquire any and all art from contemporary artists in the Middle East.  This exercise was consuming and exciting, and it allowed me to gain a much greater insight into the acquisition process and research required in acquiring art.  On this last day of my internship, and for my farewell blogpost, I’ve decided to share one of my favorite artists that I researched during this exercise – ninety-eight year old Saloua Raouda Choucair.

Saloua Raouda Choucair represents an oversight in the western conception of contemporary art history.  Born in Beirut in 1916, Choucair is heralded as a pioneer of abstract art in the Arab world, though until recently Choucair was largely unknown outside of Lebanon.  Now in her ninety-eighth year, Choucair’s most recent exhibition at Tate Modern in 2013 was the first time her work has been shown publicly on a global scale.  In this regard, Choucair’s work can be considered new, with herself an unknown artist.  Yet, what makes her work significant is the reality that Choucair has been working as a female artist in the Beirut art scene from the 1940s, studying in the studio of Fernand Léger in Paris, and producing abstract art alongside the historical western modernist art movement.  Maymanah Farah writes in her essay “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Reinventing Abstraction”, “One of the many myths of the Western canon is that European modern artists invented abstraction…At the moment, there is a multidisciplinary campaign to correct the shortcomings of this history of Modernism by looking past the borders of Euro-American art centers.   It is within the experiments of artists who are noticeably absent from the Western view of art history, despite having been in pursuit of modern aesthetics, that examples of pre-modern abstraction are beginning to be reevaluated.”[1]  Choucair’s work is a perfect example of this as her abstract, modern forms and figures reflect both modernism aesthetics as well as historical Islamic art forms.

Choucair’s art encompasses the intersections of time, space, and place.  Though existing in the artistic school of western modernism, Choucair’s abstraction is distinct and notable.  As Samir Sayigh writes, “this abstraction, despite its proximity to that characterized by modern art in the great artistic capitals of the world, and despite its singularity in Lebanon and the Arab nation, remained an abstraction converging with the contemporary characteristics which characterize Eastern art, and more specifically Arab Islamic art, much more than with Western abstraction as perceived by Kandisnsky, presented by Mondrian, and realized in the Bauhaus Collection.”[2]  In addition to this dialogue of east and west lies another relationship of the object and space.  Not only does Choucair manipulate her paintings to reflect depth and form, but her three-dimensional sculptures present not only an abstraction of architecture and space and the manipulation of shape and form, but also bridge the divide between language and text and art and space.  Choucairs complex, interlocking sculptures are a clear example of this.  Choucair creates sculptural poetry that is constructed through various building blocks and carefully molded shapes that fit together and connect, creating a larger holistic form.  As Choucair has stated, “The way I organized my sculptural poems, for example, was inspired by Arabic poetry.  I wanted rhythm like the poetic meter, to be at once more independent and interlinked, and to have lines like meanings, but plastic meanings.”[3]  In this manner, Choucair translates the very deeply rooted Arabic cultural tradition of poetry into a modern and abstract art form that physically embodies a simultaneous interlocked dependence with a detached and separable independence.

Besides her sculptural work, her paintings reflect dualities as well.  In her painting Paris-Beirut, Choucair depicts an Islamic star, Cleopatra’s Needle, and the Arc de Triomphe in their most basic forms and shapes, both juxtaposed geographically and culturally, yet balanced compositionally, reflecting both an exchange between the east and west, while also hinting toward Choucair’s own decision to return to Beirut, rather than stay in Paris.  In her piece Les  Peintres Célèbres, Choucair presents a scene reminiscent of Fernand Léger’s Le Grand Déjeuner, while transforming it to reflect a new representation of women, presenting a contemporary artistic exchange between Choucair in Beirut and Léger in Paris.  Adrian Searle of The Guardian compares this painting to her former instructor Fernand Léger’s Le Grand Dé jeuner, writing, “The differences are telling, not least because the women don’t seem bothered by our gaze.  Instead, they look at art books, one of which has the title Les Peintres Célèbres (The Famous Painters), which also gives the title of these small studies.  Where Léger’s bodies are polished and overblown, these are wonkier, offhand and much more human.  Choucair’s little paintings depict women among women, oblivious to whoever stares at them.”  Finally, her painting Two=one, which Tate Modern chose to include in its exhibition, contextualizes Choucair within the time and place of Lebanon in the late twentieth century.  Riddled with glass shards, chipping paint, and a large gaping hole in its center, this painting was damaged by a bomb blast during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).  Though no longer in the state it was intended, this piece highlights the reality of Choucair’s life in Beirut.  As Kevin Jones of ArtAsiaPacific writes, “Already in her 60s, with decades of study and practice behind her, when conflict broke out in Lebanon, Choucair simply had no artistic language to admit the war into her practice: her work was entirely rational, scientific, engineered almost to the exclusion of the human and the social.  The incursion of the war literally into the flesh of her practice with Two=one illustrates the potentially destructive force of forgetting: occluded memory, as much as the war itself, was Choucair’s nemesis.”[4]

