Come Back to SAM! Get tickets now »

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: David Yamato

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a Visitor Services Officer (VSO) at SAM? Well, our VSOs are here to tell you. Learn about these familiar faces in the galleries and find out what artworks they spend the most time looking at. This month, we speak with David Yamato! Originally from Houston, Texas, Yamato earned his bachelor’s degree in Illustration from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. After his graduation, he returned to Houston and worked as an art teacher in the public school system. He decided to start a new career when he moved with his family to Seattle. Inspired by the experience of being surrounded with artwork on the many field trips he took his students on, he jumped at the chance to join the SAM team two years ago.
SAM: Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect opened October 19. What were you drawn to or surprised by in this exhibition?
David Yamato: The first thing that surprised me is the number of works that are in this exhibition. Looking at a painting felt like meditating to me and there sure is a lot to meditate on here. The second surprise was how much thought and emotion Andrew Wyeth put into every single painting. I highly recommend everyone who comes to see the show joins one of our tours.
What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
Although I’m deeply in love with every painting from our Australian Aboriginal collection, I still have to say my favorite thing at SAM is the museum itself. The 2004 to 2007 downtown expansion credited to architect Brad Cloepfil is my favorite part of all. While the building masterfully focuses on and showcases the museum collection, the architecture itself is also a masterpiece of light and space. I really hope more people will notice and talk about the building.
Who is your favorite artist?
My favorite is Vincent van Gogh because behind all the glory, fame, and perfection, the life of an artist can be a very very difficult path to take. As a practicing artist, the story of his life helps and inspires me to keep doing my work. I can’t tell you how many times I have cried when I have seen his paintings in real life.
What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
I remember a patron once asked me the meaning behind some minimalist art on view. I’m still asking myself this question about everything in the museum. Although we might very well find a direct answer in books or from a curator, I think it is very rewarding to search for a personal answer to that question. If you ever feel lost surrounded by all the artworks in the museum, it is time to do some detective work! Look for hints, not just from the artwork and its description, but also in terms of the time period it was made in and its relationship with other works in the museum.
Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I’m a comic book artist who works under a pen name which I prefer to keep secret (If you’re one of the rare few who know who I am, don’t go ruining the fun for everyone!). The styles I’m working in range from mystery to historical fiction to slices of life. I’m also conducting independent research on art censorship with a focus on comics and sequential art around the world. The world of comics is huge and I’m still discovering news and issues from places and countries that I never expected to have this problem. Drop me a note if you know anything interesting in regards to art censorship!
– Emily Jones, SAM Visitor Services Officer
Photo: Natali Wiseman

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Adera Gandy

Meet this month’s Visitor Services Officer (VSO), Adera (uh-dare-uh) Gandy, an actress, performance artist, and muse raised in the small waterfront suburb of Des Moines, Washington. After high school, Adera moved to Washington DC to study acting at Howard University. After two years of higher education, she chose to leave school to explore the city while working a receptionist job and paying for acting classes at The Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory. She moved back to Seattle in 2014 to be close to her family and the refreshing landscape of the Pacific Northwest. Prior to working as a VSO at SAM, Adera worked in admissions at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop), formerly known as the Experience Music Project (EMP).

SAM: What are your thoughts on Troy Gua on view at TASTE Café in SAM?

Adera Gandy: Troy Gua’s work is stunning. At first glance I’m sure my pupils dilated. I love how rich the pigments are and the silky texture. The pieces on display are hard NOT to look at. I especially like Mana 2  for the shades of blue and the gradient effect. Every time I’m in TASTE Café, I walk up to that piece and get as close as I can respectfully. It’s nice to have digital print work in the museum for a change and I hope visitors and staff take the time to check it out.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Currently, my favorite piece on display is Holy Family with St John the Baptist and Saint Catherine by Antonio Guardi. It’s breathtaking. This painting glows and I love the jewel tones. The image is so soft and pillowy and gold and silver all at once. It seems to be shrouded in mystery, yet so inviting. I often wonder if a secret is being shared and what the figures sound like. It’s just so beautiful.

Who is your favorite artist?

