SAM Creates: Comic Books with Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Carpe Fin is a very large mural created by Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas on handmade mulberry paper from Japan. The people of the Haida Nation are native to coastal British Columbia and southern Alaska and have occupied Haida Gwaii since time immemorial. Yahgulanaas describes his artwork as “Haida manga,” which combines many artistic and cultural traditions and styles, including Haida formline art, Japanese manga, Pop Art, Chinese brush painting, and graphic novels. 

The artist uses black shapes to outline scenes from the story, which are similar to boxes you’d see in a comic book or graphic novel. The shapes Yahgulanaas uses, like ovoids and u-shapes, are usually used in formline or frameline design, which is the common visual language across Native communities in the Northwest Coastal region. He was inspired in particular by a 19th-century headdress created by his Haida relative, Albert Edward Edenshaw, pictured below. 

The story he tells is inspired by a traditional Haida oral story and the story told by his relatives’ artwork, but set in the world that we live in today. Carpe Fin is about the relationship between humans and the ocean. A sea mammal hunter goes in pursuit of food to feed his starving community and is taken underwater to the realm of a powerful spirit. Carpe Fin makes us think about environmental issues and the connection between humans and nature. Learn more about the history of the Haida Nation.

LOOKING QUESTIONS

Take a minute to look at the artwork and take in everything that you see. Then talk about these questions with a friend or family member.

  • What’s going on in this artwork? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find?
  • This panel is just one part of a much larger work of art and was inspired by comic book design. How is it similar to comics that you have seen before? How is it different?
  • Who do you think the characters are in this story? What can you tell about them based on the details you see?
  • Imagine you’re in one part of this painting. What would you see? What would you smell there? What would you hear?

Art Activity: Create a comic to tell your own story.

What You’ll Need!

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Optional: ruler, markers, colored pencils
  1. Decide on a story: Choose an interesting story that has been told to you by someone you know. Now, think about what that story would be like if it happened today with people you know. When you have an idea for your story and characters, write out the plot: a beginning, middle, and end. 
  2. Divide your paper into three parts, either by folding it or drawing lines using the ruler and a marker. For more of a Haida manga style, try creating three boxes using ovoids or u-shapes instead of squares or rectangles.
  3. Working from right to left or top to bottom (depending on how you use your paper), draw the beginning, middle, and end of your story.
  4. If you like, you can trace your lines in marker and color in your drawings. You can also add words
    to your story (consider using speech bubbles to make it look even more like a comic strip)!
  5. Don’t forget to write your name, authors and
    artists always sign their work! What title will you give this comic?

KEEP LEARNING WITH A STORY

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas also turned Carpe Fin into a book. Buy a copy from SAM. You can read more graphic novels on Hoopla Digital and Comixology. If you’re looking for more new takes on Indigenous stories, read Tales from Big Spirit series by David Alexander Robinson or Trickster by Matt Dembicki online.

Carpe Fin (detail), 2018, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Haida, b. 1954, watercolor and ink on handmade Japanese paper, 6.5 x 19.7 ft., Seattle Art Museum, Ancient and Native American Art Acquisition Fund, McRae Foundation and Karen Jones, 2018.30, © Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Sakíi.id (headdress frontlet), ca. 1870, Albert Edward Edenshaw, maple wood, paint, and abalone shell, 6 1/4 x 5 7/8 x 2 1/4 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.82. Photo: Natali Wiseman.

SAM Creates: Assemble Assemblages à la Rauschenberg

In his original Cardbirds, Robert Rauschenberg used discarded cardboard boxes he found on the street to create this flock of birds. Notice that he isn’t just using cardboard, but he rips the edges so the corrugation inside shows and the writing is prominently featured. These objects are supposed to feel like they were pulled out of a dumpster. By using everyday or discarded objects to make art, Rauschenberg was inviting us to rethink the value system of fine art.

Rauschenberg was an innovator, known for his works combining painting and sculpture called combines. This was a radical blending of materials and methods in the 1950s and 60s and expanded the traditional boundaries of art. Combines and assemblages are like collage but are three dimensional with found objects projecting out from the base.

Create your own assemblage

What you’ll need

  • Cardboard or other materials that can be ripped, torn, and reassembled (phone books, toothpicks, or other recycled materials like scrap wood)
  • Glue, stapler, paper clips, rubber bands
  • Scissors
  • Markers or paint
  • Pencil or pen

As a starting point go outside and observe birds or other creatures. Think about Rauschenberg’s title: Cardbirds. Base your creation on something you see outside.

Consider cutting up cardboard pieces in preparation so there is a large assortment of sizes and textures. Peel off the top layer over the corrugated cardboard to show its interesting texture.

Gather your materials and take some time to arrange them in different ways. Think about pattern and texture as you let the materials speak to you, they will have their own story. Leave the evidence of their previous life visible, notice how Rauschenberg used the existing words “Turkey” or “Frozen” stamped on the cardboard.  What history do your objects have? Can it help inform the work you’re making? 

Next, use simple shapes to represent the animal or object you saw outside. Try cutting out or ripping ovals, triangles, and rectangles as well as organic shapes.