For me, reading about and researching Choucair and her art was both inspiring and incredibly humbling.  The vast amount of work that she produced over her extensive life, with little to no recognition beyond her local art scene, is really profound.  This exercise in acquisition research highlighted for me the power and significance of displaying and curating art.   The power of her work lies not only in the art itself, but in the fact that it is now able to be seen and appreciated, showing not only her artistic achievements, but also her own life history.


-Sholeh Hajmiragha, Curatorial Intern, 2014








[1] Maymanah Farahat, “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Reinventing Abstraction”, Saloua Raouda Choucair, ed. Jessica Morgan (London: Tate Publishing, 2013),

[2] Samir Sayigh, trans. Anna Swank, “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Distinctiveness of Style and Individuality of Vision”, ArteEast (2008), <>.

[3] Quoted in Mulhaq al-Nahar, 23 September 1995, p. 10, as recorded in Tate Modern summary of Poem (1963-5): <>.

[4] Kevin Jones, “Memory, Corrected: Saloua Raouda Choucair”, ArtAsiaPacific, Issue 88, May/June 2014, <>.


Finding Miró: Paris

Join special projects intern Gabriela Ayala as she travels in Miró’s footsteps through Paris. Then, experience Miro at the Seattle Art Museum’s current special exhibition Miró: The Experience of Seeing on view through May 26, 2014.

Paris, France

It is fifteen minutes until landing in Paris, and the clouds mean serious business. The fog surrounding the Paris airport is hiding any possible knowledge of when the airplane might touch the ground. Before expected, the plane touches the surface of France and the compact fog is not allowing me to see any of the wonder it is hiding. A forty-five minute drive leads me to the center of Paris where no weather can stop the activity of cars moving and people leisurely drinking coffee, shopping, and gawking at the beauty that is Paris. All the architecture you see is ornate and dazzling. There are buildings of all different shapes, colors, and sizes with decorative balconies made of elegant swirls of iron. I try to make note of how old the structures around me are to get an idea of what Miró was surrounded by when he lived here. Miró arrived in Paris for the first time at age twenty-seven where he met Pablo Picasso and would later live and work in a studio neighboring poet André Masson. Paris was a hot spot for artists and poets and Miró was a part of that scene to an extent. He always tried to keep himself a little separated from the groups that formed because he never wanted to loose his individuality and independence. This last part of my inquiry into Miró is initially going to be different than everything else I have seen. Up to this point, I have visited foundations focused solely on Miró, making it a bit easier to gain visual and written knowledge. Now for Paris, I have done a precursory investigation into where Miró lived, worked, and the streets he may have strolled upon.

Saturday, 8:00am

I strap on my trusty, now worn, leather boots and am off to face the rain and find Miró in Paris. I plan my journey on the map so I can make a nice circle around the city and eventually find myself back at home base, the Opera House. First stop is rue La Boëtie, where Galerie La Licorne used to exist. This gallery is where Miró had his first solo exhibition. I do not have an exact number for this absent location so I stroll down the street, looking for a plaque that could clue me into where this gallery could have been. What I end up finding is a plaque that showed me a different gallery that lived on this same block. This gallery was owned by French art dealer Paul Rosenberg in 1910-1940. He exhibited modern painters like Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Lêger. Miró met Rosenberg through Picasso but I am unsure if he ever showed at this particular gallery. I continue on to the UNESCO building that has two of Miró’s ceramic murals inside. I arrive to a building encircled by a shorter stonewall that is supporting a metal fence. Sadly, I run into a security guard who very urgently asks me to leave and informs me that the UNESCO building cannot be visited today. This means I cannot get a photo of Miró’s mural but I have to accept my defeat and move on to the next checkpoint. Next on the list is 45 rue Blomet.

