Tapestry of America

Object of the Week: Tapestry of America

The tapestries of the continents that feature in Mood Indigo: Textiles from Around the World at the Asian Art Museum are simply stunning art objects, almost too much to see, each offering a near-constant barrage of decorative detail that takes time and energy to decipher. Happily, their aesthetic abundance encourages return visits. As particularly exaggerated allegorical portrayals, the tapestries provoke more thoughts about the values of the culture that produced them than the actual life of 17th-century inhabitants of Asia, Africa, and America. Or maybe we think Native women did lounge about, attended by tobacco-smoking cherubs, petting alligators?

Tapestry of America (detail)

As an American citizen, I find the Tapestry of America especially interesting to consider. On a staff tour of Mood Indigo, SAM curator Pam McClusky pointed out one detail that has echoed in my brain since, prodding me to think on it whenever I see the tapestry. Near the feet of the enthroned lady of America stand three stacks of gold coins, with a small pile next to them. The coins are ignored by the figures and occupy an unimportant place in the composition; they are as easily overlooked by the viewer as by America and her active attendants. With this detail, the makers of the tapestry commented on the value of money in cultures other than their own. America, we see, is laughably uninterested in gold and riches.

Tapestry of America (detail)

It’s clear that cultural tensions are surfacing here, but what exactly are they, and where do they originate? University of Washington professor of history Benjamin Schmidt helps us to identify what’s happening in the tapestry in his 2015 book Inventing Exoticism: Geography, Globalism, and Europe’s Early Modern World.

Writing on the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Europe, Schmidt points to maps and other material objects that reflect consistent opinions on what was European, what was not, and how the European related to things non-European. Of course, implicit in those ideas was an assumption that Europeans did it better. Take, for instance, commodities. Schmidt writes that “Europeans, even as they dearly coveted them, believed only they understood an object’s ‘true’ material value, while non-European peoples, notwithstanding their casual regard of them, failed to grasp the worth of those very goods they so richly possessed.”1 The maddening judgment present in the picture visualizes Schmidt’s thesis perfectly: Gold coins would sit at the feet of the Natives; they just didn’t understand true value.

Tapestry of America (detail)

A related point revealed in the tapestry is the Europeans’ readiness to take. Schmidt explains how, in their portrayals of exotic lands, early modern Europe developed a habit of thinking about the broader world as a consumable commodity, theirs for the taking.2 This “exotic” other world was essentially “agreeable” and ripe for plundering. So, even as the makers of the tapestry ridicule its subject for valuing anything above gold, we also see Europe’s greedy desire for tobacco reflected in the smoking cherub. Tobacco, like everything else, could probably be taken, because it probably wasn’t valued rightly.

Profound cultural differences and centuries of difficult history have made the Tapestry of America a charged work, one that is rewarding to engage.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

1 Benjamin Schmidt, Inventing Exoticism: Geography, Globalism, and Europe’s Early Modern World, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015; 256-257
2 Schmidt, Inventing Exoticism, 228.
Images: Installation view of Mood Indigo: Textiles from Around the World at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Tapestry of America (detail), late 17th c., Jacob van der Borcht (Flemish) and Jan Cobus (Flemish), wool, 156 x 144 1/8 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Hearst Foundation, Inc., 62.1991, Photos: Natali Wiseman.
Shadowland: Sweet Smell of Success

Film/Life: Shadowland

Film/Life: Shadowland: The 39th Film Noir Series
Thursdays, Sep 29-Dec 11, 7:30 pm
Seattle Art Museum

Shadowland, where the past is haunted, but the future’s bright with big-money schemes. Where tough dames and wise guys live for midnight and hope to see the dawn. Where fate sings a blues tune and laughs in the dark.

Film noir is low-down, sexed-up, over the speed limit. It’s the juvenile delinquent child of brooding German Expressionist cinema aesthetics, French poetic realism, and American pulp fiction, godfathered by post-World-War-II malaise and timeless moral corruption.