As you assemble your work try using a variety of attachment techniques, slot cuts are the simplest: cut straight into two separate pieces and slot them into each other at opposite angles. Layer and stack pieces together thinking about the use of symmetry as well as asymmetry, to create unity and interest. Glue objects together and allow time to dry or set. Consider painting with gesso or clear acrylic to help unify the piece. 

Make a few versions of your object or invite a friend to collaborate. Collaboration was an ongoing practice for Rauschenberg who said, “Ideas are not real estate.”

 We would love to see the artwork you make while you #StayHomeWithSAM!

– Lynda Harwood-Swenson, SAM Assistant Manager for Studio Programs  

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

Images: Cardbird III, 1971, Robert Rauschenberg, collage of corrugated cardboard, tape, offset photolithograph, and screen print, 35 1/2 x 36 in., Gift of the Robert B. and Honey Dootson Collection, 81.62.2 © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Natali Wiseman.

Community Questions: What Equity-Related Content Are You Consuming?

SAM locations are closed but we continue to center diverse voices in everything that SAM does. The SAM Equity Team has asked the staff to share their voices in reflections on how equity and community continuously shape the work of the museum, despite our inability to physically gather at this time. This week, we answer this important question: What social justice-/equity-related content are you consuming during this time and why? 

Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator, Asian Art Museum

A prominent Asian American film festival is offering virtual (free!) screenings, panels, and programs during May: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. I’m particularly excited to tune in for And She Could Be Next, a documentary mini-series about women of color organizers and political candidates across the United States. Another recommendation especially for SAM staff and SAM Blog readers is Mele Murals. Here’s a summary from the web: “Mele Murals is a documentary about the transformative power of art through the unlikely union of graffiti and ancient Hawaiian culture. At the center of this story are the artists Estria Miyashiro (aka Estria) and John Hina (aka Prime), and a group of Native Hawaiian youth from the rural community of Waimea, HI.”

Priya Frank, SAM Associate Director for Community Programs

Priya Frank points at the TV featuring Becoming with Michelle Obama

I am unashamed to say that I have binge watched my way through the last few months. Instead of asking people what they did today, I must know what they are watching. What someone is watching right now is helping me understand where they are coming from, what they are obsessed with, what they hate, and it all comes back to how arts and culture are helping us through this uncharted time. Besides the British murder mysteries I’m obsessed with, these three stuck out to me and brought such joy, inspiration, and connectivity to my world. 

My Netflix Recs: 
Gentefied: I so appreciated the multigenerational perspectives, the way in which each generation’s cultural traditions and history show up, and how that translates within each generation’s ideal of what the “American Dream” looks like. They navigate clashing ideas, their love and loyalty for each other, their food, their art, and Latinx people, all while set amongst the reality of a backdrop addressing the changing neighborhood due to gentrification. It was produced by America Ferrera, and I was uplifted by her interview on Reese Witherspoon’s Shine On (also on Netflix).  

Becoming: I can’t say enough about what this documentary means to me. There are so many lessons that resonate, but the ways Michelle Obama authentically connected with people on her tour, and got to let her real self shine, is so incredible. The fact that she continues to reinvent herself is truly inspiring. She isn’t defining herself by the eight years in the White House. This doc allowed me to think about what I want my own life to look like post-COVID.  How do I want to show up for myself and for those I love? How do I show up for emerging leaders in the arts field and create space that helps folx move beyond the shadow of imposter syndrome and recognize their own greatness?  

Shine On with Reese: I was skeptical about this one, but the episodes were short enough that I was willing to try it out, and I’m so glad I did! Each episode centered around powerful womxn making change from where they are. With episodes centered around folx like Simone Askew, Dolly Parton, and Ava DuVernay, it’s a little peek into the journeys and people who influenced where they are today. My fave episode was the one with Cleo Wade and Elaine Welteroth because it reminded me of me and my BFF Jaimée in how they show up and support each other, build their dreams, and do so via slumber parties!

Noelle Vasquez, SAM Admissions Volunteer Supervisor:

Shows: Never Have I Ever

Books:

  • Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China – Leta Hong Fincher
  • The Poppy War – R.F. Kuang
  • Sex and World Peace – Valerie Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, Chad F. Emmett
  • The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write – Sabrina Mahfouz (editor)
  • Memoirs of a Polar Bear – Yoko Tawada

Lauren Farris, SAM Campaign Assistant

I’ve been following a local photographer and activist, Sharon H. Chang, on Instagram for awhile. During this time, I’ve found her “Safety Not Stigma,” very impactful, It’s a “portrait campaign to help combat increased racism against people of color during the pandemic, raise awareness about the disproportionate impacts of coronavirus on communities of color, and prioritize safety instead of stigma by the public,” to be . 

