Mona Lisa Smiles, Girdles, and Artistic Accomplishment

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, November 1, 1953

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, November 1, 1953

Let’s face it: women were not exactly free to challenge the system in the 1950s.  Donna Reed was the ultimate hero for women of that decade; the perfect example of what a housewife and mother should be.  Other examples of these women are found in the Seattle Times’ historic archives, where engagement announcements, sorority fundraisers, and art show reviews mix and mingle on the society pages.  Advertisements proudly display the latest fashions and gadgets that can help the average housewife “wow” her family and friends with her ability to clean the house, cook a full meal, and still look like she just stepped out of a magazine (note: this usually involved a girdle).

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, July 19, 1959

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, July 19, 1959

This decade has been picked apart in retrospect by television and film, but not many have explored the art and history of this time period better than Mona Lisa Smile.  Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts), an art history professor at Wellesley College in 1953, challenges her female students by asking them to reconsider everything they’ve ever been told about “the roles they were born to fill.” [1]   Katherine Watson pushes them to think beyond marriage and the expectations of the time.

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, July 19, 1959

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, July 19, 1959

For those who have seen this film, you might remember the scene where Katherine Watson comes to class with slides featuring the latest advertisements for girdles and kitchen appliances.  Women were expected to go to college to find a husband and receive their “M.R.S.” degrees, and clearly Ms. Watson had had enough of students disappearing from class to get married.  In this particular scene, she asks:

“What will future scholars see when they study us? A portrait of women today? There you are ladies: the perfect likeness of a Wellesley graduate, Magna Cum Laude doing exactly what she was trained to do…I wonder if she recites Chaucer while she presses her husband’s shirts?  Now you physics majors can calculate the mass and volume of every meat loaf you ever make!”[2]

It is revealed in the film that Katherine’s mother was a part of the war effort and her independence from this time translated onto her daughter.  Many women of the 1950s were influenced by World War II and the aftermath of it that changed America and the way people thought about gender roles in society.  Women had been given a chance to be independent and made up a large portion of America’s work force while they held down the home front.  However, much of this changed when the war ended and men returned from overseas.

The Bon Marché advertisement, The Seattle Times, November 13, 1950

The Bon Marché advertisement, The Seattle Times, November 13, 1950

But what does this have to do with the Seattle Art Museum and the artists that we have in our collection?  A lot.  Many of the female artists I have been researching over the last year worked in this decade and had difficulty breaking the barriers that society had created.  Katherine Watson is a prime (Hollywood) example of what female artists were trying to do in the 1950s.  However, we have two artists that are a little closer to home for us that were able to create a name for themselves.  Ebba Rapp and Jean Cory Beall were both born in 1909 and were highly accomplished and well known in the art community.

Log End, ca. 1946, Jean Cory Beall, American, 1909-1978, tempera on Masonite, 17 5/8 x 21 ¾ in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 46.225, © Jean Cory Beall

Log End, ca. 1946, Jean Cory Beall, American, 1909-1978, tempera on Masonite, 17 5/8 x 21 ¾ in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 46.225, © Jean Cory Beall

Jean Cory Beall grew up drawing and painting and took this passion with her into higher education in Paris, Mexico, and Seattle.  Her watercolors and mosaics were primarily created for private clients but she also began receiving public commissions for mosaic murals.[3]  Beall’s work was quickly recognized as something special and led her to accomplish an extraordinary amount, especially for a woman living and working in 1950s America.  However, her career wasn’t easy to build.  Beall created her own art and assisted her husband with design sketches for some of his Boeing products, while also taking care of their three children, Alan, Corey, and Barbara.[4] Beall seemed to “do it all,” and was recognized many years by the Seattle Art Museum’s Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists, winning an honorable mention in 1943 for her piece, “Boomtown.”[5] Her work continues to hang in various museums and public buildings across the country, including the Federal Reserve Bank, the General Administration Building (Olympia, WA) and the Erco/Co. in Washington D.C.[6]

Originally a painter like Beall, Ebba Rapp was an accomplished portrait artist by the time she reached high school, but in the 1930s she had an opportunity to study under the renowned sculptor, Alexander Archipenko.[7] She began to incorporate sculpture into her work and her talent was eventually noticed outside of her local community when one of her pieces was included in the American Art Today exhibition at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.  Rapp was also an active member of the Women Painters of Washington, founded in 1935.  Rapp joined this group of women in 1936 after commenting that the Seattle art community was “dominated and politically controlled by a clique” of men, and that women were “systematically excluded.”[8]  The Women Painters of Washington came together to “overcome the limitations they faced as women artists and to realize their artistic potential through fellowship.”[9]  This community was needed at a time when women were not afforded the resources and recognition that they wanted or deserved and it continues to support women and their artwork today.

