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Sculpture Park Summers Are For Conservation

Perched on a hillside overlooking the watery expanse of Elliott Bay, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a welcoming, art-filled green space. Free and open to the public year-round, the park plays host to visitors in every season. Because of its exposed, marine location, the sculptures that live at the park are subject to deterioration from both environmental and human causes. We take good care of the sculptures, cleaning and tending them year-round, but with Seattle’s rainy winters, summer is the window in which conservation maintenance and treatments can be carried out. Despite the pandemic, this summer was no exception as without maintenance, deterioration both structural and aesthetic quickly compromises the sculptures and installations. 

If you visited the sculpture park this summer, you probably noticed the massive white tent covering Alexander Calder’s The Eagle. The distinctive red paint coating Calder’s soaring, swooping sculpture had deteriorated and needed repainting. Thanks to a generous grant from Bank of America, The Eagle received new primers and a new coat of red paint. It looks amazing! Due to a multi-year collaboration between art conservators, the artist’s estates, coatings scientists, industrial paint manufacturers and industrial painters and advances in polymer technology, the new coating will be more durable than the previous one while still maintaining the color, saturation and low gloss finish of the original paint.

Echo by Jaume Plensa sits near the shoreline and can be seen from some of the ferries that cross Elliott Bay. Made from marble dust and polyester resin over a steel framework, Echo’s off-white exterior becomes discolored throughout the year. Not only distracting from the beauty of the sculpture, this soiling, for which we can partially thank the feathered friend pictured above, speeds the deterioration of the artwork. To protect Echo, SAM conservators cleaned her and applied a sacrificial coating. As the sculpture is over 45 feet tall, this was no small feat!

Offering visitors an opportunity to pause and shelter from the sun or rain, Seattle Cloud Cover by Teresita Fernández is a series of laminated glass panels encasing abstract, color-saturated photographs. Attached to the bridge over the railroad tracks that cross under the park, its glass panels needed cleaning. Using long-handled brushes, dirt, dust and other debris were carefully cleaned from the top and pedestrian-facing panels. Additionally, caulk used in the brackets holding the glass panels was scraped out and replaced. Caulk shrinks and swells with changes in humidity and deteriorates due to age and weather exposure.

Mark Di Suvero’s Schubert Sonata, a ribbon of twisting steel that rotates on a single, carefully balanced point, is sited near the Olympic Sculpture Park shoreline. With its proximity to Puget Sound, chlorides (naturally occurring salts present in the air near bodies of water) are a concern. These chlorides cause aggressive, rapid corrosion of uncoated steel and other metals such as bronze. To address this issue, while maintaining the raw steel aesthetic of the artist, a corrosion inhibiting protectant was applied. Invisible to the eye, this coating will extend the sculpture’s lifespan.

These projects are just a sampling of the conservation treatments completed over the last few months. Other conservation treatments included cleaning and coating bronze sculptures and addressing loses in painted surfaces to prevent corrosion. In addition to these projects, members of the SAM conservation team are regularly onsite at the park to make sure that each sculpture is looking its best. Before the rainy, short days of our northwest winter drive us all indoors, get yourself to the Olympic Sculpture Park to enjoy the stunning artwork and expansive views.

– Rachel Harris, Asian Art Conservation Center Associate

Images: The Eagle, 1971, Alexander Calder, painted steel, 465 x 390 x 390 in., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2000.69 © Calder Foundation/Artist’s Rights Society, NY. Many thanks to Diamond Painting LLC for their work on the Eagle repainting project. Echo, 2011, Jaume Plensa, Spanish, Born 1955, Polyester resin, marble dust, steel framework, Height: 45 ft. 11 in., footprint at base: 10 ft. 8 in. x 7 ft. 1 in., gross weight: 13,118 lb, Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2013.22 © Jaume Plensa. Seattle Cloud Cover, Design Approved 2004; Fabrication Completed 2006, Teresita Fernández, American, Born 1968, Laminated glass with photographic design interlayer, approx. 9 ft. 6 in. x 200 ft. x 6 ft. 3 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.140 © Teresita Fernández. Schubert Sonata, 1992, Mark Di Suvero, American, Born 1933, Painted and unpainted steel, Height: 22 ft., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, The Virginia Wright Fund, and Bagley Wright, 95.81. © Mark di Suvero.

Muse/News: Taking action, what art does, and protest songs

The Seattle Art Museum believes that Black lives matter. We mourn the lives and say the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all victims of police brutality. We recognize that we cannot be silent, and we must act. You can read more of our recent responses here and here.

Last week, Stay Home with SAM visits the virtual Naramore Arts Show, talks powerful public art with Teresita Fernández, and reads a classic work of sci-fi and Afrofuturism with a partner institution, the Northwest African American Museum.

Local News

Lots of people are sharing resources; here’s The Stranger’s frequently updated list of resistance events, ways to donate, and other resources for combatting anti-Black racism locally

Bill Tsi’li’xw James, hereditary chief of the Lummi people and a master weaver, passed away on June 1. Barbara Brotherton, SAM Curator of Native American Art, was among those sharing remembrances.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis has been sharing a weekly editor’s letter; this week, she reflects on the intersection of art and politics and “showing up for Black art and Black lives.”

