In the States, fashion seems like a primarily European product. Italian and French designers command the most respect here. Television and print ads cause us to marvel at how good folks look while just strolling the streets of Paris and Milan.
The Eurocentric focus of today’s fashion culture can make us forget that other cultures of lookin’ really good have existed all over the globe for thousands of years. Traditional China is one of those places where clothing communicates a lot about the wearer.
In this late Qing dynasty (1644-1912) robe at SAM, the wealth and style of the owner shines. The budding flora and curving tendrils of the embroidery blanket the surface of the robe, covering every inch of its fabric with beautiful, precise ornamentation. The sumptuous silk and embroidery in gold-wrapped thread tell us straight away that the owner of the robe was a person of means and importance. This rich purple hue has a visual impact recognized around the world, as in Europe, where, for a long, long time, purple has been the color most associated with royalty.
To be sure, the owner of the robe wanted respect as someone with high social status. History shows us that it’s a very human desire to show off, to draw attention to ourselves, and to set ourselves apart with luxury. That’s nothing new.
Interestingly, clothing in traditional China was also thought to express the internal state of the wearer. Symbols adorning the robe could convey positive traits and blessings of fortune on the person who donned them. Looking at this robe, the large white cuffs feature the shou character—a symbol for the Chinese blessing of longevity— directly at the center. The shou also signals this as a burial robe. Those Qing dynasty elites—always on fleek, even in the grave!
The robe is one of over 900 works that joined SAM’s collection around the 75th anniversary of the museum, an era when the collection grew significantly in size and importance. Come check it out soon at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park.
—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
Images: Robe, late 19th century, silk with gold embroidery, Chinese, Qing dynasty (1644-1912).
Most days at SAM, this bamboo Basket in the shape of a boat draws attention only for its remarkable artistry and creativity. The maker shows an ability to see the life inside the bamboo, and then to channel it toward the creation of a symbol—the boat—and a form—the basket. The medium seems to effortlessly transform: In places it’s gnarled like wood, or frayed like raffia, or braided like rope, always contributing to the total picture of boat-ness. The piece was produced in Japan during a 20th century revival of interest in traditional Japanese craft, when bamboo baskets gained an elevated importance in the country’s artistic production. As fine an artistic example as it is, this week, it takes on another meaning as a reminder of a dark period in U.S. and world history.
The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued a now famous Declaration of War address (you can listen to it here):
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.
World War II brought about all kinds of terrible things, including racial conflict. Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt on February 14, 1942, authorized military authorities to exclude “any and all persons” from designated areas of the country as necessary for national defense. In practice, the government targeted only Japanese resident aliens and Japanese Americans. The U.S. government uprooted more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry from homes and placed them under armed guard for up to four years. Sixty-five percent of these people were American citizens (these statistics according to the Smithsonian Institute).
A local connection to that dark time exists, too: Exclusion Order Number 1, issued on March 24, 1942, dictated that all Japanese resident aliens and Americans of Japanese ancestry on Bainbridge Island be removed under military guard. Herded into one of 10 camps in geographic isolation, these and other Japanese Americans endured the war in terrible conditions until the mass imprisonment came to an end in December of 1944. The formal ceremony that communicated Japan’s surrender took place on September 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
There was a lot of healing to be done, to say the very least, and in the years following the war, SAM played its role in bringing about a rapprochement between the Japanese American community and the many other people groups that make up our nation.
Already by the fall of 1949, SAM assistant director Sherman Lee was in communication with the Osaka-based Fujikawa Gallery about acquiring historical Japanese art. The gallery certainly had in mind that brokering art deals would contribute to a development of mutual understanding between Japan and the U.S.:
“As you know, we Japanese are now making great efforts with renewed stamina to rehabilitate our post-war country as a genuinely cultural one, having it always in view to contribute towards the establishment of world peace. It is our sincere wish, above all, to have you fully understand and appreciate our Japanese fine arts, thereby to promote our international relationship of goodwill and the interchange of cultures on both sides.”
Fujikawa’s response is below.
For Lee’s and SAM’s part, engaging with Fujikawa at least demonstrates a lack of the xenophobic fear that inspired war-time decisions like the internment camps.