The Rumor, 1946-52, Ebba Rapp, American, 1909-1985, terracotta, 15 ½ x 14 ½ x 9 in. overall, Gift of David F. Martin and Dominic Zambito, in memory of John D. McLauchlan, 2011.3, © Ebba Rapp

The Rumor, 1946-52, Ebba Rapp, American, 1909-1985, terracotta, 15 ½ x 14 ½ x 9 in. overall, Gift of David F. Martin and Dominic Zambito, in memory of John D. McLauchlan, 2011.3, © Ebba Rapp

Rapp, like Beall, had very a supportive husband who pushed her to share her work with the community.  Rapp was incredibly humble; she often “turned commission invitations to others and was reluctant to enter her work in exhibitions.”[10] Oftentimes her husband, John D. McLauchlan would enter work to shows on her behalf.[11] A Seattle Times reporter noted in 1959, that Beall’s husband, Wellwood E. Beall, was “a person who believe[d] in letting wives have careers.”[12]  This was out of the ordinary for the time; a husband who supported his wife having a career instead of a hobby?  Ludicrous!  Both Mr. McLauchlan and Mr. Beall broke the mold of a 1950s husband by encouraging their wives to follow their passions.

Among other things, the opinions of men are something that Katherine Watson tries hard to counter in Mona Lisa Smile.  Topher Grace’s character, Tommy, says it would be hard for his fiancée, Joan (Julia Stiles) to commute to and from law school and still get dinner on the table by five.  These were the expectations that many held during that period.  Finally, Katherine gets through to one of the girls.  Betty Warren (Kirsten Dunst) was Katherine Watson’s most staunch opponent, but by the end of the film she understands that even though Mona Lisa is smiling in Leonardo’s masterpiece, we do not know if she was actually happy.  Like so many women of the time, Betty Warren wore a mask and pretended she was happy because she was doing what she was told she should be doing.  Jean Cory Beall and Ebba Rapp may not have had easy journeys to begin their creative careers, but they proved that they could support their husbands and families while also breaking those social mores and being successful and driven women who opened the doors for generations of artists to come.

 

-Annika Firn, Curatorial Intern

 

[1] Mona Lisa Smile.  Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures, Inc., California, USA, 2003.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Fitzgerald, Annamary.  “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: General Administration Building,” United State Department of the Interior, National Park Service, July 1, 2006, p. 8.

[4] “1994 Distinguished Engineering Alumni/ae Award Recipients,” The University of Colorado, 1994.

[5] “Newcomers Win Prizes in Art Preview,” The Seattle Times, October 7, 1943, p. 26.

[6] “Assembly Names Five As Leaders in Fine Arts,” The Seattle Post Intelligencer, November 4, 1958, p. 12.

[7] John McLauchlan. Interview by Barbara Johns.  Tape recording.  Seattle, WA., 26 February, 1987.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “History,” Women Painters of Washington, http://www.womenpainters.com/ABOUT/About.htm

[10] McLauchlan interview, 1987.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Mexican Muralist is Teacher,” The Seattle Times, August 23, 1959.

My Five – an intern shares her favorite things

Emma Johnson joined us a an intern in Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art this June. Today, on her last day with us, I asked her to share her “Five,” her top five favorite objects from our collection. I think her choices are pretty great. Do you? What are your favorite SAM objects?

-Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections

 

After being at SAM for only three short weeks, I didn’t know how I could possibly choose five pieces of art that were my absolute favorite, as my supervisor Sarah Berman had requested. But after wandering through each gallery, several pieces stood out to me. Objects have always caught my eye more than paintings or other mediums so each piece I have selected is an artifact, not something hung on a wall.

