All posts in “SAM Docents”

Docents Defined: Celeste Ericsson

Get more intimate with SAM’s collection by becoming a docent! Docents will learn about our global collection of artwork and then share their knowledge and passion for art with a diverse range of visitors. No experience necessary! SAM docents have a wide range of reference points and experiences that they each bring to the art in SAM’s collection and that is what makes our public tours so unique. Making room for new perspectives is how we continue to offer engaging and informational tours throughout the year. Here’s a chance to get to know Celeste Ericsson, just one of our many docents who volunteers their time at the museum. Are you interested in becoming a SAM docent and leading tours of the museum? Apply now! Applications are accepted through July 12 and new docents start training in fall 2017!

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you become a docent?

Celeste Ericsson: I’ve always loved art museums ever since I was a child growing up in New York City. My favorite New York museums were/are the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters. I have always been interested in history in general, and in symbolism/iconography. As an illustrator and a graphic designer, a knowledge of art history and art movements both inspires me and helps me to communicate in my artwork.

What’s the best part of being a docent?

I get to share my interests with others, and I love doing it with kids. I’m constantly adding their insights to my tours. I do like talking with adults also. In order to communicate clearly, I have to figure out the most important things I believe about art and art philosophy. And in order to make things relevant I need to figure out the connections and the contexts for the art I’m touring so that the pieces do not become disembodied objects. In other words my docent work clarifies my own understanding of art.

What work of art is your favorite to tour?

The works of art that are my favorite to tour definitely differ from the works I’m personally drawn to. I’m drawn to the Archaic Greek Antefix with Medusa or Akio Takamori’s Blue Princess. For art to tour I liked Cai Guo-Qiang’s Inopportune Stage One, definitely a favorite before it was deinstalled last winter. Aesthetically, I found it horrifying, but it tells the story of art so clearly. I can’t think of even one class that it did not connect to, or who failed to figure out the story of a car flipping and exploding.

I’m finding that kids are really drawn to John Grade’s Middle Fork also. My favorite description from a third grader is that it looks like a Jenga game.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

My favorite touring experience lately was Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series for kindergarten, no less. I hadn’t expected the kids to get it, but the themes of having to leave home and everything familiar, and the theme of fairness really resonated with them. They created the most amazing drawings afterwards. A couple were very personal, and the kids were kind and appreciative of each other’s creations.

What advice do you have for people considering applying to the docent program?

This is a hard one to answer, but I’d say to be in it for how art can be inspiring. Really try to find those paths of wonder and fun for the kids. Discover your own genuine voice. Finally, it’s great to not take oneself too seriously, and to have a sense of humor.

– Kelsey Donahue, Museum Educator, School & Educator Programs

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17 years’ supply

Object of the Week: 17 years’ supply

In 2016 the SAM docents—a rockin’ group of volunteers that plays a huge part in sharing our collection—donated funds for the museum to acquire a new artwork. Their collaborative effort raising the funds found a very fitting consummation in the acquisition of Wolfgang Tillmans’ 2014 photograph 17 years’ supply, an image that projects togetherness and interconnectedness, especially in the face of trials.

Tillmans has achieved international recognition for his innovative and thoughtful photography. Central to the artist’s work are his interest in the formal structure of photography and his desire for intimacy, what he calls “the very being-in-this-worldness with others, and the desire to be intensely connected to other people.”¹ He is a gay man whose attachment to the LGBTQ community has surfaced at various times in his work, in overt and in quieter references. Tillmans doesn’t aim to document subcultures with his images, nor does he hope that his photography will be read as a diary, directly expressive of his personal life. 17 years’ supply, however, is a work that challenges both those intentions.

Powerful symbolism informs both the choice of subject and the straightforward title. A cardboard box frames the image in humble terms. Inside lies a jumbled assortment of bottles and boxes of medical prescriptions that once contained treatments for HIV, and some of them bear Tillmans’ name (he is, himself, living with HIV). The artist took this photograph in 2014, the 17th anniversary of the death of his partner, Jochen Klein, who fell sick with AIDS-related pneumonia and never recovered. Here, Tillmans staged, and recorded, a visualization of his defense against the same sickness that took his partner 17 years prior.

In a published interview with New York artist Peter Halley, Tillmans reflects on the role HIV/AIDS has played in his life and work:

Tillmans: All my work has been made with the knowledge of possible death, because since 1983 I’ve had an acute awareness that this disease, AIDS, affects me. In 1985, after my first few sexual encounters, when I was seventeen, I had this big AIDS fear. That’s actually crazy, when you think of a seventeen-year-old schoolboy lying in bed thinking he’s going to die.