Images: Lauren Farris & Priya Frank

SAM Creates: Dance Like Lynette Yiadom-Boakye Is Watching

Does this painting make you want to dance?! Artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye paints her artworks, like this one, in a single day based on her memory or imagination. Its sense of movement may make you want to join in and move! Try to pose or stand like this figure. Make sure you have enough space. Is it hard to pose like this? How long can you hold this pose for? Below is a perspective on this artwork from choreographer Donal Byrd. Give it a listen as you think about the painting and also about dance as an art form. Then do some dancing yourself and see if you can sculpt a pose! Find a one-page lesson plan based on this artwork designed for grades K–2 and translated into English, Spanish, and Chinese in SAM’s Education Resource Center catalogue. There’s more where that came from—check out more Look and Make Lessons on our website!

Movement Activity: Freeze Dance

  • Pick one of your favorite songs and have a family member or friend begin playing it. Dance around to the music! Move all parts of your body from your fingers to your toes.
  • Have your family member or friend press pause randomly to surprise you!
  • When the music stops, freeze! You’ve just struck a pose! Hold it until the music starts playing again. 
  • Press play on the music and pause again when you’re ready to strike another pose. This time try something different.
  • Repeat!

Art Actvity: Create a sculpture of a person out of aluminum foil!

Materials

  • Aluminum foil
  • Scissors
  1. Cut slits in the foil: One on the bottom for the legs and two at the top for the head and arms.
  2. Squeeze the middle of the foil to make the waist.
  3. Squeeze each leg and arm to make more of a cylinder shape.
  4. Crunch in the foil on top to make a head.

When you’re done, shape it into the pose of your favorite dance move! Remember how it feels to move like this every time you look at it!

Keep Learning with A Story

Watch I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison or Hip Hop Lollipop, by Susan McElroy Montanari read aloud. These picture books are about a young girls who are moved by rhythm and dance.

– Lindsay Huse Kestin, SAM Assistant Manager for Kids and Family Programs, Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator & Lauren Kent, SAM’s Museum Educator for School Programs & Partnerships

Trapsprung, 2013, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 70 7/8 in. (200×180 cm). General Acquisition Fund, 2014.11 © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Corvi-Mora, London. photo: Elizabeth Mann.

SAM Creates: Rubbings Revealed from Wu Liang Shrine

Located in present-day Jiaxiang in Shandong province, the Wu Family Ancestral Shrine built during the 2nd century in the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220) is among the best-known works in Chinese art history. Take a virtual tour of the shrine.

The simple graphic images you see from the Wu Liang Shrine were made from laying paper against the stone carvings that are inside the shrine and rubbing with ink to transfer the images onto paper. Learn more about this rubbing in our Object of the Week series.

The center line in this image depicts the story of a failed assassination attempt on Emperor Qin Shi Huang by Jing Ke. The figures, mostly in silhouette, move across the page presenting many parts of the story in one frame. This is an example of simultaneous illustration. Listen to a lecture on Telling a Story with Pictures to learn more about the differences between Eastern and Western visual narratives.

Create your own rubbing!

What you will need

  • Paper: A few sheets of lighter weight paper, along with some heavier paper or light cardboard (think drawing paper or cereal box).
  • Scissors or exacto knife
  • Pencil, crayon, chalk, or pastel

Warm up: Layer a small piece of the heavier paper under your lightweight paper. Take your pencil or crayon and rub over it, where the edges of the heavy paper sit, the crayon will be darker revealing the shape. Keep this in mind as you make a larger work. 

Next, start with something easy as you consider what story you want to tell with your rubbing. What are you currently watching or reading? Who is the main character? Follow the lead of the artists who carved the stone of the Wu family shrines and use simple shapes to depict your protagonist on the heavier paper. Draw each limb or clothing article as a separate shape, and draw their head in profile. You don’t need any detail, just flat non-dimensional shapes, like a paper doll.

Once you have these basic shapes, cut them out of your paper, and layer them together to make your character. Lay the thinner paper over them and rub with your pencil. You can add interesting textures by adding cuts to your figure’s shapes or by layering materials around the house like bubble wrap, or sandpaper.

Reuse the cutouts to animate your character across the page. What is your character doing? Think about an action that helps tell a story. For each move your character makes rearrange the paper cut outs and lay the lighter weight paper on top. Rub your crayon or pencil over the paper to make an impression, then move the cut outs for the next action and rub again.

We’d love to see your artwork—share it with us while #StayHomeWithSAM.

– Lynda Harwood-Swenson, SAM Assistant Manager for Studio Programs  

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

Wu Liang Shrine: Chinese History and Mythology, ca. 1920s, Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, ink rubbing on paper, 35.587.2

Object of the Week: Wu Liang Shrine

This ink rubbing on paper was made by an unknown hand around 1920. The rubbing captures the carved and incised stone surface of an Eastern Han period (25–220 CE) funerary monument, namely the Wu Family Ancestral Shrine located in Shandong province, China. The Wu family held positions in government according to inscriptions at the site.[1] The stone shrine, and its rubbings, serve as unique extant examples of Han pictorial style, carving techniques, and subject matter, as well as evidence of their funerary traditions.