Mirror with scene of the Judgment of Paris, 4th-3rd century B.C., Etruscan, `bronze, 10 3/8 x 7 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.36. Currently on view the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Mirror with scene of the Judgment of Paris, 4th-3rd century B.C., Etruscan, `bronze, 10 3/8 x 7 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.36. Currently on view the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

As a Classics major, ancient Greek myths are pieces of history that I find fascinating. One of my all-time favorite myths has always been the Judgment of Paris, so when I discovered an ancient mirror with the judgment scene etched into the back of it, the piece immediately claimed a position in my “top five.” As the ancient story goes, Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, three Olympic goddesses, asked Zeus to choose who among them is the ‘fairest of them all.’ Not wanting to create further drama among the goddesses, wise Zeus tells the Trojan mortal, Paris, to make the final decision. Each goddess quickly approaches Paris with a bribe, attempting to win him over in order that he chooses her. Hera offers to make Paris a king. Athena tells Paris she will give him the skills and wisdom every man needs in war. Lastly, Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful woman in all the lands, Helen. Paris excitedly chooses Aphrodite as the winner, as no man could ever turn down beautiful Helen. However, Helen is the wife of the Greek King Menelaus. Angered by this transaction, Menelaus seeks revenge and thus the Trojan War begins.

Ring, Asante, Ghanaian, gold, 1 3/16 x 1 5/8 x 1 1/2 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.1684. Currently on view in the African Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Ring, Asante, Ghanaian, gold, 1 3/16 x 1 5/8 x 1 1/2 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.1684. Currently on view in the African Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

In the African art collection, there is a beautiful and intricate gold ring which claimed a place among my favorite pieces once I heard the story behind its creation. There are several Asante proverbs behind the design of the tortoise shell on the ring. The first is along the lines of ‘a tortoise is suffering in its shell,’ meaning that no matter how confident and put-together a person might seem, they are always dealing with issues that you cannot see. The second proverb says, ‘if the tortoise eats the Earth, you eat some too.” This saying explains that if you are ever a visitor, either in someone else’s home or an entirely different country or culture, no matter how strange and foreign their customs seem, you must respect them and take part in them. (As a Classics major, I might phrase it, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”) The ring is displayed in a glass case among many other pieces of gold jewelry, and at first I almost overlooked it. However, the story and meaning behind the ring is so powerful to me that it is now in my “top five.”

Kantharos with Satyr and Maenad Heads, ca. 1st century, Roman England, ceramic, 7 1/4 x 6 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 47.108. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Kantharos with Satyr and Maenad Heads, ca. 1st century, Roman England, ceramic, 7 1/4 x 6 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 47.108. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Back in the Greek and Roman collection is another of my favorites, a ‘kantharos’ or cup for wine. On either side of the cup is a head; on one side of a maenad and on the other of a satyr. Both are mythological creatures who are followers of Dionysus, the wine god. I love that on an object made for wine there are the two symbolic representations of drinking. I also find this piece interesting because the satyr and maenad look simple and peaceful while usually they are depicted during a Dionysian rite in which they are in an altered state of mind.

Amulet with mummified monkey, Egyptian, Early Dynastic period (ca. 2920 - 2649 B.C.), wood, 3 3/16 x 11/16 x 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 55.136. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Amulet with mummified monkey, Egyptian, Early Dynastic period (ca. 2920 – 2649 B.C.), wood, 3 3/16 x 11/16 x 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 55.136. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

On the first day of my internship, a guard pointed out the small amulet of a mummified monkey and informed me it was one of the oldest objects in SAM’s collection. The monkey became a favorite because of its age. Made somewhere between 2920-2649 BC, the old age of it fascinates me. While I do not know much about the monkey, it is still one of my favorites here.

Divination Container (Opon Igede Ifa), Areogun (Yoruba, African, 1880-1954), wood, 21 1/2 in. diam., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.621. Currently on view in the African Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Divination Container (Opon Igede Ifa), Areogun (Yoruba, African, 1880-1954), wood, 21 1/2 in. diam., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.621. Currently on view in the African Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Lastly, a wooden divination container caught my eye as I was walking back from the ancient Mediterranean gallery. The container by Nigerian artist Areogun is easily in my top five favorite pieces at SAM. It is used to hold the diviner’s ritual equipment but is so elaborately decorated. As I looked into more information about the object, I learned that the detail of the carvings were a sign of the diviner’s success. I find it incredible that an everyday object can have such significance in one culture, but be completely mundane in another.