The world’s longest running film noir celebration, called “the best series in Seattle film history” by Charles R. Cross, features a Top Pot doughnut opening night party.

September 29: Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding, 1947). “Film noir” is a French term, but it speaks eloquently to the American ethos of success at any price. Romantic matinee idol Tyrone Power stunned the world with his deep-delving portrayal of a carnival hustler who manipulates women and a gullible public to gain all the glittering prizes in life. Years ahead of its time, the film holds up a dark mirror to the show business of religion, and it gives a frightening whiff of a cunning animal hiding behind a respectable façade. In 35mm, 110 min.

October 6: The Chase (Arthur Ripley, 1946). Haven’t been to Cuba yet? Have we got a trip for you. One of the most evocative adaptations of master noir novelist Cornell Woolrich’s fictional world, The Chase centers on downtrodden war vet Robert Cummings. In Miami he finds, and returns, mobster Steve Cochran’s wallet. Hired to be Cochran’s chauffeur, Cummings meets the racketeer’s melancholy, victimized wife (Michele Morgan) and creepy henchman (Peter Lorre). Cummings is stirred by Morgan’s beauty, and her plight, and the film becomes a fever dream of escape to Havana, speeding cars and lurking menace. UCLA Film Archive 35mm print, 86 min.

Virginia Mayo

Virginia Mayo

October 20: T-Men (Anthony Mann, 1948). This gritty gem established the artistic reputations of director Anthony Mann and wizard noir cinematographer John Alton. Attempting to crack a Detroit counterfeiting ring, Treasury Agents Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder descend into a dangerous night world. Mann shows that there’s a thin line between the law and the lawless as the agents pose as hoods to infiltrate the gang. Alton’s camera bathes everything in cold shadow and hot light, and Wallace Ford has the cinema’s most memorable steam bath. With favorite gravel-voiced bad guy Charles McGraw. Library of Congress 35mm print, 91 min.

October 27: The Unsuspected (Michael Curtiz, 1947). Cultured and refined, the silky voice of Claude Rains tells tales of mystery and murder on his popular radio show. Obsessed with death and deception, as well as the need to gain control of a fortune and his niece’s opulent mansion, Rains plans to kill to get what he wants. And of course he will do it with finesse, as an exercise of his brilliant mind. Still, no matter how carefully he plans, blackmail, amnesia, and femme fatale Audrey Totter are beyond his control. Library of Congress 35mm print, 103 min. Screening includes a film discussion with critic Richard T. Jameson.

November 3: The Red House (Delmer Daves, 1947). This rare pastoral noir features the superb Edward G. Robinson as a crippled farmer who’s cared for by his devoted sister (Judith Anderson) and adopted daughter (Allene Roberts). Roberts has always been told to stay away from a strange, abandoned red house somewhere out in the woods, but one day she and hired hand Lon McCallister set out to find it. Twisted psyches, dark secrets and Miklos Rosza’s haunting music are sure to follow. Library of Congress 35mm print, 100 min.

November 10: Flaxy Martin (Richard Bare, 1949). An honest attorney (Zachary Scott) starts working for a crime syndicate. It’s not for the money—it’s the woman. He can’t resist mob boss Douglas Kennedy’s luscious girlfriend (Virginia Mayo), and she feels the same about him. But soon Scott’s trapped in a web of underworld machinations and sudden death. Maybe librarian Dorothy Malone can help. With the great Elisha Cook, Jr. as a small-time hood. Library of Congress 35mm print, 86 min.

November 17: The Prowler (Joseph Losey, 1951). Van Heflin appears to be a model policeman, but he’s out to get everything he can out of life, any way he can. The report of a prowler takes him to an affluent neighborhood, where he meets the lonely wife (Evelyn Keyes) of a popular, wealthy radio disc jockey (the voice of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo). Heflin sees the sad and shapely Keyes as a ticket to the good life, and starts scheming on the wrong side of the law. UCLA Film Archive restored 35mm print, 92 min. Screening includes a film discussion with critic Richard T. Jameson.