The shrine’s low relief carvings depict both historical and mythological scenes. The middle register of this rubbing depicts Jing Ke’s failed assassination attempt of King Ying Zheng (259–210 BCE) in 227 BCE. The central pillar in the scene is pierced with the dagger used in the attempt. At left, Jing Ke struggles against the King’s doctor.[2] At right, the King (the largest figure) holds a round jade disc above his head likely to signal his retention of power. The stone carver created the illusion of depth by overlapping and varying the sizes of the figures—the smallest figure, holding a baton and shield, runs to support the King. In the lowest register, serpent-human figures with scaly tails emerging from their skirts, perhaps deities, illustrate a mythological version of the tale.

Ying Zheng lived to unify China in 221 BCE, assuming the title of the First Emperor and founder of the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE), which was the first power-centralized state in China’s history. A ruthless leader, he was ultimately overthrown by a peoples’ uprising, yet Ying Zheng is known for standardizing communication, currency, and infrastructure in China.

Stone carving and ink rubbing are acts of transference—the story moves from hand to stone, and from stone to paper. (Then, from paper to the digital photograph you and I experience now!) Ink rubbing is a simple method of reproducing the texture and scale of a surface. Here, the background is rough with even vertical tool marks, the raised figures are flat and smooth, and the incised lines delineating their garments are crisp. The right side of this rubbing has a border whereas the left side abruptly ends, indicating that it is a partial capture of the stone image.

Many rubbings of the Wu family shrine have been made over time and have entered institutional collections around the country, such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Field Museum, Harvard Libraries, and Berkeley Libraries; of these, some were mounted on textile to be appreciated as hanging scrolls. Portland Art Museum holds a section of a shrine wall itself.

Due to its durability, stone has long been used to commemorate a person or a family’s life as a physical marker of their existence. The practice of gravestone rubbing as a travel souvenir, genealogical document, or historical record continues. Today, during this crisis, we are embracing new rituals to memorialize our loved ones. The New York TimesA New Way to Mourn tells one man’s story of an online gathering he led to celebrate his late wife, and the unforeseen intimacy of sharing stories, music, and remembrances from a distance until a stone can be placed in her honor.

Geneva Griswold, SAM Associate Conservator

Want to learn more? See this bibliography prepared by former SAM Assistant Librarian, Jie Pan, and SAM Volunteer Charles Randles for further reading.

Image: Wu Liang Shrine: Chinese History and Mythology, ca. 1920s, Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, ink rubbing on paper, 35.587.2
[1] Jackie Menzies. 1983. Early Chinese Art. AGNSW cat.no. XXI. Accessed May 10: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/163.1979.17/
[2] Jane Portal (Ed.). 2007. The first emperor: China’s Terracotta Army. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press: 67.

Why Tatami? Conserving Asian Paintings at SAM

One of the most unique features of the newly remodeled Asian Art Museum is the Asian Paintings Conservation Studio. As the only conservation studio on the west coast entirely devoted to the care and conservation of Asian paintings, the studio provides new opportunities to care for SAM’s Asian art collection. Once it is fully operational, the studio will also accept conservation projects from regional museums and private collectors. Designed so that the public can view the studio through large glass doors, the studio is located on the lower level of the Asian Art Museum. When you peer through the glass doors, you will immediately notice a beautiful tatami platform enclosed with sliding shoji doors. This platform will serve as a dedicated work area for a small team trained in the care and conservation of Asian paintings.

The tatami platform and shoji doors were built by a local master craftsman, Koji Uchida. Mr. Uchida’s company, Wafu Builders, designs and builds indoor and outdoor spaces using traditional Japanese carpentry techniques. Based on research conducted by our Chief Conservator, Nicholas Dorman, on research trips to Asian paintings conservation studios in Asia, North America and Europe, Mr. Uchida and Mr. Dorman collaborated on the design of the studio. We are so lucky that Mr. Uchida lives within driving distance of the museum!

Mr. Uchida built the tatami platform and shoji doors from the ground up. Before the remodel, this area housed staff offices and is part of the original building footprint. As you would expect in an old building, the floor and walls are not completely square or level. To create a level foundation for the tatami, Mr. Uchida built a two-by-four frame. As you can see in this photo, he used hundreds of custom-cut shims to level the platform.

Once the substructure was complete, Mr. Uchida began to build out the visible elements of the platform. The platform features 12 tatami mats, which are surrounded by a border of fine-grained Alaskan Yellow Cedar. The next image shows the beautifully interlocked corners of the platform. Creating this careful fit required precision cuts and impeccable measurements. Mr. Uchida’s workmanship is meticulous, and he spent many hours carefully fitting and refitting the various pieces of wood until the final composition met his high standards.

Though Mr. Uchida used power tools to rough cut the wood, many details were executed with hand tools. In the image below, you can see that the slot in the vertical beam is hand chiseled. Be sure to notice the unique grain pattern of the vertical post. Made of Kitayama cedar, this post was strategically cut to showcase the wood’s wavy grain. A building material often used in traditional Japanese architecture, Kitayama cedar grows in and around the Kitayama area of Kyoto. The wavy grain is created by pruning branches from the trunk as it grows and tightly binding the trunk with pieces of plastic and wire. Left in place for several years, this wrapping creates a distinctive and highly prized grain pattern.

Below is another view of the same corner. With the horizontal support in place, you can see how careful measuring and cutting creates a perfect fit.