In the summer of 1951, SAM hosted its first post-war exhibition of Japanese art. From May 9 through June 3 of that year, visitors to the Volunteer Park museum could enjoy Paintings by Japanese Children, a show organized by the Japan-American Society of the Younger Generation in Japan. Two years later, an exhibition that was quite a bit more ambitious came to Seattle.
The Official Japanese Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, on view July 9 through August 9, 1953, marked a very important moment for the museum, as it became the site of a highly publicized international exhibition. In its 20 years, SAM had previously hosted one such international show—on the art of India, in 1944—but the 1953 Japanese exhibition became its most important display yet. The museum was open seven days a week for the running of the show, bringing in paid attendance of over 57,000 and a total attendance of more than 73,000. In order “to help defray the heavy expense of this exceptional exhibition,” director Dr. Richard Fuller imposed a stiff charge of an additional 50 cents for entry. Below, you can see Dr. Fuller with his wife Betti (they were married in 1951) and visiting dignitaries, accompanying a truck full of the Japanese artworks and, in a darn questionable move, drawing all kinds of attention to their cumulative value.
More important than its effect of raising the museum’s visibility on the local and international stages, the 1953 exhibition communicated a sense of solidarity. At a time when racist thinking toward Japanese Americans definitely lingered, the show offered a peace branch, encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to engage and enjoy Japan’s fascinating art culture.
From my perspective, that remains the hope for SAM today: to be a meeting place for people where, through thoughtfully and artfully made objects, we can learn to appreciate each other better.
—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
Images: Basket in the shape of a boat, 20th century, Japanese, bamboo, 13 3/4 x 23 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Esther Rose Fallick. Basket in the shape of a boat (detail). Letter from Sherman Lee to Fujikawa. Response from Fujikawa to Sherman Lee. Dr. Fuller with Consul Saito of Japan at the opening of the 1953 exhibition. Japanese exhibition mobile ad.
Broadly interesting human passions inspire remarkable works of art. That is why love, justice, spirituality, and food feature in so many great art collections.
Among foodie picture genres, the Dutch still life ranks at the very top, and at SAM, we have a fine example in Abraham van Beyeren’s 1653-1655 painting, titled Banquet Still Life. The picture overwhelms us with indulgence, offering up a visual feast. Working our way through the painting clockwise, starting at 12, we find: peaches, whole and sliced, red and green grapes, and a sliced fig overflowing a plooi, or pleated, silver platter; an orange and orange slice in a silver tazza, a kind of wide bowl on a stem; a small oyster and lemon wedge; a silver platter holding two pink shrimp and supporting a highly valuable, exquisitely decorated nautilus cup, tipped onto its side; a red pomegranate with a quarter section cut out, revealing its delightfully juicy seeds; a pocket watch and blue ribbon; candied orange peels in a blue and white Chinese porcelain bowl; a silver charger holding a knife, a half-peeled lemon, and a roemer, which is a German pouring vessel made of green glass, decorated with glass knobs called prunts; more bunches of red grapes; a small bread roll, with a hefty piece torn off; a roast chicken; two Venetian wine glasses half-full of white and pink adult beverages; and a silver wine ewer. Hungry much?
Nearly lost in all the delicious foods and fine glassware and silver is a moralizing message. This is a luxurious meal that has been left abruptly, as we deduce from the half-peeled lemon, the broken bread roll, and the cornucopia of delicacies left unconsumed. At the center of the picture, the pocket watch ticks away time, reminding us that physical pleasures like this are fleeting, and that we should give our immediate attention to more substantial, lasting things. Was the artist fully convinced of that, I wonder?
The banquet still life as a genre was a product of its time, arising from a culture of display. In 17th century Holland, where marine trade brought goods and wealth into port cities like Amsterdam, newly rich Dutch citizens felt the need to show off their wealth. The term pronk—literally translated as flamboyance or ostentatiousness—describes that desire to display, to impress others. Banquet Still Life is a pronk picture if there ever was one.
