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COVID-19 UPDATE: ALL SAM LOCATIONS CURRENTLY CLOSED. LEARN MORE »

Virtual Asian Art Museum Tour: Carol Frankel

The recently renovated and expanded Asian Art Museum reopened only a few short weeks before SAM had to close due to COVID-19. In this virtual docent tour, Carol Frankel takes us through one of the reimagined galleries—the Color in Clay gallery overlooking Volunteer Park. Carol Frankel has been a SAM docent since 2007. After 25 years at the University of Puget Sound, she became a docent and found her real interest in Asian art. She travels regularly to Japan to visit friends and seek out new and interesting places. When not sleuthing out some Asian art object, she cooks with her grandchildren by FaceTime if not in person.

Many may find this gallery, which is organized solely by color, perplexing. It is filled with several objects, none of which have a label. For me, it’s the most rewarding room to explore, with so many interesting and thought-provoking opportunities. To help narrow our virtual tour, we’ll focus on two colors: blue and white. 

We’ll start by looking at blue pieces. Blue can be the most desired and difficult color to achieve in textiles, paints, and ceramics. While we’re focused on this precious hue, you may be surprised that our first three objects are primarily brown, green, and cream.

These are sancai 三彩  ware. The name literally translates to “three colors.” A railroad company named these precious objects! There were Tang dynasty tombs still in-tact all over China in the 1920s when the Longhai Railroad started developing rail lines throughout the country. In the process, they dug up many tombs and ceramic pieces. The most prevalent were glazed in three colors: brown, green, and cream. These works were sold to museums all over the world under the name “Tang Dynasty Sancai.” 

So why are these on our blue-themed tour? If you look closely, you can see touches of blue and whenever we see blue in Chinese ceramics we can assume it uses cobalt that came from West Asia—also known as the Middle East—where the element was prevalent. This confirms that in the 7th and 8th centuries CE China was trading across the continent. (Additionally, we can see the evidence of trade with the west in the facial structure of the wine merchant.) 

The development of glaze was a notable achievement of the Tang Dynasty, but most important in our exploration of blue and white pottery was the move from the darker clay popular in China at that time to the whiter clay, which eventually led to porcelain. At the end of the gallery, you can see how this change in materials created a spectacular lack of color.

We’ve now seen blue and white separately, and if you were to look to your left in the gallery, you would see the colors combined. 

We have now skipped ahead maybe 700 years to the Ming dynasty in China. The Ming blue-and-white objects are what some consider the pinnacle of ceramic ware. In the gallery is a large Ming plate, pictured above, surrounded by blue and white examples from Vietnam and present-day Iran (the origin of the cobalt blue glazes used in the sancai ware).  

While Persia had the natural resources to create a deep, rich blue, what they didn’t have was the white clay available in China. Their clay was dark and in order to create a good blue and white, they had to first glaze the piece with a white glaze! If you were to look at the unglazed foot of each of these pieces (the back of the plates), you would see a dark gray clay, whereas the accompanying Chinese ceramic’s foot shows a bright white. You can also notice differences in the glazes of these two cultures. While the colors are similar, the lines are slightly different. Look closely at the Persian works and you’ll notice the blue glaze is somewhat blurry and the Chinese blue and white edges are crisp. In China, potters learned to mix the cobalt glaze with some of the indigenous kaolin clay and were able to obtain the sharp edges seen in Ming ceramics.

The world really opens up through the lens of only two colors. Once the museum reopens, you can return to the Color in Clay gallery and explore using another color combination as a vehicle to consider materials, trade, history, and fashion.

