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.


FTW! Wendy Wees Winning at Art

Wendy Wees is one of 41 talented artists exhibiting work in SAM’s kick-rear-end staff art show, on view through October 2 in the first floor Community Gallery off South Hall at Seattle Art Museum. Wees won recognition from her peers at the show’s opening on September 7, when her piece was selected by viewers as the favorite from this group of thoughtful, diverse artworks. One intriguing quality of Wees’s painting relates not to what it reveals, but to what it denies the viewer.

Her award-winning painting, titled Verticalverses017.ptg, is part of a new, exploratory series for the artist that she calls Vertical Verses. These colorful works, appropriately arranged in vertical bands, play with script in a way that recalls, and references, Mark Tobey’s “white writing.” In her process, Wees paints on the vertical bands in layers, in some passages allowing the color blocks to visibly overlap and bleed into one another. Then, using a range of tools, she carves beautifully calligraphic characters into the color blocks, scraping at the paint and revealing the layer beneath. These characters lead the eye fluidly down and back up the canvas. Within each band, Wees works in the same script style, filling the color block to create an all-over design pattern, and showing impressive control in doing so. From one color block to the next, the characters and their stylistic influences change: Wees varies the shape, curvature, and width of the marks, as well as their impression of energy. The final result is a lively piece that features a range of scripts resembling, in different passages, Latin and Islamic manuscripts, Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, and fanciful doodles.

The characters in Wees’s Vertical Verses draw us in, and then stunt our understanding. They are unintelligible, part of a category called “asemic” writing—a term that describes lettering with no semantic content. Literally speaking, the groupings of characters don’t mean anything. But the forms, as visual art, prove absorbing and more than capable of communicating.

More work from the Vertical Verses series by Wendy Wees

For Wees, as for other artists who have employed asemic marks, such as Tobey, the choice to imagine and invent characters rather than working with a known and recognized alphabet, is liberating. First, denying viewers the access to one straightforward message opens up myriad possibilities of individual readings. The work prods a lazy viewer into activity, as the viewer’s role in creating meaning, always present, comes to the fore. In this way the artwork’s ability to communicate becomes dramatically enhanced. Wees wants viewers to actively engage with her work, and her unintelligible script prompts this kind of interaction. “I find that people are drawn into the paintings because there are layers of ‘visual stories,’” she explains. “Viewers are searching for the meaning. I have seen them inspecting the work close up and then standing way back, and then being drawn in again.” Finally, the part of her work that is youthful and whimsical, maybe a reflection of her background as an illustrator, finds its best expression in an art that moves her viewers into an imaginative mode of thinking with bilateral idea-sharing. At the heart of Wees’s creativity is her belief in art’s transformative power. “Art is a powerful mode of communication which transports viewers to other worlds, other feelings and different thoughts and ideas,” says Wees. “It does not have to be a complex response,” she adds, pointing to the way her paintings communicate on a visceral level without stating anything explicitly.

Wees has worked for SAM for almost ten years and has devoted much of that time to the SAM Shop. In her current role as Retail Sales Associate, one of her responsibilities is to assist with crafting new shop displays, for which her team draws inspiration from SAM’s rotating special exhibitions. It’s a role that encourages and sparks Wendy’s creativity. As an artist, Wees also counts access to SAM’s permanent collection as an invaluable encouragement to her own work.

Her persistent efforts as a practicing artist have earned Wees representation at Gunnar Nordstrom Gallery in Bellevue, situated adjacent to Bellevue Square, where she received an exhibition in 2014. In addition to showing at Gunnar Nordstrom Gallery, Wees has exhibited at Soulard Art Gallery in St. Louis (2013); Rob Schouten Gallery on Whidbey Island (2012, 2010); Krab Jab Studio in Georgetown (2011); Columbia Art Gallery in Hood River, Oregon (2010); and the Frye Art Museum (2001).

Congratulations and thanks to Wendy for her thoughtful painting and her important work in the SAM Shop! You can see more of Wendy’s work at Gunnar Nordstrom Gallery’s website.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Courtesy of Wendy Wees, from the series Vertical Verses.
Landscape: Autumn

Object of the Week Landscape: Autumn

With the onset of fall, some lament the end of summer, but the vivid beauty of the season and the assuring rhythm of change just make me grateful to be alive in such a scenic place. I find it worth musing on: Tuning into the natural artistry of the moment makes it easier to lose those long, warm summer days.

But if you’re still in need of centering, we’re your blog!

