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The Northwest Annual Exhibition & Seattle Art Museum

The SAM Research Libraries have just published a new digital exhibition to our Digital Collections site, providing online access to original archival materials from a significant annual art event that truly defined some of the founding principles of SAM and its founder Dr. Richard E. Fuller.

The Northwest Annual Exhibition (NWA) was a yearly exhibition of work by artists from the Pacific Northwest held first by the Seattle Fine Arts Society, then the Art Institute of Seattle, and finally the Seattle Art Museum. Its first recorded exhibition was in 1914, and it continued for over sixty years at SAM until its final show in 1977. Its intention was to exhibit high quality works in a wide variety of artistic expressions, with a focus on painting and sculpture, and to give recognition to new talent in the Pacific Northwest.

Predating the Seattle Art Museum as it is known today, the NWA spanned decades of change in the art world, particularly in the Northwest. First held in the exhibition rooms of the Washington State Arts Association, it eventually found a permanent home in the Volunteer Park museum in 1933, the same year in which Florence Harrison Nesbit (co-founder of the Northwest Watercolor Society), Peter Camfferman (one of the earliest Modernist painters in the Northwest, along with his wife Margaret Camfferman), and Morris Graves (internationally acclaimed painter) won prizes in the Nineteenth Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists. Over the decades the NWA, under the direction of Dr. Fuller, helped recognize the unique work being produced in the region, launching the careers of countless artists.

After the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, SAM took over the United Kingdom Pavilion at Seattle Center and remodelled it to become the Seattle Art Museum Pavilion, where the majority of the final exhibitions for the NWA were held. The traditional form of NWA continued until 1975, after which it evolved into Northwest Art(ists) Today, a three-part exhibition series held from 1975-1976. It eventually had its final show as Seattle Art Museum Northwest ‘77.

To create the digital exhibition Northwest Annual Exhibition and Seattle Art Museum, 70 of the original exhibition paper checklists and 85 photographic prints and negatives were digitized and restored to provide quality online access to these rare research materials. With the help of long-time SAM staff member Tore Hoven and regional expert on Northwest art, Cascadia Art Museum head curator David Martin, a fascinating account of the history of the NWA is provided to give context and perspective into the exhibition’s impact on the local art community. These digitized materials are also a unique account of the growth and development of SAM, from its earliest days as a local community of art lovers, to becoming a forward-thinking institution drawing attention from around the world.

We hope that this collection will provide some insight into the many historical events and artistic movements that SAM has been a part of since its inception, and that it may inspire your own research into 20th century Northwest art and artists.

– Brynn Strader, Intern, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Images: Seattle Art Museum Libraries: Digital Collections: “Forty-sixth Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists, 1960 – Jurors – Photo 2,” “Forty-second Annual Exhibit of Northwest Artists, 1956 – Gallery Installation – Photo 1,” “Northwest Artists Today, Part II, 1975-1976 – Gallery Installation – Photo 7,” “Twenty-ninth Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists,” “Thirty-first Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists,” “Thirty-fourth Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists,” “Forty-third Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists,” “Forty-seventh Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists,” “Fifty-eighth Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists.”

Fuller Travel Slides: Art & Architecture of Mexico

A new digital collection from the SAM Research Libraries has just been launched on our Digital Collections Site, born out of an extraordinarily lucky find.

Many years ago, the Seattle Art Museum’s Libraries held sizeable slide collections (commonly known as slide libraries) until digital images prevailed as the preferred medium for presentations and study. In 2017, when the Asian Art Museum closed for renovations, staff were forced to deal with a number of long-forgotten slide cabinets—and their contents—tucked away in a staff changing room in the building’s lower level. Within these cabinets, several previously-unknown glass slide collections were discovered. One of these groupings was a personal slide collection created by SAM founder and long-time director, Dr. Richard E. Fuller (1897–1976). It includes images of early 20th century views of art and architecture taken during his 1940s geological work on the Parícutin Volcano, a volcano that suddenly appeared in 1943, in the Mexican state of Michoacánin. Exceptionally well preserved, these slides were immediately transferred to the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library, where work soon began on their digitization. Now, all 150 images can be viewed in an online exhibit as the Richard E. Fuller Travel Slides: Art and Architecture of Mexico.