– Carol Frankel, SAM Docent

Images: Installation view Color in Clay gallery, Asian Art Museum, 2019, Jueqian Fang. Figure of foreign merchant holding wine skin, 8th century, Chines, earthenware with sancai (tricolor) glaze, 14 5/8 x 10 x 6 1/2in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 38.6. Tripod plate, 8th–9th century, Chinese, earthenware with sancai (tricolor) glaze and incised decoration, 1 7/8 in., diam. 7 1/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.49. Phoenix head ewer, 8th-9th century, Chinese, earthenware with sancai (tricolor) glaze and molded decoration, 12 5/8 x 4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.8. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Silk Road, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., September 16, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Silk-Road-trade-route. Jar, 9th century, Chinese, porcelain with white glaze, 8 3/4 in., Silver Anniversary Fund, 59.121. Dish with the eight auspicious Buddhist symbols, late 15th century, Chinese, porcelain with underglaze cobalt-blue decoration, h. 1 9/16 in., diam. 7 1/2 in., diam. bottom 4 5/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 51.85. Dish with foliated rim and Chinese landscape, late 15th to early 16th century, Vietnamese, stoneware with underglaze cobalt-blue decoration, diam. 13 1/4 in., Mary and Cheney Cowles, the Margaret E. Fuller Fund, and the 1999 Maryatt Gala Fund, 2000.118. Plate, 16th century, robably Iranian (Persia), Mashhad, stonepaste with underglaze-blue, black, and sage-green decoration, h. 2 3/8 in., diam. 12 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 57.17. Plate, 17th century, Iranian (Persian), stonepaste with underglaze-blue decoration, 2 1/2 x 13 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.146.

Community Questions: What Equity-Related Content Are You Consuming?

SAM locations are closed but we continue to center diverse voices in everything that SAM does. The SAM Equity Team has asked the staff to share their voices in reflections on how equity and community continuously shape the work of the museum, despite our inability to physically gather at this time. This week, we answer this important question: What social justice-/equity-related content are you consuming during this time and why? 

Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator, Asian Art Museum

A prominent Asian American film festival is offering virtual (free!) screenings, panels, and programs during May: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. I’m particularly excited to tune in for And She Could Be Next, a documentary mini-series about women of color organizers and political candidates across the United States. Another recommendation especially for SAM staff and SAM Blog readers is Mele Murals. Here’s a summary from the web: “Mele Murals is a documentary about the transformative power of art through the unlikely union of graffiti and ancient Hawaiian culture. At the center of this story are the artists Estria Miyashiro (aka Estria) and John Hina (aka Prime), and a group of Native Hawaiian youth from the rural community of Waimea, HI.”

Priya Frank, SAM Associate Director for Community Programs

Priya Frank points at the TV featuring Becoming with Michelle Obama

I am unashamed to say that I have binge watched my way through the last few months. Instead of asking people what they did today, I must know what they are watching. What someone is watching right now is helping me understand where they are coming from, what they are obsessed with, what they hate, and it all comes back to how arts and culture are helping us through this uncharted time. Besides the British murder mysteries I’m obsessed with, these three stuck out to me and brought such joy, inspiration, and connectivity to my world. 

My Netflix Recs: 
Gentefied: I so appreciated the multigenerational perspectives, the way in which each generation’s cultural traditions and history show up, and how that translates within each generation’s ideal of what the “American Dream” looks like. They navigate clashing ideas, their love and loyalty for each other, their food, their art, and Latinx people, all while set amongst the reality of a backdrop addressing the changing neighborhood due to gentrification. It was produced by America Ferrera, and I was uplifted by her interview on Reese Witherspoon’s Shine On (also on Netflix).  

Becoming: I can’t say enough about what this documentary means to me. There are so many lessons that resonate, but the ways Michelle Obama authentically connected with people on her tour, and got to let her real self shine, is so incredible. The fact that she continues to reinvent herself is truly inspiring. She isn’t defining herself by the eight years in the White House. This doc allowed me to think about what I want my own life to look like post-COVID.  How do I want to show up for myself and for those I love? How do I show up for emerging leaders in the arts field and create space that helps folx move beyond the shadow of imposter syndrome and recognize their own greatness?  

Shine On with Reese: I was skeptical about this one, but the episodes were short enough that I was willing to try it out, and I’m so glad I did! Each episode centered around powerful womxn making change from where they are. With episodes centered around folx like Simone Askew, Dolly Parton, and Ava DuVernay, it’s a little peek into the journeys and people who influenced where they are today. My fave episode was the one with Cleo Wade and Elaine Welteroth because it reminded me of me and my BFF Jaimée in how they show up and support each other, build their dreams, and do so via slumber parties!