Halley: I don’t think it’s that crazy. It happened. It was real and a lot of people did get sick and die.

Tillmans: The threat of AIDS has been with me for all my active sexual life, and so all the celebration and the joy and the lightness in my work has always taken place with that reality on board.

Halley: In other words, if life is fragile one needs to celebrate and appreciate it more?

Tillmans: Yes—well maybe that’s too much of a statement. You could take away the ‘if’, because life is fragile, and you have to celebrate it and enjoy it and not despair over the fact that it’s fragile because it just is. And that’s why I don’t despair; that’s why I’m optimistic, because it doesn’t only affect me—it affects us all. It just brings us all together again in the sense that that’s part of the deal. We’re all equally mortal.²

I’m deeply moved by Tillmans’ optimistic perspective. Each of us knows our end, and the end is the same for each of us. Loving others well and enjoying life in the meantime is something each of us gets to choose—or not choose.

After winning the prestigious Turner Prize in 2000—becoming the first non-British artist to receive the award—Tillmans designed a related exhibition catalogue that was essentially a comprehensive visual index of his published work to date. To his show and catalogue he gave the title If one thing matters, everything matters. I would add to Tillmans’ proclamation: If one person matters, everyone matters. Our togetherness in the fragility of life is part of what makes us human. So is our need to share its joys. Wishing everyone a sense of closeness and celebration!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: 17 years’ supply, 2014, Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968), Inkjet print on paper, 12 x 16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Seattle Art Museum Docents, 2016.18
¹Wolfgang Tillmans, interview with Nathan Kernan, published in Wolfgang Tillmans: View from Above, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2001; 11.
²Wolfgang Tillmans, interview with Peter Halley, published in Wolfgang Tillmans, New York: Phaidon, 2014; 22.
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Docents Defined: Nhi Nguyen

Are you interested in becoming more intimate with SAM’s collection? Our docents receive training on the artwork from all over the world hanging in our galleries and get to share their love and knowledge with a diverse range of visitors. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be an educator or well versed in art history, new docents start training in fall 2017! SAM docents come from many different backgrounds with an incredible range of experience. Having a group of docents that each bring their unique perspective to SAM is how we offer engaging and informational tours. Find out about Nhi Nguyen, just one of our many docents who volunteers their time at the museum. Maybe being a docent appeals to you? Apply now to the docent program. Applications are accepted through July 12.

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you become a docent?

Nhi Nguyen: I’ve always had a love for art, but didn’t know anything about it. My degrees are in social work, psychology, and math, and I work in public policy! When I moved home to Seattle after a 3-year stint in DC, I was looking for a way to reconnect to the Seattle community, make some friends, learn something new, and have fun along the way. The docent program was a perfect fit!

What’s the best part of being a docent? 

I love the constant learning. SAM does a great job of training its docents on its permanent collections as well as on the excellent special exhibitions that come through the museum. I’ve learned about many types of art, from ancient aboriginal to abstract expressionism. I have also been able to practice my presentation skills in relaying the most interesting stories about this art to the public. These skills have helped me in my professional life as well.

What work of art is your favorite to tour?

My favorite piece currently on view is Katharina Fritsch’s Mann und Maus. It’s great to see initial reactions to this piece, as it can appear funny and playful. Kids especially like this one. However, closer observations can reveal a darker meaning, depending on you and your life experiences.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

When I first began touring, I tried to make a connection between several works of art that dealt with alternative realities with a South Park episode I had just watched, called “Imaginationland.” In the episode, the kids of South Park get taken to a land of their imagination, where Mickey Mouse, Santa, and Jesus live. Conflict arises when the bad parts of Imaginationland appear, including the Joker, Freddy Krueger, and Satan, and war ensues. While I thought it was a pretty funny and culturally relevant comparison, no one on the tour had even heard of the show! After some explanation of the story and premise, it ended up working out. I even got some people to say they would check the show out. Who knew that an art tour would help recruit more South Park fans!

What advice do you have for people considering applying to the docent program? 

While it’s a bigger time commitment than other volunteer positions at SAM, being a docent is extremely rewarding. Not only do you get the personal benefit of learning about art for free, but you also become a part of a community that supports one another and cares about helping the public learn and reflect on life through art.

– Kelsey Donahue, Museum Educator, School & Educator Programs

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Karthik Jaganathan

Docents Defined: Karthik Jaganathan

SAM is now recruiting new docents to start training in fall 2017. You don’t need to be an art historian or a former teacher to apply! In fact, SAM docents have a variety of interests and experiences. Having a diverse group of docents is how we’re able to offer tours that are engaging to all visitors. Read below and find out more about some of the docents who volunteer their time at the museum.