In addition to serving as SAM’s director from 1933-1973, Fuller was also a respected professor of geology, a subject he studied in great depth at the University of Washington, where he steadily acquired a second Bachelor’s degree (1924), a Master’s degree (1926), and ultimately a Ph.D. (1930). Between 1944 and 1948, Fuller served as Chairman of the U.S. Committee for the Study of Parícutin Volcano. As this new digital collection makes clear, alongside his academic work with this committee, Fuller made several personal trips to various cities and historic sites in Mexico over these years, on which he took numerous color photographs.

Though it is unknown how large this collection once was, or whether Fuller even took these photographs for a specific purpose, it is nevertheless clear that some effort was expended on their description and organization. The transfer of these images to glass slides, and their meticulous hand-labeling, helped to ensure that they not only survived to the present day, but did so with a surprising degree of contextual data intact. A similar effort was therefore made to guarantee that the digitized collection could stand as a reasonable facsimile of its physical counterpart, capturing not only Fuller’s images, but also the exact wording of his labels. We hope this collection will be of use to those studying Mexican art and architecture in the  early 20th century, as well as those interested in the Parícutin Volcano area.

The SAM Research Libraries invite you now to explore in its entirety this remarkable collection, which will enable you to peer back through time at a range of striking and historic objects and locations, as documented by SAM’s own founder.

– Jessica Robbins, Volunteer, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Images: Fuller, Richard E. (Richard Eugene), 1897-1976, Seattle Art Museum Libraries: Digital Collections: “Tula, Pyramid or Temple of the Moon, front view,” “Mexico City, façade of Sagrario,” “Oaxaca, Church of Santo Domingo interior ceiling polychrome genealogical tree of the Virgin with figures,” “Cholula, view of the Catholic church built on top of the ancient pyramid,” “Guadalajara, Hospice orphanage, entrance into another patio,” “Huejotzingo, fresco, black and white on cloister wall,” “Xochicalco, wall of temple on top of the pyramid showing detail of the decoration,” “Huejotzingo, arched gateway to the atrium of Franciscan monastery,” “Xochicalco, detailed view of the base of the pyramid showing human figure, hieroglyph, and part of serpent,” “Morelia, street scene showing portales or arcaded sidewalks with shops from colonial times.”

A Modern Champion: Virginia Wright (1929–2020)

With a heavy heart, we share the news of the passing of Virginia Wright, a pillar of the SAM family. Virginia and her late husband Bagley played pivotal roles in the development, vibrancy, and accomplishments of the Seattle Art Museum for more than half a century. Beyond being generous contributors, the Wrights’ greatest impact on SAM is seen in the art of the collection and in the art shown. Virginia was among a very small group of people who, in the 1960s, pushed SAM to create its first modern and contemporary art program. Virginia and Bagley also contributed to the purchase of many important acquisitions over the years. Above all else, the Wrights amassed one of the most important collections of modern and contemporary art in the world (over 200 works), all purchased with SAM in mind as the collection’s eventual home. When the bulk of it came to SAM in 2014, forming the backbone of its modern and contemporary collection, SAM was transformed from a great institution into a truly remarkable one.

Earlier this month, Virginia said, “When I think about the future of the Wright Collection at SAM, I put my trust in the artists. I trust that future generations will value their work, that SAM will continue to provide meaningful access to it, and that the conversations that their work has inspired will continue.” We are honored by her faith in Seattle’s museum and, because of her support over the last 60 years, we are confident that we can live up to the legacy she established.

Born in Seattle and raised in British Columbia, Virginia went East for college and majored in art history. Out of college, she worked for Sidney Janis Gallery in Manhattan and began collecting art. Mark Rothko’s abstract painting Number 10 (1952) was one of her early, daring purchases and it is now part of SAM’s collection.

