In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Enid Smith Becker

In the Studio highlights the private workspaces of local artists represented by SAM Gallery. For more than fifty years, SAM Gallery has supported artists from across the Pacific Northwest and provided private and corporate clients with a wide range of services, from purchasing their first work of art to building extensive collections. To browse a featured artist’s entire catalogue of artwork available for rent or purchase, visit SAM Gallery on the lower level of the Seattle Art Museum.

Artist Enid Smith Becker creates semi-abstracted landscape paintings that capture a mood or an emotion. Her cozy, sun-filled studio sits in the middle of a forest on the outskirts of Seattle. When we visit, the unfinished artwork on her easel depicts a beach scene with blue skies. At the bottom, the ocean’s waves are layered atop the primary scene. For Becker, this painting evokes hope. Her works serve as a bridge between viewers and the natural world.

Becker begins each new artwork by searching through her source photographs, selecting a photo, and making a quick sketch. She paints the background landscape first and then incorporates panels or layers that overlap the landscape, offering multiple views of the same subject. Her painting process begins more loose and abstract, but becomes more intricate as details emerge. Some paintings begin with a certain location and change as she paints. For example, when she began a painting from a photograph of the Skykomish River Valley, she decided the mountains in the photograph were too angular, so she softened them. Becker wants the viewer’s eyes to continuously move and explore the space in her paintings. She works to capture the nuance of color as it is seen in the world, most recently blending five colors of green to accurately capture the color of some trees she was painting. As she paints, she steps back or rotates her paintings, to see the sense of movement and balance in the work.

Becker’s creations focus on nature and the environment. She believes that art can remind people of their connection to the natural world and encourage them to protect the beaches and forests they love. See new artworks by Enid Smith Becker online or by visiting Reveal at SAM Gallery through Sunday, August 4. Or, mix and mingle directly with the artist as we celebrate her artworks at the opening reception of Reveal on Saturday, July 13 at 2 pm.

Stay up-to-date on all that’s happening at SAM Gallery by following us on Instagram @atSAMGallery.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Playfully Irreverent, Intentionally Weird: An Inside Look at Poke in the Eye at SAM

This summer, dive into an oft-overlooked chapter in art history: the aesthetics that emerged on the West Coast in the 1960s and ’70s as a counter to the prevailing artistic practices of the time. Reacting against the sleekness, formality, and coldness of New York minimalism and other dominant modes of abstraction, many artists on the West Coast, particularly in Seattle and the Bay Area, began creating artwork that was intentionally more offbeat.

Instead of sleek, hard surfaces, artists opted to make work that was lumpy, tactile, and boldly colored. Instead of pure abstraction, they depicted human figures, animal caricatures, and fantastical narratives. Rejecting industrial materials, they embraced traditional craft techniques, especially ceramics, subverting divisions between “high” and “low” art. In many cases, these artists refused to take themselves or their work too seriously, by intentionally employing an irreverent sense of humor and wit.

Taken together, these strategies represented a tongue-in-cheek anti-establishment rebuttal to the dominant art market engine. Though this genre of work is often described as “Funk art,” after the seminal 1967 Funk exhibition at UC University Berkeley that brought several of these artists together for the first time, Poke in the Eye: Art of the West Coast Counterculture takes a broader view. Here you’ll find that the aesthetic of this time and place was not a strictly delineated “movement,” but a moment: an organic and informal counterculture vision that continues to resonate today.

As one of the focal points of this West Coast aesthetic, Seattle is the ideal location to tell this story, and SAM has a particular strength in telling it—the depth and breadth of our permanent collection. Poke in the Eye is drawn primarily from SAM’s collection, mining works that visitors may have never seen before to uncover one of the legacies of our region. Experience collection favorites in a new light, discover new surprises for the first time, and learn a fresh version of art history in which SAM and Seattle play an integral role.

This article first appeared in the June through September 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

SAM Celebrates Pride: The Talented Mr. Delafosse

In honor of Pride Month, SAM Blog features reflections by SAM voices on collection artworks that explore LGBTQIA+ art and artists. Queer lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate histories of joy, advocacy, and resistance. Stay tuned for more Pride-related content on SAM Blog, including another object spotlight and a list of queer film recommendations curated by SAM’s LGBTQIA+ affinity group.

If you Google “Léon Delafosse,” you’ll get more information on John Singer Sargent’s portrait of the French composer and pianist—part of SAM’s collection since 2001—than on Delafosse’s life story: his early years of poverty, rise as a piano virtuoso and composer, and the eventual destruction of his promising career by powerful men.

Before the arrival of recordings, musicians who were not independently wealthy or well-connected needed patrons and made money by performing in the private salons of rich people. Delafosse made two famous gay friends who propelled his career in Paris: Count Robert de Montesquiou (a social snob and poet-poseur) and writer Marcel Proust. Each of these men acted as unofficial “agents” for Delafosse, promoting his talents to their powerful friends. It’s long been assumed Montesquiou, in addition to being Delafosse’s principal patron, was his lover, too, and that their fraught relationship is immortalized in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (with the bisexual violinist Charles Morel as Delafosse and the gay Baron de Charlus as Montesquiou).  

Gay sex was decriminalized in France in 1791, but men who loved other men emotionally and sexually remained (for the most part) quiet about their private lives. Men who were suspected to be homosexual, who had “feminine” voices or mannerisms, wore colorful and outlandish clothing,  engaged in non-traditional (unmanly) careers were described in code words such as “dandy,” “decadent,” “artistic” and “aesthete” (admittedly better than the alternatives of the time:“sodomite,” “invert,” and “pederast”!)

Montesquiou was easily bored and his temper was volcanic. When Delafosse made the inevitable mistake (unknown, but believed to be the fact he was more interested in music than in anything or anyone), their breakup was cataclysmic. Montesquiou and his accomplice, Proust, set out to destroy Delafosse’s reputation and have him barred from important musical salons all over Paris. They succeeded. Delafosse was devastated and hopeless as he became a laughingstock in the capital. 

Enter: John Singer Sargent.

Sargent (whose obsession with the male body is evident in his work) took a liking to the handsome Delafosse and in genuine friendship promoted his talents to influential Americans like arts patron Isabella Stewart Gardner. Beginning in 1895, Sargent painted Delafosse (then in his early twenties) and gave him the portrait as a lavish gift. Delafosse kept the painting until the day he died.

Pride Month is a celebration of LGBTQ+ history and a time to ponder the world as it is. Community is fragile, and examining the story of Léon Delafosse presents a warning and a quandary. In Belle Époque France, anyone who did not fit easily into standard society, whose sexual identity or gender expression made them outsiders, had to examine and monitor their appearance, their every move, their every spoken or written word. Such nonstop, intense, and protective self-scrutiny must have been exhausting, infuriating. And seeing “yourself” in another man or woman who was like you must have been frightening and intimidating, and it often led to betrayals, based not just on what was held in common but what was different: money, class, looks, and the power that those things bestow.

When I examine Sargent’s image of Léon Delafosse with contemporary eyes and in the current worldwide political climate, I wonder: is Delafosse emerging from the darkness or receding into it? 

– Kevin Stant, SAM Docent

Kevin Stant has been a docent at SAM since 2002. Kevin’s next assignment will be at the Seattle Asian Art Museum; beginning August 31, he’ll give Saturday tours on the exhibition Meot: Korean Art from the Frank Bayley Collection.


Celebrate Pride Month in Seattle with these suggested events:

Sat Jun 22
Youth Pride Disco
Break out your disco wear for this LGBTQIA+ Pride party, planned for and organized by LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 22! Join us for drag performances, great music, friend-making activities, food and soft drinks, a quiet room, and more.

Through Sun Jun 23
Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales: Together Again, Again!
Experience the comedy, music, and saucy stylings of two of the Pacific Northwest’s standout drag entertainers, in this wildly hilarious extravaganza set in an apocalyptic future. Check the event calendar for information about performances for teens, ASL interpretation, captions, and masking.

Fri Jun 28
Trans Pride Seattle 2024
Started in 2013, Trans Pride Seattle is an annual event organized by Gender Justice League. Visit the Volunteer Park Amphitheater from 5 to 10 pm for live music, community speakers, performances, and a resource fair all dedicated to increased visibility, connection, and love of the Seattle-area TwoSpirit, Trans, and Gender Diverse (2STGD) community.

Sat Jun 29
PrideFest Capitol Hill
Spanning six blocks of Broadway and Cal Anderson Park, this all-day market features queer local businesses, beer gardens, family and youth programming, and three stages with an unforgettable lineup of live performances.

Sun Jun 30
Seattle Pride Parade
Spend the final day of June by taking part in the 50th annual Pride Parade led by grand marshals Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe. Then, head over to Seattle Center for the can’t-miss performances, hundreds of acts, beer gardens, food vendors, a new family area—and dancing in the iconic International Fountain.

Visit the official Seattle Pride website for even more suggested events.

Image: Léon Delafosse, ca. 1895–98, John Singer Sargent, Born Florence, Italy, 1856; Died London, England, 1925, oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 23 3/8 in. Given in honor of Trevor Fairbrother by Mr. and Mrs. Prentice Bloedel by exchange, and by Robert M. Arnold, Tom and Ann Barwick, Frank Bayley, Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Contemporary Art Council, Council of American Art, Jane and David R. Davis, Decorative Arts and Paintings Council, Robert B. Dootson, Mr. and Mrs. Barney A. Ebsworth, P. Raaze Garrison, Lyn and Gerald Grinstein, Helen and Max Gurvich, Marshall Hatch, John and Ann Hauberg, Richard and Betty Hedreen, Mary Ann and Henry James, Mrs. Janet W. Ketcham, Allan and Mary Kollar, Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom, Rufus and Pat Lumry, Byron R. Meyer, Ruth J. Nutt, Scotty Ray, Gladys and Sam Rubinstein, Mr. and Mrs. Allen Vance Salsbury, Herman and Faye Sarkowsky, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Scheumann, Seattle Art Museum Supporters, Jon and Mary Shirley, Joan and Harry Stonecipher, Dean and Mary Thornton, William and Ruth True, Volunteers Association, Ms. Susan Winokur and Mr. Paul Leach, The Virginia Wright Fund, Charlie and Barbara Wright, Howard Wright and Kate Janeway, Merrill Wright, and Mrs. T. Evans Wyckoff, 2001.17. Photo: Elizabeth Mann.

Step Into the Whirlpool of Yirrkala at SAM

Is paradise lost? Or is there a place on Earth that has been able to avoid climate catastrophes, species loss, homelessness, and menial jobs, and that constantly involves everyone in making art and ceremony? There is. For visions of a culture that has cared for the environment and every living species in it for millennia, and now creates art which invites us to consider alternative ways of navigating life on this planet, let’s turn to Yirrkala.

Yirrkala is a small town on the northeast edge of Australia, which is a central hub for the people who call themselves Yolngu and live on territories from the waters off the Blue Mud Bay in Arnhem Land. Their art gives form to a database of relationships and laws that govern the way humans interact with one another and with natural phenomena. Their signature is seen in intricate designs that arrived with the great culture heroes whose bodies were marked by patterns of water, salt, and foam that dried on their skin. For centuries, Yolngu have painted clan designs on bodies for ceremonies and on sacred objects.

More recently, Yolngu artists have painted on bark, incised metal, and developed media to provide outsiders with hints of how they see their world. Thirty examples of art from Yirrkala were selected from the nearly 100 in the collection formulated during visits to the Top End by Bob Kaplan and Margaret Levi. A cultural keynote of Yolngu culture is the law of sharing and not excluding any people or anything from the group. Kinship extends to all living beings they come in contact with: from birds and insects to snakes and crocodiles. Then there are the ancestral beings who may make their presence known in sparkling water, blazing fire, or the angry eyes of a shark.