Once the platform and the shoji framing were complete, Mr. Uchida returned to his studio and began making the tatami mats. Using tatami omote (the woven facing) imported from Japan, Mr. Uchida constructed each mat. The blue edging, or heri, is made from hemp and is also imported from Japan. Tatami heri vary from plain colors to subtle patterns. Mr. Uchida felt that for such a unique and special space, hemp heri would be appropriate and signify its importance.

The black metal frame and arms are a lighting system that will allow the conservation team to bring work lights close to the art undergoing conservation

Sliding shoji doors were the final component. Working from his home workshop, Mr. Uchida built the lattice for the doors and carefully glued the paper facing to the lattice. Faced with mino paper from Japan, the doors can be left open for public viewing or closed for when a conservator is working on a tricky treatment. Both the lower shoji and the upper ranma slide smoothly and quietly.

It was a pleasure to observe the work of Mr. Uchida throughout the process. Every day, I feel lucky that my desk is adjacent to this beautiful space. Once the Asian Art Museum can reopen, be sure to stop by and take a peek at the studio. When we are ready, we will offer opportunities for the public to come inside the studio and learn more about Asian paintings conservation and current studio projects. In the meantime, we are making plans for future conservation projects and looking forward to reopening the studio. We can’t wait to welcome you back to the museum!

– Rachel Harris, SAM Asian Paintings Conservation Studio Associate

Photos: Rachel Harris

The Puzzles, T-Shirts, & Online Art of Gregory Blackstock

Seattle artist Gregory Blackstock is known for his encyclopedic works identifying and labeling the world around him. Blackstock uses pencils, markers, and crayons to create his orderly visual lists. He documents and explores items from the natural world such as birds, animals, and plants, as well as items from the manmade world including clothing, cars, and buildings. Each item is clearly labeled and organized, informed by his research from books and work with local librarians. You can see one of Blackstock’s detailed works in The World Landmark Buildings of Greatest Histories & Heights Recorded Puzzle, for sale online now at the SAM Shop. This 500 piece puzzle includes beloved buildings such as the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal, and Big Ben.

Gregory Blackstock’s artwork is also being featured online through Greg Kucera Gallery. In his fifth solo show at the Greg Kucera Gallery, Blackstock identifies and labels a variety of subjects including crows, shoes, fireworks, lilies, and spices in his limited-edition prints from original drawings. Check it out online through June 27. These works were printed by Stephen Rock, of Rock’s Studio, who is also an artist from SAM Gallery. Blackstock’s work was also featured at the 2019 Seattle Art Fair.

Experience the visual balance and variety of forms that characterize Gregory Blackstock’s art through the SAM exclusive puzzle or this cool t-shirt available online from the SAM Store.

– Pamela Jaynes SAM Gallery Coordinator 

Photos: Natali Wiseman

SAM Creates: Powerful Portraits the Wiley Way

Kehinde Wiley is known for shifting the grand tradition of western portraiture. His work combines contemporary sitters painted in the style of famous 18th-century portraits. Through his paintings and sculpture, he is weaving together ideas of identity, power and beauty. In Anthony of Padua, painted in 2013, his sitter is dressed in contemporary dress, but the title and pose are borrowed from Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ late-19th-century stained glass window depicting Saint Anthony of Padua at the Chapelle St. Ferdinand, Porte des Ternes, Paris. Wiley’s Anthony is wearing an olive green army style jacket with patches and what look like green sweat pants. Wiley did that, he says, to reveal a place in time. He wanted the viewer to see what it looks like and feels like to be in America in this time period.

Wiley also says that seeing is a way of receiving culture. During this unprecedented stay at home order the Zoom lens is shifting our idea of portraiture for our current time. To capture this moment in time let’s do Zoom portraits!

What you’ll need

  • Paper
  • Pen and/or pencil
  • Zoom meeting or other digital gathering allowing you to be face to face with at least one person

Warm up: Do a one minute blind contour drawing. A blind contour drawing is a continuous line drawing done without lifting the pen off the paper and not looking at your paper at all. Keep your eyes on your subject, don’t worry about the outcome. Set a timer, go slowly, its okay to move back over your line. If you want, you can start by tracing what you see with your opposite finger (on your other hand). This process will help train your brain to see simple shapes and improve observational skills. The imperfections will be interesting.

Next, move on to the portraits: Set a timer for 15 minutes. Leave your microphone on so that you can chat without having to break your focus by fiddling with your computer. Start by drawing the grid of boxes. Then use each box to capture your different subjects with just a few lines. This exercise is part gestural and part contour drawing. You can look at your paper, but focus on your subject and try to reveal them in few well-chosen lines. 

Once the timer rings share your work with each other and be gracious, this is less about product and all about process. 

Share your artwork with us using #StayHomeWithSAM! And if you want to keep creating, check out this digital art interactive where you can create Wiley-inspired patterns .