Helping us to embrace the autumnal mood, this six-panel Japanese folding screen depicting Autumn poetically pictures a misty chill over the water and the hillsides. Exposed but stubborn trees dot the landscape with green. All across the screen figures enjoy the waning bounty of land and sea, busily preparing for the coming winter: fishing, traveling, gathering. The screen embodies a visual poem to fall.

Landscape: Autumn

To lead you further down the path to fall zen, here is an offering of seasonal poems from the master of the haiku, Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694):

None is travelling
here along this way but I,
this autumn evening.

The first day of the year:
thoughts come—and there is loneliness;
the autumn dusk is here.

Autumn wind
through an open door—
a piercing cry.

On a withered branch
a crow has alighted:
nightfall in autumn.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Landscape: Autumn, 16th century (Muromachi period, 1333-1573), Attributed to Sesson Shukei (Japanese, 1504-1589), ink and color on paper, 66 15/16 x 138 3/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.127, Photos: Paul Macapia.
Michelle Waits

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Michelle Waits

Originally from Cincinnati, Michelle lived in LA, Santa Barbara, and spent 20 years in Hawai’i before settling in Seattle four years ago. She has a degree in Cultural Anthropology and her career has been in communications as a writer, editor, and coordinator, and in theatre administration.

SAM: Big Picture: Art After 1945 opened in July. Which artist or piece do you like seeing the most?

Waits: The Rothko—it just takes my breath away. Part of the reason I love it is that I saw a Rothko exhibit at The Guggenheim some years ago where the pieces were displayed chronologically. The early pieces were in bright colors and the canvases gradually got darker and darker as the artist sank into extreme depression. I am so happy to see a painting of his that makes my heart soar instead of feeling sadness.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
In the Go Tell It: Civil Rights Photography exhibit, there is a wonderful picture of Jackie Robinson. It’s meaningful to me because he was a close friend of my father-in-law and was my brother-in-law’s godfather.

Who is your favorite artist?
I couldn’t choose. My favorites change constantly as I discover and revisit art everywhere from the museum to the street. Unlike most VSOs, I don’t make art of have a degree in museum studies. I just have a great love for art.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
My best advice is to spend time with the art rather than just taking pictures. You have an incredible opportunity to see some spectacular things in their original states. A photo may be a good memory but it’s nothing compared to the real thing right in front of you.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I spend a lot of my time in my PJs on my sofa with my laptop working at my other jobs. I co-own Cut Bank Creek Press, a small press dedicated to publishing Native American writers. I also work with and coordinate speaking engagements for my friend and business partner Gyasi Ross, who is a brilliant speaker, author, mentor, and a myriad of other things. When there’s any time left over, I read and like to go listen to my friends’ bands.

Kathrine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Guanyin

Have you ever purchased something at full price, feeling slightly guilty about it, only to find a sale item that suits you even better? Something similar happened to Dr. Fuller in the early 1930s, as he was seeking to expand his Chinese art collection in new directions.

[Fuller] acquired . . . a large Guanyin in pale glaze with ivory tone from Yamanaka in 1931 for $2,500. With a dated inscription of 1615, the Guanyin is among the few extant figures commissioned by patrons of the Kaiyuan Temple in Zhanzhou (in modern-day Fujian province). Seven months after that acquisition, Fuller encountered a whiter blanc de chine Guanyin of similar size. It was allegedly bought from Spain after the revolution and was priced at $900 by Roland Moore. Fuller bought it at once. The price gap between the two Guanyin probably bothered Fuller, especially because the latter work is whiter and hence more attractive, with a more elaborately carved base positioning the Guanyin on an auspicious beast emerging from or riding on water. Commenting on the Yamanaka Guanyin from Zhangzhou, Fuller noted that ‘years of incense smoke discolored its crackled glaze.’ He proposed exchanging the Guanyin for a Tianlongshan sculpture in 1934 . . . and Yamanaka graciously accepted. Luckily, the Guanyin remained in Seattle. Yamanaka resold the work to Fuller for $750. He made the right decision to keep the Yamanaka Guanyin because it matches the Moore Guanyin beautifully.1

The best decision, as we all know, is to walk away with both! Not only do the two Guanyin complement each other in form, as former SAM Chinese art curator Josh Yiu notes, but the message carried by the Guanyin bodhisattva is one that resonates deeply today, and Dr. Fuller’s choice to buy back his original porcelain Guanyin doubly enhances its life-giving presence at SAM. Known as Lord of Mercy, Guanyin represents boundless love and compassion. In the Mahayana doctrine, extending love to all people figures as an important step on the path to enlightenment.