Will Stubbs, a Yirrkala resident, has described a difference in what Yolngu art reflects upon. As he has written, “If you think of a time before television, when entertainment was not beamed from remote sources, you would have been grateful for a fully functioning ecosystem… In a fully enriched ecosystem, you cannot separate yourself from the environment: fish will literally fly past your face, snakes slither into your house, and insects crawl into your bed.”1 A visit to this gallery will surround you with messages from Yolngu who offer a long, sustained look at their territory and want us to know how extraordinary it is.

Yirrkala: Art From Australia’s Top End is now on view in SAM’s third floor galleries.

– Pam McClusky, SAM Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb Curator of African and Oceanic Art

This article first appeared in the February through May 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

1 Will Stubs, Larrakitj: Kerry Stokes Collection (Australia: Fremantle Press, 2011), 40.

TAG Talks: Disco, Dancing, and Bringing the Magic of Teen Night Out to Life

SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and are excited to make SAM a fun and engaging space for teens. TAG members meet weekly from October to May to learn about the behind-the-scenes work of an art museum, lead engaging gallery tours, plan Teen Night Out, and so much more. TAG Talks is an ongoing SAM Blog series on SAM Blog that serves as a space for SAM’s teen leaders to express themselves and their love of art. Keep up with all TAG adventures by following @samteens on Instagram and stay tuned for more TAG Talks to come!

It’s a Friday night, and you’re bored out of your mind. The usual hangouts lack the frenzy, and your phone is out of new trends to show you. But wait! You suddenly remembered your friend telling you about the annual Teen Night Out at the Seattle Art Museum.

I joined SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) in October 2023. Walking into my first meeting, it was already known that our adventures at SAM would culminate with Teen Night Out, just like every year. Seeing the excitement and anticipation that consumed last year’s attendees put pressure on us to plan and execute another engaging and fun event for Seattle’s teens. This being my first year in TAG, I wanted Teen Night Out 2024 to be memorable.

When it came to deciding the theme and decorations for the event, it was truly inspiring to hear the ideas of other TAG members. They demonstrated an immense passion for art, and shared their hopes for the museum. Theme ideas ranged from ballgowns, disco, glam rock, and nature. Until, finally, we hit Junkyard Disco. We all had ideas in mind that basically described vintage 70s fashion with a touch of sustainability. With a disco ball too, of course!

Leading up to the day of the event, TAG meetings covered creating decorations for the museum, whilst also leaving time for fun, practicing art with teaching artists. The decorations were my favorite part. Some of the decorations I made ranged from giant cardboard disco balls to a huge “SAM Records” music disk. Oh! And we can’t forget the giant van paper frame that was used as part of the event’s photobooth. During this time of cramming to finish creating decorations and planning, the best part of it all was bonding with other TAG members. Creating new decorations with the help of others while also complimenting and discussing posters made by others was truly the highlight of the process for me.

The minutes leading up to Teen Night Out were full of moving heavy packages of sparkling water and sneaking in some snacks along the way. Every TAG member had amazing, lavish disco outfits that truly matched the theme of the evening. What excited me most, however, was the sheer amount of disco balls, something I could’ve only dreamed of! Mere seconds before the doors opened, I created my own disco ball headband with the support of the tiny disco balls that filled countless buckets along the entrance of the museum. At exactly 7 pm, teens rushed in after the conclusion of the award ceremony of Seattle Public Schools’ Naramore Art Show on the museum’s lower level. I remember teens instantly running to the junkyard area we had in the front of the museum, taking all the tiny and large objects that soon transformed into original breathtaking creations.

Teen Night Out was a blur, but in the best way possible.

I remember creating many headbands and little gadgets that soon found a place on my bedroom bookshelf. In the middle of Teen Night Out, my friends and fellow TAG members Hamda and Samira alerted me to our new TAG audio guide, finally installed in American Art: The Stories We Carry. I remember jumping with joy after seeing our hard work in its full and final form for museum visitors to see and interact with for years to come.

To end off the night, students of the School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts (SANCA) gave an amazing performance, entirely powered by youth! It was refreshing to see an organization that willingly grants youth the power to form their own decisions, something I admire about SAM as well.

Looking back, Teen Night Out felt like a huge hangout for teens with different backgrounds, but all united through art. Art possesses a healing power that has followed me throughout my life, and it’s truly rewarding to see other teens express themselves through various artistic means. To all teens, Teen Night Out is one night a year, but may very well be the best night of your entire year. You are guaranteed to make friends, have fun, make some great art, and find yourself along the way!

– Ivy Liu (she/her), 15, First-Year Teen Arts Group Leader

Photos: Chloe Collyer & Cristina Cano-Calhoun.

Teens Look Forward: Emerging Arts Leader Karla Pastrana Reflects

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I have been asked this question since I was a child. Now, as a junior at the University of Washington Tacoma, that question has evolved:

“What do you want to do after college?”

No matter how it’s phrased, the question still sends a wave of nerves down my body. Growing up, there were high expectations for me to excel. As the only US citizen in my family, I wanted to show my parents that their sacrifices were worth something; as a student with a learning disability, I have struggled to catch up to my classmates; as an early-career professional, I constantly face uncertainty about what success looks like for me. Whenever I am asked who I want to be, I am reminded of my childhood fears—of the dark, the unknown, and what the future holds for all of us. 

I joined SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) in 2020 as a senior in high school, and just recently wrapped up my second year as an intern helping to oversee the same program. As part of SAM’s education team, my goal was to provide youths with the same community experiences and leadership opportunities I received when I was a TAG member.   

I joined TAG at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, I was beyond scared about my future. I knew I wanted to go to college and get a degree in writing, but I was uncertain about where to take that experience afterward. While serving as a TAG leader, I learned that there were many opportunities out there which combined my passions for art, writing, and creating inclusive community programs.

After graduating high school, I decided I was interested in learning more about museum education. More specifically, I wanted to play an active role in creating artistic and educational opportunities for young students of color, populations who—like myself—have been historically excluded from art museums as a result of income inequality and systemic racism. Throughout 2020, TAG meetings were often spent discussing this issue because many of us had personally experienced exclusivity from art institutions. We made it our goal to prioritize inclusion across all our events, encouraging BIPOC teens from all social backgrounds to showcase their art and feel welcome at the museum. This led to On The Verge, a teens-only exhibition featuring artists whose perspectives and identities are shaped by race, gender, ethnicity, and social background. This exhibit was free, accessible, and open to the public—all of which helped artists, and my TAG colleagues, feel seen and valued at the museum.

As I have grown into my role as the Teen and Family Programs Intern, I have learned so much about how TAG is planned and executed behind the scenes. On the same day I am writing this reflection, I am also helping develop TAG’s yearly and weekly schedules, lead discussions and presentations with TAG participants, create content for @SAMTeens on Instagram, plan icebreakers and team-building activities, coordinate guest speakers, and provide mentorship opportunities for this year’s cohort of teens.

TAG is intended to help teens explore their passions and build leadership skills that will benefit them long after their time at SAM. I know how confusing and stressful it can be to navigate life after high school, and know how vital it is for teens to have a safe place to learn, ask questions, and make mistakes. As a TAG mentor, I’ve encouraged teens to anticipate problems, discuss questions, and think deeply about their short- and long-term goals—all of which are skills I have found helpful in my work as an Emerging Arts Leader.

My internship experience at SAM has expanded my view of what art and museums can be. By collaboratively planning projects and facilitating group discussions, I came to realize how great diversity leads to greater inclusion in museums. The teens I work with all come from different backgrounds, use different art mediums, and have different styles of leadership that shape their worldview.

I still have much to learn about running a community program like TAG, but my experience so far has shown me that I am on the right path in achieving my goals and overcoming my uncertainties about the future. Now when I get asked what I want to do when I grow up, I can confidently say: “I’d like to work for an amazing organization like SAM, making sure art is accessible and inclusive to all.”

– Karla Pastrana, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Teen Programs

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Nichole DeMent

In the Studio highlights the private workspaces of local artists represented by SAM Gallery. For more than fifty years, SAM Gallery has supported artists from across the Pacific Northwest and provided private and corporate clients with a wide range of services, from purchasing their first work of art to building extensive collections. To browse a featured artist’s entire catalogue of artwork available for rent or purchase, visit SAM Gallery on the lower level of the Seattle Art Museum.

The sun shines into Nichole DeMent’s beautiful West Seattle studio on the winter day of our visit. DeMent has spent eleven years in this space, creating mixed media encaustic works. Her encaustic artworks are characterized by their intricate layers, producing depth and complexity.

“I really fell in love with layers because life is complicated,” she said. “Layers portray my understanding of the world in a way that I hope helps bring peace.”

Nearly three decades later, DeMent’s process still begins with photography. When she is taking photographs, there are instances when she has a clear plan and others when she is open to wherever her intuitive process leads. She most commonly photographs people, animals, and botanicals.

After printing her photographs, she fuses them to wood panels using the basic ingredients of the encaustic medium: beeswax, resin, and pigment. She then brushes layers of the encaustic over her photographs, incorporating layers of organic materials including rust, tea, and mica flakes. Once there are enough layers of encaustic, she affects the layers using heated carving tools, creating texture and movement. She wants the surface to “have its own history with scars that are representative of the image and very organic.” 

One artwork that illustrates her multi-layered process is part of a series titled Inner Sanctum of Pech Merle (25,000 BCE). Hanging on her studio wall, this large-scale work depicts a horse in profile, in the midst of a step forward. DeMent took the photo of the horse on a colleague’s farm in Snohomish, WA. When the owner let all of the horses out, DeMent took photos while standing in the center of the field. The horse depicted in this work, she said, ran straight toward her before turning to its side to avoid colliding. DeMent views the horse as a strong, powerful, and beautiful animal who carries others when needed.

In closely examining this artwork, its intricate details and layers begin to reveal themselves. The complex artwork’s deeper layers incorporate pages from books embedded in the wax. Meanwhile, sepia drawings inspired by prehistoric cave paintings are set amongst the layers. DeMent studied prehistoric art and architecture in college, visiting many caves during travels abroad. She brings the inspiration from ancient paintings of spotted horses seen in Pech Merle, a prehistoric art site in France into this work. These subtle details, she said, “leave little treasures for the attentive viewer.”

View Nichole DeMent’s available artworks at SAM Gallery on the featured sliding wall or online. Stay updated on all that’s happening at SAM Gallery by following us on Instagram at @atSAMGallery.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Reaching My Full Potential at SAM: Emerging Arts Leader Teagan Nathe Reflects

Growing up, I was always allured by the welcoming mystique of museums. There’s something soothing in the ever-changing exhibitions, never knowing what you’ll find around each corner. A gallery is a space where you can be swallowed up by the art on every wall and forget about the world outside for a moment. I never dreamed that I would be able to be a part of the magic that is Seattle Art Museum and its team of dedicated individuals.

Throughout the course of my internship, I found myself questioning what it meant for a person or community to be reflected on museum walls. Art institutions have historically been a place of exclusion and were known to primarily display the artwork of white male artists. Yet, as society changes before our eyes, these institutions are also changing as they adopt equitable values and acknowledge the harm of their past actions. From my first day on the job, it was clear that everyone at SAM was (and still is) committed to doing this necessary work. The existence of my own role at the museum is evidence of the thought that SAM is putting toward greater inclusion.

In January of 2023, I was offered the position of an Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Equity and Communications. In the six months I spent at SAM, I was able to gain a unique perspective on the inner workings of an incredible institution and highlight the internal work necessary in connecting art to life. During one of my last weeks at SAM, I led a gallery tour discussing artworks that made me feel at home and the significance of changing canon museum artifacts. I took a Socratic approach to my tour, posing critical questions in order for participants to engage deeply with two works: Dawoud Bey’s David Hammons, Pissed Off (1981) and excerpts from Jim Goldberg’s Rich and Poor (1977–1985). I was drawn to these pieces partially because I’m a photographer and these photos were shot on black and white film. More so, these images portray the raw and emotional nature of life. Whether it’s the complexities of race within the arts world or economic class barriers, these artists capture the reality of our contemporary moment.