Lynda Harwood-Swenson, SAM Assistant Manager for Studio Programs  

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

Image: Anthony of Padua, 2013, Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 in., Gift of the Contemporary Collectors Forum, 2013.8 © Kehinde Wiley

SAM Connects Community through Letters in Quarantine

Whether seemingly big or small, sustaining connection is more critical than ever. Jenae Williams, Exhibitions and Publications Associate, and Seohee Kim, Division Coordinator for Education and Public Engagement, recently started writing letters to stay connected to their community in quarantine. They’ve shared a Q&A of their wonderful project below.

Not only do handwritten letters support the US Postal Service, brighten up someone’s day, and remind others that they are not alone, but right now your letters can support community by showing love to Chinatown-International District! If you’re feeling inspired, please check out Love Letters to Chinatown-International District #CIDLoveLetters. Share your love letters, and the Wing Luke Museum will collect and showcase submissions in a digital exhibition as part of the Wing Luke Museum’s Resilience Campaign. Deadline is May 18! May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month so we hope you will take some encouragement and inspiration from this post and write a letter to Seattle’s International District or support the USPS by sending a letter a friend or loved one!

#LettersInQuarantine

What first inspired you to write letters to people in quarantine?

Jenae: I genuinely miss seeing my colleagues at SAM every day, and I was first inspired by my managers Chiyo Ishikawa and Tina Lee, who do so well at checking in on many of us at SAM. Later, I read about how the US Postal Service is in danger of going out of business, which upset me deeply. USPS provides 600,000 jobs, delivers essential items (medicine! voting ballots!), and it’s the only mailing service that reaches every household across the nation, no matter how rural. I am also reminded that compared to private mailing services, sending a letter or priority mail with the USPS service is equitable. It costs me the same amount of money to send a letter to a friend locally as it does to send a letter to my grandma in Hawaii. 

Seohee: I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while, but I’d always brushed it to the back of my mind because I was unsure of when or how to begin. However, after over a month of being indoors and focusing solely on work, I needed a simple but creative outlet to allow myself to detach from the screen and practice self-care. Then, I was having a brainstorming video call with my dear colleague, friend, and muse, Priya, who showed me the beautiful postcards she’d been designing for her close ones. Insert mind spark here. A few days later, I saw Jenae’s heartwarming Instagram story showing support to USPS with her letters to friends and family, and I felt the need to (finally) take action. 

Ellsworth Kelly stamps!

Where can we buy our own Ellsworth Kelly stamps?

Jenae: USPS released these stamps in 2019, so they may be hard to find. But check your local post office. Some locations, like mine, still have leftover sheets in stock. I’m excited for the Ruth Asawa stamps that are scheduled to be released this year! 

Postcard coloring book from Daiso!

Tell us about the stationery/paper that you’re using for this project?

Jenae: I’m using whatever paper I have at home right now. My mom gave me a pad of stationary for this project that pays homage to the early days of airmail so I’m using that first. With this paper, I like that after you’re finished writing, you fold its edges up, and it turns into its own envelope. I also have Hello Kitty stationery from my childhood that I’ll use later as well.

Seohee: I have been a hoarder of all things stationery since middle school, so I’ve been making use of my ridiculous collection. Among the bunch, my go-to have been these Daiso coloring books that have various images of flowers on the front and postcard layouts on the back of each page. In my free time and whenever I’m feeling stressed, I tear out a page to color while bopping to some good ol’ 90s K-pop. It’s been surprisingly healing for me, and possibly the only routine I’ve maintained over the past four weeks.

What was the response to your letter-writing project after you posted about it on Instagram?

Jenae: A lot of people responded with their address, but some just responded to say that they loved the stamps. I’m so glad. Maybe they’ll go out and buy their own. I especially love that I received notes from friends who I haven’t talked to in a long time.

Seohee: Excitement and support! I received quite a few responses from friends around the country with their addresses! To be honest, I wasn’t expecting them to be as open to sharing such personal information, but that might just stem from the trust issues I’ve developed after watching nothing but serial killer documentaries on Netflix for the past two months. 

Write a love letter to the International District!

Have you found writing letters to be much different than writing emails? Any early letter-writing tips?

Jenae: I send work emails every day, but letters are definitely a different form of writing. I’m still learning to embrace the time and thoughtfulness it takes. If your thoughts start to run amok (this happens to me frequently) as you’re writing, just go with it. I have to remind myself that it’s OK to show my inner life sometimes.

Seohee: Yes! I’ve found that they’re much more personal because I’m not writing with a specific intent in mind as I would for, say, a work email. It allows me to pause and really think about each person and what individual messages I want to send that might bring even a tiny bit of joy to their day. Not exactly a tip, but I’ve been having fun picking out individual postcards based on the image of the flower and their meaning. It adds just another hint of personalization to the entire experience. Also, I’ve been laminating my postcards with packing tape before mailing them out so that people have the option to wipe them down with a sanitizing cloth upon receiving them—just another COVID-19 precaution from a germaphobe. 

Finally, what are you hoping to get from all of this?

Jenae: I hope one of my letters will be a bright spot to someone in quarantine and help them feel connected to me/humanity in a small way.

Seohee: I hope something as small as this could be a reason for someone to smile amidst the chaos that has become our new normal. If we can keep the web of connection and small joys going/growing, even better!