Square Blomet, a public park where Miró's studio at 45 rue Blomet once stood. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

Square Blomet, a public park where Miró’s studio at 45 rue Blomet once stood. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

This is the location I am most excited about. 45 rue Blomet marks the spot that was Miró’s first studio in Paris and where he made now famous works and was surrounded by many famous artists and poets. It was a location where many surrealist artists and writers would meet up. rue Blomet curves off of the busier main street, eventually becoming parallel as the numbers on the buildings go up. I am counting to myself 32, 35, 40, 42, and finally I find 45 but it is not what I would have imagined. In place of where Miró’s studio was there is now a small park, Square de l’Oiseau lunaire (Square of the Lunar Bird), inaugurated in 1969. The plaque at this park details the many artists who had a workshop in this location and hosts the sculpture Miró donated in memory of 45 rue Blomet. Even though I was really looking forward to seeing a building in this location where I could get a very real sensation of what this meeting and work place looked like, the fact that there is still a gathering place for people to enjoy shows me its ongoing importance. It is beautifying and honoring a location where many artists felt inspired to come together and create, and that power still lives there. After taking the time to sit on a bench and take in everything I could, I decided to move on to the one location I know still exists.

Galerie Maeght is a gallery where Miró had many group and solo exhibitions. It is also a business that has been passed down and is still owned by the Maeght family. It is not difficult to find and I excitedly enter to try to communicate my purpose for being there. Luckily, the lady there speaks Spanish and so I tell her about my project and what I am researching. She then informs me that they have the original catalogs for one of the exhibitions Miró had here. This has to be one of the greatest finds today. I look through the three catalogs she pulls out for me to decide which treasure I would like to take home with me. I decide on the catalog for a show that was during the last twenty years of his life. These catalogs also have printed lithographs by Miró for your own collection. One of the desires Miró expressed was to make his art accessible to the public and this was evidence to that. Anyone who wanted was able to take some of his art home with them in the catalog. I find this to be a very beautiful detail.

The exterior of Picasso's home from 1936-1955, where he painted Guernica. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

The exterior of Picasso’s home from 1936-1955, where he painted Guernica.

My last stop is to find the location where Pablo Picasso painted Guernica in 1937. Guernica was exhibited in the Spanish Republican Pavilion at the Paris Universal Exposition, as was Miró’s painted response to the turmoil of the times, The Reaper . I find myself again venturing into hidden streets with graffiti-decorated walls and narrow uneven roads. Finally I reach a tall building with a gated entrance and luckily another plaque informs me that I have arrived at my desired destination. I am not allowed to enter but knowing this is where an incredibly important piece of work was created gives me satisfaction enough. Guernica and The Reaper were created as political protests against the dictator Francisco Franco and Paris was the perfect location to exhibit them. It was a center where freedom was an idea taken very seriously and innovation was happening every day. People were trying to find themselves and the future and the options were endless. I believe this is what attracted Miró to Paris on a conscious or subconscious level; he knew this was a place where he could be free to create and experiment in a manner that continued on to his last days.

A sunny day in Paris. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

A sunny day in Paris. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

Top image: The Eiffel Tower. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala.


Finding Miró: Fundació Pilar i Miró

Join special projects intern Gabriela Ayala every Friday as she travels in Miró’s footsteps through Europe.

Palma de Mallorca, Spain

I find myself twenty minutes from the city center, on a hill, with a gifted view of the water, boats, and buildings. I have an appointment to meet with a conservator here at the foundation. I know that between me and this black barred gate is where Miró lived and worked from 1956 until his death in 1983. I am greeted with a Spanish hello and taken down to the basement level of the Foundation. I am more than pleasantly surprised. The conservator has picked actual drawings out of their archives for me to look through with care. I have Miró in my hands, the real deal. These papers were the launching to bringing into existence his colorful paintings, prints, and sculptures. Again, I see that when Miró had an idea there was not enough time to find a sketchbook. Drawings and thoughts were jotted down on anything and everything. It is important to note that Miró was purposeful. Everything was well thought out and with reason. His pieces may appear spontaneous but in reality he was eccentrically detail oriented. An observant man who was aware of himself, of life, and the many details life has to offer us when we are willing to see.