December 1: Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957). Powerhouse Burt Lancaster plays a ruthless Broadway gossip columnist who has more than brotherly feelings for his sister (Susan Harrison). “Susie’s all I’ve got,” he tells nervous press agent Tony Curtis as he orders him to ruin the career of Susie’s jazz musician boyfriend (Martin Milner). This proves to be no easy task, even in “a dirty town” where brutal power rules and souls are for sale. With poetic dialogue by Clifford Odets, James Wong Howe cinematography and hot Chico Hamilton Quartet jazz. Digital cinema restoration, 96 min.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler (2014) Directed by Dan Gilroy

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler (2014)
Directed by Dan Gilroy

December 8: Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014). From the acid-dripping gossip columns of Sweet Smell of Success to the late-breaking video footage of Nightcrawler, the cynical, dark side of human nature makes news. An LA loner (Jake Gyllenhaal) fascinated by TV news starts shooting car wrecks and homicide scenes after the action’s over, and selling his footage to struggling news editor Rene Russo. His good artistic eye and gutsy pursuits advance his career, and one night he comes upon a crime as it’s happening. Does he pause to consider professional ethics, human decency and personal safety? Not for a second. Digital cinema, 104 min.

Get your series passes to Shadowland now!

—Greg Olson, Manager of SAM Films

Images: Courtesy of Photofest.
Persephone Unbound

Object of the Week: Persephone Unbound

Beverly Pepper’s Persephone Unbound draws out a tension that is central to the human experience, echoed in our mythology, and enacted in both art and life: the contrast between restraints and the desire to be released from them.

A work in cast bronze, the varied textures of the sculpture’s several facets give the appearance, instead, of poured concrete, in various states of leveling and finish. Near its base the surface of the sculpture bears the kind of textural depth that marks stucco walls, but here they are magnified to the sculpture’s monumental scale. As the eye scans upward to take in ten feet of vertical mass, passing over gravelly sections and dripping globs, more discrete forms begin to emerge, and the visual impression of human manufacture and intervention becomes more acute. The sculpture’s tallest arm is clean-cut, smoothly finished. Where initially the work might seem a monolithic rock formation roughly hewn, it emerges as a precisely chosen crystallization of contrasts, something in between natural and (wo)manmade. It’s a work that strikes me as if it’s perpetually in formation.

The artist has given us a particularly leading title as a way into her thinking. Persephone’s role in Greek mythology elicits sympathy for the character, and for the reader, a sense bitter loss. Persephone is an aching reminder of what could be. Hers is a pure beauty only sometimes accessible; her abundance, pleasant as it is to enjoy, is fleeting, ever accompanied by the foreboding of its imminent end. She wishes to be free, we wish her to be free, but that’s not the way of things.

What would it mean if Persephone were unbound? What if the goddess of spring growth were also the goddess of growth all the time, everywhere, forever?

The myth explains the reality of changing seasons, an immutable truth of the natural world. But Persephone Unbound begs us to imagine what restrictive realities exist that are of our own making—how have we limited ourselves, and one another, by lack of imagination, or belief, or desire? What about our world is not as good as it could be?

Persephone Unbound is one of seven works by Beverly Pepper in SAM’s collection. A widely recognized sculptor, Pepper has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Ohio’s Columbus Museum of Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The sculpture has been an integral part of the Olympic Sculpture Park since the park’s opening in January of 2007.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Persephone Unbound, 1999, Beverly Pepper (American, born 1924), cast bronze, 122 x 31 1/2 x 21 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, 2009.14 © Beverly Pepper, Photo: Paul Macapia.
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

SAM Book Club: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

Welcome back to SAM Book Club! Today we’re here to discuss Dominic Smith’s newest novel, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos.