Virginia has been a SAM member since 1951. She began docent training in 1957 and led her first public tour in 1959. In 1959, the Wrights made their first-ever gift to SAM’s collection: Room with White Table (1953) by William Ward Corley. That year they also provided funding for SAM to acquire Winter’s Leaves of the Winter of 1944 (at the time titled Leaves Before Autumn Wind) by Morris Graves.

In 1964, she and a group of friends persuaded then-director Richard Fuller to let her start the Contemporary Art Council (CAC), a group of collectors at the museum. For the next decade, it functioned as the museum’s first modern art department. The CAC sponsored lectures and supported the first exhibitions of Op art and conceptual art in Seattle. It also brought the popular Andy Warhol Portraits exhibition to Seattle in 1976, among many other important exhibitions. Her role in bringing great art to the Seattle Art Museum also involved the curation of two solo exhibitions for Morris Louis (in 1967) and William Ivey (in 1975).

Virginia joined SAM’s board in 1960, making 2020 her 60th anniversary with the Seattle Art Museum. She temporarily stepped away in 1972 when her husband Bagley joined the Board and rejoined in 1982. She served as President of the Board from 1987–90. Virginia was President of SAM’s Board of Trustees from 1986–1992, years that coincided with the construction and opening of the downtown Robert Venturi building in 1991—the museum’s first major transformation since its opening in 1933 and a major shift in Seattle’s cultural life to downtown First Avenue (with the Symphony soon following).

In 1999, SAM mounted an exhibition of the Wright Collection (The Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection of Modern Art, March 4–May 9, 1999). The Wrights’ entire art collection—the largest single collection of modern and contemporary art in the region—has been gradually donated (and the balance of the collection promised) to the Seattle Art Museum. A significant portion of the collection came to the museum in 2014 when the Wrights’ private exhibition space closed.

When the Seattle Art Museum opened the Olympic Sculpture Park in 2007, many works from the Wrights’ collection were installed there, including Mark di Suvero’s Bunyon’s Chess (1965) and Schubert Sonata (1992), as well as works by Ellsworth Kelly, Tony Smith, Anthony Caro, and Roxy Paine.

SAM’s ongoing exhibition Big Picture: Art After 1945 draws from the Wrights’ transformative gift of over 100 works and is a reminder of their incredible generosity.

Virginia was an active board member up to the end of her life, regularly attending meetings and advising the museum in many important endeavors. About SAM Virginia said, “It’s always been the main arena. I never wanted to break off and start a museum. I wanted to push the museum we already had into being more responsive to contemporary art.” And SAM would like to acknowledge that she did just that, leaving an undeniable mark on the cultural landscape of the entire Pacific Northwest.

As Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, says, “Even having only been in Seattle for a short time, it’s clear that Virginia Wright’s impact on the city and on SAM is beyond measure. Her legacy, and that of her late husband Bagley, is seen in both the very walls and on the walls of the downtown museum, and it fills the Olympic Sculpture Park’s landscapes. I’m honored to have been able to know her and of her hopes for SAM’s continued future.”

Photo Archive: Visual Evidence of SAM’s Enduring Impact

The photo archive at SAM begins in 1933 and spans 81 years to 2014, serving as a visual gateway into the expansive history of exhibits, programs, and events that have taken place here. The sheer scale of the photo archive is impressive: various sizes of negatives, color negatives and positives, prints, slides, CDs, and even floppy disks. The archive functions not only as photographic evidence of SAM’s expansion and influence over the course of its tenure, but also as a physical reminder of the advancement in photographic documentation technology.

 

 

In January 2017, we began taking inventory of all the materials in the photo archive. The project currently consists of assessing photographic materials, removing duplicates, improving the overall organization of the files through relabeling and rehousing, and inputting information about the exhibitions and events depicted in the photographs into a digital spreadsheet.