Want to join Karthik Jaganathan in connecting art to life? Apply now to the docent program. Applications are accepted through July 12.

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you become a docent?

Karthik Jaganathan: I grew up in Tamil Nadu, a state at the southeastern tip of India, across the Bay of Bengal from Sri Lanka. When I graduated from college, I wanted to travel—I’d never been more than 500 miles from my home town. I applied to graduate school at Purdue University. Purdue was a shock weather-wise. I grew accustomed to the cold, but the snow lingered in Indiana even after winter. After graduating, I was ready to move to a more temperate climate. I loved the beauty of Seattle (although the rain sometimes gets to me). I’ve now worked at Microsoft for 15 years, mostly developing security products for Windows, Bing, and Azure systems. I like to stay active and since moving to Seattle I’ve been involved in the Rotary and the Junior Chamber of Commerce, taught yoga, and even tended bar at the Jet City Improv. I wanted to learn more about art and was looking for something different to be involved with, which is what drew me to SAM’s docent program. I’ve been a docent since 2007.

What’s the best part of being a docent?

I like having the opportunity to attend special events when I’m leading private tours. The museum is a great place to make friends, too! I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of the museum’s security guards.

What work of art is your favorite to tour?

My artistic taste has been evolving. As a docent I get to tour works that range from old masters to modern art. Modern art wasn’t something that I appreciated when I first became a docent, but the Picasso exhibition was one of the first things I toured—it was my entryway into modern art.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

I just finished leading public tours of Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series. This was one of my favorite exhibitions. Some weekends visitors were waiting in long lines to see this work!

What advice do you have for people considering applying to the docent program?

You’ll have the chance to get to know all of SAM’s collection, which consists of more than 24,000 objects!

Kelsey Donahue, Museum Educator, School & Educator Programs

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A Glimpse of SAM’s School Tours

My name is Paige Smith. I work in the School & Educator Programs Department at the Seattle Art Museum. I have interned and worked at SAM for a little over a year now, and in all of my different positions I’ve learned so much about the museum’s role as an educational institution.  My current position as the School Tour Greeter has given me the most exposure to how important educators are to the museum and the critical role they play in bringing art and people together. I have a great admiration for educators and a strong personal and professional goal to become an educator, thus the opportunity to work with school tour groups and with SAM’s wonderful Docents seemed not only a great experience for me, but also sounded fun! The School Tour Greeter serves as mainly a liaison between school groups who come for a tour and the Docents who lead the tours. In this position I communicate with Docents about any extra information they may need to know about their school tour group. I also make sure the Teaching Artists are in the art studios and prepared for the school groups that join their tour with an art workshop.

Docents play an essential role as educators in the museum. Observing their strengths in educating all types of groups has been very inspiring. Docents are volunteers who apply to become a touring guide for school, public, and private tours. They endure a lot of training and lead many types of themed tours for all the permanent collection and special exhibition galleries at all three SAM sites ( SAM downtown, The Seattle Asian Art Museum, and Olympic Sculpture Park). I get to witness an incredible exchange between students, docents, and teachers as they prepare for their venture into the art galleries.

As the students and teachers enter the museum they move all in one organic mass. Sometimes entering as one herd, shuffling close together, or sometimes entering more fluidly, spreading out as their minds ponder the new open space they’ve filtered into: the museum. Docents greet them eagerly and the relationship between guide and school group begins. Students of different ages present different kinds of energy and the Docents can interpret and immediately bounce off this energy with much enthusiasm, friendliness, encouragement and leadership. I’ve seen Docents lead all ages of students from little kindergarten tots to angsty high schoolers and they handle them all differently. I had a conversation with docents Karin Roth and Ann Hardy about guiding a group of kindergarten students after their tour. Karin was very excited about how engaged her group was. She said it was very different from her experiences guiding high school students because of how eager these young toddlers were to engage themselves in what they were seeing, whereas teenagers are often more reserved or can be preoccupied with other teen worries or social dynamics. They both enjoy any group type but Karin was exhilarated by how differently they interact with her and how she was able to gear her tour towards their responses.

Docents cater their language, questions, and explanations to the age and the types of group dynamics they observe from the start. The distance the group has come, the type of school they attend, and teacher they come with all influence the dynamic of the group. It is exciting to watch how docents can read the dynamic and then accentuate different aspects of the museum and exhibits to encourage the group’s particular interest and intellect as much as they can.

Docents come from a diverse background of different professions and experience with teaching, but I cannot emphasize enough how devoted each Docent is to bringing art and art history into a personal level of connection for each student. As educators of the museum SAM Docents bring a whole world of knowledge and adventure to the experiences of each individual school group, and every tour is a different adventure!

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