The second, whiter Guanyin purchased by Dr. Fuller will graciously greet you on your next visit to the Chinese art galleries at the Asian Art Museum.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

1 Josh Yiu, A Fuller View of China, Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 2014; 56-63.
Image: Guanyin (detail), 17th18th century, Chinese, Qing dynasty (1644-1912), Dehua ware: porcelain, 33 1/2 x 9 x 9 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.38, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Guanyin, 1615, Chinese, Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Dehua ware: porcelain, 34 x 10 x 9 1/4 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.39, Photos: Natali Wiseman. Guanyin (detail).



Rowland Ricketts on “Mobile Section”

Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World is a chance to absorb a unique spectrum of global history from Flanders to Africa, tapestries to kimonos—the exhibition balances ancient fragments with the inclusion of an immersive contemporary installation by Rowland Ricketts, an artist working in traditional indigo dying techniques. “Mobile Section” is made up of a large, indigo-dyed textile, 11½ ft. tall by 30 ft. circumference, dried indigo plants, and a video illustrating the indigo cultivation and dying process. Watch this video with the artist for more information on his process and how, beyond the blue, indigo is about the deep connection of the physical labor that connects Ricketts to other people who have also worked with indigo.

Field recordings of Rickett’s indigo process—growing, processing, vatting, and dyeing—were synthesized in collaboration with sound artist Norbert Herber and the audio reacts to the movements of visitors in the gallery as they move around the large hanging textile. The work plays upon the notions of materiality and immateriality, and is a true multisensory experience.

You’ve got one more month to see Mood Indigo at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park before it closes October 9. So go on, give yourself the blues.


"Keet Shagoon (Killer Whale)" by Preston Singletary

Object of the Week: Keet Shagoon (Killer Whale)

Family, thresholds, and the mutually beneficial relationship between collecting and creating tell the story of Preston Singletary’s carved glass screen Keet Shagoon (Killer Whale).

Singletary was raised here in Seattle. His parents were artistic; his father painted and wrote poetry, and his mother wove textiles and crocheted. Their engagement with the arts encouraged Singletary to pursue art-making. As a young artist he studied with friend and mentor Dante Marioni at the renowned Pilchuck Glass School, where he would work with mentors Benjamin Moore and Lino Tagliapietra, among others. He joined and contributed to a studio glass movement driven by a close cohort of Pilchuck artists. He was also, intrinsically, part of a second family of artists, who were Native artists. On this side, Singletary lists Joe David, Robert Davidson, and Dempsey Bob as important influences. By the example and encouragement of Singletary’s Native peers, including Marvin Oliver, he was led to explore his ancestral history through his artistic practice, and he began incorporating Northwest Coast Native design into his work in 1987. In several ways SAM’s 2003 Keet Shagoon represents the culmination of that trajectory in Singletary’s career. It is a contemporary re-imagining of an interior house screen, one of the most important items of clan property, which served to display the clan’s heritage through images representing its ancestors and benefactors. The killer whale is Singletary’s family crest symbol.

Interior house screens held an important ceremonial role in Native life. In the cedar plank house, they separated the chief’s quarters from the rest of the living area and provided a portal through which he could make a dramatic entrance. The work’s form represents a threshold, and Singletary has also remarked on how the medium of glass can be “a threshold to the future for the cultural growth of Native people.” There’s more. In 2003, SAM exhibited 13 of Singletary’s works in the Native American Galleries in an exhibition called Preston Singletary: Threshold. In his artist statement Singletary explained the importance of the term for him, as he came to see himself standing at the nexus of ancient Northwest Coast Native traditions, his own world, and the future. Native art, with its roots in the physical world of cedar and pigment, and its spiritual significance, seemed to him a link between the earth and the cosmos. Finally, SAM’s purchase of Keet Shagoon memorialized another poignant moment of transition: the passing from life to death.

Yéil X’eenh (Raven Screen), ca. 1810, attributed to Kadyisdu.axch’.

Yéil X’eenh (Raven Screen), ca. 1810, attributed to Kadyisdu.axch’.

