COVID-19 Update: All SAM Locations Currently Closed »

Muse/News: Reflections, Lives They Lived, and Room Tone

SAM News

All SAM locations are currently closed until further notice, but we continue to reflect and plan for the future.

The Seattle Times shared remembrances of 11 cultural figures we lost in 2020. Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s former Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, wrote about Virginia “Jinny” Wright. Jinny and her enormous contributions to SAM and to the Puget Sound region are celebrated in SAM’s exhibition City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art Shaped A New Seattle, which closes January 18.

Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka asked four leaders in the region to reflect on the past year and on what they’ll take into 2021; Priya Frank, SAM’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, reflected on creativity, care, and an ubiquitous sweatshirt. And in case you missed it: Priya appeared on KUOW’s The Record back in November talking museums and accessibility.

Local News

2020 feel like a blur? Seattle Met has you covered with this timeline of the year, including the February reopening of the reimagined Asian Art Museum (we hardly knew ye!).

“A giant of Native Northwest Coast art”: Artist, curator, and teacher Bill Holm passed away at the age of 95 earlier in December. Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art, spoke with the Seattle Times about how she “found her calling” in his classes.

Also in the Seattle Times: The largest-ever edition of their annual Pictures of the Year project. Take a moment to reflect on the visual stories that their team of photojournalists captured, against all odds.

“Everything we needed was suddenly in short supply. One photographer sewed masks for the entire staff. Others dredged masks out of their garages and closets. Yet another photographer found a supply of hand sanitizer made by a local distiller. Not wanting to worsen the shortage of PPE in this country, we eventually found a supply of more masks overseas. We’ve gone through a lot of them.”

Inter/National News

Artnet writers name 10 acclaimed exhibitions they wish they could have seen this year, including Artemisia at London’s National Gallery, Awol Erizku’s show at FLAG Art Foundation, and—what’s this?—Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at the Met? Lucky you, the exhibition arrives at SAM next spring.

Artist John Outterbridge passed away December 23 at the age of 87. Celebrated for his assemblage work, he was also a former director of the Watts Towers Arts Center; read more about his life and practice in the Los Angeles Times obituary.

The New York Times Magazine shares its annual end-of-year project, “The Lives They Lived.” Don’t miss Jenna Wortham on grappling with the afterlife of Breonna Taylor.

“I’ve come to see the thousands of images of Taylor as a memory of our collective will — even though it was betrayed by the state. Anti-lynching efforts were ultimately successful in reshaping the historical and cultural memory of the brutality and immorality of those deaths. ‘We shouldn’t see them — or this — as a failure, but as a project on the road to redemption,’ [Leigh] Raiford told me. She reminded me that memory and memorialization are necessary for that work, as is the honest appraisal of the past to work toward justice in the present and the future.”

And Finally

Let’s get some room tone.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Object of the Week: Sdláagwaal (horn ladle)

Sometimes, when I’m writing about remarkable artworks we have at SAM, I feel a bit like Levar Burton. SAM’s Sdláagwaal (horn ladle) is an incredible thing . . .

Sdláagwaal is displayed adjacent to a bold piece by living Native artist Robert Davidson. Standing in the galleries and seeing these pieces next to one another is like watching the traditional conversing with the new, visually. We can also imagine Davidson speaking his comments about the Sdláagwaal, recorded in a 1995 SAM catalogue:

This person had a sure understanding of space. Not just the graphics, but even beyond, the whole aesthetics of spoon. It’s almost like a swan. My first reaction was raven, but then you look at the long neck.

It is almost like a mandala, it becomes a concentration object. When I go fishing, the net is like that, a meditation point. We’re watching that net. We can watch for three, four, five hours, waiting for that fish to strike. Same with carving. You could work three, four, five days to get that line right, that undercut right. It’s almost like a meditation.1

Has anybody ever applied the term “aesthetics of spoon” with such awesome and apt grace (or been brilliant enough to apply it at all)? Davidson’s phrasing would never have come to me, but I understand immediately the qualities to which he refers. Every aspect of the Sdláagwaal bespeaks perfection. It has been carved with adze and knife from a mountain sheep horn, steamed so that the wide bowl of the ladle might be formed, and fashioned by someone with a clear mastery of the technique. With the precise lines that cover the ladle, the artist shows awe-inspiring precision. The formline designs on the bottom of the ladle fill the pictorial space with perfect balance and symmetry.

Another authority whose voice we should listen to regarding the Sdláagwaal is Bill Holm, a recognized scholar, longtime curator, and prolific author on Native American art in the Pacific Northwest. The gallery bracketed by the museum’s four great Arthur Shaughnessy house posts, also has a monitor playing several videos where we can learn from Bill Holm about the history and making of the posts. Back to the Sdláagwaal, of which Holm writes:

Among the artists of the Northwest Coast there were some who had complete mastery of the materials, techniques, and design system with which they worked. The maker of this horn ladle was one of those artists . . . . The formlines comprising the design are broad and simple, without extraneous elaboration. Their execution is flawless.2

To have people like Davidson and Holm, who really know their stuff, compliment the Sdláagwaal with such glowing words brings heaps of praises on its maker—who must have been quite an impressive individual, indeed.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

1 Robert Davidson, quoted in The Spirit Within: Northwest Coast Native Art from the John H. Hauberg Collection, Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, and New York: Rizzoli, 1995; 118.
2 Bill Holm, Box of Daylight: Northwest Coast Indian Art, Seattle: Seattle Art Museum and University of Washington Press, 1983; 84.
Image: Sdláagwaal (horn ladle), ca. 1860, Haida, mountain sheep horn, 14 ½ x 6 ¾ in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg, 85.356.