This is a book that’s hard to describe succinctly. In 1637 Amsterdam, artist Sara de Vos diverges from her training as a still-life painter to paint the landscape At the Edge of a Wood, an enigmatic work she makes as she mourns her daughter’s death. In 1957 Manhattan, the painting is stolen from the home of Marty de Groot, whose family has owned the work for 300 years. And in 2000 Sydney, renowned art historian Ellie Shipley is curating an exhibition of 17th century female Dutch artists when she learns that two versions of At the Edge of a Wood are traveling to her gallery: the original, and the forgery that she herself painted in 1957. Is your head spinning yet?

As difficult as it is to make an elevator pitch of the book’s plot, the three storylines mesh fairly seamlessly as Smith swerves between them—and as they begin to crash into each other. Although they are separated by centuries, the lives of the three main characters become intimately interwoven as they orbit around the painting.

In fact, I said there are three main characters, but you could make a case for four: Sara, Marty, Ellie, and At the Edge of a Wood. The painting itself has a presence, a personality, an impact on the events taking place. It certainly has a gravitational pull on the hapless artist, collector, and curator.

Harder to pinpoint than the plot itself is the category this book fits into. It could be considered a mystery, but the question of who stole the painting is answered on the book jacket. Some of the chapters read like historical fiction, but there’s a definite lean towards “fiction” over “history.” And I suppose there is a romantic relationship subplot, but it reads as more of a dysfunctional cat-and-mouse game than anything else to me. The easiest is to lump it with the seemingly ever-growing category of “art heist book”—think Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Rebecca Scherm’s Unbecoming, and B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger*—but even that feels unsatisfying: the heist is hoisted in chapter one. What now?

Which brings me back to those four main characters. I think this is ultimately a book that is driven by characters, by relationships, and by the things we do to make, maintain, or break them. And ultimately it hinges not on relationships between people (although there is plenty of material there to armchair psychoanalyze), but on the relationship between people and objects. Or, I should say, one object, that fourth character which is the planet to Sara, Marty, and Ellie’s moons.

I suspect many of us have had a love affair with an art object: a work that moves you, that stays with you for years, that changes the way you think and maybe even changes the direction of your life. Isn’t that what drives us to art museums? The close encounter with art objects, and the chance to let them teach and inspire you?

But for the three human characters in the novel, the relationship with At the Edge of a Wood is anything but healthy. For Sara, painting it is an act of mourning she is driven to complete, as if it will assuage her grief or extend the too-short life of her daughter. For Marty, even as he seeks to reclaim the painting he suspects it has been a bad luck charm, blaming it for generations of ill health and unhappiness. And as for Ellie: what kind of self-destructive act is it to write a book about the very painting she forged, to spend a career shedding light on that one work, and to literally invite the crimes of her past to her doorstep? That is some serious projection of personal issues onto someone (or something) else.

As the plot thickens so do these issues until—they release. Sara finds happiness and love; Marty lives a long and happy (enough) life; and Ellie lets go of her demons, or they let go of her. And all three are able to rekindle a healthy relationship—a spark of new romance—with the object that inspired it all to begin with.

What did you think of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos? Tell us in the comments, and stay tuned for the announcement of next quarter’s book!

—Carrie Dedon, Curatorial Assistant, Modern & Contemporary Art

*See what I did there? Bonus books to tide you over until the next SAM Book Club installment! You’re welcome.

Photo: Natali Wiseman
Manson Backus

Manson F. Backus: Print Collector, Book Collector

Did you know that the Bullitt Library is accessible to the public and often highlights books and resources related to our exhibitions for visitors to view? Visit the latest book installation related to Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb, on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum during the library’s public hours: Wednesday–Friday, 10 am–4 pm. Graphic Masters closes August 28, so hurry up and see it soon!

A Collector’s Collection

Several of the etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669) in the exhibition, Graphic Masters, are part of the Seattle Art Museum’s Manson F. Backus Memorial Collection. Manson Franklin Backus (American, 1853–1935) was a well-known, successful Seattle banker and philanthropist that, toward the later part of his life, became a learned collector of art objects. He traveled extensively to Europe and beyond amassing a large collection, over twenty-five years, of fine prints, other types of art, and a substantial library to support his learning.