One of my favorite aspects of this internship was the opportunity to meet so many individuals who are palpably enthusiastic about their jobs. I would like to say thank you to everyone who made me feel at home on the SAM staff, and particularly to my supervisor, Priya Frank. Priya made me realize that I don’t have to sacrifice a single part of myself to be successful and that giving a commencement speech at T-Mobile Park while wearing sparkly Doc Martens, big hoops, and a bright pink lipstick is not only acceptable, but also aspirational. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of meeting Priya will tell you how she exudes pure light and embodies the philosophy of using “joy as my weapon.” Thank you for everything Priya, you’re my idol.

As a newbie to Seattle, I felt disconnected from the art world, as it’s always hard to break in and form connections in a new city. Throughout my time at SAM, I was able to meet many different artists and worked alongside so many talented interns. Thank you to Emma, Zak, Alexa, Jo, Aranya, Elizabeth, and many more folks who brought a smile to my face every day at work.

This opportunity has made me believe in myself as an artist and leader, showing me that nothing can stand in my way from achieving what I want. I am immensely grateful for the ways my SAM internship pushed me to my full potential, and for everyone at SAM who believed in me.

– Teagan Nathe, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Equity and Communications

This article first appeared in the February through June 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

TAG Talks: An Ancient Tour of Achaemenid Arts and Culture

SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and are excited to make SAM a fun and engaging space for teens. TAG members meet weekly from October to May to learn about the behind-the-scenes work of an art museum, lead engaging gallery tours, plan Teen Night Out, and so much more. TAG Talks is an ongoing SAM Blog series on SAM Blog that serves as a space for SAM’s teen leaders to express themselves and their love of art. Keep up with all TAG adventures by following @samteens on Instagram and stay tuned for more TAG Talks to come!

I’m assuming you are confused as to what is happening. Where you are, how you will get back, why you are here, all these questions are dancing in your mind. It’s okay, all will make sense in due time. Here are the basics we should begin with. Yesterday, on your way home from work, you stumbled upon a rectangular, wooden box. The box had the symbol of a lion and a sun engraved on its wooden exterior. Naturally curious, you opened the box and saw spinning gears. The gears seemed to get faster as you continually observed them. That can’t be right; there was nothing powering the box. Yet it was. The gears kept accelerating until they vanished completely and the box was left empty. Confused, you placed your hand inside. This was the turning point. 

Sucked into a cloud of debris, your senses blurred, losing contact with the physical realm. The sensation of disconnect lasted for five or so minutes. Covered in dust, you tumbled to the foot of an elderly woman dressed in robes draped in sweeping folds. Are you beginning to remember now?

I am the woman you met. I welcome you to the sixth century BC Achaemenid Empire. You are one of the first to make it here successfully. I know you may be scared; the Greeks painted our history to be uncivilized compared to their own. Under Cyrus the Great however, our reign has promoted religious tolerance and human rights regardless of nationality. We also contributed to innovations in commerce and trading networks, as well as funding for public works to improve the lives of our people. But that’s all textbook information I doubt you care for. Your purpose here is to travel and explore, that’s it. You’ll be home before you realize, so make the most of your stay.

Our empire is in the lands you now call Egypt, Eastern Europe, and east of Asia to the Balkans. It will go on to be considered one of the largest empires of the ancient world. Even as a resident, I can’t help but marvel at the sheer magnificence of what we have. While you’re visiting, I recommend you see Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of our empire. Thank goodness you are arriving in the springtime. Due to the remoteness of the region, travel is often difficult here during the rainy Persian winters. The mountainous terrain, however, allows the city to remain a secret from the outside world, protecting our art, artifacts, archives, and royal treasury.

Here you’ll also find residential quarters, a treasury, and ceremonial palaces. One palace you can’t miss is the Apādana Receiving Hall. Built by Darius I, the roof of the structure is supported by 72 columns each standing at 24 meters, with the whole palace having the footprint of 1,000 square meters. The column capitals are either twin headed bulls, eagles, or lions to represent authority and kingship. The monumental stairways on the North and East sides depict 23 subject nations bearing gifts to the King. If you tell the King I sent you, he will take you as a guest. Don’t forget to bring some form of tribute though. A cypress tree will do.

One final thing – you will need money and proper clothing. I will give you some gold coins known as daric. Use these at the market and buy yourself some long robes. As the palace welcomes you, you shall be greeted with lavish feasts, drinks, and games. Do wander into the sensuous gardens and hunt if you so please. Alright, now I believe my job here is done. I recommend you embrace the chaos and uncertainty this land will reveal. I’ll send you the box once when you’re ready to go. I wish you the best on your journey. 

– Smriti Tiwari (she/her), 16, Second-Year Teen Arts Group Leader

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Professor Christina Sunardi on the Spiritual Knowledge of East Javanese Performing Arts

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics on Asian art and culture across time. On Saturday, February 10, Christina Sunardi, Associate Professor in the School of Music at the University of Washington and Chair of the Department of Dance, will explore the spiritual knowledge, or ilmu, that performers imparted on her while conducting fieldwork on gamelan music and dance in Malang, east Java from 2005–2007. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Sunardi about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, her travels in Malang, and the raw, emotional power of the performing arts.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

CHRISTINA SUNARDI: I will present some of my research on ilmu (spiritual knowledge) that performers imparted and encouraged me to obtain while I conducted fieldwork on gamelan music and dance in Malang, east Java from 2005–2007 and subsequent visits. I intend to analyze the importance performers placed on ilmu as substantive, embodiable knowledge, often secret and esoteric, which can be physically transferred from one being to another, or from an object, and which provides the ability to do something remarkable or remarkably well, including performing music, dance, and theater. I will contend that through their ilmu-related beliefs, practices, and verbal discourse, Malang performers were maintaining and producing local systems of knowledge, transmission, and competence. I am also so excited to be partnering with master gamelan musician and puppeteer Ki Midiyanto as he demonstrates how one of the instruments from the gamelan ensemble is played throughout my presentation. We’ll also allow plenty of time for questions from the audience!

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

CS: Although it’s hard to choose just one, one experience that may be of interest is the ceremony that my first dance teacher in Malang facilitated to ensure that my studies of gamelan, dance, and the Javanese language would go smoothly. I now understand this ceremony as him preparing me to receive ilmu. I remember feeling a tingling sensation on the back of my neck during the ceremony. Maybe it was the smell of the burning incense cubes, or that I was moved by my teacher’s wish for me to succeed, or maybe it was both—I haven’t totally sorted all of that out yet.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

CS: Ooh! I really love this 19th-century Wayang Topeng Mask. I had the opportunity to study masked dance while in Malang and it is such a beautiful, entrancing form. I love how the individual dancer sort of disappears into the character and how the dancers can make their masks come to life. ilmu can certainly be involved with this, as I will speak about in my presentation!

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

CS: Thank you so much for inviting me and thank you so much to those who are interested in attending. It is always such an honor to be able to share my research and to share what I have learned from the artists I was fortunate enough to study with during my fieldwork.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

CS: I hope this is not too bold, but my book, Stunning Males and Powerful Females: Gender and Tradition in East Javanese Dance (University of Illinois Press, 2015), may be of interest.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Steve Corn & Christina Sunardi.

Improving Your Museum Experience with Technology: Emerging Arts Leader Shuprima Guha Reflects

I’ve always enjoyed spending time in art museums. With ambling hallways and multiple rooms featuring a variety of historic and contemporary art, it’s the excitement of not knowing what I’ll discover next that first got me interested in working at one. I joined SAM with the intention of learning more about how different museum departments come together to facilitate ideas. Suffice to say, I checked off this goal during my first few weeks at SAM. 

As an interpretation intern, I learned how SAM uses technology and verbal descriptions to improve accessibility for different audiences at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Verbal descriptions explain a work of art in terms of its color, size, texture, and other features so that individuals with low or no vision can better experience the piece. I developed the skill of writing for auditory purposes in this process. Conducting research on the most inclusive ways to approach writing these descriptions—along with the continuous feedback provided from the rest of the verbal description team—helped me overcome this learning curve of shifting from writing for reading purposes to writing for listening purposes and led me to produce some of my best work. 

While conducting this work, I began to ask questions about the smartphones that museum visitors can check out while browsing the galleries—part of SAM’s effort to improve in-gallery accessibility. This led to important conversations about how we envision visitors interacting with these devices and what museums can do to support such interactions (thank you to the visitor experience team for their expertise). Beyond these tasks, I also helped in developing the interpretive elements of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, including the touch cart, in-gallery guide, and the digital collage interactive.

The support I received from the museum’s staff, security, volunteers, and my fellow interns played a tremendous role in how I approached my work. Asking questions to people from different departments created a system of support in which I knew everyone at the museum was eager to help. From isolating digital elements of Hokusai prints with the design team to prototyping a touchscreen interactive with staff from multiple departments, I believe collaboration was essential to my time at SAM. Deciding which topics to research and conducting meetings related to the Hokusai interactive taught me about not only project management, but also about Japanese culture and history. In writing the guide the exhibition’s interpretive touch cart, I also became familiar with the materials used in Japanese woodblock printing—thank you Jessica and Sorrel for your help!

As I began my SAM internship, it was exciting to see all of the tasks that SAM’s staff had planned for me; there was so much to do and so little time! Prioritizing tasks was one of the most important skills I developed. Although each new day was filled with exciting events and meetings, I made important decisions on which ones I attended and which I did not to ensure I could independently complete my tasks within a timely manner. Another skill I learned through this internship was networking. I learned how to ask questions about different staff members’ experiences and took advantage of the opportunity to get to know new people in the office, kitchen, elevators, and galleries. These skills are something I will carry forward in my academic and professional life. 

This internship showed me the initiatives the museum takes in making art accessible to visitors— something that I am particularly passionate about. Knowing that so many people care about the same things gives me immense hope for the future of museums. From accompanying docent-led tours to conducting surveys in the galleries, I learned how to engage with the public and lead conversations about art. As someone who has always been a bit hesitant to voice my opinion in large groups, my newfound confidence and eagerness to speak in public is one of the most valuable lessons I learned at SAM.

None of this would have been possible without the support of my incredibly supportive and encouraging coworkers. I want to particularly thank my supervisor, SAM Educator for Digital Learning Ramzy Lakos, whose creative ideas played an integral role in shaping my SAM experience. His optimism and sense of humor always made even the most challenging task feel simple. I want to thank everyone on the education team as well. Their excitement about the museum’s future shines through in everything they do. Lastly, I am grateful to everyone who I reached out to at various points in the last few months: thank you for making me feel like a part of the SAM community. I look forward to carrying these experiences into the next step of my career.

– Shuprima Guha, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Interpretation

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Curator Yayoi Shinoda on the Traditional Japanese Art of Mended Ceramics

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the Seattle Art Museum. On Saturday, January 13, Yayoi Shinoda, Assistant Curator of Japanese Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will offer a discussion on the Japanese tradition of mending damaged ceramics to bring them renewed life. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Shinoda about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, how her research on mended ceramics began, and the intimacy of this time-honored practice.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

YAYOI SHINODA: My presentation will focus on the practice of mending ceramics in Japan’s Edo period (1615–1868). The ceramics I highlight were used in tea practice and cherished by their owners, and their restored bodies embody the care they received. Some repairs were made visible intentionally—with some including gold embellishments—that bestowed a new a significance to the original ceramic work. Today, this practice of visible mending is fondly called kintsugi, and has garnered the attention of scholars from a variety of specialties, including psychologists.