Beyoncé, definitely.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Lose the judgement and open your mind. It’s so easy, as the viewer, to look at a piece of art as if it has to prove something to you. We actually do this with people too. This is something I try to practice while viewing myself: Let the piece be what it is. The artist behind whatever work you’re looking at is human, just like you. Their own thoughts, feelings, memories, experiences, traumas, doubts, dreams, passions, prejudices, fantasies, fears, and wishes went into their creation. Relieve yourself of the burden of “understanding” artworks and simply allow them to live. Resist the temptation to judge what a complete stranger has made as “good” or “bad.” And if you find yourself slipping, challenge your own thoughts and feelings; be honest with yourself about what part of your life’s story has led to feeling angered, aroused, or at peace while viewing a particular painting or sculpture. You might discover something within yourself and develop a more meaningful relationship with the work and the artist behind it.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

When I’m not working at SAM, I’m traveling, journaling, reading, auditioning, plotting my next Instagram performance art piece, and working on collaborations with other Seattle artists. I am looking to get into art modeling as well. Right now, I’m developing a website and blog with a friend of mine who lives in LA called Sacred Souls, which is intended to promote practices meant to spread love, cultivate compassion, and heal the collective mind and spirit. I’m really excited for it! I’m also nurturing honeydo, the theatre/movement performance duo I’ve formed with one of my best friends and collaborators, Lindsay Zae Summers. We are debuting at Kitchen Sessions at the Bellevue Art Museum the evening of Friday, November 10.

– Emily Jones, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Alexandrew Wong

Alexandrew (Alex) Wong is an artist and native Seattleite, raised in the south end of the city. He attended Franklin High School where he first learned to use wood tools to create art. At the University of Washington, Alex thrived and was accepted into the School of Art as a 3D4M major. He gained skill sets using tools to create multimedia sculptures with glass, wood, steel, and ceramics. Alex joined the SAM as a Visitor Services Officer (VSO) after he graduated. He’s been here for about a year and a half and truly enjoys it.

SAM: Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors opened June 30 and runs until September 10. What is your favorite piece in this exhibition?
Alex: My favorite piece in Yayoi Kusama is The Obliteration Room. The idea of creating a room and sticking colored dots on the living room surface is genius. The concept is so playful and colorful. One thing I struggled with in school was using color, I was terrible at it. But the room itself uses people to contribute to the art and has them color the piece themselves. Genius.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
My favorite piece at SAM is the Native American house posts. The skill in creating those posts is phenomenal. Imagine the carver themselves, just chipping away at a log for hours to create the four things that hold your house up.

Who is your favorite artist?
Kendrick Lamar, his music keeps me going. When it’s time to get hyped, I start bumping his tunes. For those wondering put on “m.A.A.d City,” “Swimming Pools,” “HUMBLE,” “King Kunta,” and “Backseat Freestyle.” Tell me these don’t get you hyped up too.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
The bathrooms in the forum are to the left at the end of John Grade’s Middle Fork (the south side of the tree).

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I work at an art co-op in Capitol Hill, Blue Cone Studios, where I create ceramic sculptures. So to whomever is reading this, come check my work out. I’ll teach you a thing or two about clay. I’ll provide materials and lessons. We do art walk every second Thursday. Come by and let’s talk art.

– Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: John Jung-Simard

Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, John Jung-Simard moved to Seattle in 1984. He received his bachelor degree in French from University of Washington and his masters in theology from Seattle University. He worked in a variety of settings including pubic health research and a library shipping warehouse before coming to SAM in 1997. Although there was a period in 2001 when John took on another job, he eventually came back to SAM, where he considers the job similar to being part of a family.

SAM: In the Brotman Forum, John Grade: Middle Fork has been on display since February. What stands out to you about this new addition?

John: John Grade’s Middle Fork sculpture is so large, it’s amazing it got completed. It’s the teamwork involved that amazes me the most.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Among many others, the Asante gold pieces on the 4th floor could be my favorites. They might seem inconsequential, but they’re actually prized possessions in that culture. I love so-called emphera, and these works could be seen that way. They are pristine and lovely. The Soul Washer’s Discs are really great.

Who is your favorite artist?

I love Cy Twombly. There’s a whole museum dedicated to him in Houston. His paintings look like children’s doodling, or graffiti, but I find it very moving: it’s like ancient scribbling on a wall from some obscure place.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Take it slow. Unless you’re here for a specific show, just go with the flow. That will help you find unexpected gems.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

I’m not a practicing artist, but I love art, old & foreign films, off-kilter music, and reading. I love animals, and often say hello to them, even when I’m driving in my car.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Greg Thompson

A Seattle native, Greg found his way to the Seattle Art Museum after working as a Brick Mason and attaining his Mechanical Engineering degree. His love of art and personable nature make him a popular guard in the galleries. Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi opened on November 11 at the Asian Art Museum. Her works are mostly digital animation, with four pieces made specifically for this exhibition. Those pieces are based off SAM’s permanent collection pieces that are also displayed throughout the exhibition. Many artists take inspiration from the world around them, including Greg. In the galleries, he’s often drawing depictions of the works currently on display or making caricatures of other VSOs.