A workspace in Miró's studio. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

A workspace in Miró’s studio. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

As if this is not enough, I know Miró’s studio comes next. I have already seen photos of this and even in just black and white I could see that it was amazing. Again, a building designed by friend Josep Lluís Sert, wing-like shapes line the roof giving it an incredibly modern look. The highly textured wooden doors that seem more a part of an Old Spanish home, quickly and beautifully counteract the modernity. The structure is white and all the doors and shutters to the windows are different colors. This building could not scream Miró any louder. The brass handle is opened and I walk into any artist’s dream come true. The studio is large and spacious with natural light coming in from all directions. Tall walls and large windows showing the surrounding nature make the room feel even larger and connected to the outside world. The studio is kept in a way that is genuine to how Miró had it while working. Any inspirational items, clippings, or photos are pinned to the walls. There is an open top floor that gave Miró the ability to get a bird’s eye view on what he was working on. He mostly painted downstairs and drew up stairs. His supplies are still scattered on tables around the studio and a familiar whicker rocking chair sits still in the center of everything. There is still action and movement in the studio in the splatters of paint and footprints left on the floor. It is, simply put, beautiful.

Exterior of Fundació Pilar i Miró. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

Exterior of Fundació Pilar i Miró. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

I ask where Miró did his printmaking and sculptures; I am informed I have not seen it all. We follow a curved gravel path with trees and flowers leading us. Up a small ways there is a large white house that was once a farmhouse from the 18th century. It is a very typical Mallorcan country home from the time and is kept in these same conditions on the interior as well. Small shutters cover the windows to the home and two large wooden doors decorate the façade. Just behind these doors is a glass door that senses us and automatically opens. Obviously this is a contemporary addition to the home. This simple floor plan has a square center space and four rooms that connect to it. I step into the entryway with walls that look like one large sketchbook. There are drawings directly on the walls, paint on the stone floors, and Miró’s presence splattered around every corner. There is a print studio on the bottom level and all sorts of molds used by Miró scattered about the house. I am then taken upstairs to an area that is not usually seen by the public and witness the remnants from the last months of Miró’s life. This was another space for painting but the remarkable part is to see how many prepared canvases Miró had in these rooms. He had some big plans. Miró worked literally until his dying day. Lastly, I am taken to the one room where no art materials abide. This was a room merely for Miró to sit and relax. It shows his personality in a very different way than anything else I had seen at this point. There is a small round table off to the right with a chair and a couple of collected items on a shelf. This room of dark red walls has four portraits that inhabit its space: one each of his mother, his father, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Prats. Two narrow wooden doors lead to a large terrace where again that gifted view presents itself. I now can fully understand why Miró chose to move from the bustle of Barcelona to the peace of Palma.

Top image: Detail of a workspace in Miró’s studio. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala. 


Finding Miró: Palma de Mallorca

Join special projects intern Gabriela Ayala every Friday as she travels in Miró’s footsteps through Europe.

Palma de Mallorca, Spain

I am up early for my 50-minute flight over to Mallorca but it is all worth it because I am ready for some island life. When we take off we are literally in the air for a moment before they announce we are descending into our destination. Once I land I can already feel how different the environment is here. Smaller airports are always a joy to arrive to because they are usually empty, quick, and easy. I get myself to a taxi in no time and officially greet Mallorca. Hello, I introduce myself; I lower the window and the warm ocean breeze gives me a beautiful welcome. The water is to my left and an incredible castle reveals itself to my right. My first impression as we keep driving along is that the city has a sensation of a simpler, quieter, and older Miami. There are new buildings and old. The busiest path is the one that lines the ocean’s edge in a semi-circle around the city. There are hundreds of people biking, walking, and rollerblading. It is quite the destination. It is a stark difference coming from a city with small streets, many cars, and many stimulants. Mallorca offers a bit of this but as it goes on it quiets down more, the colors are brighter, and the pace is very slow. It is easy to become inspired here.

Buildings in Palma de Mallorca. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

Buildings in Palma de Mallorca. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

I decide the quickest way to get an idea of the city is the great red double-decker bus. It does not take long to visit the city as a whole but what I slowly learn is that it offers a bit of everything. There is an older part that is very romantic, a modern area with taller buildings and apartments that all resemble each other. There are castles and cottages. There is even an Old Spanish square where famous buildings from other parts of Spain have been recreated. Mallorca conclusively gives you a versatile taste of experiences but mostly it romances you. I end my relaxed and simple day with a typical Spanish dish, tortilla de patatas, refreshingly combined with a sweet glass of Sangria. As the food disappears from my plate and the ice in my round wine glass starts to disappear, I stop to let Mallorca fully seduce me. I need to take the time to recognize the intense gratitude I feel to be in a beautiful place, researching an incredible history. I could not wait to see the best of Miró tomorrow, his remarkable studio where he spent the last twenty plus years of his life.

Top image: Bay in Palma de Mallorca. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala


Finding Miró: Barcelona

Join special projects intern Gabriela Ayala every Friday as she travels in Miró’s footsteps through Europe.