As we progress through the photo archive chronologically, we become more aware of how SAM’s presence in Seattle has inspired and driven the city to become a destination for experiencing art from around the world. The archive is a visual and tactile record of the breadth and scope of exhibitions, events, and community involvement that have shaped the Seattle Art Museum since 1933. Much of the material highlights the annual events that have taken place at SAM, like the Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists (1914–1974), and the Annual Exhibitions of Residential Architecture (1950–1980), architecture tours organized by SAM volunteers of homes in the Puget Sound region.

 

 

A noteworthy event is depicted in a photograph of a prominent SAM donor, Mrs. Kress, greeting Queen Elizabeth in Washington DC in 1961. Mrs. Kress was in DC for the transfer of gifts from the Kress Foundation Collection to 18 US museums, including SAM.

 

 

Another is a photograph of two important figures in Seattle’s arts community past: SAM founder Dr. Richard Fuller and art supporter Betty Bowen, lighting candles on a cake made for artist Mark Tobey’s (of the Northwest School) 80th birthday party held at the museum.

 

 

In 1991, SAM moved from its original Volunteer Park location (now the Asian Art Museum) to its present downtown location on First Avenue. Highlights from the archive during this decade include a file from 1991 that houses color prints and slides documenting the installation of the marble Chinese camels (14th–17th century) at the new downtown location. The photos show installers wearing hard hats working together to elevate the sculptures, now located in SAM’s grand stairway.

 

In a file dated November 19, 1993 there is a public relations announcement with the headline “APEC Economies Present Seattle Art Museum with Gifts from Around the World” and a myriad of photos and newspaper clippings documenting the event. On November 19, 1993, the Asian Art Museum at Volunteer Park was the site of the 19th Asia Pacific Economic Conference leadership reception attended by heads of state from 15 Asia-Pacific nations. In a display of international goodwill, several economies participating in the conference offered SAM gifts of artwork from their respective nations. The conference also featured a piece by nine-year-old Skylar Gronholz, chosen as the piece that best represents the theme of “international economic cooperation” from a student competition. Skyler unveiled his work to President Clinton and the 15 world leaders during the conference.

 

A file dated February 11, 1994, a seemingly ordinary day, contains a series of prints documenting the arrival and greeting of SAM’s millionth visitor. There is no name listed in the file, but number 1,000,000 was photographed smiling and receiving flowers in front of the admissions desk as well as on her trip through SAM’s galleries. These documented moments within the archive showcase the involvement and enthusiasm of people inside and outside of Seattle who have fostered a space for SAM to successfully bring art to the community; effectively and accurately presenting SAM as a nexus of local engagement and international collaboration.

The Seattle Art Museum’s dedication to bringing art to Seattle residents and visitors alike is made visually evident in the photo archive. Through this project, our goal is to eventually make the archive more accessible. We believe greater access will lead to a heightened awareness and a more nuanced understanding of SAM’s involvement in the region and its enduring impact on the Seattle arts community.

– Kelsey Novick and Holly Palmer, Photo Archive Interns

Object of the Week: Amulet with mummified monkey

Each of us carries with us a lens, or lenses, through which we view the world, and that lens colors and shapes our perception of, and response to, all the sights, sounds, and smells we encounter. It’s no different when we’re viewing art. Each of us brings to the experience of viewing art our own sets of questions. Art historians produce scholarship that discusses a certain object, maker, or concept—but the questions they ask in the process reveal as much about the perspective of the scholar as they do about the object or artist under discussion. Likewise, it’s fascinating to tour through the galleries and eavesdrop on the unfiltered musings of museumgoers to the variety of art we have on display at SAM. Those comments say something about the art and the speaker.

One object that’s commented on less frequently than I’d wish is this diminutive wood Amulet with mummified monkey—a piece that acts, for me, as an ever-present reminder of Dr. Fuller and his collecting principles, so neatly reflected in this ancient, tiny figurative sculpture. Dr. Fuller, who held a Ph.D. in geology and maintained scholarly pursuits in that field throughout his tenure leading SAM (1933–1973), collected many small, old, and odd things. Disinterested in value, he instead sought out rarity. His guiding question was: Does it have a unique character—an “essential factor”? That question drove him to acquire items like this mystifying Amulet, about which little was known when Dr. Fuller purchased it from J. Khawam & Cie, Cairo, for $240 in 1955.