Images: Lauren Farris, Seohee Kim, Jenae Williams. 

Fuller Travel Slides: Art & Architecture of Mexico

A new digital collection from the SAM Research Libraries has just been launched on our Digital Collections Site, born out of an extraordinarily lucky find.

Many years ago, the Seattle Art Museum’s Libraries held sizeable slide collections (commonly known as slide libraries) until digital images prevailed as the preferred medium for presentations and study. In 2017, when the Asian Art Museum closed for renovations, staff were forced to deal with a number of long-forgotten slide cabinets—and their contents—tucked away in a staff changing room in the building’s lower level. Within these cabinets, several previously-unknown glass slide collections were discovered. One of these groupings was a personal slide collection created by SAM founder and long-time director, Dr. Richard E. Fuller (1897–1976). It includes images of early 20th century views of art and architecture taken during his 1940s geological work on the Parícutin Volcano, a volcano that suddenly appeared in 1943, in the Mexican state of Michoacánin. Exceptionally well preserved, these slides were immediately transferred to the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library, where work soon began on their digitization. Now, all 150 images can be viewed in an online exhibit as the Richard E. Fuller Travel Slides: Art and Architecture of Mexico.

In addition to serving as SAM’s director from 1933-1973, Fuller was also a respected professor of geology, a subject he studied in great depth at the University of Washington, where he steadily acquired a second Bachelor’s degree (1924), a Master’s degree (1926), and ultimately a Ph.D. (1930). Between 1944 and 1948, Fuller served as Chairman of the U.S. Committee for the Study of Parícutin Volcano. As this new digital collection makes clear, alongside his academic work with this committee, Fuller made several personal trips to various cities and historic sites in Mexico over these years, on which he took numerous color photographs.

Though it is unknown how large this collection once was, or whether Fuller even took these photographs for a specific purpose, it is nevertheless clear that some effort was expended on their description and organization. The transfer of these images to glass slides, and their meticulous hand-labeling, helped to ensure that they not only survived to the present day, but did so with a surprising degree of contextual data intact. A similar effort was therefore made to guarantee that the digitized collection could stand as a reasonable facsimile of its physical counterpart, capturing not only Fuller’s images, but also the exact wording of his labels. We hope this collection will be of use to those studying Mexican art and architecture in the  early 20th century, as well as those interested in the Parícutin Volcano area.

The SAM Research Libraries invite you now to explore in its entirety this remarkable collection, which will enable you to peer back through time at a range of striking and historic objects and locations, as documented by SAM’s own founder.

– Jessica Robbins, Volunteer, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

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

Images: Fuller, Richard E. (Richard Eugene), 1897-1976, Seattle Art Museum Libraries: Digital Collections: “Tula, Pyramid or Temple of the Moon, front view,” “Mexico City, façade of Sagrario,” “Oaxaca, Church of Santo Domingo interior ceiling polychrome genealogical tree of the Virgin with figures,” “Cholula, view of the Catholic church built on top of the ancient pyramid,” “Guadalajara, Hospice orphanage, entrance into another patio,” “Huejotzingo, fresco, black and white on cloister wall,” “Xochicalco, wall of temple on top of the pyramid showing detail of the decoration,” “Huejotzingo, arched gateway to the atrium of Franciscan monastery,” “Xochicalco, detailed view of the base of the pyramid showing human figure, hieroglyph, and part of serpent,” “Morelia, street scene showing portales or arcaded sidewalks with shops from colonial times.”

Object of the Week: GrandMa’sPussy

GrandMa’sPussy (2013), by American sculptor Tony Feher (1956–2016), is one of SAM’s most recent acquisitions––it entered the collection just months ago––and hasn’t even been seen fully installed by museum staff. It currently lives in one of the museum’s storage areas, its glass chalices––with fluted, elaborate bowls, long and short stems, and frilled lips of the cups, each a singular jewel-tone color––carefully compartmentalized on two carts, divided by pieces of Ethafoam. In its fully realized form, 69 of these goblets, chalices, grails, cups, candy bowls (or any other name for special occasion glassware), are suspended at equal intervals, lengths of fine steel chain attached to their stems by metal wire, so as to dangle like a great, chunky bead curtain from the ceiling. None of the cups touch the ground, or each other, and the work’s dimensions are variable.

Feher is known primarily for his installations that employ everyday items such as these glass cups, as well as plastic bottles, water tinted with food coloring, rocks, plywood, marbles, cardboard, pennies, generic plush rugs, and disposable packaging. In Feher’s spare, deliberate compositions, these quotidian objects become more like artifacts, placed with restraint and attention to their colors and forms. Feher, who was HIV positive, died of cancer-related causes in 2016 at age 60; throughout his career, observers drew meaning from the transience of the objects he chose and the fragility of life. His ephemeral materials, often sourced from inside his own home––a theater of objects––are ubiquitous and ready-made. Installed, they recall their origins enough to be familiar to us in a domestic setting, but are reconstituted and choreographed in a way that our attention is drawn to their aesthetic qualities and poeticism. GrandMa’sPussy isn’t made of the most ephemeral objects, but the life of the glasses becomes just as conditional in their suspended form, particularly in our earthquake-anxious region, as Senior Objects Conservator, Liz Brown, pointed out to me in a phone call in April.