My research on this topic began several years ago when I wrote a term paper for a seminar I took at the University of Kansas. The course focused on the transcultural exchanges between Korea and Japan from ancient times to today. One of the areas I love to research is ceramics, so I decided to study a 16th-century Korean bowl that became a tea bowl in Japan. The large bowl is made of a porous, soft porcelain and features a dramatic repair of golden filling along its body. It is such a fascinating work and I knew I had to learn more about it. I had many questions: What is up with this dramatic change? Why and how did that happen? Are there more examples like this? When did this kind of mending begin? After that semester, I continued to study that bowl and others like it. Eventually, Dr. Halle O’Neal invited me to dive into the topic further. My presentation at this January’s Saturday University will be based on my scholarly article on mended ceramics that was published last year.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

YS: My research journey took place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I could not travel anywhere, not even locally. However, the Nelson-Atkins collection has some ceramics with visible mends, so I was able to study them. Also, thanks to the dedicated librarians, museum colleagues, and other professionals throughout the US and Japan, I was able to access resources remotely. I was fortunate to meet lacquer artists such as Naoko Fukumaru in Vancouver, BC and Gen Saratani in New York via Zoom. And I hope to visit them soon now that we are back to traveling more. Their insights were critical for me in thinking through the meanings of different repair methods and philosophies.    

In assessing the Nelson-Atkins’s collection of mended ceramics side-by-side, I found myself considering the intimate connection shared between the tea bowls and their owners, whose names may be known or unknown to us today. The works also display the owners’ taste and sensibility, which likely guided the mending technique and material choice. Another issue that emerged during my research was how little we know about the people who mended these works or when they underwent their bodily change. Although I intend to introduce a few examples of recovery stories in my lecture, many tea ceramics’ physical transformation processes are unrecorded. This is the focus of my ongoing research and may require me to travel in the coming months. Looking to the future, I would also love to learn more about how tea practitioners in the Edo period used the ceramics they had mended.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

YS: There are three objects in SAM’s collection that pique my interest. One is Tea Powder Container from the Edo period. The bags made of exquisite textiles speak to the immense significance the owner placed on the container, which is important in thinking about human-object relationships. The second example I love is this beautiful Tea Bowl (“Fuji”) by Ryōnyū (Raku IX; Japanese, 1756–1834). The area in which the glazed and unglazed segments meet creates a striking landscape that resembles Mount Fuji. The lens to see this kind of “accidental” effect as a landscape also applies to appreciating mended ceramics’ transformed bodies. Lastly, I want to spotlight Tea Cup, named “Red Plum in Winter,” by Dōnyū (Raku III; Japanese, 1599–1656) because of its charming and carefully mended embellishments made with gold powder. The fine golden lines gently transform the cup’s body, while also testifying to the care it received from its owner.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

YS: This is a tough question to answer because of the many informative resources that already exist. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of Yayoi Shinoda. Tea Bowl, Japan, late 16th to early 17th century. Glaze stoneware (Karatsu ware) with lacquer mending. Overall: 3 x 5 1/2 inches (7.6 x 14.0 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 32-62/6. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Tea Bowl, Japan, late 17th century. Stoneware with pinkish white crackle glaze (Gohonde ware) with lacquer mending. Overall: 3 1/2 x 5 5/8 inches (8.9 x 14.3 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 32-62/2. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

The Power of Storytelling in Art Curation: Emerging Arts Leader Elizabeth Xiong Reflects

My first recreational adventure after settling in Seattle in 2021 was to SAM. As I had just recently decided to pursue a second degree in art history, I felt strangely comfortable throughout my visit. I left the museum that day filled with countless stories told through the installations, a growing curiosity for art curation, and a hope that I would be back soon.

And lucky for me, that desire came true. Working under the supervision of Theresa Papanikolas, SAM Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern over the last few months has allowed me to explore what curators do. As part of my role, I was tasked with research and writing supplementary information for the upcoming exhibition Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map. Opening Thursday, February 29 at SAM, the retrospective will survey five decades of Smith’s (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation) work. My work focused on researching and creating an in-gallery display for the exhibition that highlights the artist’s relationship to Seattle.

My research began with sifting through existing scholarship and archival materials on Smith. The more I read, the more I came to understand her as a leading contemporary Native American artist who examines American life by engaging with powerful ideas of Indigenous memory, culture, and history. Although I compiled a hefty list of Seattle public art, exhibition, and curatorial projects she participated in, I felt that it lacked cohesion since the documents appeared separate from existing discussions of her work. How, then, could I organize them together in a display case?

I temporarily filed these questions away as I sifted through 150 newly acquired scans from Smith’s personal archives dating from 1996 to 1998. These digitized letters outlined years of correspondence regarding the West Seattle Cultural Trail, a public art project she created alongside local artists Donald Fels and Joe Fedderson (Okanogan and Arrow Lakes).

As I meticulously pieced together these lengthy conversations, I watched the project unfold from a front row seat. It gave me a glimpse into the public arts process, the intentionality required, and the communications exchanged between differing personalities. I thought back to the initial questions Theresa encouraged me to consider within my work: What is Smith’s presence in Seattle? How do we illustrate it? I then recalled an interview in which Smith was quoted as saying, “All of our stories, all of our origin stories come out of the land.” Her words led me to reevaluate the trail’s physical dependence on land and its goal to “share in the collective memory of the West Seattle community.” 

Suddenly, the collaborative storytelling throughout her oeuvre did not exclude what she accomplished in Seattle. From the trail, my project expanded outwards into three main themes for the display: her dedication to teaching, and the importance of language in her practice, and the role collaboration has played throughout her career. Regarding the retrospective, Smith says “in this long journey, it is step by step, hand over hand, something like climbing a rope.” Therefore, my goal became to guide visitors to see Seattle as a crucial strand in the rope she climbed.

To demonstrate Smith’s dedication to education, her correspondences with Donald Fels revealed their shared interest in involving local students in the project’s development. Smith was adamant that the trail give visibility to hidden stories, and the accompanying Voices of the Community booklet gave students the opportunity to share their perspectives through poetry. Her commitment to education also extends beyond the trail to her other public works, lectures, and children’s workbooks. Considering how her Olympic Junior College art teacher once told her “she could teach… but she shouldn’t count on being a painter,” she powerfully accomplished both. Therefore, when she said “I go out and teach… that’s what my life is about, my work is about,” it is important that our illustration of her presence in Seattle brilliantly reflects this.

That said, the trail allows other dimensions of teaching in her practice to be explored, such as writing. Countless letters between Smith and other Indigenous colleagues reveal that the Native stories told on the trail are intended to teach visitors, and that their accuracy was of the utmost importance.

This intricate combination of writing and collaboration is evident throughout her own curatorial practice, which first blossomed in Seattle. In each exhibition, she approached texts intentionally because writing inclusively “[showcases] the voices of Native artists.” As a curator, her exhibitions helped propel the trajectory of Native recognition in the arts, in turn increasing visibility for new artists. Altogether, her curatorial practice emphasizes that writing and “networking [are] as much for her artistic medium as paint and canvas.”

Lastly, Smith’s insistence on collectivity through collaboration is not limited to her immediate Native community. Her cooperation with other artists of color is a lesser known fact, despite her clear belief that “passion for our art and for one another,” commitment “to narrative work,” and a “strong sense of survival” bonds them together. Therefore, as part of this last theme, which explores Smith’s involvement with Asian Americans through the trail project, I hope to challenge this chronically overlooked detail. 

Numerous letters reveal Smith’s dedication to including Asian American voices in retelling the history of Alki Beach. She spent weeks researching, and gaining approval from local experts and friends to ensure that the communities would be “proud of what is there.” With these letters, I hope to underscore how the diverse experiences and relationships that influence her are not constrained by gallery walls. These strands of her personal history may not be immediately apparent on the surface of her artworks, but through her ties to the city we share, they come to life. 

As a result of my in-gallery contributions to Memory Map, I hope visitors leave SAM with a clear understanding of how Smith and her relationship to Seattle do not stand in isolation. Their interconnectedness leaves room for the viewer to contemplate how their presence in the exhibition’s galleries is also an act of collaboration and learning with Smith. Therefore, it is important that her voice rings throughout my work, such that the answer to her question “can I take these feelings and attach them to a passerby?” is an overwhelming yes. 

I went into this internship eager to peel back the mysterious layers of museum work, in order to discover what processes are involved in curating exhibitions. Sitting at my desk in the corner of SAM’s administrative offices, I was initially afraid that I would feel alone. However, that sentiment couldn’t have been further from the truth. As I uncovered the intentional collaborations that flowed through Smith’s storytelling, I realized the same started swirling into mine. Through this experience, I found myself learning how to research unfamiliar topics with courage, and approach art curation as a storyteller. This growth was only possible because of the incredible SAM staff, who I want to take the time to thank.

I truly started to see curatorial work as storytelling after my lunches with Museum Educator for Digital Learning Ramzy Lakos, where he also encouraged me to use Smith’s own voice to frame my in-gallery display. It was after an insightful conversation with Catharina Manchanda, SAM Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, that compelled me to incorporate Smith’s involvement with other communities of color. I want to thank Carrie Dedon, SAM Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, for reminding me to courageously explore the intersections of my studies and extend a special thank you to my cubicle-mate, Danelle Jay, SAM Curatorial Print and Content Associate, for always lending a listening ear, and reminding me that our storytelling should relate to people. Most of all, I want to thank Theresa, for her indispensable expertise, patience, and genuine collaborative spirit that has made my SAM internship an incredible experience.

As my internship draws to a close, I look forward to seeing how my display comes to life when Memory Map opens at SAM this spring and urge you to visit the West Seattle Cultural Trail in the meantime. I am excited to take everything I have learned at SAM into my future endeavors, and am looking forward to where I next go.

– Elizabeth Xiong, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Curatorial

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Envisioning My Future in Arts Education: Emerging Arts Leader Zakaria Sadak Reflects

If you had asked me about my career plans a year or two ago, I would not have guessed that working at the Seattle Art Museum was in my future. It wasn’t until my first year of college when the histories, values, and principles embedded in my surroundings captured my full attention and academic interest. It left me with no choice but to abandon my math and economics studies in favor of art history. Combined with my latent interest in Korea, as fostered by a childhood richly patterned with Korean objects and visual culture, I chose to pursue a career in museums to further learn and digest my history through the lens of Korean art history.

It is with this background that I entered the Seattle Art Museum for the first time this past January. Though I grew up in various parts of Washington, visiting the Seattle Art Museum had always evaded me. I came to SAM with an interest in art history and connecting students to art, so my work within the institution’s education department creating educator and student materials was particularly relevant. Through all of this work, my supervisor SAM Manager of School & Educator Programs Yaoyao Liu’s mentorship and guidance was crucial.

Aside from putting up with my many (many) questions as I became acquainted with everything, Yaoyao and other colleagues in the education division were the resident experts who helped me get through it all and eventually join them as a staff member. Though general visitors may not be impacted by my work, I want to plug the SAM educator and student offerings. My work creating art activities and in-gallery materials with the exhibition Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth and the traveling exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will be available for students to work on in their classrooms and at home, as well as the numerous offerings created by colleagues.

A notable highlight of my internship was my work with Korean objects from SAM’s collection, on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. In March, I offered a presentation to museum staff and the public on a four-panel chaekgeori screen and wooden chest as furnishings in Joseon homes. Through research on these objects, I grew to value the ambiguity of the objects a museum sees come through its doors. That is to say, my research of these objects through the Emerging Arts Leader Internship afforded me the opportunity to break up the polished object lists that neatly fit into textbooks, coursework, and curriculums with objects I might not otherwise encounter.