Van Beyeren and his peer painters of the foodie still life found an unlikely revival with artists of French Impressionism in the 19th century. In general, the landscape genre better suited the Impressionist goal of capturing candid moments of daily life with a sense of energy in the handling of paint. Still life had also been pushed to the margins of European art history and carried a less impressive legacy for the Impressionists to pick up on. So there are relatively few examples, but some of the Impressionists did work in still life—notably Cézanne and Manet—and they worked with the Dutch masters in mind.
Manet’s Oysters, on view at SAM in Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art, offers an illuminating comparison. Like van Beyeren long before him, Manet paints the shellfish and halved lemon with an eye to making them appetizing. Looser brushwork and a moody color palette show that Manet was less concerned with realistic representation and more interested in making artistic interventions.
These two schools of painting approached food from radically different perspectives: as a showy display of wealth and as a scene of private life; as a memento mori and as a celebration of the moment; as an opportunity to showcase precise skill in representation and as a chance to play with forms and paint. We can all come together around food.
—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
IMAGES:Banquet Still Life, ca. 1653-55, Abraham van Beyeren, Dutch. ca. 1620/1621-1690, oil on canvas, 42 1/8 x 45 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Samuel H. Kress Collection 64.146. Banquet Still Life (detail). Banquet Still Life (detail). Oysters, 1862, Edouard Manet, French, 1832-1883, oil on canvas, 15 7/16 x 18 7/16 in. National Gallery of Art, Gift of the Adele R. Levy Fund, Inc.
Our global culture is pretty good at making visual associations. As kids, many of us grew up pointing to the sky, calling out animals and faces suggested by the eccentric outlines of the clouds. Now, we play the meme game: How funny is Ryan Gosling if we cut him out of a movie role and paste him into all these different come-on scenarios? How well does a scrunched-up, pouty kid face express all your life’s frustrations? So funny! So well! And for me, it’s hilarious how quickly and creatively we make these connections. If a movie star or a top athlete makes a crazy face one night, there’s a trending meme of her or him the next morning.
In art, too, visual associations go a long way. They can be poignant, suggesting parallels across time and across cultures, causing us to re-think our views about the world. They can be as silly as a Ryan Gosling meme, putting a sign or symbol or person into a new context and pointing out just how important context is for how we understand these things.
Patti Warashina’s Airstream Turkey was born out of a similar, this-looks-like-that approach to digesting the huge diversity of images we experience every day, bringing together the forms of a trailer, a turkey, a bread loaf, and a chafing dish lid. Warashina applied low-fire glaze and low-fire luster to the ceramic piece, giving it the shiny metallic quality of a vintage trailer. Wings and feathers morph into streamlined horizontal details; reductive legs jut into the air like maneuverable levers. Airstream Turkey pranks us visually and playfully, thoughtfully keeping the eye engaged.
With her idea of a turkey vehicle, Warashina seems to have been onto something. Just such an avian Airstream makes a notable appearance in Tom Robbins’ 1990 postmodern novel Skinny Legs and All, in which the First Veil opens:
“It was a bright, defrosted, pussy-willow day at the onset of spring, and the newlyweds were driving cross-country in a large roast turkey.
The Turkey lay upon its back, as roast turkeys will; submissive, agreeable, volunteering its breast to the carving blade, its roly-poly legs cocked in a stiff but jaunty position, as if it might summon the gumption to spring forward onto its feet, but, of course, it had no feet, which made the suggestion seem both empty and ridiculous, and only added to the turkey’s aura of goofy vulnerability.
Despite its feetlessness, however, its pathetic podalic privation, this roast turkey—or jumbo facsimile thereof—was moving down the highway at sixty-five miles an hour…”
Today, let’s do some associations around the word “Thanksgiving”: gratefulness—smiles—family—love—warm food—mashed potatoes and gravy.
The unique collection we have at SAM largely reflects the specific art interests of a series of generous donors. Much of the museum’s African and Modern art, for example, came as transformational gifts, adding prominent facets to the identity of the collection. The European paintings at SAM offer more great stories of generosity and collecting passions.
The Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal, Venice, a fabulous Venetian view painting by Luca Carlevariis (1663-1729), was purchased for SAM with funds from one local art patron, Floyd A. Naramore. In a letter dated January 6, 1951, Mr. Naramore writes to SAM director Richard Fuller that the painting is “given as an expression of my appreciation of what you and your mother have done for the city of Seattle and the lovers of art and also as a means of expressing my own interest in art and the museum.” In the letter, Mr. Naramore mentions a gift of $500—the final installment in a total payment of $1,800 to David M. Koetser Gallery, New York. The market for Carlevariis paintings has changed quite a bit in the last 60 years: In 2011 a similar view by Carlevariis, of a comparable size, sold at a Christie’s auction for just over $4 million!
The artist was a kind of ambassador for Venice in his art. Born in the small town of Udine in 1663, Luca Carlevariis moved to Venice in 1679 and there found a city that truly inspired him. He produced etchings and paintings that focused on the then-and-now touristy spots near Piazza San Marco. His vedute, or view paintings, became popular as souvenirs for Northern Europeans visiting Venice as part of their cultural education. This 18th-century phenomenon, known as the Grand Tour, brought Carlevariis a steady supply of patrons who would purchase his works like we (or our parents) would a postcard. Carlevariis was one of the earliest painters of Venetian vedute, although the later Canaletto is the name most popularly associated with them.
SAM has an insightful webpage on The Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal, Venice that points out several monuments included in the view, such as the Lion of St. Mark, the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, the Biblioteca Marciana, and of course, the Doge’s Palace. Also featured on the page is an introduction to the fascinating world of the Grand Tour.
When The Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal, Venice entered SAM’s collection, in 1950, it marked the beginning of an especially important decade for the growth for the European paintings collection. The relationship the museum developed with the Kress Foundation was central to that growth.
Samuel H. Kress (1863-1955) built a family fortune in retail by founding a five-and-dime store and building it into a national chain. An art lover, Kress began to seriously collect Italian paintings in the 1920s, and also became devoted to philanthropy. The Kress Foundation, as part of its mission to help small art collections during the hard economic times surrounding the Great Depression, developed something called the Regional Galleries program that served the Foundation’s desire to get the whole Kress Collection on view and would also disperse the artworks democratically around the country. SAM was chosen as one of the 18 regional museums to receive paintings from the Kress Foundation. In the 1954 photo above, Dr. Fuller plays curator and arranges an installation of the Kress paintings at SAM’s Volunteer Park building. Behind him, you’ll spot another Venetian veduta that graces SAM’s collection, Bacino di San Marco, attributed to the Workshop of Canaletto.
—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
Images: The Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal, Venice, ca. 1710, Luca Carlevariis, Italian, Venice, 1663-1729, oil on canvas, 37 3/4 x 75 3/4 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Floyd A. Naramore, 50.70. A letter from Floyd A. Naramore to SAM, 1951. Dr. Richard Fuller with the Samuel H. Kress collection, 1954.
Some 1500 years ago in the holy city of Teotihuacan in Mexico —“the place where the gods were created”—this small mask was formed from a mold, enlivened with a strong and spiritual presence that remains in it today. One has to see the piece in person to feel and experience the weight of history that it carries. The natural patina that has changed the color of the ceramic material to a range of earth tones gives the mask an aura of importance. It presented a very different face in its days of use in the Teotihuacan culture.
Picture this same intense figure in bright red and white paint, now part of a larger sculpture group decorated with hatching patterns, discs, mystical eyes, and spirals, with plumes of fragrant smoke rising above him and moving toward you. Masks from Teotihuacan were often decorated with pigments, and small traces of red remain on the hair of SAM’s Mask with ear spools. Experts think it was probably part of a large incensario, or incense-burner. From those early days of the mask’s history, it has entered a new chapter, where it engages visitors to our small but awesome Meso-American gallery, joined by Peruvian ceramics, Aztec stone figures, gold, and jade.
The mask was found near Azcapotzalco, an area in the northwest part of Mexico City. It was purchased in 1949 from Earl Stendahl of Stendahl Art Galleries, an important dealer in Los Angeles first known for bringing Modern art to the West Coast and for representing the California Impressionists. Later, Stendahl turned to Pre-Columbian art, and it was this area that became the gallery’s specialty. The mask entered SAM’s collection in early 1950.