It had few facts to recommend it, but it was a curious piece that provoked questions for Dr. Fuller and would do the same for others. Shortly after acquiring the Amulet, Dr. Fuller received this letter from William K. Simpson, a research associate at the American Research Center in Cairo:

Simpson’s desire to research and publish the Amulet with mummified monkey encouraged Dr. Fuller to seek out expert opinions from fields that were tangentially related to the piece, aiming to solve some of the quandaries it presented. Outside experts brought to the Amulet their own questions. Professor Bror L. Grondal of the College of Forestry at the University of Washington examined the piece in 1956 to determine what kind of wood composes it:

Meanwhile, Robert T. Hatt, a mammalogist at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Michigan, had been researching ancient and contemporary animals of the Near East. In his letter of June 25, 1956, Hatt shared with Dr. Fuller his thoughts and questions regarding what species of monkey (or ape) might be represented in the Amulet:

Each of us brings to the experience of viewing art our own sets of questions—but to make our contribution, we have to actually ask them. Your curiosity could spark mine or someone else’s, and whether or not we ever arrived at fixed answers, the summation of our questions reveals infinitely more than one viewpoint ever could.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Amulet with mummified monkey, ca. 2920-2649 B.C., Egyptian, Early Dynastic period, wood, 3 3/16 x 11/16 x 7/8 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 55.136, Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Black pottery vase in shape of hu

SAM’s remarkable Black pottery vase in shape of hu is among the museum’s earliest acquisitions. The vase’s object number, 33.6, communicates that it was the sixth piece formally accessioned in the museum’s inaugural year of 1933, and of the objects added to the collection that year, the vase is the first to survive deaccessioning; sadly, 33.1 through 33.5 are no longer with us.

Dr. Fuller purchased this Warring States period ceramic jar for $150 from a New York dealer named Roland Moore. Roland, the son of a Chinese dealer named Rufus, continued in the family business, selling mainly snuff bottles and ceramics.1  The vase is just one of 259 items that Fuller purchased from Moore, and though not every one of these selections was a home run, Fuller did benefit from the connection, establishing the beginnings of a strong Asian ceramics collection that we enjoy today.

Dr. Fuller, who has been proven over time a very successful collector, was still developing his taste at this early stage. He landed on the Black pottery vase in shape of hu at a moment when he was moving beyond his initial collecting interest—snuff bottles—and looking to jades and ceramics. While expanding the art forms he considered for acquisition, he simultaneously became interested in adding Chinese works from various dynasties to increase the breadth of the collection. This vase, with its intriguing decorative designs, and its 3rd-century B.C. date, added new dimensions to SAM’s Chinese collection.

For me, the vase is a tour de force in imitation. Though ceramic, it imitates bronze by its burnished shade of brown-black, echoing patina. The taotie mask that adorns two sides of the vase is a typically bronze decorative motif, but here it is, carefully worked onto the body of an earthenware piece. At the historical moment when the vase was made, ceramic offered an economic alternative to costlier bronze; hence we see a ceramic dressed up as a bronze.

Fascinating geometric and animal designs adorn the vase. As our eye scans it, we notice that horizontal ridges attempt to organize the decoration into separate registers. On the neck and on the largest register of the body, scaly beasts look backward toward curling tails. Jagged vertical lines mark the first register below the neck; the second register features nesting triangles interspersed with sawtooth serrations; in another register beneath that, irregular diamonds run across the vase, linked together by script-like horizontal lines.