From this assignment, I learned that I cannot simply choose a favorite item solely by looking at the art. My favorites became my favorites once I had learned the story behind each piece and heard the details which made it unique. Learning about all of these objects’ stories, is what made my internship at SAM so useful and interesting.

-Emma Johnson, intern, 2014

Patron viewing SAM's Chinese Painting & Calligraphy catalogue. Photo by Traci Timmons.

Electronic Resources at the SAM Libraries

Did you know that in addition to our numerous printed resources, the SAM Libraries provide access to important electronic resources on art and art history through our online library catalogue (OPAC)?

For those digital immigrants among us, “electronic resources” in the SAM Libraries are documents, reports, e-catalogues, and websites that provide research-level information just like printed materials. They’re just in digital formats: .pdf files, websites, Google Books, etc.

Here are some great examples:

e-Catalogues: Chinese Painting & Calligraphy (Seattle Art Museum, 2011)
Part of the Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI), this catalogue, which allows unprecedented access to SAM’s Chinese painting and calligraphy collection, allows you to do things online that could never be done in person: view a thirty foot handscroll in its entirety on the screen, zoom in so close you can see paper fibers, and have marks and text translated with ease.

Patron viewing SAM's Chinese Painting & Calligraphy catalogue. Photo by Traci Timmons.

Patron viewing SAM’s Chinese Painting & Calligraphy catalogue. Photo by Traci Timmons.

Reports: Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Art Historians (Ithaka S+R, 2014)
This report, gleaned from 70+ interviews with faculty members, curators, librarians, visual resources professionals, and museum professionals (including several from the Seattle Art Museum), investigates the research practices of scholars and shares how digital resources both enhance and created some challenges for the field of art history.

Collected Papers: Studying and Conserving Paintings: Occasional Papers on the Samuel H. Kress Collection (The Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 2006)
This electronic version of the original print publication records the processes, with an emphasis on elements of discovery, that accompany conservation on paintings in Kress Collections throughout the United States. Many of the works currently on view in the Seattle Art Museum’s European galleries are Kress Collection works.

ViewingKressBook

Patron viewing the electronic version of Studying and Conserving Paintings: Occasional Papers on the Samuel H. Kress Collection. SAM’s Kress painting, Hagar and the Angel by Bernardo Strozzi (61.168), is featured. Photo by Traci Timmons.

Print to Digital: Native Paths: American Indian Art from the Collection of Charles and Valerie Diker (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998)
Published to accompany the exhibition of the same name at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1999, this catalogue, originally in print, is now available via Google Books and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We’ll be hosting an exhibition of works from the Diker Collection in 2015.

See the full list of more than 250 resources. Many other online resources from the Seattle Art Museum are included. We’re constantly adding new material, so check back often.

To search for any of our library materials, start at the SAM’s website. Click on Programs & Learning, then Libraries & Resources. Click on Art Research, then Search Catalogue.

Our library staff are here to help you with any of your research needs. Start here.

summer-at-sam

Sun’s Out, Fun’s Out: Five Exciting Things to See & Do at the Olympic Sculpture Park This Summer

After many overcast months, I want nothing more than to spend as much time as possible outdoors and to enjoy the fleeting Seattle sun. Unfortunately, as a broke college student, I have little money to spend on summer activities. My solution? The Olympic Sculpture Park’s free summer programs. So, here are my top five favorite things to see and experience at this summer at the sculpture park.

1. YOU ARE HEAR
Music, and more broadly sound, plays a huge role in my focus and aesthetic appreciation of the world. YOU ARE HEAR, created by respected artist and sound engineer Trimpin, recognizes the complexity of sound. This exhibit is a hands on, interactive approach to the concept of sound and how we as listeners and viewers experience it.

2. Echo
This is a 46-foot-tall sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa and inspired by the Greek mountain nymph who was cursed by goddess Hera by restricting Echo’s speech to be only the words of another. I’m fascinated by Greek and Roman mythology, so this statue struck an academic chord in me.

3. Seven Cubes with Color Ink Washes Superimposed
This piece is absolutely beautiful. On display in the PACCAR Pavilion, this contribution by Sol LeWitt brightens up the sculpture park, and is a joy to see from now until March 8, 2015. I haven’t seen it in person yet, so I’m looking forward to seeing it in reality.