The Seattle Art Museum is a space to thoughtfully learn about and digest information on a diverse collection of culturally significant artworks. I began my internship at SAM with a limited understanding of museums and am leaving with a clear vision for my future in the museum field and art history. With a two-pronged goal of further understanding Korea’s art history and bridging the gap between esoteric arts research and the public, I can’t help but be sad that I am leaving the work at SAM so soon. As a visitor, intern, and staff member, I certainly have been able to explore where my interest in historical Korean art and I might fit in a museum.

By no means will this exploration end with my time as an intern at the Seattle Art Museum. I am thankful for the support of everyone at the museum both throughout the internship and ongoing as I resume studies in Chicago and begin my next role at the Smart Museum of Art. I want to offer a final thanks to Yaoyao, everyone in the education division, SAM Human Resources & Intern Programs Coordinator Samuel Howes, and my fellow interns for creating the bright, welcoming, and uplifting environment at SAM.

– Zakaria Sadak, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in School & Educator Programs

Photos: Natali Wiseman & Chloe Collyer.

SAM Shop Holiday Gift Guide

SAM Shop is the year-round destination for uncommon objects, including contemporary design for the home, toys for kids, jew​elry by local artists, art and design books, and more. During this festive time of year, we’re sharing some of our favorite gift ideas for anyone on your list.

From upper left-hand corner, clockwise:

From Chaos to Creativity book, $14.95 / Rabbit Carrot Car, $19.95 / Toyo Steel Company Box, $32 / Akashiya Gansai Watercolor Set, $32 / SAM Paintbrush Pencil, $3.50 / Sam Scott Ceramic Mug, $54 / Toyo Steel Company Box, $32 / Melissa Stiles “Picasso” Necklace, $210 / Wallace Sewell Wool Scarf, $82 / Alessi Fior d’Olio Oil Bottle, $70 / Hokusai The Great Wave Reusable Bag and Pouch, $16.99 / Akashiya Ceramic Paint Palette, $20 / Toyo Steel Company Box, $32/ SAM Beanie in Kelly Green, $21.95 / Jonathan Adler Wood Domino Set, $40.

SAM Shop is located on the street level of the Seattle Art Museum, on 1st Avenue between Union and University Streets. Note that some items are available in-store only, but there are also many gems available online. SAM Shop is open during museum hours, and visitors to Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence won’t want to miss related specialty items at the exhibition shop in the fourth floor galleries.

Plus: Don’t miss the After-Hours Shopping Event on Thursday, December 21! SAM Shop & Gallery, as well as MARKET Seattle, will be open until 8 pm for your last-minute shopping needs. Ask about items you found in this holiday gift guide or other ideas the sales associates may have. Perks for this night include free gift wrap services on one item (normally $5 per item) and light refreshments while you shop. And at MARKET Seattle, enjoy a gift card purchase promo and signature holiday cocktails with wintry themes.

This article first appeared in the October 2023 through January 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

TAG Talks: A Well-Known Wave and My Newfound Appreciation

SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and are excited to make SAM a fun and engaging space for teens. TAG members meet weekly from October to May to learn about the behind-the-scenes work of an art museum, lead engaging gallery tours, plan Teen Night Out, and so much more. TAG Talks is an ongoing SAM Blog series on SAM Blog that serves as a space for SAM’s teen leaders to express themselves and their love of art. Keep up with all TAG adventures by following @samteens on Instagram and stay tuned for more TAG Talks to come!

The iconography of the woodblock print Under the Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, commonly referred to as the Great Wave, is omnipresent.

I was initially turned off by the Great Wave’s ubiquity in the public sphere. Growing up surrounded by lovers of niche art, the Great Wave never struck me as anything special. It’s become so commercialized that even my friends far outside of the art scene have tote bags or stickers sporting the iconic image. Thinking its presence in the media was tacky and overused, I failed to truly look closely or consider the print’s value.

Although I was never the Great Wave’s biggest fan, I am an artist and printmaker myself and love to study Japanese printmaking techniques. I was excited to see the Great Wave’s creator and prolific printmaker Katsushika Hokusai’s work in person in Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the SAM. Anticipating the visit, I told my partner about the exhibition, highlighting everything except the Great Wave. Upon hearing I would see the famous print, he had a much more emotional response than I was expecting. I asked him how the art made him feel. He said, “It feels like ripping.”

The print depicts three boats cradled in the belly of a giant cresting wave framing Mount Fuji. The wave is a great magnanimous force, the boats borrow the ocean’s space. For the moment, the boats seem to become the wave. It is from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, each piece featuring a different landscape framing the mountain. The subjects of the 36 prints interact with the landscape harmoniously, human technology and nature are connected in this beautiful cycle and struggle. The Great Wave stands out from the rest because it is separate from the human ego. The wave doesn’t care what might be in its way; it tears. A beautiful reminder that humans are not gods, we cannot stop a wave from crashing down on us.

The Great Wave reminds us of the physicality and brutality of nature. There’s no room for metaphor or projection onto the ocean—it just is. The wave neither combats nor engages in human invention; it simply exists.

With my cohort of peers in SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG), we had the pleasure of learning from teaching artist Juliana Kang Robinson about woodblock carving and printing. I love linoleum carving and have spent years making prints, usually to put on my clothing or bags. Learning wood printing was special to me as there is something magical about how one has to work with the grain of the wood when they carve. It was an extra challenge for me, who was used to the careful precision I could execute on plastic, but it added so much life and character to have places where the wood texture was present. I am so grateful for this experience and encourage teens to not be afraid to branch out into exploring new mediums of art.

– Gwyneth Febus, 18, Third-Year Teen Arts Group Leader

Images: L. Fried. Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa-oki nami-ura), also known as the Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei), about 1830–31 (Tenpō 1–2), Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760–1849, woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Photograph ©️ Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Professor Julie Nelson Davis on the Life and Career of Katsushika Ōi

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the Seattle Art Museum. This month, Julie Nelson Davis, Professor of Art History and the Department Chair at the University of Pennsylvania, will offer a discussion on the style, career, and legacy of renowned artist Katsushika Ōi on Saturday, December 9. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Nelson Davis about Ōi’s relationship to her famous father and her contributions to his studio, her favorite artwork in SAM’s collection, and more.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

JULIE NELSON DAVIS: I’m looking forward to sharing my research on Katsushika Ōi, the daughter of the famous ukiyo-e master, Katsushika Hokusai. Some people may be familiar with the Japanese animation, Miss Hokusai, that tells a fictionalized version of her life. I’ll talk about Ōi’s life and work, as we can reconstruct if from period evidence, and investigate possible ways that her contributions to Hokusai’s studio might be further revealed. Much of my previous work has been about women in early modern Japan and about collaboration between artistic producers; I’ve been thinking about Ōi as part of this larger investigation.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

JND: This research developed out of a project I was doing with the British Museum, and our group met a few times in Washington D.C., London, and Tokyo to discuss our work together, looking at paintings in storage, and viewing the British Museum exhibition on Hokusai in 2017. I also previously had the chance to travel with some colleagues to Obuse, a small town east of Nagano, to visit the Hokusai Museum and the Gansho-in Temple. Hokusai and Ōi traveled to Obuse in the 1840s on an invitation from an acquaintance, Takai Kozan. Kozan built a studio room for Hokusai and Ōi, and we were able to visit the house and see the studio. We also had the chance to look closely at a sketch in the museum’s collection that shows Hokusai’s plan for a painting he designed for Gansho-in, as well as to look at the two famous festival carts with paintings attributed to Hokusai. We then went to the temple to look at the ceiling painting of a magnificent phoenix. It was a beautiful, partly sunny, cold December day, and as we walked from the museum to the temple, we passed many traditional houses where people were drying bright orange persimmons; the rather monotone landscape and the coldness of the day helped me imagine what Hokusai and Ōi’s experience of working in Obuse might have been like. 

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

JND: Who can choose just one thing! If I must, I’ll say the Poem Scroll with Deer by Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu, the beauty and rhythm of the painting and calligraphy is stunning. I still remember seeing it in storage when I was a grad student, seeing it unroll and glisten under the light. It was gorgeous.

SAM: What is one fact or story related to your lecture topic that the public would be surprised to learn?

JND: Perhaps that it was rare for women to work as professional artists in early modern Japan. Ōi was one of the exceptional cases. Many women worked in the period, but most worked for their family businesses, in shops, or in other roles. Few women had the opportunity to pursue careers as painters, and those that did were typically able to do so only because their husbands or fathers were also painters. (This was also often the case for women in other parts of the world at the same time.) Ōi had the opportunity to learn to sketch and paint in her father’s studio when she was young, becoming quite proficient. She left Hokusai’s studio for a few years to marry another painter, but after their marriage ended, she returned to work alongside her father for the last twenty-two years of his life. 

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

JND: There isn’t one yet! But to learn more about Hokusai, I’d recommend reading Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave (British Museum, 2017) or, of course, seeing the exhibition at the Bowers Museum through January 7, 2024! I wrote a small book as an introduction, Picturing the Floating World: Ukiyo-e in Context (University of Hawai’i Press, 2021) for people curious about the Japanese prints, paintings, and illustrated books in the ukiyo-e genre that might also be of interest.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

JND: I hope that they have a wonderful experience seeing Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence at SAM.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of Julie Nelson Davis. Night Scene in the Yoshiwara, 1850, Katsushika Ōi, ink and paper drawing, Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo. Poem Scroll with Deer, 1610, Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu, ink, gold and silver on paper, 13 7/16 × 366 3/16 in. (34.1 × 930.1 cm) Overall: 13 1/2 x 410 3/16 in. (34.3 x 1041.9 cm), Gift of Mrs. Donald E. Frederick, 51.127, photo: Seiji Shirono, National Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo.

The Multitudes of Museum Work: Emerging Arts Leader Aranya Kitnikone Reflects

“What do you want to be when you’re older?” Time and time again, I’ve asked myself this question.

From a young age, I developed an affinity towards the arts from my older sister, who was an artist. As my role model, they influenced my passion and professional interest for the arts. However, as a first-generation Asian American, I’ve often had to confront the stigma that comes with pursuing a career in the arts and humanities over a more ‘lucrative’ or stable field like medicine or business. In my own family, this sentiment proved especially true; it was considered a waste of time to study the arts. This mindset naturally impacted the decisions I made regarding my own future.

While I love making art and consider myself a passionate and creative person, the negative opinion of my family and colleagues pushed me away from pursuing a career arts. In entering college, I decided to pursue Human Resources and Education (the idea of working adjacent to art had never really crossed my mind). It was only when I discovered an internship in the Seattle Art Museum’s Human Resources department that my passion for creative work was reignited. It served as an opportunity to combine my desire to work in the arts with my desire to pursue a broader career that might be seen as more ‘stable’ to my family (and admittedly, myself).

At SAM, I was encouraged to connect with other creatives to find out what goes on behind the scenes at an arts institution. I was able to schedule one-on-one meetings with staff across different departments of the museum, connect with other interns, and learn more about what museum work really is. I was most excited to meet the people behind the execution of the galleries and to see exhibitions go from the planning stage to the presentation stage. I especially want to highlight my meeting with Jenni Beetem, a fellow Emerging Arts Leaders in conservation, in which I learned about the preservation of yak milk from the Mongol Empire and the fundamentals of art conservation.

Working alongside the Human Resources team was also an invaluable experience. Ellie Vazquez, SAM Human Resources Specialist and my program supervisor, helped me to better understand what equity looks like in a museum setting and how it is practiced throughout recruitment and hiring processes. Throughout my project work, I was able to observe the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices currently in place at SAM, and was tasked with co-editing our Equitable Hiring Guide and hosting a gallery tour of American Art: The Stories We Carry that highlighted the topics of HR and DEI. In that tour, I spoke of how DEI and collaboration have shaped gallery spaces at SAM and beyond, as well as the importance of reflecting the diversity of local communities within museum staff and projects.