Noelle Vasquez, SAM Admissions Volunteer Supervisor:

Shows: Never Have I Ever

Books:

  • Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China – Leta Hong Fincher
  • The Poppy War – R.F. Kuang
  • Sex and World Peace – Valerie Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, Chad F. Emmett
  • The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write – Sabrina Mahfouz (editor)
  • Memoirs of a Polar Bear – Yoko Tawada

Lauren Farris, SAM Campaign Assistant

I’ve been following a local photographer and activist, Sharon H. Chang, on Instagram for awhile. During this time, I’ve found her “Safety Not Stigma,” very impactful, It’s a “portrait campaign to help combat increased racism against people of color during the pandemic, raise awareness about the disproportionate impacts of coronavirus on communities of color, and prioritize safety instead of stigma by the public,” to be . 

Images: Lauren Farris & Priya Frank

SAM Book Club: Octavia Butler’s Brand of Sci-Fi

SAM’s staff is reading and responding to Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler as a way to continue considering some of the themes in our currently closed exhibition, John Akomfrah: Future History, on view through September 7. Upcoming book club reflections will be shared here on the blog June 3 and June 16. We’ll conclude the virtual book club with a Zoom meet up for all of our book club participants!

SAM Book Club is now halfway through reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. As a first time reader of Butler and as a writer, I am in awe of her elegant craft with narrative structure. About three years have gone by since the beginning of the novel and protagonist Lauren Olmina has left the false security of her walled-in neighborhood to journey north.

Lauren has grown up over the chapters and decided she must leave her neighborhood in order to help Earthseed flourish. However, the circumstances that lead to her departure are brutal rather than voluntary. In fact, much of the novel is brutal, though never gratuitous. I would describe Butler’s approach to a violent reality as unflinching. This is because the narrator of Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina, is herself unflinching.

What I find so skillful in Butler’s writing is how this book is at once a novel and a holy text. Right around the middle of the book we begin to see how Lauren’s writing, the book we are reading becomes the word of Earthseed. Consider how many religious texts are the parables of that religion’s prophet—how the prophet’s life contains the revelations and tenants of the religion. As we read, we begin to realize that Butler did not write a novel, she wrote Earthseed. And as I read, I find myself being converted.

I recently stumbled upon this video from our neighbors at Museum of Pop Culture where Butler discusses her approach to science fiction narrative. Hear from the author herself!

So what is Earthseed? Earthseed is a belief in change as god, or the most powerful constant in the universe. Now that we have reached the middle of the book, Lauren Olamina has just shared the first page of the first book of Earthseed: The Books of the Living with another person for the first time:

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

God
Is Change.

Parable of the Sower touches on so many issues—climate change, corrupt politicians, corporate greed, class warfare, sexism, economic collapse, and racism are just a few. In the second quarter of the novel a slavery narrative is introduced in the form of an international company that takes over a coastal city promising jobs to families who relocate only to have those families forever in debt. Lauren’s closest friend moves there and this begins a thread within the book that seems to be one of the driving themes: freedom. Almost all of the issues listed above are forms of oppression or they can be leveraged to oppress people. A professor friend of mine pointed me towards a current webinar series that unpacks this, and many other topics in the book, by two female scholars who can speak more eloquently about Butler’s work than I ever could. Watch the first discussion in the series with Afrofuturist writer Tananarive Due and womanist process theologian Monica A. Coleman.

I suspect that Earthseed will take on new complexity now that Lauren has begun to share what she believes in with others. Perhaps this will lead to interpretations by others as the book continues. Tell us what you think about Earthseed, Butler’s unique brand of sci-fi, and what sticks out to you about Parable of the Sower as you read along—comment below!

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

SAM Connects Community through Letters in Quarantine

Whether seemingly big or small, sustaining connection is more critical than ever. Jenae Williams, Exhibitions and Publications Associate, and Seohee Kim, Division Coordinator for Education and Public Engagement, recently started writing letters to stay connected to their community in quarantine. They’ve shared a Q&A of their wonderful project below.

Not only do handwritten letters support the US Postal Service, brighten up someone’s day, and remind others that they are not alone, but right now your letters can support community by showing love to Chinatown-International District! If you’re feeling inspired, please check out Love Letters to Chinatown-International District #CIDLoveLetters. Share your love letters, and the Wing Luke Museum will collect and showcase submissions in a digital exhibition as part of the Wing Luke Museum’s Resilience Campaign. Deadline is May 18! May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month so we hope you will take some encouragement and inspiration from this post and write a letter to Seattle’s International District or support the USPS by sending a letter a friend or loved one!

#LettersInQuarantine

What first inspired you to write letters to people in quarantine?