4. Food, art, and music
When local music, delicious food, and interesting art are in one place, I’m there. Every Thursday, starting July 10, SAM entices the community with art activities, live music performances, food trucks, and art tours. Because the event runs from 6-9 pm, attendees will get a beautiful view of the waterfront during sunset.

5. Yoga and Zumba
If you’re excited about yoga and Zumba, or have never done either before, I highly encourage you to stop by every Saturday (beginning July 12) for free yoga lessons at 10:30 am, and then for Zumba at 2 pm. This is a great opportunity to get the weekend started on a relaxing note.

I’m so excited for everything the Olympic Sculpture Park has to offer this summer. There’s something for everyone almost every day of the season. Check out a full schedule of what’s happening at visitsam.org/summer.

I hope to see you there!

Erin Dwyer, Seattle Art Museum communication’s intern

Scene from Pride and Prejudice (1940), featuring Greer Garson as Ms. Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy. MGM Studios

Decorative Arts, Porcelain Tea Sets, and Mr. Darcy

Archives and exhibitions intern Kaley Ellis joins us again to talk about her discoveries in SAM’s archival holdings.

This month, after an impressive 37 years working at SAM, Julie Emerson, the Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts, is retiring. In recognition of Julie and her career, I am writing this blog entry on an exhibition that featured decorative arts. I am currently cataloguing the exhibition Worcester Porcelain: The Klepser Collection, which ran from August to September of 1985, and featured works that remain in SAM’s collection today.

Upon researching Worcester Porcelain, I was immediately drawn to the film screenings – highlighted in the 1985 Member’s Preview brochure – that were shown throughout the duration of the exhibition, including Tom Jones, Barry Lyndon, That Hamilton Woman, and Pride and Prejudice (the romantic black and white – but slightly less accurate – version, for those of you who know your Austen multimedia). Laurence Olivier plays the dashing hero in both That Hamilton Woman and Pride and Prejudice, and while he is the war hero in That Hamilton Woman – including missing limb and roguish eye patch – I remain drawn most strongly to his portrayal of Mr. Darcy (shocking, I know, but it’s hard to beat his reluctant fall for Ms. Elizabeth Bennet, played by the timeless beauty Greer Garson). These romanticized depictions of 18th century England (excluding, of course the rather depressing tale of Barry Lyndon’s misfortunes) offer their viewers a look at both the time period and the grand estates where these porcelain objects would have been found.

And if these classic films weren’t enough to lure visitors to the exhibition, there was also the promise of a reenactment of the tea scene from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (a delightfully witty play – later made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Rupert Everett, and Colin Firth, who also played Mr. Darcy in the most famous version of Pride and Prejudice). Here, the actors demonstrate the tea ceremony, a tradition in 18th century England in which a proper tea set was required – according to the exhibition catalogue – containing 48 pieces plus the additional eight mugs required for sipping chocolate (a necessary addition, in my opinion).

Tea scenes from The Importance of Being Earnest. Performed on August 11th 1985 at Volunteer Park.

Tea scenes from The Importance of Being Earnest. Performed on August 11th 1985 at Volunteer Park.

Although these films do not specifically reference 18th century English porcelain, they offer the viewer a glimpse at what would have been their natural setting, in which these objects would have served both an aesthetic and functional purpose. The elegant, romantic, vividly colored, and often Asian-influenced designs of the Worcester porcelain objects hint at the type of lifestyle found on the elaborate English estates during that period – one of luxury and everyday grandeur. In many cases the exhibition space for Worcester Porcelain: The Klepser Collection reflected the dual role of these art works – their functional role as serve ware arranged on elegant tables and their decorative role that shows them displayed in large wall cabinets or featured in individual cases that highlight their artistic value.