John H. Hauberg (1916-2002) was a successful businessman in forest resource management and lumber, a Native arts enthusiast, and an astute collector who worked directly with Native owners, dealers, and auctioneers to form an exceptional private collection. Hauberg’s generous gifts to SAM over the years 1983–1991 built the foundation of the museum’s notable Native American art collection. Acquiring Keet Shagoon in honor of Hauberg, a year after his passing, was a fitting choice. The Pilchuck Glass School, at which artist Preston Singletary had learned his craft, had been funded by Hauberg and his first wife, Anne Gould Hauberg in 1971; and SAM’s famous Raven Screen, which had directly inspired Singletary to produce Keet Shagoon before his 2003 show at SAM, had been donated by Hauberg in 1979. SAM wouldn’t have Keet Shagoon—and we all wouldn’t be able to enjoy it—without both of their contributions.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Keet Shagoon (Killer Whale), 2003, Preston Singletary (Tlingit, born 1963), fused and sand carved glass, 72 x 92 x 3/8 in. Seattle Art Museum, Purchased in honor of John H. Hauberg with funds from the Mark Tobey Estate Fund, John and Joyce Price, the Native American Art Support Fund, Don W. Axworthy, Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Marshall Hatch, C. Calvert Knudsen, Christine and Assen Nicolov, Charles and Gayle Pancerzewski, Sam and Gladys Rubinstein, SAM Docents, SAMS Supporters, Frederick and Susan Titcomb, and Virginia and Bagley Wright, 2003.12, © Preston Singletary, Photo: Susan Cole. Yéil X’eenh (Raven Screen), ca. 1810, attributed to Kadyisdu.axch’ (Tlingit, Kiks.adi clan, active late 18th-early 19th century), spruce, paint, 105 3/4 x 129 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg, 79.98, Photo: Paul Macapia.

Be A Part of Something Big: Volunteer for Middle Fork

Artist John Grade is looking for volunteers to help sculpt the 60-foot addition to his sculpture, Middle Fork, which will be installed in SAM’s Brotman Forum in January. SAM employees have been helping out in Grade’s studio over the last few months and we all agree, you should consider volunteering as well.


John Grade’s studio is large and located at the fringes of Seattle. It’s easy to understand why he would require a space as large as an airplane hangar if you’ve experienced his artwork. Grade creates organic shapes from the natural world at life size and impresses viewers with the grand scale of everyday objects such as, in the case of Middle Fork, trees.

Expect a warm welcome from Grade’s crew of studio assistants, though you may have to venture pretty far into the space before you’re noticed over the sound of the electric sanders. In an open room with several workstations scattered towards the back, you’ll notice sections of the original 40-foot long Middle Fork sculpture bubble wrapped and arranged unceremoniously around the room.



More than a view behind-the-scenes, this is an experience you can inhale—quite literally if you’re not wearing your dust mask. Particles of the artistic process will coat your clothes, so dress for sawdust and be prepared to focus in on the details for a few hours. “It’s fun to be part of something big by doing something small,” said Natali Wiseman, senior designer at SAM. And small is right—the four-hour minimum volunteer shift flies by and you’ll be impressed by the section of the sculpture that you’ve created—how much, or how little you’ve gotten done, depending on your outlook.



“Volunteering for Middle Fork is a great opportunity to get an insider’s look into John’s creative process,” says David Rue, public programs coordinator. “It’s refreshing to see how many helping hands are responsible for such a beautifully large-scale project, and it feels great to integrate community building with hands-on art making.” When John Grade began Middle Fork in 2014 it was being constructed at Mad Art in South Lake Union. The store-front gallery space was open to the public and passerbys were welcome to lend a hand in laying a couple, or a couple hundred, blocks of the sculpture.



Far from the inaccessible side of the art world, Middle Fork has been touched and built by toddlers, teenagers, and Amazon employees alike. Megan Peterson, assistant registrar for exhibitions describes the process as “an honor. I appreciate how open John is to allowing each person the freedom to put their unique stamp on the work they do.” Don’t worry about being too precise or technically skilled. The sculpture is sturdy and, like nature, difficult to mess up. Each inches-long cedar piece you place is only one part of what will eventually be a 100-foot long whole, hanging at SAM.



“It’ll be a particularly special feeling once Middle Fork is installed knowing that my hands helped contribute to its existence,” Rue added. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Lauren at John Grade’s studio:

—Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Photos: Natali Wiseman.
Paige Mathew, SAM Student Member

For the Love of Art Member Profile: Paige Mathew

Pharmacology student, UW
Student member / gift membership since 2013

You’re in the sciences?
I’m a pharmacy student right now.

Do you like it?
Yes! I do.

Why do you like going to art museums?
Being a part of the science world, there’s not a lot of ways to express yourself—everything is black and white. So it’s fun to get out of my box and go explore different museums. And then it’s nice because SAM has a lot of events like Remix.

Paige Mathew, SAM Student Member

Do you think of art as a way to learn about the city you’re in?
Art is definitely a way to learn about the city. In the sciences things are more rigid, with art the rules are more free and free flowing. Exploring helps me express my creativity and have fun, seeing the things in the city. Being a SAM member is a way to get around and learn more about Seattle and what art can do.

No matter what you’re studying, student memberships are discounted to create increased access to art for anyone with a student ID. Consider how art impacts your life  join SAM as a Student Member today!

Photo: Scott Areman.