The face in Mask with ear spools is staring us down. He occupies a space between art that creates the illusion of life and art that symbolizes life, using a form of representation based on line and shape. The large ear spools are symmetrical discs with perfectly rounded orbs at their centers. The band of hair has precise, vertical lines all the way across it, like a flexible ruler taped to this man’s forehead. The eyes are rendered as thin almond slivers, whose shape is echoed in the arching lines of the eyelids and brow. A prominent nose, again perfectly symmetrical, with curvy, thickset lips below it, and a strong, angular jaw complete his look.
From the 2nd century B.C.–7th c. A.D. Teotihuacan, his place of origin, was an important Mexican city—at its height, the sixth-largest city in the world, and a political, cultural, and religious center. The drama of the city’s story relates not only to its riches but also its fast decline and almost total disappearance. We’re grateful to have a piece of that fascinating story here at SAM!
—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
IMAGE:Mask with ear spools, Mexican, Teotihuacan, ca. 100-600, 4 7/8 x 7 1/4 x 2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 50.32.
In SAM’s large oil painting by Flemish artist Abraham Janssens, The Origin of the Cornucopia (ca. 1619), one of three figures in the foreground grasps the stem of a round, ridged, colorful squash. The picture honors the harvest, abundance, and most importantly today—the day before Halloween—the pumpkin.
Pumpkins are totally trending. Fall is the pumpkin’s moment, when it takes over as the most visible symbol of an entire season. It’s a rare food or drink establishment that doesn’t have pumpkin on its menu this time of year. On my last trip to get an oil change, the service center was advertising pumpkin spice motor oil. It’s abundant, and it’s no johnny-come-lately, either. The pumpkin, scientific name Cucurbita pepo, has been growing in North America for roughly 5,000 years and is indigenous to the Western hemisphere. Our name for it has been around since the late 17th century, coming from the French pompon and traceable back to the Greek pepōn, meaning “large melon.”
Like the pumpkin, which sometimes stands in for the whole season, Janssens’ Origin of the Cornucopia was likely painted as an allegory of fall. The specific scene relates to one of Hercules’ battles in Greek mythology. During a victory over a river god who has taken the form of a bull, Hercules tears off one of the bull’s horns. River nymphs take up the horn and fill it with a variety of fruits and vegetables. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the defeated river god, Achelous, sings: “My Naiads filled it full of fragrant flowers/And fruits, and hallowed it. From my horn now/Good Plenty finds her wealth and riches flow.” These poetic lines offer a fitting caption for the scene in front of us, where visual riches are bountiful.
In the Janssens painting, three massive figures—the Naiads, or water nymphs—gather delectable fruit and vegetables with which to stuff their “horn of plenty,” choosing from cauliflower, grapes, figs, artichokes, and the squash, all painted by the artist in great detail. The figures on the right and left lounge on vessels gushing out water—a reference to their roles in mythology and to water’s importance in the harvest. Every element up to the crowns of wheat suggests health and growth. In the past, the painting has been dated to as early as 1609, but it’s now put at about 1619. Either way, it marks one of the earliest depictions of the origins of the cornucopia.
The Origin of the Cornucopia hangs on the wall of our fourth floor galleries devoted to classical European art. It has played an important role in SAM’s relatively small European collection since its acquisition in the summer of 1972, when it was given to the museum as a 75th birthday present to our founding director, Richard E. Fuller. Before its time at SAM and the gallery from which the museum acquired it, the painting is said to have lived in a French provincial castle. I imagine it hanging over a dinner table, every inch of it covered with an autumn feast.
–Jeffrey Carlson, Collections Coordinator
Image:The Origin of the Cornucopia, ca. 1619, Abraham Janssens, Flemish, Antwerp, ca. 1575-1632, oil on canvas, 43 3/4 x 68 1/16 in., Seattle Art Museum, PONCHO in honor of Dr. Richard E. Fuller’s 75th Birthday.
There is an old Asante saying, “Only the lion drinks from the palm-wine pot of the leopard.”
The phrase has a lot of charm for those who come to it unaware of the story and significance behind it. You might tuck it away for a moment when you want to say something with gravity to make everyone around you feel impressed and a bit confused.