Jenae: I genuinely miss seeing my colleagues at SAM every day, and I was first inspired by my managers Chiyo Ishikawa and Tina Lee, who do so well at checking in on many of us at SAM. Later, I read about how the US Postal Service is in danger of going out of business, which upset me deeply. USPS provides 600,000 jobs, delivers essential items (medicine! voting ballots!), and it’s the only mailing service that reaches every household across the nation, no matter how rural. I am also reminded that compared to private mailing services, sending a letter or priority mail with the USPS service is equitable. It costs me the same amount of money to send a letter to a friend locally as it does to send a letter to my grandma in Hawaii. 

Seohee: I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while, but I’d always brushed it to the back of my mind because I was unsure of when or how to begin. However, after over a month of being indoors and focusing solely on work, I needed a simple but creative outlet to allow myself to detach from the screen and practice self-care. Then, I was having a brainstorming video call with my dear colleague, friend, and muse, Priya, who showed me the beautiful postcards she’d been designing for her close ones. Insert mind spark here. A few days later, I saw Jenae’s heartwarming Instagram story showing support to USPS with her letters to friends and family, and I felt the need to (finally) take action. 

Ellsworth Kelly stamps!

Where can we buy our own Ellsworth Kelly stamps?

Jenae: USPS released these stamps in 2019, so they may be hard to find. But check your local post office. Some locations, like mine, still have leftover sheets in stock. I’m excited for the Ruth Asawa stamps that are scheduled to be released this year! 

Postcard coloring book from Daiso!

Tell us about the stationery/paper that you’re using for this project?

Jenae: I’m using whatever paper I have at home right now. My mom gave me a pad of stationary for this project that pays homage to the early days of airmail so I’m using that first. With this paper, I like that after you’re finished writing, you fold its edges up, and it turns into its own envelope. I also have Hello Kitty stationery from my childhood that I’ll use later as well.

Seohee: I have been a hoarder of all things stationery since middle school, so I’ve been making use of my ridiculous collection. Among the bunch, my go-to have been these Daiso coloring books that have various images of flowers on the front and postcard layouts on the back of each page. In my free time and whenever I’m feeling stressed, I tear out a page to color while bopping to some good ol’ 90s K-pop. It’s been surprisingly healing for me, and possibly the only routine I’ve maintained over the past four weeks.

What was the response to your letter-writing project after you posted about it on Instagram?

Jenae: A lot of people responded with their address, but some just responded to say that they loved the stamps. I’m so glad. Maybe they’ll go out and buy their own. I especially love that I received notes from friends who I haven’t talked to in a long time.

Seohee: Excitement and support! I received quite a few responses from friends around the country with their addresses! To be honest, I wasn’t expecting them to be as open to sharing such personal information, but that might just stem from the trust issues I’ve developed after watching nothing but serial killer documentaries on Netflix for the past two months. 

Write a love letter to the International District!

Have you found writing letters to be much different than writing emails? Any early letter-writing tips?

Jenae: I send work emails every day, but letters are definitely a different form of writing. I’m still learning to embrace the time and thoughtfulness it takes. If your thoughts start to run amok (this happens to me frequently) as you’re writing, just go with it. I have to remind myself that it’s OK to show my inner life sometimes.

Seohee: Yes! I’ve found that they’re much more personal because I’m not writing with a specific intent in mind as I would for, say, a work email. It allows me to pause and really think about each person and what individual messages I want to send that might bring even a tiny bit of joy to their day. Not exactly a tip, but I’ve been having fun picking out individual postcards based on the image of the flower and their meaning. It adds just another hint of personalization to the entire experience. Also, I’ve been laminating my postcards with packing tape before mailing them out so that people have the option to wipe them down with a sanitizing cloth upon receiving them—just another COVID-19 precaution from a germaphobe. 

Finally, what are you hoping to get from all of this?

Jenae: I hope one of my letters will be a bright spot to someone in quarantine and help them feel connected to me/humanity in a small way.

Seohee: I hope something as small as this could be a reason for someone to smile amidst the chaos that has become our new normal. If we can keep the web of connection and small joys going/growing, even better!

Images: Lauren Farris, Seohee Kim, Jenae Williams. 

Community Questions: What Are You Making?