 Installation views from Worcester Porcelain: The Klepser Collection (Volunteer Park), 8/8/85 – 9/22/85


Installation views from Worcester Porcelain: The Klepser Collection (Volunteer Park), 8/8/85 – 9/22/85

The production of Worcester porcelain is separated into three main categories based on the period it was created, between the years 1751 and 1776. The first period (1750-55) saw the manufacturing location for porcelain shift from Bristol to Worcester. This period emphasized rococo styled European-scenes (think Fragonard and Boucher) in addition to oriental decorative influences (specifically Chinese – a result of Chinese porcelain that was being imported during the 17th and 18th centuries to England) seen in the graceful landscapes, floral varieties, long flowing robes worn by the central figures, and the animals portrayed. One example from this period can be found at SAM (seen below). The floral decorative pattern and color usage on this vase reflect the stylistic impact that Chinese arts had on the European porcelain market. The second phase of production (1755-65) saw hand-painted designs replaced by a new technique called overglaze transfer-printing, which allowed these luxury goods to be produced at a faster rate and resulted in a period of rapid growth in the porcelain business. The use of this technique – in which patterns and designs become standardized – allowed these pieces to be reproduced quickly and more economically. Furthermore, the sturdy quality of the glaze made it possible for it to hold boiling water without cracking unlike other porcelain products of the time, creating a significant advantage over their competition. Finally, the period from 1765-76, appears to have been one of the most lucrative periods, in which the decorative aspects are increasingly praised, blue underglaze transfer-printing reaches its pinnacle, and color grounds are mastered (Worcester now has the largest array of colors in England, including yellow, green, pink, purple, several shades of blue, and red).

Fluted Vase, 1962. English, Worcester. Seattle Art Museum, Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser Porcelain Collection, 94.103.1

Fluted Vase, 1962. English, Worcester. Seattle Art Museum, Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser Porcelain Collection, 94.103.1

In the end, Kenneth Klepser – Seattle businessman and owner of this impressive collection – viewed these works of art in much the same way as their original owners in 18th century England, as something to be cherished and integrated into his home. These objects act simultaneously as works of art as well as pieces of functional history, creating a more complete picture of the historical setting from which they originated. The combination of the exhibition’s installation space – which highlighted the dual function of these objects – and the events associated with the exhibition provided a successful lens through which audiences could view these art works. However, viewers don’t dismay! While this exhibition is no longer on view, the Seattle Art Museum has a gallery (curated by Julie Emerson) that is dedicated solely to porcelain! This rather splendid room – organized by color and theme – accentuates the intricate patterns and Asian-influences comparable to those highlighted in the Worcester Porcelain exhibition and offers contemporary viewers a chance to see these elegant styles favored by Europeans during the 17th and 18th centuries. Come visit, and see if you can find all the porcelain objects from the Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser Porcelain Collection.

See Julie Emerson’s guide to SAM’s Porcelain Room here.

Scene from Pride and Prejudice (1940), featuring Greer Garson as Ms. Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy. MGM Studios

SAMart: Lailat al’Miraj

Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven (Miraj), 16th century, Persian (modern Iran), Safavid period (1501-1722), opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 9 3/16 x 5 3/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 47.96. Not currently on view, but accessible online (link below).

Muhammad’s Ascent to Heaven (Miraj), 16th century, Persian (modern Iran), Safavid period (1501-1722), opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 9 3/16 x 5 3/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 47.96. Not currently on view, but accessible online (link below).

A prophet enters an ancient holy place, where he is met by angels. They present him with a gift, a horse with wings who immediately flies the man to a faraway place. Here, the man and winged horse leap into the air, and ascend to heaven itself. The prophet speaks with God. When they come back down to earth, the man dismounts the horse armed with one cornerstone of a faith. Lailat al’Miraj, celebrated this week by Muslims around the world, commemorates this journey, and the prophet Muhammad’s return to earth with the knowledge that God wants Muslims to pray five times daily (Salat).

The story behind the holiday provided inspiration to artists in earlier eras, who often illustrated it as a frontispiece to volumes of the Khamseh, five epics by the Persian poet Nizami. While figures are forbidden from religious settings, illustrating this journey within books of secular sagas proved popular for centuries across the Islamic world.

Echo

Meet Echo

Echo, Seattle Art Museum’s massive new addition to the Olympic Sculpture Park, is starting to take shape.

A spectacular and iconic addition to the park, the 46-foot-tall sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, will greet visitors as they wander the shoreline.

Echo has been given to the Seattle Art Museum from the collection of Barney A. Ebsworth. It was originally commissioned by the Madison Park Association in New York and installed at Madison Square Park in 2011 to great acclaim. It is made from resin, steel, and marble dust, and altogether weighs 13,118 pounds.