“Music and art can reach across cultural barriers when it seems like nothing else will. In a 2019 interview with Crosscut, Donald Byrd acknowledged the importance he places on making work ‘related to social consciousness and the politics of being a Black person.’ But, he emphasized, ‘It still has to be a piece of art. It has to do the thing that art does.’”

Inter/National News

“This is a revolution”: Artnet’s Noor Brara spoke with 18 artists who have been protesting about what they saw in the streets. Some of them, such as Kambui Olujimi, have already created stunning works that respond to the moment.

“The people have learned to write with fire.” The Art Newspaper has an essay written by artist and activist Dread Scott on the worldwide uprising in response to the murder of George Floyd.

The New York Times’ Wesley Morris does that devastating thing he does, where he responds to a moment with a heartbreaking cultural analysis; this one finds its way to a personal catharsis when he suddenly hears a 1985 cover by Patti LaBelle in a different way.

“This country manufactures only one product powerful enough to interrupt the greatest health and economic crisis it’s probably ever faced. We make racism, the American virus and the underlying condition of black woe. And the rage against it is strong enough to compel people to risk catching one disease in order to combat the other — in scores and scores of American cities, in cities around the world.”

And Finally

Dread Scott’s essay is titled “America God Damn,” which references a 1964 protest song Nina Simone wrote in less than an hour; one its first performances was at Carnegie Hall in front of a mostly white audience.

Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: The Beginning, Ella Maurer, 12th Grade, Franklin High School, Naramore Arts Show.

Virtual Art Talks: Public Art with Teresita Fernández

Listen in as artist Teresita Fernández joins Amada Cruz, SAM’s llsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, for a virtual salon. This talk took place just days before our country erupted in protest of systemic racism and touches on how Teresita has been addressing America’s long history of power and oppression in her public artworks as well as within her current installation at the Pérez Art Museum. Featuring artworks created between 2005 and 2017, this exhibition includes “Fire (United States of the Americas).” Made shortly after the election of Donald Trump but referencing an 1848 treaty with Mexico that drastically altered the maps and notions of our present day nation states, “Fire” is a timely and haunting vision of how ideas of land and ownership impact concepts of who the public is when we talk about public art. This important conversation asks us to consider our role as viewers in understanding and shifting our own perspectives.

MacArthur fellow, Teresita Fernández is renowned for her immersive installations that seduce the viewer with their beauty but serve as a reminder of how landscapes contain history, violence, and power. Here, in Seattle, she is known for her stunning work commissioned for SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park, “Seattle Cloud Cover.” This salon was originally presented as part of SAM’s Contributors Circles Members Salon Series. A benefit to our generous Contributor Circles Members, we are pleased to share this intimate salon with all of you while you stay home home SAM.

SAM Creates: Collage Covered with Teresita Fernández

“I want you to feel like you are moving through a landscape painting or movie rather than within the landscape itself, blurring the lines between your presence as participant and observer.”

 – Teresita Fernández

Teresita Fernández’s atmospheric work Seattle Cloud Cover uses ideas of place, pattern, and color to create an experience for the viewer that is their own. The work is site-specific, commissioned by SAM to act as a bridge connecting the city with the waterfront. With those three elements—place, pattern, and color—we’ll create an artwork inspired by Fernández’s Seattle Cloud Cover, layered with symbolism and meaning. Watch this video for a better look at the artwork before getting started.

What you’ll need

  • Paper
  • Landscape images
  • Pencil or pen
  • Watercolors or semi-transparent markers, or colored pencil

You can also create this work entirely on the computer through Kleki, a free, image-editing and creation website. 

Place: Choose an image from your collage materials that has some meaning to you or is appealing to your senses. In Seattle Cloud Cover, Fernández uses images of Miami sunsets where she was born. You can tear or cut up your image and place the pieces around the page or use the whole image. Before you glue down your collage pieces think about how you might want to incorporate the elements of pattern and color into your composition. 

Pattern: In Seattle Cloud Cover, Fernández uses Ben-Day dots to create a polka-dot grid, which she calls “porthole.” Through these cut out dots you can catch glimpses of the Seattle landscape. Ben-Day dots are typically used in comic books to create tone. On sunny days, the Ben-Day dots act as spotlights for the sun to shine through, transforming the space and the people in it. How might a pattern change your collaged place? Where could you add this pattern? Is there something in the image that could be the beginning of a pattern? 

Color: The deep oranges, reds, violets and blues in Fernández’s Seattle Cloud Cover create their own sensation within the work. What colors will add another layer of meaning or symbolism to your work? Color can be added to the pattern, layered into the landscape, or used as a way to enhance and connect the work.

– Kelsey DonahueSAM Assistant Manager for Gallery Learning & Lynda Harwood-Swenson, SAM Assistant Manager for Studio Programs  

We’d love to see your work! Share your completed piece using the hashtag #StayHomeWithSAM

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Images: Seattle Cloud Cover, design approved 2004; fabrication completed 2006, Teresita Fernández, laminated glass with photographic design interlayer, approx. 9 ft. 6 in. x 200 ft. x 6 ft. 3 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.140, © Teresita Fernández.