And then it also holds wisdom for us when we become one of the initiated. During the 20th century in Ghana, lions overtook leopards as the main symbol of strength and leadership. They had overtaking to do because lions aren’t native to Ghana; they seem to have appeared, with many other alien things, during the Colonial era. Before lions were known in the region, the leopard garnered similar respect, filling a symbolic role and signifying strength, power, and importance. The old king was ousted when a stronger one arrived. Even the leopard became submissive to the lion, allowing him to lap at the proverbial palm-wine pot.
The lessons are there for all of us. No matter how high we rise, there’s likely someone higher. Leaders shouldn’t be too comfortable. There’s another one ready to take their place.
SAM’s Ghanaian Lion Stool (after 1957) gives a visual form to the lion’s rise to power in the country where it was made. In the painted wood sculpture, the lion forms the base, imparting authority to whoever would sit there.
The stool is an intriguing combination of foreign and native parts. The lion, an outsider, is joined to the stool, an entrenched, deeply significant part of Asante culture. For the Asante, the stool is the primary vehicle for communicating the idea of leadership. Bright yellow and silver enamel paint gives the stool an eye-catching presence. A key, an object that here and all over the world represents access, hangs on the side of the lion, where it adds to the impression of power and wealth. The stool isn’t something that strikes me as characteristically African in aesthetic, and that is another indication that its meaning is more global, and more accessible, than we first imagine.
This is one of art’s great gifts: To connect us with people and places, times and traditions that would otherwise remain totally unfamiliar and inaccessible to us. On display in SAM’s 4th-floor galleries, the Ghanaian Lion Stool confronts most of its viewers with something unfamiliar, but it rewards those who care enough to investigate.
—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
1. Ghanaian, Lion Stool, after 1957, wood, paint, 16 9/16 x 20 13/16 x 11 7/8 in. Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.545.
2. Lions command respect.
They are built from many parts that only convey our meaning when arranged just so. A story is like a blanket—another woven object—with its threads arranged precisely for bodily comfort and visual delight. In Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations, artist Marie Watt has woven together the stories of a wide range of people in an impressive, inviting stack of blankets. For Watt, a daughter of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation, Native culture provides a source of inspiration for community-focused works like this one.
Blankets strike emotional chords within many of us. For most everyone, the sight of a blanket brings on the thought of a story, and then its telling. On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, here’s a sampling of some visitor revelations inspired by Marie Watt’s Blanket Stories:
“The rough wool blankets remind me of bundling up on sea voyages to ward off the bitter, crisp chill of the Baltic Sea. It was the blanket that could save your life and keep you from hyperthermia for an extra 30 minutes in hopes of rescue. For me however, it brought me closer to my ancestry of fisherman clans and an ocean women that sometimes feels so far away for an immigrant raised on foreign shore. —CVF”
“When I see these blankets it fills my mind with memories of my mother and grandmother. Making forts with the blankets and being sick and feeling them against my face. —Mariel Grumby, 2007”
“One of the wool blankets reminds me of an old army blanket belonging to my dad. I loved the weight of the blanket, despite its scratchy surface. It provided warmth and smiles and a sense of security—all the wonderful characteristics of my father. —J. Mainer, 10-8-2007”
“When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I lost my baby blanket on a family vacation to Disneyland. It remains on of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood. –KB”
“When I see this stack of blankets, I have an overwhelming compulsion to charge it, like a bull to a matador. I imagine that when I make contact I will scream, ‘Yeeeeeaarrrgh!’ and throw my arms upward like the wings of a triumphant war bird, flinging blankets in all directions and giving the surrounding land a fuzzy-warm feeling. Sincerely, The Unknown Guard”
“I live in New York City, and one day found a homeless woman in front of my house…with nothing to protect her from the elements. I went upstairs and got a blanket off my bed and gave it to her. I sometimes wonder what ever happened to that blanket. I loved it.”
“Every blanket looks important. I’d like to unfold each one and snuggle with it a little. I have my blankie, which was given to me at birth, by my parents 22 years ago. Recently, my grandma asked me how much longer I expect to carry it around with me. Without hesitation, I answered ‘forever.’ —CM & TM”