Echo was modeled on the nine-year-old daughter of the owner of restaurant near the artist’s studio in Barcelona. With computer modeling, Plensa elongated and abstracted the girl’s features. The sculpture’s title references the mountain nymph of Greek mythology of the same name.

As told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Echo offended the goddess Hera by keeping her engaged in conversation, and preventing her from spying on one of Zeus’s amours. To punish Echo, Hera deprived the nymph of speech, except for the ability to repeat the last words of another.

Plensa offers us Echo with her eyes closed, seemingly listening or in a state of meditation. Envisioning Echo looking out over Puget Sound in the direction of Mount Olympus (a further reference to Greek mythology that is already embedded in the landscape), Plensa also intends for the sculpture to serve as a gathering point for introspection and contemplation. In our increasingly networked culture where information is endlessly copied and repeated, it is a work that invites viewers to pause.

Drop by the park and check out the progress when you have a moment. It’s easy to spot Echo. Join her near the water and spend a few quiet moments next to her thoughtful presence at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

World War II through Artists’ Eyes

Battle of the Spirits in the Piazza Navona, 1953-54, Windsor Utley, American, 1920-1989, oil on Masonite, image 36 x 52 in., Gift of the artist, by exchange, 89.8, © Windsor Utley

Battle of the Spirits in the Piazza Navona, 1953-54, Windsor Utley, American, 1920-1989, oil on Masonite, image 36 x 52 in., Gift of the artist, by exchange, 89.8, © Windsor Utley

As an intern in the Curatorial Department at the Seattle Art Museum, I have spent much of the last year researching and writing about Northwest artists, all of whom experienced World War II in some way.  It has been an interesting project to learn about people who allow me to look at this era from different and very personal points of views.  World War II was a monumental event for the whole world.  It reached into every community and every household, becoming the single most written-about event in history.  The three artists who are highlighted in this post all have connections to the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Art Museum, and World War II.  While each of them has a distinct story from this time, their shared identities of being artists consumed by war bring them together in a unique way; they each contributed to the wider war effort, both at home and abroad while furthering their artistic talents.

Juanita Vitousek was a mother in Hawai’i when bombs fell on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  A watercolor artist, already known both in Hawai’i and in the continental United States, she had lived in Hawai’i for twenty-four years before the war.  During World War II, Juanita wrote a daily account of life on the Island during and after the attack on Pearl Harbor.[1] She originally kept her wartime journal so she could send it to her children on the mainland when mail was once again able to flow freely without censorship.  She opened her diary with: “We can’t phone, cable or even write you. I want you to know all about us, so I will write a daily account of what has happened. Some day you will see it.”[2] She contributed to the war effort by donating blood and volunteering to make camouflage nets for troops.[3] Her husband, Roy Vitousek Sr, also made history as “the first American plane engaged in combat during World War II.”[4]  An amateur pilot, he was out for a flying lesson with their son, Martin, when the Japanese began to attack Pearl Harbor.  He was able to land the plane amid Japanese fire and hide with his son in nearby bushes.[5]

Windsor Utley was more removed from the action because of his objection to violence and war.  He was classified as a conscientious objector during World War II.  He believed in the Baha’i faith, which continues to spread ideas and practices of peace in the world today.[6]  Utley was one of 12,000 conscientious objectors in the United States, who were required to perform free labor around the country in lieu of serving in the armed forces.[7]  The Civilian Public Service (CPS) program allowed these men to avoid conflict but still contribute to the war effort.  Men in 152 camps worked in soil conservation, forestry, firefighting, agriculture, social services and mental and public health instead of going to war.  Some also served as test subjects for medical experiments.[8]  Originally from California, Utley arrived in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1940s, where he completed his civilian public service duties as a cook at Fort Steilacoom’s Western State Hospital for the mentally ill.[9] Here, Utley painted portraits of the hospital’s patients and staff, among other subjects, which allowed him to practice and refine his painting skills, using the war to turn a part-time hobby into a full-time passion and future career.[10]

