“I just like the idea of the fact that light can be the subject.”
– Barbara Earl Thomas
Hear from Seattle-based powerhouse Barbara Earl Thomas as she shares the experience of seeing Saint Sebastion Tended by Saint Irene at SAM. More than seeing, Thomas encourages you to listen to the painting, to notice the quiet of the moment being painted.
Georges de La Tour is often mentioned as one of the many followers of Caravaggio (ca. 1571–1610), the Italian artist who pioneered the use of strong contrasts of light and dark to heighten the drama and religious feeling in his paintings. Though De La Tour probably never saw a work by Caravaggio, the innovative style spread across Europe, and the French artist first introduced his own version of “tenebrism” in this depiction of a nocturnal scene of deliverance. It was such a popular image that no fewer than a dozen other versions exist. The original painting is probably lost; this example is one of the best of the other versions, and some scholars believe it came directly from his studio and may have had his direct participation.
“I like to think of the sculpture as a sort of skin that’s been shed by the tree, and that it’s thickness is roughly commensurate with how long it would take the tree to grow the same thickness as the sculpture. So in a way, what we’re talking about is something that’s an ode to those two years in the life of the tree.”
– John Grade
John Grade’s large-scale sculpture, Middle Fork, echoes the contours of a 140-year-old western hemlock tree located in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle. Suspended above the Brotman Forum at our downtown location, this massive commissioned artwork involved the help of many hands. Volunteers, including SAM Staff, contributed time and thought to the placement of each small piece of cedar that was used to create this stunning sculpture. Watch this video for an in-depth look at the process of creating this work: from working with arborists to cast the living tree, to working with art handler to install hanging sections at SAM—Grade’s installation is an impressive reminder of art’s power to bring people together under its many branches.
Art Making Activity
Eventually John Grade’s sculpture will go back to the forest and decompose back into the soil. This makes us think about the circle of life for trees and wonder how humans are connected to nature and how is nature connected to humans? What materials do we use all the time that come from trees?
Create your own sculpture of a tree using a paper bag!
Find a paper bag of any size, open it and place it on a table. If you want, you can put a small square of cardboard inside the bottom of your bag to make it more stable.
Make cuts from the top of your bag down to the middle of your bag. I chose to do eight cuts, but you can do more or less! This will make flaps at the top of your bag.
Squeeze the bottom of your bag together and twist it as tight as you can. This will be the trunk of your tree. Just like you squeezed the trunk, squeeze together two top flaps at a time. These will be your branches.
Move your branches around and look at your tree from every angle. Move your tree to different locations and build more trees to make a forest. Each one will look different.
Think about the life cycle of your tree: it was a living tree, then paper, then a paper bag, and now you turned it into a sculpture of a tree. What will happen to it next? What is it like to have a tree indoors? What does it make you think about or remind you of?
We want to see your artwork! Share a photo of your tree with us via email or on social media using #StayHomewithSAM!
Story Time Suggestions
Because of an Acorn, by Lola M. Schaefer & Adam Schaefer. See the book read out loud here. This book illustrates the interconnectedness of the natural world, showing how a tiny acorn connects to the plant and animal life of an entire forest. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. See the book read out loud here or here. This controversial yet classic tale can be read as a parable between humanity and nature. The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. See the book read out loud here. This classic environmentalist tale reminds readers, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Nequette approaches her work from a background in sculpture, installation, and architecture. Her current body of work, Sea Change, focuses on the rapidly increasing displacement of people in coastal cities worldwide that are considered at high risk. She thinks about all of the people who live at the sea’s edge, and how water levels are now expected to rise, and where will those millions of people go? and how? She has long been concerned about “where we humans are headed regarding climate change, from forest fires to coastal flooding, from collapse of agricultural lands and practices to collapse of necessary species, oceans, and safe drinking water, etc. The power of water is something that many people underestimate, and only those who have survived a flood or hurricane have some idea of what that might be like.”
The idea and the initial list of cities for Sea Change came from an article in TheGuardian in 2017. It included interactive maps of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Miami, The Hague, and Alexandria that showed the grave danger these cities face, given their high population numbers (Shanghai at 34.8 million in 2015) and/or precious agricultural land (Alexandria and the Nile Delta). She works abstractly, primarily in paint and collage. If she has been to the city depicted, she relies on her experience to create a color and texture palette from paper on which she draws and paints. If she has not been to the city, she reads about the city and travels via Google image, and Google satellite maps looking at the city from above as well as from the street, to get a feel for what it is like. As she works, she imagines a city that has become inundated, though not completely underwater. Each of these works is titled with the population figures from governmental sources for the metropolitan areas and the works are named for the people, their cities, and the year the population number was last updated, i.e., ‘Shanghai, China, 39.4 million in 2015’.
– Pamela Jaynes SAM Gallery Coordinator
 The three-degree world: the cities that will be drowned by global warming, (Friday, November 3, 2017) Josh Holder, Niko Kommenda and Jonathan Watts (updated May 28, 2018).
Bangkok, Thailand, 14.6 million in 2010, Anne Marie Nequette, Collage on canvas. Keihanshin (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe), Japan, 19.3 million in 2010, Anne Marie Nequette, Collage on canvas.