Self Portrait with Saskia by Rembrandt

His engraving and etching collection was regarded with much esteem in the region. He regularly loaned prints to exhibitions at the Seattle Fine Art Society—an organization that would ultimately become the Seattle Art Museum—and then to the museum itself. In 1935, upon his death, his collection of more than 300 etchings and engravings was bequeathed to the Seattle Art Museum. Selected works from this collection have been exhibited over the years, notably in Manson F. Backus Memorial Exhibition: Etchings and Engravings in 1935; a three-part exhibition—Manson F. Backus Memorial Collection of Etchings by Masters—shown in 1937; and more recently, European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle, the companion exhibition to Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London in 2013.

“. . . a collector of etchings must be something of an artist in appreciation. . . . and judging by the prints on the walls of the entrance hall and the library of Mr. Backus’ Highlands home, his appreciation has been wide and sure.”
—“Second Hobby, Done Well, Is Found In M.F. Backus’ Etching Collection,” Seattle Sunday Times (February 1, 1931)

A Collector’s Library
In 1935, upon Backus’ passing, in addition to the print collection bequeathed, his extensive library on artists, technical aspects, and the collecting of prints was received by the Seattle Art Museum Library. The collection ranges from important titles of the 18th and 19th century, to titles that were likely purchased not long before his death. Each contains his distinctive bookplate that states: “Ex Libris, Confido in Deo [Trust in God], Manson Franklin Backus” and depicts a coat of arms with three doves and a chevron. We are pleased to be able to present a small sampling from the approximately 160 volumes that were willed to the library.

mb3

Among his library are a number of fine editions, but none is more unique and interesting than Etchings: A Collection of 50 Invitation Cards Sent by Eminent Artists and Etchers to Art Patrons, a bound volume of collected invitation cards and etchings. Included within is an etching by William Hogarth (English, 1697–1764) and original sepia drawings by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, R.A. (English, 1793–1867) after Rembrandt and Meindert Hobbema (Dutch, 1638–1709). Not a lot of information is known about this work. An advertisement tucked into the volume confirms that the firm of George Bayntun in Bath, Somerset, England, bound the work, and that this was done sometime around 1900, but the person who compiled the collection is unknown. Additionally, no other edition of this work is known.

Hogarth print

—Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

The Last Supper

Graphic Content: Woodcut

This is it, people. Less than a week left to get your fill of Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb before it closes August 28. In this, the last week of our groundbreaking summer exhibition, we deliver our final crash course in printmaking with a quick introduction to woodcut.

Get up close and personal with the rich history of woodcut prints by viewing Albrecht Dürer through the magnifying glasses provided in the Graphic Masters galleries. With more than 400 artworks by six artists, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to soak up the details during your visit to SAM.

Woodcut

What is a woodcut?

Dating back to the 14th century, woodcut was the first process developed in Europe for printing on paper. Woodcuts are a relief process —the artist makes a drawing on the block and chisels everything else away, leaving the raised lines on the surface intact. Before printing, a uniform layer of ink is rolled onto the wood block surface using a brayer.

Woodcuts are characterized by crisp outlines and a sharp contrast between the black ink and white paper. Dürer used hatching, a series of parallel lines that vary in thickness and frequency, to create a mid-toned background for Christ’s divine halo.

Images: The Last Supper, from The Large Passion, 1510, Albrecht Dürer, German, 1471–1528, woodcut, 17 5/16 × 12 1/16 in., Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The George Khuner Collection, Gift of Mrs. George Khuner, 1975 (1975.653.12). Illustrations: Time Marsden.
"Water Babies" by John Covert, 1919

Object of the Week: Water Babies

Once a founding member of the Society of Independent Artists, a close friend of fellow member Marcel Duchamp, an artist called original and innovative, and an active participant in the programs of the Société Anonyme—John Covert lived and died, well, anonymously.