Unlike Vitousek and Utley, Jess D. Cauthorn personally took part in combat action.  He was studying as a commercial-art student at Seattle’s Edison Vocational School when he was drafted into the army.  Cauthorn “knew little of combat but quite a bit about art…stocking his pack with pencils, charcoal, brushes, watercolors, and sketch paper.” [11] The army was where his artistic career as an illustrator and watercolor artist began to flourish.  During his spare time, Cauthorn produced small watercolor portraits of his comrades, using whatever materials he could find, often mixing his paints with water from his canteen.[12] He was later commissioned to create illustrations of his wartime experiences while in the South Pacific.[13] His depictions include “quiet moments in camp.  A line of soldiers on the move…the jungle canopy.  Mortar explosions and GIs,” and the liberation of Japanese-occupied Manila.[14] His personal collection of illustrations created during his three years in the army serve as a unique glimpse into the life of an infantryman in the Pacific theater of World War II.  He signed each picture with “Sgt. Jess Cauthorn” and used them as his journal from the war, adding text to the larger sketches to describe the scenes he chose to depict.[15] Cauthorn returned from war after three years with the 146th Infantry Regiment and earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.[16]

Each of these artists has pieces of the work in the Seattle Art Museum’s permanent collection, none of which indicate their respective histories with the war, but they were all influenced by this major event.  Cauthorn and Utley started their art careers during the war, and all three artists continued on to have nationally recognized careers.

I find these three stories so compelling because they go beyond the history books to show us what life was like at the time.  Windsor Utley’s story is particularly intriguing because he did not go to war.  We do not tend to hear about those who stood by their beliefs and fought for peace, while still contributing to the war effort; they are often a passing thought in history because they were not a part of the action.  His artwork is also incredible to see.  There is no hint of the fact that he was a self-taught artist, someone who only started painting as a hobby.  His artwork is not always clear, favoring a non-objective approach that often excludes reality; but that’s just part of the fun for the viewer.

For more information about these artists, be sure to search the Seattle Art Museum’s online collections for their biographies.

 

-Annika Firn, Curatorial Intern, 2014

 

[1] Krauss, Bob.  “Journal Captured Turmoil of Life,” The Honolulu Advertiser, December 5, 2001.  http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2001/Dec/05/ln/ln02a.html

[2] Krauss, 2011.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fournier, Rasa.  “Family Plane Hit By Zero Fighter,” East Oahu News, December 13, 2006.  http://archives.midweek.com/content/zones/east_news_article/family_plane_hit_by_zero_fighter/

[5] Fournier, 2006.

[6] Transcript, Windsor Utley Oral History Interview, March 14, 1985, Laguna Beach, CA, by Barbara Johns, Seattle Art Museum, Northwest Cataloguing Grant, pg. 3.

[7] “CPS Unit Number 021-01,” The Civilian Public Service Story: Living Peace in a Time of War.  2014.  http://civilianpublicservice.org/camps/21/1

[8] Ibid.

[9] Transcript, Windsor Utley Oral History Interview, March 14, 1985, pg. 2.

[10] “Composer of Paintings Windsor Utley dies at 68.” The Seattle Times, 1989.

[11] Goodnow, Cecilia.  “Through The Eyes of a Soldier,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 12, 2001.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “News,” The Art Institute of Seattle, August 16, 2010. http://www.artinstitutes.edu/seattle/news-and-events/the-burnley-gallery-at-the-art-institute-of-seattle-to-host-an-exhibition-of-work-by-northwest-watercolorist-and-art-educator-jess-cauthorn-2522510.aspx

[14] Ibid.

[15] Goodnow, 2001.

[16] Ibid.

SAMart: Consider the figure

Male standing figure, 20th century, Tanzanian, Nyamwezi/Sukuma culture, wood, natural pigments, cloth, height: 26 in., Gift of Dr. Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb, in honor of Mark Groudine, 2012.28.21, Photo: Elizabeth Mann. On view beginning 24 May, African art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

Male standing figure, 20th century, Tanzanian, Nyamwezi/Sukuma culture, wood, natural pigments, cloth, height: 26 in., Gift of Dr. Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb, in honor of Mark Groudine, 2012.28.21, Photo: Elizabeth Mann. On view beginning 24 May, African art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

If only we could hear the songs that once surrounded this figure! Distinctively long limbed sculptures like this were never seen in quiet spaces, but in the middle of stirring tornados of dance and song. This figure may originally have been dressed, but is now able to show off a lean angular stance that is near, but not exactly, symmetrical.

This figure, as well as other recent acquisitions of African art, goes on view in a new installation starting on May 24.