SAM: What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Thompson: The Italian Room on the fourth floor. The crazy thing about that room is that it was shipped from Italy piece by piece. I could take a nap in there.

Who is your favorite artist?
Kehinde Wiley and Gordon Parks.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
Take your time and enjoy the experience.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
Well when I’m not at SAM, I like to do stuff in my studio like make mix tapes. I like to watch movies and spend time with friends and family. I’m also studying to be a ventriloquist—I can talk while drinking water now!

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Austen Mumper

AUSTEN MUMPER
After earning his economics degree at Gonzaga University, Austen worked for Colliers International, a real estate services company. Austen currently attends The Art Institute of Seattle studying animation and pursuing his life-long interest in music and art. Working at SAM surrounded by artwork and conversations with coworkers and museum patrons provides him constant inspiration.

SAM: Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style opened on October 11. What’s your favorite part of the exhibition?

Mumper: Seeing the life of a fashion designer and the process that goes into clothing design is a very new perspective for me. The rooms alone are beautifully arranged, completely unrecognizable from past exhibitions I’ve worked. Still owning hand-me-downs, I don’t think people should be taking my fashion advice, but any person interested in fashion must see this show.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
Choosing a favorite piece is incredibly difficult. That said, the section I frequent most is the African Art—in particular, Standing Figure (Nkondi), a religious idol made by the Kongo people. Each nail driven into this figure represents an oath between two people. If that oath is broken, the spirit of this vessel will travel out from its base to harm any violators in play. It’s amazing to have something made by a community to help everyone displayed for everyone to see.

Who is your favorite artist?
My favorite artist is Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter, animator, author, and manga artist. Miyazaki’s goal was to build a studio where the priority was not success, but making good films. The depth of his characters is amazing, it’s like we know them by the end of the film. His fictional worlds use his personal experience, historical facts, and his opinions to tell you how he sees reality and what he has learned form it. Miyazaki said, “Creating animation means creating a fictional world. That world soothes the spirit of those who are disheartened and exhausted from dealing with the sharp edges of reality.” I keep this in mind each step of the way towards my goals in animation.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
I encourage anyone to ask questions or simply share with us. We all have unique insights that can benefit both speaker and listener, although taking your time to experience the art is understandable. I appreciate all of the people I’ve learned from, and I enjoy when I can talk about the art with someone who enjoys it as much as myself and the rest of the people working at the SAM.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
Most of my time is taken up with work and classes, both of which I enjoy. Working at SAM has been its own education—learning about people, places and pieces all telling great stories. I couldn’t have asked for a better position in my attempts to join the art community.

—Katherine Humphreys, SAM VSO

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.

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.

Life Beyond the Badge

The last time you visited SAM, did you have any idea that many of the Visitor Services Officers (VSOs) who protect the art in the museum are also visual artists themselves, as well as writers, musicians, and thespians? It’s true!

One former SAM VSO, Aaron Bourget, worked at SAM in 1996 and moved on to start his own photography and videography business that focuses on documenting artists. Last year, Aaron made a documentary on the guards and working artists who protect SAM’s art collection called Art of the Guardin’ Variety.

According to the film’s Vimeo page, it is “an informal portrait of the working artist and a glimpse of the talent behind the badge.” It watches like a love letter to Aaron’s time working behind the scenes of the museum, and to those who continue protecting it today. In it, he interviewed many current VSOs about what the experience is like working in a museum while artists themselves.

Artist Vaughn Meekins

Vaughn Meekins, a textile artist and six-year veteran of SAM, affirms that no one spends as much time with the art as those hired to guard it.

“You come to this job because you have a passion for art, and you want community in some regard,” Meekins said in his interview for the film. “I’m an artist, whether I’m doing security, or cooking food in the kitchen, to me it’s all art.”

Artist Rebecca Bush

Rebecca Bush, a VSO at the Asian Art Museum since 2009 who creates multimedia paintings, shares the same sentiment.

“Lots of people expect that we’re here to say ‘don’t touch!’ But when you’re approachable, it can be a great experience for the visitors,” Bush said. “I like working here as an artist because I like being in the presence of art, and seeing people enjoying art. As an artist, it’s fulfilling to see people do so.”

To get even more insight into the lives of the artists who guard the art, watch Art of the Guardin’ Variety at: https://vimeo.com/101584343.

Dawn Quinn, SAM Copywriter

Photos: Natali Wiseman