While SAM locations are closed, the SAM Equity Team is asking team members to reflect on how equity and community continue to be central to our work and our lives even as we work remotely. This week, we answer this important question: What kind of making are you doing at this time? Read below for to see how a couple staff SAM staff members responded.

During this unexpected quarantine and the swift closing of SAM, a coworker, Associate Conservator Geneva Griswold passed me a box of items from the Conservation Lab, suggesting a “hands-on” project while I was working at home. The box contents included 1/8″ copper bearing balls and cotton sockinette (a stretchy cotton skin protector used to protect skin under casts). With these items I am sewing weighted bags. These bags are used to hold artwork, photos, or textiles in position while working. They are also useful in providing weighted pressure to hold glued items together while drying. Also referred to as bean bags, print weights, drawing weight bags, etc.

They can vary in size from three inches long up to however long the sewer decides. The process goes like this: I fill a plastic baggy with the desired amount of copper ball trim off the zip lock, apply double sticky tape and then repeat so I have at least 2 bags to prevent spillage and contain them within the sockinette. Now comes the tricky process of carefully folding under the ends of the sockinette and hand sewing. To sew them shut I used embroidery floss along the edge using a running or straight stitch one direction then, pulling the floss tight, sewing the opposite direction. Lastly, carefully tie a knot and add a touch of fabric glue for additional security.

I am pretty happy with the results since I’ve never sewn these before. The museum usually purchases these and, after examining the sample, I’m guessing they are sewn with a machine. It’s been a fun and tactile way of staying in touch with my position at the museum while I am away from the amazing, wondrous collection.

– Monica Cavagnaro, SAM Associate Collections Care Manager


It took me several weeks to finally feel up to making stuff, but I’m starting to hit my groove. I’ve been making masks for family and friends. I’ve also gotten back to my artistic practice with photo collaging. I’m attaching an early version of something I’ve been working on. It’s actually changed quite a bit since this image, which is fun to look back and see.

Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

Photos: Monica Cavagnaro & Traci Timmons

My Favorite Things: Ramzy Lakos on Amerocco

“As an American Egyptian, born and raised in the Middle-East, living in the US, I could see myself reflected in this piece, which is unique for me, because my identity mostly exists in-between spaces.”

– Ramzy Lakos, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Under the unique circumstances of SAM’s closure, our amazing Emerging Arts Leader Intern, Ramzy Lakos adapted the culminating tour of his internship into a video! Go inside Aaron Fowler: Into Existence with Ramzy as he shares his personal approach to understanding and connecting with the large-scale work, “Amerocco.” The exhibition is slated to be on view through October 25, 2020, and we hope you will have a chance to experience it in person once SAM can reopen.

Aaron Fowler’s larger-than-life works are at once paintings, sculptures, and installations. They are made from everyday discarded items and materials sourced from the artist’s local surroundings in Los Angeles and St. Louis, among other places. Items include cotton balls, security gates, afro wigs, hair weaves, broken mirrors, djellabas, sand, broken-down movie sets, found car parts, ropes, lights, and much more.

Emerging Arts Leader Internships at SAM grew out of SAM’s equity goal and became a paid 10-week position at the museum designed to provide emerging arts leaders from diverse backgrounds with an in-depth understanding of SAM’s operations, programming and audiences.

Community Questions: How Are You Staying Connected?

While SAM locations are closed, we are still working hard to center diverse voices in all that SAM does. The SAM Equity Team is sharing some of the ways that this is manifesting in the museum, in Seattle, and in our lives by asking team members to reflect on how equity and community building continue to be the center of our work, despite our inability to physically gather at this time. The first question was: How are you continuing to build and stay connected to community during this time?

Here’s how Rayna Mathis, SAM’s Assistant Educator for Teen Programs and equity team member, responded:

My quarantine has been a pretty silent one because I live alone, which means I bounce around my apartment all day with only my thoughts to keep me company. I knew too many days of this would go south real fast. I needed to focus on something to help me build and stay connected to my community in a way that felt authentic and meaningful for me. This led me to building a Little Free Library (LFL). I did my research, went to Home Depot, built the structure, went to Home Depot again, realized I bought the wrong thing at Home Depot, cried, painted, and somehow finished in a week’s time (I call those fine moments the spark notes of the project).