In my role as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Human Resources, I created training videos and resources for SAM’s internal staff. Sitting in on staff meetings and having one-on-ones with my supervisor helped me gain a greater understanding of what I wanted my role in (or out of) HR to be. As I performed research on staff benefits—which, admittedly, wasn’t the most exciting aspect of my role—I enjoyed knowing that I could assist someone to understand their workplace better. So, while Human Resources did not start off as a passion, I did find joy in the principles, the learning opportunities, and especially the collaboration and connection fostered in this space. While my work may not have been directly involved in the operations of the public-facing museum space, the opportunity to connect with others behind the scenes will always be a highlight for me.

My time at SAM has been a transformative experience. I have met people from all different walks of life and have been fortunate enough to see the passion that goes into running this museum firsthand. When I first came to SAM, I held all sorts of preconceived notions on what it would be like to work in a museum. In my mind, a degree of privilege and higher education was needed to work in an institution such as this and I thought myself to be a terribly under qualified outsider. The Emerging Arts Leader program does an amazing job of combating these notions, allowing those from different walks of life to participate in, and contribute to, museum spaces. It has given me a greater understanding and respect for these institutions especially as SAM continues to grow and reflect the values of Seattle’s ever-evolving community. In leaving SAM, it’s clear that this institution is the product of a community-wide effort from the visitors, the volunteers, and the staff. Being here has allowed me to shift my idea of museums from being an institution of privilege to a space made for communities.

Finally, I would like to thank the specific individuals who helped me during my time here. I would like to thank my supervisor, Ellie, for all her support and guidance. I would like to thank the rest of our Human Resources team, Kathleen Maki and Andrew Young, and especially our internship coordinator, Sam Howes, for facilitating the internship process and creating a support system for us. I would also like to thank my fellow interns Elizabeth Xiong, Teagan Nathe, Jenni Beetem, Zak Sadak, Rebecca Wong, and Jo Cosme—this experience has been an unforgettable one especially because of the other amazing interns I have met during my time here. While I am now at the end of my time here as an intern, it in no way means the end of my relationship with SAM and its community.

– Aranya Kitnikone, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Human Resources

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad & Sam Howes.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Joe Max Emminger

In the Studio highlights the private workspaces of local artists represented by SAM Gallery. For fifty years, SAM Gallery has supported artists from across the Pacific Northwest and provided private and corporate clients with a wide range of services, from purchasing their first work of art to building extensive collections. To browse a featured artist’s entire catalogue of artwork available for rent or purchase, visit SAM Gallery on the lower level of the Seattle Art Museum.

You can find artist Joe Max Emminger painting in his studio in Magnuson Park every day. His studio is located in Building 30 in the park’s campus. This building lives a new life as SPACE (Sand Point Arts and Cultural Exchange), after its construction in the 1930s for the Navy administration. The commander of the base once visited Emminger, who now paints in his previous office.  

Sunlight enters the studio through large windows, shining onto Emminger’s wall where he has mixed, tested, and blended paint for the last seven to eight years. He considers the wall a big palette, where he can mix paint while he’s working on paintings that are attached to the wall. He works close to the paintings, believing that “creating things is a messy business, it leaves the debris of creation behind.” The large painted wall contains hundreds of patches of bright colors in splotches, circles, shapes, and drips. It serves as a beautiful archive of Emminger’s artworks and process. 

Emminger’s artworks are based on things he sees, things he cares about, and stories in his head. Each painting has a story with characters that show up. He puts the characters into paintings, then creates new characters to add in and expand the story he wants to tell. He “starts throwing some color at the work, adds it, and adds more until it makes some sense.” He says his process is like moving furniture, a continuous cycle of balancing colors to bring something new to life. Many of his artworks include recurring characters, cats, birds, butterflies, and familiar sites from around Seattle such as Pike Place Market or Gasworks Park.

View Joe Max Emminger’s available artworks at SAM Gallery on the featured sliding wall, in the 50th Anniversary Show at SAM Gallery this November, or online. Stay updated on all that’s happening at SAM Gallery by following us Instagram at @SAMGallery.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Dr. Saloni Mathur on the Life and Legacy of Amrita Sher-Gil

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. This month, Dr. Saloni Mathur, Professor and Chair of the Department of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles, will offer a discussion on the paintings of revolutionary 20th-century South Asian artist Amrita Sher-Gil on Saturday, November 11. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Mathur about her reaction to seeing Amrita Sher-Gil’s Self-Portrait as Tahitian for the first time, its similarities with Native contemporary artist Wendy Red Star’s Four Seasons series, and more.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

SALONI MATHUR: I will be speaking about Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941), the part-Indian, part-Hungarian painter who stands at the cosmopolitan helm of modern Indian art. She was the first Indian to receive artistic training in Paris, attending the École des Beaux-Arts from 1929 to 1932. The biracial, bicultural, and bisexual artist was described recently by Time Magazine as “shockingly modern.” My talk will focus on her extraordinary painting, Self-Portrait as Tahitian (1934), in which she was supposedly responding to Gauguin’s stylization of the female nude.

I remember experiencing a sense of vertigo after first encountering this painting in response to the dizzying set of questions it raised. What were the conditions that made possible such an account of Gauguin by a non-western woman in 1934? What precisely was meant by Sher-Gil’s self-conscious placement into the body of a Tahitian nude? And how could art history have missed this painting, so deliberately a citation of art historical precedent? 

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

SM: Self-Portrait as Tahitian was housed with her descendants in a private collection for a long time. I traveled to Europe to study the painting on two occasions when it was displayed as part of larger exhibitions. The first time was for the exhibition Companionable Silences curated by Shanay Jhaveri in Paris, France in 2013, and the second was for Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany in 2017.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

SM: I’ve always been a fan of contemporary Native American artist Wendy Red Star’s Four Seasons (2006) print series in SAM’s collection. Here, Red Star parodies and undercuts exotic stereotypes of the Indigenous woman by repeatedly stepping into the photographic frame herself. The way she challenges the conventions of looking with her own physical presence resonates a great deal with Amrita Sher-Gil’s own gesture of subversion in Self-Portrait as Tahitian, painted some ninety years ago. In both cases, the young non-white, female artist rejects the terms of her own objectification, and steps into the canvas or photographic frame to assume a new command of their situation.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

SM: The Delhi-based contemporary artist, Vivan Sundaram (1943–2023), a major figure in Indian art who sadly passed away earlier this year, was also the nephew of Amrita Sher-Gil. A significant corpus of his work dealt with the legacy of his famous aunt. His Re-take of Amrita series of black and white digital photomontages based on archival photographs from the family archive are especially powerful. Using digital technologies, Sundaram reconfigures these photographs in highly creative ways, and recasts the family in new roles, retelling his family history.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

SM: Amrita Sher-Gil: An Indian Artist Family of the Twentieth Century. Schirmer/Mosel, 2007. This catalogue—created as part of an exhibition previously held at the Tate Modern in London—includes many of Sher-Gil’s paintings alongside Sundaram’s Re-takes series.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement

Photos: Courtesy of Saloni Mathur. Self-Portrait as Tahitian, 1934, Amrita Sher-Gil. Oil on canvas. Four Seasons series: Indian Summer, 2006, printed 2016, Wendy Red Star, Archival pigment print on Sunset Fiber rag, Sheet: 23 × 26 in. (58.4 × 66 cm), Image: 21 x 24 in., Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2016.13.4. Bourgeois Family: Mirror Frieze, Vivan Sundaram, digital photomontage of archival print, from the Re-take of Amrita series, 2001–02.

Five Decades of Supporting Local Artists: SAM Gallery Celebrates 50 Years

This November, SAM Gallery is celebrating 50 years of supporting local artists and building relationships with local collectors. When the program began in 1973, SAM Gallery was managed by former volunteer Jackie Macrae and a team of 25 dedicated SAM docents. Through a great deal of research, many volunteer hours, and a $1,000 loan from the Macrae family, the gallery officially opened its doors to the public. Five decades later, SAM Gallery is staffed by a full-time manager devoted to art sales and rentals and several part-time employees, with additional support from the museum’s Associate Director for Retail Operations and SAM Shop team members.

Visitors browse available artworks at SAM Gallery Rentaloft in 1976, photo: Paul Marshall Macapia.

At its founding, SAM Gallery was known as the Seattle Art Museum Rentaloft and was located in the Modern Art Pavilion at the Seattle Center. In 2004, it was renamed SAM Gallery and moved to 1220 Third Avenue, a block east of the Seattle Art Museum. When the expanded Seattle Art Museum opened in the heart of Seattle in 2007, SAM Gallery moved to its current location on the lower level of the museum, within the SAM Shop space on First Avenue.

In 1973, SAM Gallery supported 86 artists and carried paintings, sculptures, constructions, photography, and conceptual art. Today, SAM Gallery supports over 50 artists from across the Pacific Northwest. The gallery carries paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, drawings, and mixed-media works, all of which are available for rental or purchase.

Many things have changed in the five decades since SAM Gallery was founded, but its mission has remained the same: to support local artists by increasing their exposure and finding audiences for their work. SAM Gallery continues to work with corporate and private clients to help them connect with local artists and build their private art collections. SAM members are able to rent any artwork before making a purchase that directly supports the local artists who live and work in our community. Join us in celebrating SAM Gallery’s 50th anniversary at our Anniversary Party this Saturday, November 4 and Artist Reception on Saturday, November 18. We hope to see you there!

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photo: Courtesy © Seattle Art Museum, photo: Paul Marshall Macapia, 1976, archive image.

Artist Fulgencio Lazo’s Tapete Commemorates Migrant Children

Every year, artist Fulgencio Lazo designs a tapete for SAM in celebration of El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). José Carlos Diaz, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art, explores the theme of this year’s tapete and finds connections to an artwork on view in American Art: The Stories We Carry. The tapete is on view in SAM’s Brotman Forum, free and open to the public, through Sunday, November 5.

For SAM’s 29th annual celebration of Día de los Muertos, Seattle-based Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Lazo returns to commemorate innocent youth displaced or lost through extreme circumstances and violence. Acclaimed for his works on paper and paintings, here Lazo expands his visual narratives, often representing fact with folklore, through a short-term sculptural installation and a traditional Oaxacan-style tapete, a colorful “rug” made with sand, pigments, and mixed media.

Lazo dedicates this year’s installation to “the growing number of migrant children who have died as they have embarked on dangerous journeys from their homelands.” He adds, “Thousands of young people have increasingly risked their lives fleeing violence, war, climate change, and extreme poverty.”

On the third floor, visitors can view Diego Rivera’s Sleep (1932), which depicts huddled individuals sleeping, their children, also fatigued, collapsed against them. In a collective moment of peaceful repose, they are temporarily free from the difficulties of daily survival for immigrants. Part of the museum’s founding collection, Rivera’s print thematically links across the decades to Lazo’s installation.

While Rivera depicts unharmed Latin American bodies, including children, Lazo conceptualizes their demise. He notes, “We will honor and remember these young lives, cut short in their quests for brighter futures.” The installation’s central sculpture depicts stylized skeletons, representing deceased children and reflecting the increasing global statistics of lives lost. These mourned figures are accompanied by elements traditionally associated with childhood: toys, bicycles, and sweets.

– José Carlos Diaz, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art

Images: Photo by Chloe Collyer. Sleep, 1932, Diego Rivera, Mexican, 1886-1957, lithograph, matted: 20″ x 24″, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.619. 

Introducing TAG Talks: A Space for SAM Teens to Express Themselves and Their Love of Art

Teens always have a place at the Seattle Art Museum! Whether it’s enjoying the galleries over spring break, or offering their incredible talents through a variety of artistic programs, the voices of young people have helped to shape the museum in countless ways. SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is just one example of the critical role teens play at SAM.