Given Covert’s very short career, we should not be surprised that he is not a household name. His period of creative maturity lasted eight years, from 1915 to 1923. A stay in Paris just before this period proved uncharacteristically unfruitful—Covert later lamented that he wasn’t able to connect with the artist-intellectual circle there—and the disappointment of the Paris trip was a harbinger of a sad fortune. Covert returned to the US and contributed to an important moment for modern art, playing his role as a founder of the Society of Independent Artists, and serving as its first secretary in 1917. Working from his studio in New York, Covert received brief visibility with a solo exhibition of his paintings at M. de Zayas Gallery. Little came of it; in the larger art world he remained unknown and unappreciated. Pressed by poverty, he found himself unable to eat regularly, with no income to show for his artistic endeavors. He finally closed his studio in 1923.

During the second quarter of the 20th century Covert’s work was known only to friends and one-time peers. So few of his works were seen publicly that the artist did not develop any kind of reputation. He was actually thought to have destroyed all his works when he closed his studio, but that widely held belief changed in 1959, when eight Covert paintings arrived at SAM. In fact, the artist’s friend Kathleen Lawler had preserved some of Covert’s works, and it was Lawler’s brother-in-law that donated them to the museum. On September 18 of that year, SAM director Dr. Richard Fuller wrote a note of thanks to the donor, Paul Denby Mackie, expressing his admiration for Covert’s work, saying “Although he is not well known he played an important part in the development of modern art which I feel sure will be more widely appreciated in years to come.” Kudos to Dr. Fuller for seeing what many directors, especially at that time, would not have seen.

The arrival of the Covert paintings at SAM encouraged new study of the artist’s work. The Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts included Covert in its 1960 exhibition American Genius in Review. It’s cruel that he died a recluse that same year. The visibility of the Dallas exhibition provoked more interest, leading to graduate dissertations and theses that have placed Covert’s work amid the traditions of symbolist art and New York Dada. Four of Covert’s works have essentially been on permanent view since SAM’s expansion in 2007. He is, as Dr. Fuller anticipated, more widely appreciated than in 1959. However much Covert’s legacy grows in the future will depend to a large extent on SAM’s collection of Covert paintings (now seven), their exhibition and reception.

I find Covert’s work a quirky kind of fascinating, and especially magnetic to me is Water Babies. In this painting, the artist plays with the visual phenomenon of refraction. A peculiarity of physics, refraction makes our eye see an object bending and changing form as it is partially submerged under water, while our mind understands that the object itself remains unchanged. By painting the visual effect of refraction, Covert offers the viewer a chance to muse on reality, our perception of reality, and the slippery boundary that separates the two. The dolls would be creepy enough rendered as straight illustrations, but with certain parts disjointed and enlarged, they are like the beginnings of a bad horror film. Water Babies is memorable, even if the artist’s name isn’t.

John Covert's signature

At the lower right, Covert has signed the painting, with his fingerprint standing in to form the “O.” It’s not an especially graceful signature. To the left of the thumbprint, near its top, he incised the painting with a “C”, and opposite the thumbprint, a “V”—apparently an unsatisfactory first attempt. The finished signature, along the bottom of the thumbprint, seems to have been first incised and then traced in with graphite. The thumbprint, too, is encircled in graphite. Altogether, the signature serves as an odd, very personal, memento of a distinctive artist who may never be truly recognized.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Water Babies, 1919, John Covert (born Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1882; died Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1960), oil on paperboard, 25 1/4 x 23 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Paul Denby Mackie in memory of Kathleen Lawler and Nona Lawler Mackie, 59.152, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Paul Macapia.
SAM VSO Mark Howells

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Mark Howells

Everyone knows museums have security guards, but not everyone gets to know the people behind the uniform. We spend our days with the works of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, and Claude Monet, learning the nuances of each piece.