Throughout the vase, an interesting dialogue occurs between the potter and the decorator—maybe a conflict between a regimented and more freeform approach to artistic decoration. The indented bands that separate the vase into its various registers would have been formed when the vase was initially thrown, probably on a potter’s wheel; the incised decoration was added later. On the middle of the vase, notice how the legs and feet of the dragon creatures transgress the boundaries of their register, creeping over the horizontal bands. I liken this decoration to coloring outside the lines. It’s as if the dragon, mysterious and powerful, refused to be contained by the space allotted to it. Elsewhere, too, we see incised design overlapping the structuring horizontal bands and playfully interacting with the form of the vase, creating a final impression of an artwork that is, itself, a conversation.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGE: Black pottery vase in shape of hu, ca. 3rd century B.C., Chinese, Warring States period (481-256 B.C.), black earthenware with incised decoration, 13 13/16 in.; girth: 31 1/4 in.; diam. top: 4 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.6, Photo: Paul Macapia.
1 Josh Yiu, A Fuller View of China, Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 2014; 36-37.

SAM Art: A legacy that lives on

A man who sought to use his skills and resources to serve his community, Dr. Richard E. Fuller (1897–1976) acted as Director of the Seattle Art Museum from its founding in 1933 until 1973. His passion for Asian art, at a time when its importance was not yet fully acknowledged in this country, was ignited in childhood by his mother’s “cabinet of curiosities,” full of the treasures she collected in her own youthful travels in Asia. Together with his mother, Mrs. Eugene (Margaret Elizabeth MacTavish) Fuller, Dr. Fuller built for Seattle one of the premier collections of Asian art in the United States.

In recent decades, public appreciation and understanding of Asian art has increased greatly. On the occasion of the museum’s 80th anniversary this year, the exhibition, A Fuller View of China, Japan, and Korea is both a tribute and a celebration of Dr. Fuller’s legacy and special recognition of SAM’s sustained efforts in collecting and researching Asian art.

Dr. Richard E. Fuller holding Ewer with bridge handle, early 17th century, Japanese, Mino ware, Oribe style; glazed stoneware, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 58.12 (on view in A Fuller View, starting this Saturday, 10 August, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park). Photo: Paul V. Thomas, 1964.

SAM Art: A Gift to a City

Comprising works of art from China, Ghana, France, Egypt, Mexico, Bohemia, the Northwest Coast, the East Coast, and more, the Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection represents nearly one third of SAM’s collection. More than 7,500 works were added to the museum collection by Dr. Richard E. Fuller and his mother, Mrs. Eugene (Margaret MacTavish) Fuller—the museum founders who credited the husband and father (Dr. Eugene Fuller) whose wealth provided for the purchases.

While Dr. and Mrs. Fuller were connoisseurs of Asian art, they felt their personal taste was just a starting point—and not a limit—when collecting for a museum. They saw the museum as their gift to the city of Seattle, a gift which encompassed global collecting, and direct support of local artists. Today, works collected and donated by the Fullers are on view in every museum gallery.

This summer marks the 80th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum’s founding.  A Fuller View of China, Japan, and Korea, an exhibition exploring the Fullers’ collecting and gifts, opens in August at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Dr. Richard E. Fuller, co-founder and Director of the Seattle Art Museum, pictured in art storage in 1964, Photo: Paul V. Thomas, © Seattle Art Museum

SAM Art: A legacy of friendship

In 1923, Alexander Archipenko arrived in America, already a highly acclaimed sculptor associated with the modern artists of Paris. In great demand as a teacher, he lectured at many institutions, including the University of Washington. He spent the summers of 1935 and 1936 in Seattle as a visiting professor at the University. It is likely that Archipenko created this sculpture while living and working in Seattle.

While in Seattle, Archipenko became friends with Dr. Richard E. Fuller, the founding Director of the Seattle Art Museum. It is because of this personal relationship that The Bride, an important work of cubist sculpture, was made available to the museum. Using his own funds, Dr. Fuller purchased the sculpture from his friend for the museum. It has been part of the museum collection ever since.

The Bride, 1936, Alexander Archipenko (American, born Ukraine, 1887-1964), terracotta on wood base, 34 1/4 x 6 11/16 x 4 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 36.64, © Alexander Archipenko. Currently on view in the American Modernism art galleries, third floor, SAM Downtown.