During that week, friends and strangers alike reached out to offer support. It’s been nearly a month since I’ve been working from home and, to date, I’ve received carpentry lessons, supportive texts and messages to keep me going, transportation to put the library in place, snacks from friends who made sure I wasn’t forgetting to eat, monetary donations to support the cost of building materials, Clorox wipes, and wrapping paper to sanitize donations and keep them preserved, and over 300 book donations!

With permission from local business owner, Luis Rodriguez, the library was placed outside of The Station, an activist coffee shop in South Seattle. Though the library is filled with content appropriate for all ages, the purpose for this location was to ensure an accessible way for South Seattle students who are not in school due to the stay home order and/or with limited internet access, to be able to continue to find ways to learn or be entertained at this time. And with generous donations from all over Seattle, The Station has also transformed part of its store into a open pantry for anyone in the community to get groceries for themselves and their families.

When you ask me what community means to me, it’s this. From every corner of Seattle, this work is being done without hesitation and people are showing up before even being asked. There’s less to worry about and more to be grateful for when I know I am a part of a community that holds each other up, and will weather every storm together.

Building a LFL is a project I’ve been interested in for a long time. LFL’s have been there for me in tough or unusual times. Once when I was out of the country and homesick, I stumbled on a LFL in a large mall and the first book I picked up had a dedication from a bookstore in Washington. What were the odds of finding a book from home so far from home? The day a mentor of mine passed away, I passed an LFL in a walk to Green Lake and found a poem by Maya Angelou about death and loss. When I’ve gotten lost in the hectic world, time and time again I was found behind library doors, beneath book covers, inside every page. There is comfort and familiarity in feeling connected across shared love of a book. I hope my LFL brings a feeling of connection to anyone who finds the book they didn’t know they needed in it.

Muse/News: Chiyo’s goodbye, the art of hom bows, and Earth’s mini moon

SAM News

Last week, we announced that Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, will retire this summer after 30 years with the museum. The Seattle Times, KUOW, Artforum, Artnet, ARTnews, Artdaily, and Hyperallergic all shared the news. In Crosscut’s Arts & Culture newsletter, Brangien Davis spoke for everyone when she wrote, “Beloved in the Seattle arts community for her insight, approachability and très chic personal style, Ishikawa will be missed.”

“A Place for Meaningful Cultural Conversations” declared the headline for art critic Lee Lawrence’s thoughtful review of the reimagined Asian Art Museum, which appeared in the February 25 print edition of the Wall Street Journal.

“These 19th-century bululs, or rice deities, from the Philippines once watched over terraced paddies, and they’re among the museum’s most modest yet most powerful works. Given the nature and small size of its Philippine holdings, the Seattle Asian Art Museum probably would have kept them in storage had it opted for a traditional installation. But in another benefit of thematic groupings, they—and other long-warehoused treasures in the museum’s collection—now have a role, enriching the new installation not just with their stories but with their spirit.”

Local News

Seattle-based artist Susie J. Lee is making a short video about what makes a museum “interesting and cool.” The Seattle Times’ Alan Berner captured photos of the recent shoot at the Asian Art Museum.

Crosscut’s new video series, Art Seen, explores “the hidden art of the everyday”; they recently showed us how Mee Sum Pastry makes all those hom bows, day in and day out.

The Seattle Times’ Crystal Paul reviews the new collection of stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick.

“As a trained anthropologist, Hurston traveled down the East Coast and sat on stoops and corners, the storytelling stages and communal gathering spaces of Black communities, where, with academic rigor and a loving gaze, she listened, studied and collected the stories Black folk tell.”

Inter/National News

Tara Bahrampour for the Washington Post on the Phillips Collection’s Creative Aging program, which helps seniors connect and make art.

Holland Cotter of the New York Times on MoMA’s Donald Judd survey that opens on Sunday, noting that his work “can now be seen to offer pleasures, visual and conceptual, that any audience with open eyes, can relate to.”

Hyperallergic’s Kealey Boyd reviews the exhibition of Chinese contemporary art, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China; its national tour has now brought it to the Smart Museum of Art and Wrightwood 659 in Chicago, before it heads to SAM this summer.

“It is not often a new category of art historical research is proposed as a solution to these persistent problems, but The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China makes a compelling case for the usefulness of a new analytical structure around Chinese art.” 

And Finally

Earth can have a mini moon (as a treat).

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Scott Areman

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.”