All posts in “SAM Docents”

Docents Defined: Nina Vichayapai

Are you a fan of the Seattle Asian Art Museum who loves discussing your favorite artworks? Consider volunteering as a docent at the Asian Art Museum when it reopens later this year! SAM is recruiting new docents to start training to lead tours of the newly installed galleries and you have until May 31 to apply.

Docents bring their unique interests and backgrounds to each tour they lead and that’s what makes them fun and engaging for SAM’s diverse audiences. A docent like Nina didn’t go to museum growing up but later found them to be an important part of her life and started leading tours with SAM to help others become invested in museum visits early in life. Find about more about Nina in the interview below!

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

Nina: I am an artist and studied at an art school in San Francisco. Since I was young, I loved making art and knew I wanted to become an artist. It wasn’t until I was older that I also learned to love looking at art. A huge part of my college education took place at museums and included wonderful opportunities to meet the people who help these spaces function. Growing up I never really visited museums and by the time I became an adult, I somehow fell into the impression that the museum was a space reserved for people unlike me and the stories being told there did not represent mine.

After seeing many different museums, I was blown away by how much these spaces offer our communities. By the time I finished college and decided to move back to Seattle I knew that as much as I wanted to continue making art, I also wanted to find opportunities which would allow me to tap into the joy I have for museums. Becoming a docent with the Seattle Art Museum was really the perfect outlet for that joy. I was especially compelled to become a docent given my previous background of apprehension toward museums. There are many people who avoid museums out of feeling excluded. Having once been one of those people, I have a lot of patience and understanding when it comes to sharing what I think we can all learn from art.

What’s the best part of being a docent?

The best part of being a docent for me is definitely getting to see all the incredible connections people make to their own lives all just from looking at art. I’ve worked primarily with younger students and whether we are looking at a piece from the Pacific Northwest or from somewhere far away, whether it was made last year or hundreds of years ago, I’m always so thrilled to see how quickly the students will begin to relate the work to their own lived experiences.

Another thing I must mention as being a huge highlight is the wealth of resources we have access to! Through the online database, which docents can access, and the library at SAM, there is so much to learn about the art in SAM’s collections. Docents are always contributing to this wealth as well. For any art lover, it’ s really a dream and very fun to get lost in exploring the archives.

What’s your favorite work of art to tour?

My favorite installation to tour is Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. This installation includes the work of Saya Woofalk along with pieces from many other artists, so there is a lot to work within the gallery for the many different tours we do. But what I love most is seeing how students light up when they step into that space. The whole installation really breaks a lot of preconceived ideas about what art and museums are supposed to look like. And the concept of empathy is always one that generates really deep and often touching conversations.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

I gave an Elements of Art tour to a particularly enthusiastic class once. They walked in without much prior experience of talking about art, but by the end of our tour they couldn’t contain their excitement at discovering the different elements we had just discussed in every artwork we passed. It was as if I had revealed a magician’s trick to them and their glee was really contagious!

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

Visit museums! Not just art museums too. Seattle has so many great museums. I think it’s important to get a feel for the culture and approach to education unique to each museum. It helped me understand what qualities I felt were important and how I could bring that to my role as a docent.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

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Docents Defined: David Turner

Do you love art and can’t wait to spend loads of time in the Seattle Asian Art Museum when it reopens? We’ve got the volunteer position for you! SAM is recruiting new docents to start training to lead tours of the newly installed galleries and you have until May 31 to apply.

Our docents have a wide range of interests and background. Take David, for instance—he started volunteering to lead tours to get more involved in the arts community and his favorite artwork in the museum changes with every tour! Want to learn more about being a docent? Join SAM staff and current docents at our Docent Open House on May 16, 2019 from 6–7 pm

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

David: It was a way for me to get to be connected with the community when I came to Seattle.

What’s the best part about being leading school tours?

The exposure to the art and interacting with kids. One visit to a museum is never enough to get to understand or enjoy something. My joy in being in the museum comes from close contact with art over a period of time. It’s more meaningful when I can try to engage a group of kids or even adults in responding to an artwork. It’s a challenge, but it’s really a pleasure.

What’s your favorite work of art at SAM?

That changes every tour. I tell every group I take into the galleries, “I’m going to take you to see my favorite piece.” I want to express to kids, and everyone else on my tours, that I have regard for the work. Yesterday, my favorite piece was Market Scene by Paul Bril.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

The emotional response to Marie Watt’s Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations in the Northwest Coast galleries. My take on it has always been that every blanket has a story and Blanket Stories encapsulates the stories of the people who created the materials in the piece. I ask viewers if they have a blanket story and it’s always very moving. It’s a very meaningful moment when they see it’s not just about a blanket, but that this is a collection of human beings’ lives.

What advice do you have for people interested in the docent program?

Be yourself. That’s it! A mistake that’s easy to make is to think that there’s a canned presentation that you’re going to give. Those are not the most interesting tours by any means. When docents have internalized a piece, it makes a big difference in the way the audience that you’re speaking to reacts.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

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Docents Defined: Erin Bruce

SAM is now recruiting new docents to start training for the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. You don’t need to be an art historian or a 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 docents like Erin Bruce who volunteer their time at the museum.

If you still want to learn more about being a docent? Join SAM staff and current docents at our Docent Open House on May 16 from 6–7 pm! Or, apply now to the docent program. Applications are accepted through May 31.

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

Erin Bruce: I have always been inspired by all things visual, whether it is nature, a building, a room and especially art. I studied art in college and made art whenever possible. Now I am a technical stock trader and rely on charts for my work—more visual interpretation! It was a three-year wait for a new docent class to start for me after a friend told me about SAM. The chance to participate with our museum is an honor.

What’s the best part about being a docent?

The best part is all of it: meeting energetic, generous, knowledgeable people; constant learning; leading a tour of young people and engaging them in the art and history of objects. It’s all gratifying. SAM’s collections are a wondrous gift to our city and special exhibitions join and expand experiences as well.

What is your favorite work of art to tour at the Asian Art Museum?

The Deer Scroll. Calligrapher Koetsu and painter Sotatsu collaborated to create this iconic masterpiece. Our 30 feet of the original 72 feet contains 12 poems from the Shin Kokinshu, which took four years to write. The beauty and harmony transports you to another time and place.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

Tours were scheduled the week before Mother’s Day so I made a gallery activity “A Gift for Mom.” Given one exhibition room students got to pick an object that they would give to their Mom if they could. It revealed so many wonderful things such as what objects in our Asian art collection young people were most drawn to, what they found beautiful and why. Crafting future tours improved since I had learned some of their favorite objects. The chance to interact with young people is yet another joy and benefit of leading a school tour.

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

Your interests and life experiences offer wonderful and unique perspectives. You will discover and explore the vast and layered connections of art to our lives. It is so much fun.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

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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 for the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. 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 May 19.

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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