TAG is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and want to make SAM an engaging place for teens. This cohort of young minds meets weekly from October through May to plan teen-friendly museum events and programs, discuss professional development in the arts, and connect around their shared appreciation for SAM’s vast collection. Additionally, and perhaps most notably, TAG members plan every aspect of Teen Night Out, SAM’s annual celebration where teens take over the museum.

TAG offers an environment for current high school-aged youth to safely challenge themselves and others, try something new, and accept failure as an opportunity for growth. TAG Talks, the newest SAM Blog series, is a space for these leaders to reflect on their adventures in the year ahead, offering first-hand accounts of the ways they are stewarding SAM’s mission of connecting art to life. 

TAG leaders outline their community agreements at the second meeting of the 2023–2024 school year.

Among its many incredible objectives, one particularly exciting aspect of TAG is the cohort’s undertaking of a yearlong project that demonstrates the skills they’ve learned throughout their time at SAM. In 2023, members worked fiercely to complete two concurrent projects: an illustrated TAG zine highlighting Seattle’s sights and scenes that any teen can enjoy, and a multimedia exhibition, Home Is Where the Heart Is, featuring the artwork of teens from across the region. This year, TAG will be working hard to develop engaging content that SAM visitors will enjoy for years to come. This top secret project will make its public debut on Friday, May 3, 2024 at Teen Night Out, so stay tuned for this exciting reveal.

SAM Teen Programs Intern Mori Peña sits beside artist Dawoud Bey as he speaks with TAG leaders in November 2022.

As a former TAG member and current SAM Teen Programs Intern, Mori Peña is no stranger to the inner workings of the program. Mori is excited to be working alongside this year’s cohort and is especially looking forward to watching the group’s plotting and masterminding unfold. This year’s top secret yearlong project is one that SAM staff have been entertaining for the last few years and for Mori, it’s thrilling to see the pieces finally fall into place. Alongside eagerly returning members, the 2023–2024 cohort is filled with many new faces—we can’t wait to see what new ideas and perspectives they all bring to TAG! 

SAM Educator for Youth Programs Cristina Cano-Calhoun in conversation with TAG leaders at their second meeting of the 2023–2024 school year.

Over the 2023–2024 school year, we’ll be sharing original content created by TAG members here on SAM Blog under the series title TAG Talks. As a teaser for what’s to come, you can look forward to a behind-the-scenes look at the installation of an upcoming SAM exhibition, TAG members discussing objects on view in our permanent galleries, and reflections from a hands-on workshop with a teaching artist. As we kick off another session of TAG this month, you can also expect a more active and ever-expanding presence on our Instagram. So, follow us at @samteens and stay tuned for the next installment of TAG Talks!

– Cristina Cano-Calhoun, SAM Educator for Youth Programs & Mori Peña, SAM Teen Programs Intern

Photos: Chloe Collyer & Alborz Kamalizad.

Reigniting My Passion for Museums: Emerging Arts Leader Thaddeus Gonzalez-Serna Reflects

I grew up going to the Seattle Art Museum. Its annual Día de los Muertos celebrations were a tradition for my family. Alongside my mom and sisters, we’d excitedly hop on the light rail and make the trip to the museum. I was always so excited to see the traditional masks displayed in the galleries—first the ones like my parents made for Día de los Muertos in Mexico, and then other examples from around the world. Taking the escalators to the fourth floor to admire the collection of African masks on view was, and still is, my favorite thing to do at the museum. 

Earlier this year, I traveled to Mexico to visit my grandparents and found myself exploring art museums in my free time. In walking through these spaces and admiring the artworks on view, my passion for museum work—that first sparked during my childhood visits to SAM—was reignited.

With my interest in cultural masks, I was excited to be presented with the opportunity to work on a project related to SAM’s Katherine White collection—composed of over 2,000 masks, baskets, textiles, and other objects from Africa. As I dove into drawers of catalog cards, I discovered how a mask’s story was told through its creators, donor, and eventually museum curators. As an Emerging Arts Intern, I helped to update SAM’s online collections record, eMuseum with useful information about many of the objects in this collection.

As part of my internship, I also contributed to labels for objects on view in Pacific Species. With assistance from the curatorial team, I researched the history of Netsuke (small sculptures which developed as a Japanese art form across more than three hundred years) and its relationship to Japanese myths.

My final contribution as a SAM intern was leading a public tour through the museum’s galleries. It tied together my personal interests and work at the museum with a focus on the objects that have always inspired me: masks. I think the tour nicely encapsulated my internship, as I discussed masks from the Katherine White collection, information I learned from my research alongside the curatorial team, and my personal experience with mask-making at SAM’s Día de los Muertos community celebration.

Being at SAM opened my eyes to the volume of work and coordination goes into operating a museum. I learned so much about how departments interact with one another and the many ways scholars, curators, and the public interpret art, museums, and life itself. Whether it was helping SAM Manager of Teen & Family Programs Nicole Henao develop the itinerary of this year’s Día de los Muertos community celebration, assessing records with former SAM Collection Records Associate Elizabeth Smith in the registrar’s office, or talking about object labels with SAM Photographer Scott Leen and Curator of Oceanic and African Art Pam McClusky, I always felt like a valuable part of the SAM team.

This experience also taught me value of approaching new people and asking more questions. I have grown more comfortable with being put into new situations and reaching out to individuals I wanted to learn from. One of my favorite parts of being at SAM was listening to various staff members discuss their day-to-day work because it was these seemingly mundane conversations that allowed me to develop important networking skills. Looking back on my time at the museum, it’s clear how committed every member of SAM’s staff is to providing the best experience for all museum visitors.

– Thaddeus Gonzalez-Serna, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Museum Services

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad & Chloe Collyer.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on Her New Book, Touching the Art

SAM is thrilled to host the official launch for queer icon and activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s latest book, Touching the Art. At this free event on Sunday, October 15 in the museum’s Brotman Forum, Sycamore will read from her book, answer audience questions, and sign books. You’ll also be able to purchase your own copy of the book weeks before its official publication date by Soft Skull Press on November 7.

A mixture of memoir, biography, criticism, and social history, Touching the Art is Sycamore’s interrogation of the possibilities of artistic striving, the limits of the middle-class mindset, the legacy of familial abandonment, and what art can and cannot do. Manager of Public Engagement Jesse Jimenez spoke with Sycamore in advance of her appearance at SAM.


JESSE JIMENEZ (JJ): This new book has so many layers. How did you approach weaving together the different themes in this book?

MATTILDA BERNSTEIN SYCAMORE (MBS): Touching the Art centers around my relationship with my late grandmother, Gladys Goldstein, an abstract painter from Baltimore, so I started by literally touching her art, to see what would come through. In this sense I began abstractly, on the terms of the art. But at the same time, what could be more concrete than touch? So it was the felt sense that guided me. 

I started with her handmade paperworks, taking them out one at a time and feeling all the layers, looking at them under the light, trying to figure out how she made these complex works that feel so sensual in their shifting geometries, the patterns that emerge and then disappear, the rips in the paper and everything that’s embedded inside, how these works can look so delicate but actually feel so strong, the way touch is always present in handmade paper too.

And then everything that came through—about watching her make the art when I was a child, about going up into her studio where I could imagine a creative life because I was living it. But also about the ruptures in our relationship, the trauma of growing up with my father—who was her son—who sexually abused me. And then I went from touching her art to the letters we wrote to one another, which mark our falling out when I was 19, 20, 21. My work became vulgar to her once it became unapologetically queer. “Why are you wasting your talent,” she would say to me, over and over, and so in the book I circle around this abandonment.

Then I moved to Baltimore for 8 months, to see what would come through there. It’s the surprises that guided me. And then after that I immersed myself in research about the artists of her generation, loosely the women of Abstract Expressionism, and then books about Baltimore, about Jewish assimilation and white flight, redlining and disinvestment. It all comes together through experience, I think. The felt sense of the work, and the felt sense of the world. We’re always told that we cannot touch the art, but what happens when we do?

JJ: I love that Gladys had strong opinions about art and creative practice. What do you think she would say about SAM’s modern and contemporary galleries? Are there any works that you’re particularly drawn to or call into question?

MBS: That’s a great question—Gladys was a loyal abstractionist who had no time for anything she saw as derivative, she always saw herself as a contemporary painter. So she wanted to experience art that was unfamiliar. Except maybe when it came to me.

I know that I’m really drawn to the Joan Mitchell painting that’s on display, The Sink. Every time I go to the museum I visit that painting first. There’s so much motion and emotion, and you can stare at any part and it looks like its own painting. Gladys’s paintings are like that too, not so much in style but in refusing a central form, and I wonder if she would have recognized a kinship. But she was a product of her generation, and she almost never mentioned female artists because only the men were important. There’s some story about how some critic said, “Gladys Goldstein painted like a man,” or something like that, and all of the women of that generation have that story because it meant they mattered.

I know that Gladys must have been aware of Joan Mitchell’s work because Mitchell is interviewed in the same issue of ARTNews where Gladys’s 1957 show in New York was reviewed. And Joan Mitchell is brilliant in that interview, she’s incisive about art and form and context. Wouldn’t Gladys have appreciated that? In Touching the Art, one of the things I wonder about is what the lives of these women artists could have been like if the men didn’t exist at all, or at least if they didn’t have to exist in their shadow.

JJ: The book touches on the effects of gentrification in Baltimore. I’m interested to know if you see any of these same issues reflected in Seattle?

MBS: One thing I noticed when I was in Baltimore was how artists were brandished so blatantly as tools of gentrification in neighborhoods that have been destroyed by decades of disinvestment. This happens everywhere, of course, but it felt more extreme in Baltimore because so much of the city is still in collapse, and in so many Black neighborhoods in particular you can go for block after block and literally half of the buildings have burned down or are boarded up. So the gentrification starts from the top, like the branding of a neighborhood as an Arts District and then boom, the real estate vultures swoop in, but still these are neighborhoods mostly in collapse. It’s a different scale, in terms of the extremity.

In Baltimore there is a kind of desperation to make a neighborhood alive again, and so people are drawn to the lure of any kind of investment. Seattle is so gentrified already, almost across the board. Here we have developers and government partnering to destroy amazing success stories, like Yesler Terrace, the first integrated housing project in the country, where hundreds of multigenerational families were living until it got sold off to the developers—gentrification is always violence, it just takes so many forms.

JJ: Queerness plays a pivotal role in your relationship with Gladys. How does the tension between family and identity inform your creative practice?

MBS: When I was a kid, Gladys nourished everything that made me queer, so a central paradox in the book is why did she reject everything that she had nurtured in me, once I fully came into myself. I saw her as an alternative to the path of upward mobility that everyone else in my family was obsessed with—upward mobility at any cost. Family as a way to camouflage violence. I thought she believed in something else, but I was wrong. She was the one person in my birth family who could have engaged with me as an artist, and she refused to. But still, looking at her art, I feel a sense of spaciousness, joy, an openness to the world. And this is something she gave me. 

JJ: I like the deep investment in artistic and personal truth throughout the book. How do you think this book teaches people how to engage with art?

MBS: One place where Gladys and I totally agree is in never telling anyone how to engage with art. It should always be on your own terms, I think. That’s what abstraction can offer us, right, a way into possibility or openness. But in the book I want to look at all the layers beneath this, I want to expose the silences, the silencing. I know I write on my own terms, and I think this is the best way to connect with the world, or I hope so. I want to look at the personal, the intimate, the familial, the historical, the structural, all of this at once. Maybe this is what it means to touch the art.

– Jesse Jimenez (they/them), SAM Manager of Public Engagement

Photos: Courtesy Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Installation view of The Sink at the Seattle Art Museum by Jo Cosme.