Barcelona, Spain

Relaxed and ready to walk, I awake early to take on the city and locate a couple of researched Miró-related destinations. Luckily today, the sun is out to guide me along. First on my list is the Parc Joan Miró. This is easy because it is also clearly located on a map. Barcelona is a busy city. The center has many different types of buildings and so much life on the streets. It is easy to forget that this is a city on a coast and water is merely a fifteen-minute walk away. I learn that as a citizen of Barcelona you have the option, with an affordable yearly fee, to use the many bicycles that are stationed around the city. It was a project established to help encourage people to ditch their cars and adopt an environmentally friendly way to get around. I see a lot of people using this and I think it is pretty neat. Moving along, I find the park and the massive sculpture made by Miró, Dona i Ocell (Woman and Bird). It stands tall at the corner of the park, its many colors glistening to say hello. I then move on to find a gallery named Sala Gaspar. This may or may not be the location it was in originally, but this was a gallery that featured Miró many times. This weekend is a national holiday and therefore the gallery is not open during its regular hours. I do not get a chance to enter but I do take the time to imagine its past. I encounter the effects of this national holiday in more ways than one. As I walk towards one of the most centralized parts of the city, the Rambla, I find myself in a demonstration at the central square. There is red and yellow in every direction, flags flying, and people chanting “España!” I am thrilled. I feel so much energy coming from the pride these citizens feel for their country and it is a fortuitous experience.

Demonstrators in Barcelona wave the Spanish and Catalan flags. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

Demonstrators in Barcelona wave the Spanish and Catalan flags. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

Eventually I locate the mural that was on the street in the center of the Rambla. The Rambla is an avenue with all the shops, restaurants and café’s you could ask for. There are flower stands and souvenirs by the millions. At the heart of the street is Miró’s mural. People walk back and forth down this street but not many notice what they are stepping on. There is art beneath their feet. The great part is to see the people who do notice. They stop, back away to see the full picture, and smile.

My final mission is a bit more difficult. I hoped to find Miró’s family home where he lived and worked for a bit. This is meant to be located at number 4 Passatge Del Credit. The map I have is not detailed enough to show the names of the smaller streets and so I find a large street that is meant to intersect with my desired location. Luckily, this street is incredibly lively and visually striking. I find a hidden gallery showing contemporary artists and discover that frozen yogurt has indeed found its way to Europe. Unfortunately, Passatge Del Credit never shows itself to me. I do however see a plaque of a club dedicated to Miró that is very close to where this street should have been, and so I decide I must have been close.

View from Güell Park, Barcelona designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

View from Güell Park, Barcelona, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala

After these Miró specific destinations, I decide to go to locations that are related to people Miró was inspired by. This included the Picasso Museum and Güell Park. The Picasso Museum is undeniably great but Güell Park is something very special. Güell Park is completely designed by Catalan architect Antoni Guadí and built in the years 1900 to 1914. It is a journey of mosaics in many shapes, colors, and patterns. It has the feeling of an amusement park only because of its wonderment. It is like stepping into a new world, into a painting mixed with nature and unique architecture. After taking many pictures and being romanced by the views of the city, I head back to my hotel with happy thoughts that tomorrow will bring me to the next step of Miró’s life, Palma de Mallorca.

Top image: Building in Barcelona, Spain. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala


Celebrate with SAM: Día de los Muertos

It’s the time of year for pumpkin spiced lattes, changing leaves, Seattleites relishing in the last few days of sunshine before the months of monotonous drizzle ensue, and strutting your stuff in your DIY/thrift shop/homemade (the only way to do it in my opinion) Halloween costume. Tonight, when your makeup starts running and your carefully crafted costume is dripping from the rain, remember that tomorrow you can warm up at SAM’s celebration of Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead).

Last night, while I was safety pinning my felt cut-out stars (which I’m pretty sure a kindergartener could have cut out better) to my high wasted blue shorts, I felt my enthusiasm building. But this enthusiasm did not pertain Halloween plans; instead all I could think about was Día de los Muertos! Yesterday, I made my way down to the Brotman Forum to check out the hand crafted tapete (sand painting) and was blown away. Not knowing quite what to expect, I was floored with the size, vivid colors, and detail in this work. I thought to myself, “this is just a fraction of what is to come on Friday night!”

If you have not been to a SAM event, this celebration would be a great place to start as it highlights the beauty and tradition of Día de los Muertos with art, dancing, music, delicious food, and more. Oh, and did I mention this family friendly reception is FREE? If for some reason you cannot make it to the celebration, the tapete that vibrantly decorates the Brotman Forum will be on view until November 20th.