Johan Idema wonderfully describes museum guards in his book How To Visit An Art Museum as follows:

In order to put up with picture takers, soda smugglers and amateur art critics, guards require both the alertness of a police officer and the empathy of a kindergarten teacher. Consider museum guards the ground troops of the art world, who deserve your utmost respect. Some of them actually have amazing knowledge of art – former guards include painters such as Jackson Pollock and Sol LeWitt.

Many guards would speak with great passion, if only we asked them. Therein lies your opportunity. Have your questions ready and make your move when the gallery is quiet. Whatever the conversation, you will likely find that guards are able to offer what is often lacking in museums: human interaction and a proper conversation about art.

With Idema’s words in mind, we invite you to get to know us, SAM’s Visitor Services Officers (VSOs), with a monthly spotlight.

MARK HOWELLS
Raised between Portland and Bellingham, Mark Howells has been in the Puget Sound region for 30 years. He did IT Security and Audit before coming into the museum scene. In 1974, he worked his first museum job at the Oregon Historical Society as a junior summer docent. However, what lead him down the path to guest services was his experience in visitor studies during an extension course at the UW where he volunteered with the Washington State History Museum. Mark has worked at SAM since November 2015.

SAM: Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb comes to an end on August 28. Which artist have you enjoyed the most in this exhibit?

Howells: R. Crumb. He’s my generation. I had to hide his comix from my mom when I was a kid. Alternative comix were a fun part of my kid-hood, so I guess the nostalgia factor with Crumb was the best part.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
The Bierstadt (Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast). He got the gray of the Pacific Northwest skies just right. That’s hard to do. I know that the location was just from his own imagination, but I go down to that area at the mouth of the Columbia quite a bit and I always look to see if I can find “that place.”

Who is your favorite artist?
I’m a historian, not an artist. Recently, I’ve studied up on local Pacific Northwest artists, so maybe Philip McCracken right now.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
Ask questions. Don’t be intimidated. It’s just art.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I like to hike around the Puget Sound and nerd-out on the history all around us. I’m trying to learn more about the built history in our communities. I do volunteer history work for the Camp Harmony Executive Order 9066 Committee (the Puyallup Fairgrounds was an Internment Camp in 1942) and I’m on the Archives Committee for the Queen Anne Historical Society doing glamorous digitization projects for them.

—Kathrine Humphreys, SAM VSO

Mark Howells with Philip McCracken’s War God. Photo: Natali Wiseman.
What is Aquatint?

Graphic Content: Aquatint

This week on Graphic Content we discuss aquatint, another intaglio method of printmaking. This is a oft-used method of Goya’s in his Los Caprichos series. Speaking of . . . you’ve only got two more weeks to see 80 prints from the Los Caprichos series in Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb.

This huge exhibition showcasing over 400 print works created across 500 years closes August 28. That means, you’ve got one more Press & Print: Drop-in Studio where you can experiment with the techniques you see in the exhibition. Also, coming up is the final My Favorite Things tour of the exhibition with Jessixa Bagley.

Aquatint

Goya was so adept at this technique he could create a print entirely in aquatint. Check out plate thirty-two of Los Caprichos in this show and see if there is an etched line in sight.

A variation of the etching process, aquatint allows for areas of printed tone in order to achieve a more painterly effect. Instead of a uniformly brushed on ground, powdered rosin is dusted onto the plate until the desired coverage is achieved. The acid eats away the unprotected portions of the plate between the rosin particles, resulting in a rich, speckled effect.

Los Caprichos: Por que fue sensible. (Because she was susceptible.), 1796–1797, Francisco Goya

Goya used aquatint to create a dank, gloomy prison cell that mirrors the despair of this unfortunate young lady.

IMAGES: Illustrations: Tim Marsden. Los Caprichos: Por que fue sensible. (Because she was susceptible.), 1796–1797, Francisco Goya, Spanish, 1746–1828, aquatint, 8 7/16 × 6 in., Private Collection.