The Great Wave and Beyond: A Look at Katsushika Hokusai’s Life and Legacy

Opening Thursday, October 19 at the Seattle Art Museum, Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston takes a new approach to the works of esteemed artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), pairing more than 100 of his woodblock prints, paintings, and illustrated books from their renowned collection with more than 200 works by artists around the world that he inspired. 

During the Edo period (1603–1867) in Japan and to the present day, Hokusai’s artwork has dazzled audiences across the globe. Hokusai’s accomplished artistic skills, unique subject matter, and vast production inspired the practices of his students, peers, rivals, and his most talented pupil, his daughter Katsushika Ōi. This exhibition thoroughly explores Hokusai’s legacy, with thematic sections that connect Japanese artforms to Western visual art and design. 

The circulation of ukiyo-e prints across Europe in the 19th century led to increased availability of Japanese prints and books, and by the 1860s, artists and designers such as Félix Bracquemond began incorporating Japanese motifs into the decorative arts in a style known in French as Japonisme. Outstanding examples in the exhibition include earthenware, decorative silver, stained glass, and porcelain—fans of our own Porcelain Room will especially enjoy these works.

A central artwork in the show, Under the Wave off Kanagawa—today celebrated as The Great Wave—is from Hokusai’s bestselling series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (c. 1830 to 1832). No other image evokes nature’s beauty and terrifying power as much as this instantly recognizable print. The three vessels endangered by the rogue wave, with men bent over their oars as they row for their lives, are fish boats delivering their cargo to the markets of Edo. The glimpse of Mount Fuji beyond the curve of the wave—the only visible land in the picture—is a perfect finishing touch and a symbol of hope that the boats will return safely. 

Today, an internet search brings up hundreds of The Great Wave images rendered in different colors, styles, and interpretations. Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence will feature artworks that directly cite the iconic image from prolific artists including Andy Warhol, Lynda Benglis, Yoshitoma Nara, and even a large-scale Lego recreation by Lego-certified professional Jumpei Mitsui. 

From traditional techniques to bold styles, Hokusai challenged the status quo, offered new ways of seeing the world, and expanded society’s collective artistic imagination. This blockbuster exhibition, curated by Dr. Sarah Thompson, Curator of Japanese Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, demonstrates the expansive influence of historical Japanese art on contemporary art.

This article first appeared in the June through September 2023 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Image: Carp and Iris, about 1808–13 (Bunka 5–10), Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760–1849, woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

A Second Chance at SAM: Emerging Arts Leader Jo Cosme Reflects

I began my SAM Emerging Arts Leader Internship in Graphic Design after returning from two back-to-back emotionally intense trips: One to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City to see No existe un mundo poshuracán: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane María and another to mi Tierra Natal (my Native Land), Borikén (colonially known as Puerto Rico). Why were these experiences so significant to my SAM internship? It’s because they’re what led me to SAM in the first place. I am a Boricua Caribbean Antillean (Native Puerto Rican), born and raised in the aforementioned archipelago of Borikén for 30 years of my life, and was displaced a year after Hurricane María to Seattle. This catastrophic climate event and its austerity measures took away everything I knew in the blink of an eye.

Like many individuals who suddenly find themselves in the US, I had to start my life over. Displacement and culture shock were much harder to navigate than I had expected, and I struggled internally with having to live in the country that’s been exploiting mine for over a century. Opportunities to further my creative career were few as I navigated speaking a second language while neurodiverse, with few established networking skills and no college degree. I was constantly being told by potential employers that although I had an impressive and diverse portfolio, I didn’t “have enough experience.” I felt like I was never going to make it here and considered quitting my passion of being a creative.

An internship seemed like the last best shot for me. I would have the opportunity to relearn everything I needed to know in English, get access to learn new programs at my pace, and could network in a professional setting directly tied to my career path. Eventually, I found SAM’s Emerging Arts Leaders Internship. I read up on the work their Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion department had been doing and I had already only heard great things about its director, Priya Frank. I immediately applied, and lo and behold, I was offered the internship. I couldn’t believe it. Finally, the opportunity I’d been hoping for and it was in a museum! As a creative, I was ecstatic.

Although I was super excited and grateful for the opportunity, I was also equally intimidated to start an internship in such a renowned museum. My impostor syndrome started kicking in. What if I’m not educated enough? What if my English betrays me? What if they use highly academic language and I don’t understand anything? What if my initial nervousness and shyness are misread as uninterested and/or unfit to be a good leader in this environment?

On my first day, I met Samuel Howes, SAM HR & Internship Programs Coordinator, and Ellie Vázquez, SAM HR Specialist. They were very welcoming, careful with their explanations of the museum’s functions, willing to answer questions, and provided a very laid-back, seamless process for what may have been a super stressful experience at other workplaces. I was then welcomed by my department supervisor, Natali Wiseman, and was introduced to the rest of the marketing team as well as some folks from the education team that I’d be working with. Nicole Henao, SAM Manager of Teen & Family Programs, happened to be a Boricua Native to Borikén too, which I only found out because I happened to leave some coquito behind in the staff fridge. I also befriended two Visitor Services Officers—Monique from Taiwan and Marcela from Chile—and later met SAM Volunteers Ying from China and Elba from Argentina. It was great to connect with people who, like myself, had to “brincar el charco” or “cross the waters” in search of a new life. All of this to say, I was very pleased to see how many different stories, languages, and backgrounds I encountered in every department and how wonderful and welcoming everyone was.

As part of my graphic design internship—and because I’m a self-proclaimed Swiss Army knife (meaning I’m good at wearing many hats)—I got the chance to design many museum ads across different platforms, take photos of artworks on view, and help create a video about the Emerging Arts Leader experience that will premiere on SAM Blog in the coming months. I’m excited to include all of these new experiences in my portfolio and am also very pleased to have had the chance to polish my skills, learn new tools, and make new connections at SAM. 

Two projects that stuck out for me were designing the lockup for the 2022–23 Teen Arts Group exhibition, Home is Where the Heart Is, and working on new, multilingual ads for the Seattle Asian Art Museum. I related closely to many of the themes explored in Home is Where the Heart Is, including family, displacement, and longing. It’s like the universe was telling me: “Oh, you just got back from visiting the home you miss dearly, so here’s a chance for you to create this design from your unique perspective”. I developed a palette based on a few colors the teen leaders had chosen, and within those found swatches that reminded me of Old San Juan and the sunsets on my favorite beaches in Cabo Rojo at home. I know firsthand how it feels to live in a displaced body and be forced to learn new interpretations for what home can be. My heart continues in Borikén with my land, friends, and family, but I have been able to make a home here in Seattle too with my three amazing Boricua housemates and my two beautiful partners. I’m happy the team was very willing to let me include my unique experience to this design and was thrilled to hear that the education team loved it.

As my internship comes to a close, I feel a lot more confident in pursuing my creative career and starting all over again. I’m sure it will still be hard, but having had this experience at SAM injected me with the hope and confidence I had long lost after losing so much to Hurricane María. I will look back on this experience and feel nothing but deep gratitude for each person I met at SAM. I also want to extend a special thank you to staff members Priya Frank, Samuel Howes, and my two incredibly talented supervisors Muneera Gerald and Natali Wiseman for believing in me and creating a space that people like myself are so eagerly in search for: a second chance.

– Jo Cosme, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Graphic Design

Photos: L. Fried.

Prioritizing Audience Engagement in Museums: Emerging Arts Leader Doreen Chen Reflects

As a high school junior in 2017, I volunteered at the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s library and caught a glimpse at the inner workings of an arts institution. I never would have known that five years later I would come back to SAM and partake in the Emerging Arts Leader internship. Before becoming a SAM intern and as a recent college graduate, I struggled to identify a career direction and academic pursuits. While I was deeply drawn to the museum world as an outsider and a visitor, I was yearning to discover suitable career paths and learn about professional museum experience so that I could make well-informed decisions for my future. 

Throughout my ten-week internship, I learned how to write object labels. I found myself using research skills that I developed in college to get acquainted with a group of Mithila paintings, despite my lack of familiarity with South Asian art. From speaking with professionals in SAM’s curatorial and education departments, I was able to better understand and keep in mind the intended audience of my descriptions. By the conclusion of my internship, I was pleasantly surprised by my evolving skills as a writer and in expanding my knowledge of Mithila art and Hindu iconography.

Another invaluable part of this internship was the opportunity to connect and conduct informational interviews with members of the museum, including museum professionals, docents, and other interns. While there seems to be an invisible pressure of figuring everything out in one’s 20s, I learned that each person arrived at their point in life and their position at the museum through a unique path. Many of them reminisced that they too did not know what they had wanted to pursue at my age and where they would end up. It is okay to slow down and take time to discover oneself. As I continue to discover my career path and academic directions, I was extremely grateful to everyone who shared their life story with me and offered guidance.

Shadowing both frontline work and behind-the-scenes work gave me different perspectives on viewing a museum’s relationship with the public. Behind the scenes, I witnessed the intricate measurements of displays and objects; I sat in on meetings that discussed exhibit rotations months in advance. On the museum floor, I observed docents translating curatorial visions for the public and was left in awe of their ability to recognize a visitor’s familiarity with SAM with just one look. Getting a glimpse of both sides of the museum allowed me to better understand a visitor’s typical museum experience and create labels that allow them to take new information away from their visit. The docent tours and visitor engagement sessions I took part in demonstrated how public tours are not one-sided lectures, but rather a continuous conversation among visitors, docents, artists, and curators. To put my skills and reflection to use, I crafted my final in-gallery tour on the Inari Worship Spirit Foxes from the museum’s collection while prioritizing audience engagement and participation.

As my SAM internship comes to a close, I have begun to set new goals as I look forward to attending graduate school and finding even more ways to stay involved in the art world.

– Doreen Chen, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Curation

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Renegade Edo and Paris: A Tale of Two Cities

What do late 18th- to 19th-century Edo (present-day Tokyo) and late 19th-century Paris have in common? This was the question Xiaojin Wu, SAM’s former Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, wanted to explore when she began developing Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec, her final show for SAM that can only be seen at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. She found intriguing parallels between Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings and the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901). The result is this vibrant exhibition about a shared renegade spirit that flourished in both cities’ urban and artistic cultures.

Both Edo and Paris were facing a multitude of challenges to the status quo from the rising middle classes. In Edo, townspeople pursued hedonistic lifestyles as a way of defying the state-sanctioned social hierarchy that positioned them at the bottom. That mentality contributed to a booming urban culture, which facilitated the massive production and distribution of ukiyo-e (often translated as “pictures of the floating world”). Many of these pictures arrived in France in the 1860s, a time when the French art world and its society at large were undergoing substantial changes. Fin-de-siècle Paris, like Edo before it, saw the rise of anti-establishment attitudes and a Bohemian subculture. Entertainment venues such as the iconic Moulin Rouge emerged in the Montmartre district. Meanwhile, Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries searched for fresh and more expressive art forms, and they found much needed novelty in Japanese prints. 

Toulouse-Lautrec was indebted to Japanese prints, in particular to those by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806); he was often referred to as “Montmartre’s Utamaro.” While many are familiar with the story of Lautrec and his peers drawing inspiration from Japanese prints, this exhibition uncovers the shared subversive hedonism that underlies both Japanese and French prints. Through around ninety choice works drawn from the Seattle Art Museum’s Japanese prints collection as well as loans of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work, this exhibition offers a critical look at the renegade spirit inhabiting the graphic arts in both Edo and Paris, highlighting the social impulses—pleasure-seeking and a rising celebrity culture—behind a burgeoning art production. It is the first time the Seattle Asian Art Museum offers a double take on Japanese and French art in one exhibition—be ready to take it all in!

This article first appeared in the June through September 2023 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

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