In case you are not familiar, Día de los Muertos is an ancient celebration of the eternal cycle of life.  It combines ancient and New World traditions, folk customs, and spiritual beliefs. Mexican and Latin American communities observe Día de los Muertos traditionally on Nov. 1st and 2nd. During this time, families assemble ofrendas (altars) laden with offerings of food and drink to nourish the spirits of their loved ones on their long journey.  Clay figurines, sugar skeletons, and embroidery with personal messages and the names of the deceased are placed on the ofrendas along with flowers and candles. The ofrendas are then presented to the community to celebrate deceased loved ones and the ideas they imparted in life.

So, tonight as you’re shivering in your Halloween costume and thinking to yourself,  “maybe dressing as Miley Cyrus from wrecking ball was a bad idea,” recharge your dwindling enthusiasm by remembering you can continue the festivities at SAM on Friday night! Don’t miss this free opportunity to celebrate with the community while taking in the magnificent culture of this inspiring tradition. For more information, visit our site. We hope to see you there!

By Hilary St. Clair, Communications Intern

Photo by Catherine Anstett

LaToya Ruby Frazier: Exposing Reality through a Different Lens

Have you ever met someone so passionate, devoted, and driven that you were instantly inspired to do better? Act better? Be better? On Thursday, July 18 I had the pleasure of listening to a talk given by renowned photographer and media artist, and most recent recipient of SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship, LaToya Ruby Frazier.

What is the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship?

The Knight/Lawrence Fellowship is awarded bi-annually to distinguished and celebrated early career black artists that “have their fingers on the pulse of contemporary black artistic practice.” Beyond being recognized for her extraordinary work, Frazier will be awarded $10,000 to further her artistic endeavors, and her work will also be featured in a solo exhibition in SAM’s Gwendolyn and Jacob Lawrence Gallery in December 2013. This is a show that you will not want to miss.

Unless you have experienced her artwork firsthand (in which case this would all be totally obvious), you’re probably wondering what makes LaToya Frazier’s work so eligible and influential over innumerable other candidates…

Born and raised in the industrial town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, Frazier grew up a witness and victim of irresponsible corporate citizenship, including “de-industrialization and outsourcing, environmental negligence, and inner-city gentrification (”  At the age of 17, she began to use photography as a means of documenting and exposing such practices, as well as building an archive that accurately reflected the city of Braddock and the damage done to its citizens.

In her presentation, LaToya Frazier pointed out how Braddock has been falsely represented throughout its history. Take, for example, this Levi’s Ad created in 2010, which uses Braddock as its poster child while neglecting to show any deterioration, harm, and pain that is the reality experienced by Frazier and many others. It is because of instances like this that Frazier was moved to act as a social critic and react against what she viewed as poor corporate stewardship. She exposes the push/pull of the balance between image and reality and the constant struggle of innocent bystanders wrestling against the harmful impact of various business practices.

What makes her work even more unique and fascinating is that she includes herself in many of her own photos, which is a very unusual but powerful tool. By inserting herself in history and subjecting herself to the scrutiny of portraiture, she makes the overall effect of the images much more poignant, personal, and real.

Frazier’s repertoire successfully combines aspects of art, social activism, and political awareness to relay a message that is powerful, inspiring, and yet readily accessible to a broad and diverse audience.

Don’t forget to visit SAM’s online calendar for the dates of LaToya Ruby Frazier’s show (TBD) and other events throughout the year!

-Caroline Sargent, Communications Intern

Momme Portrait Series (Shadow) 2008, Photo: LaToya Ruby Frazier

SAMart: Deceptive simplicity

Even in the most seemingly-straightforward designs, things are not always as they seem. This chest is an example of early American rural-style furniture. Beneath a coat of gray paint added in the mid-nineteenth century can be seen the original red coloration, suggestive of fashionable mahogany furniture produced in New England. Despite appearances, only two of the “drawers” actually function as such. The top two drawers are, in fact, false fronts, used to conceal a large compartment which opens from the top—a likely reason these are sometimes called blanket chests.

Chest over drawers, ca. 1750-90, American, New England, possibly Rhode Island, pine and chestnut wood with paint, 43 1/2 x 38 1/4 x 18 3/8 in., Gift of Mimi and Bill Gates in honor of John Kirk and Trevor Fairbrother, 2000.160. Currently on view in the American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.