All posts in “Security Guards”

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Michelle Waits

MICHELLE WAITS
Originally from Cincinnati, Michelle lived in LA, Santa Barbara, and spent 20 years in Hawai’i before settling in Seattle four years ago. She has a degree in Cultural Anthropology and her career has been in communications as a writer, editor, and coordinator, and in theatre administration.

SAM: Big Picture: Art After 1945 opened in July. Which artist or piece do you like seeing the most?

Waits: The Rothko—it just takes my breath away. Part of the reason I love it is that I saw a Rothko exhibit at The Guggenheim some years ago where the pieces were displayed chronologically. The early pieces were in bright colors and the canvases gradually got darker and darker as the artist sank into extreme depression. I am so happy to see a painting of his that makes my heart soar instead of feeling sadness.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
In the Go Tell It: Civil Rights Photography exhibit, there is a wonderful picture of Jackie Robinson. It’s meaningful to me because he was a close friend of my father-in-law and was my brother-in-law’s godfather.

Who is your favorite artist?
I couldn’t choose. My favorites change constantly as I discover and revisit art everywhere from the museum to the street. Unlike most VSOs, I don’t make art of have a degree in museum studies. I just have a great love for art.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
My best advice is to spend time with the art rather than just taking pictures. You have an incredible opportunity to see some spectacular things in their original states. A photo may be a good memory but it’s nothing compared to the real thing right in front of you.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I spend a lot of my time in my PJs on my sofa with my laptop working at my other jobs. I co-own Cut Bank Creek Press, a small press dedicated to publishing Native American writers. I also work with and coordinate speaking engagements for my friend and business partner Gyasi Ross, who is a brilliant speaker, author, mentor, and a myriad of other things. When there’s any time left over, I read and like to go listen to my friends’ bands.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Mark Howells

Everyone knows museums have security guards, but not everyone gets to know the people behind the uniform. We spend our days with the works of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, and Claude Monet, learning the nuances of each piece.

Johan Idema wonderfully describes museum guards in his book How To Visit An Art Museum as follows:

In order to put up with picture takers, soda smugglers and amateur art critics, guards require both the alertness of a police officer and the empathy of a kindergarten teacher. Consider museum guards the ground troops of the art world, who deserve your utmost respect. Some of them actually have amazing knowledge of art – former guards include painters such as Jackson Pollock and Sol LeWitt.

Many guards would speak with great passion, if only we asked them. Therein lies your opportunity. Have your questions ready and make your move when the gallery is quiet. Whatever the conversation, you will likely find that guards are able to offer what is often lacking in museums: human interaction and a proper conversation about art.

With Idema’s words in mind, we invite you to get to know us, SAM’s Visitor Services Officers (VSOs), with a monthly spotlight.

MARK HOWELLS
Raised between Portland and Bellingham, Mark Howells has been in the Puget Sound region for 30 years. He did IT Security and Audit before coming into the museum scene. In 1974, he worked his first museum job at the Oregon Historical Society as a junior summer docent. However, what lead him down the path to guest services was his experience in visitor studies during an extension course at the UW where he volunteered with the Washington State History Museum. Mark has worked at SAM since November 2015.

SAM: Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb comes to an end on August 28. Which artist have you enjoyed the most in this exhibit?

Howells: R. Crumb. He’s my generation. I had to hide his comix from my mom when I was a kid. Alternative comix were a fun part of my kid-hood, so I guess the nostalgia factor with Crumb was the best part.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
The Bierstadt (Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast). He got the gray of the Pacific Northwest skies just right. That’s hard to do. I know that the location was just from his own imagination, but I go down to that area at the mouth of the Columbia quite a bit and I always look to see if I can find “that place.”

Who is your favorite artist?
I’m a historian, not an artist. Recently, I’ve studied up on local Pacific Northwest artists, so maybe Philip McCracken right now.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
Ask questions. Don’t be intimidated. It’s just art.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I like to hike around the Puget Sound and nerd-out on the history all around us. I’m trying to learn more about the built history in our communities. I do volunteer history work for the Camp Harmony Executive Order 9066 Committee (the Puyallup Fairgrounds was an Internment Camp in 1942) and I’m on the Archives Committee for the Queen Anne Historical Society doing glamorous digitization projects for them.

—Katherine Humphreys, SAM VSO

Mark Howells with Philip McCracken’s War God. Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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