Throughout his oeuvre of assembled and sculptural works, Feher would often choose titles based on their form, such as Perpetually Disintegrating Sculpture(1993), a cardboard box painted silver and filled tightly, but neatly, with rectangular sponges; or, more descriptively, like Untitled (Ruby Begonia)(2000), composed of a circle of pennies and dimes with carefully interspersed marbles.

With the first part of this work’s title, I think of a sweet grandmother who aligns with the archetypal and perhaps nostalgic image of a gracious and generous giver we might be lucky enough to have or have had in our lives. There is comfort in the ritual of visiting grandma, who implores you to eat more and not leave so soon; her home becomes a site of care, with multiple bowls and plates and jars of things from which she encourages you to help yourself. The glass cup and candy bowl––icons of domesticity and hospitality––are somehow always stocked and ready for you. Her cabinet of glasses is almost kitsch, though it doesn’t mean to be (and in being unintentional, rather really becomes kitsch).

As for the full title of GrandMa’sPussy: it could refer to how the glasses are chalice-like, symbols of containing and giving, emphasized by the possessive “GrandMa.” The choice in capitalization and spacing (or lack thereof) gives the full title of GrandMa’sPussy a sense of specificity and personal relation. While the work was made in 2013, and the word “pussy” has taken on different meaning since 2016, the title has a descriptive function above anything meant to disrespect. Its tongue-in-cheek nature is at once transgressive and playful, drawing attention even more to the elaborate glassware, and simultaneously pushes against our tendency to regard such objects in quite the saccharine way I admittedly did above.

In our current moment, imagining grandma and a visit to her home is especially distant and nostalgic for a time not long ago. Now we wave to our elderly loved ones, friends, and neighbors from outside the window, or from our homes, and have to save our embraces for the future. For me, there is comfort in knowing that these glass bowls lived with Feher for quite a while before they took on another kind of poetry outside of his home. The glass chalices in GrandMa’sPussy will eventually live their public lives again, frozen mid-tumble and visible from every candied angle, when installed at SAM in the future. For now, Feher’s work is patiently waiting to emerge from its inner life at the museum––quietly in storage, cushioned by foam––and will take on entirely new meanings, recalling rituals we’re unsure we might easily return to, once it can be realized in its intended form and seen by museum visitors.

Hannah Hirano, SAM Coordinator for Museum Services and Conservation

Think about Tony Feher’s work while you take a moment to look at the objects you surround yourself with in a new light. What small or numerous items are in your household that are uniquely shaped by your habits or whose meaning transcends the mundane because of your relationship to it? SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda is sharing what she calls accidental artworks made by her husband’s busy hands while on phone calls!

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

Images: GrandMa’sPussy, 2013, Tony Feher, glass, galvanized steel wire, and chrome-plated steel chain, dimensions variable, Gift of the Estate of Tony Feher, 2020.8 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Photos courtesy of Anthony Meier Fine Arts

Community Questions: What Are You Making?

While SAM locations are closed, the SAM Equity Team is asking team members to reflect on how equity and community continue to be central to our work and our lives even as we work remotely. This week, we answer this important question: What kind of making are you doing at this time? Read below for to see how a couple staff SAM staff members responded.

During this unexpected quarantine and the swift closing of SAM, a coworker, Associate Conservator Geneva Griswold passed me a box of items from the Conservation Lab, suggesting a “hands-on” project while I was working at home. The box contents included 1/8″ copper bearing balls and cotton sockinette (a stretchy cotton skin protector used to protect skin under casts). With these items I am sewing weighted bags. These bags are used to hold artwork, photos, or textiles in position while working. They are also useful in providing weighted pressure to hold glued items together while drying. Also referred to as bean bags, print weights, drawing weight bags, etc.

They can vary in size from three inches long up to however long the sewer decides. The process goes like this: I fill a plastic baggy with the desired amount of copper ball trim off the zip lock, apply double sticky tape and then repeat so I have at least 2 bags to prevent spillage and contain them within the sockinette. Now comes the tricky process of carefully folding under the ends of the sockinette and hand sewing. To sew them shut I used embroidery floss along the edge using a running or straight stitch one direction then, pulling the floss tight, sewing the opposite direction. Lastly, carefully tie a knot and add a touch of fabric glue for additional security.

I am pretty happy with the results since I’ve never sewn these before. The museum usually purchases these and, after examining the sample, I’m guessing they are sewn with a machine. It’s been a fun and tactile way of staying in touch with my position at the museum while I am away from the amazing, wondrous collection.

– Monica Cavagnaro, SAM Associate Collections Care Manager


It took me several weeks to finally feel up to making stuff, but I’m starting to hit my groove. I’ve been making masks for family and friends. I’ve also gotten back to my artistic practice with photo collaging. I’m attaching an early version of something I’ve been working on. It’s actually changed quite a bit since this image, which is fun to look back and see.

Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

Photos: Monica Cavagnaro & Traci Timmons

SAM Book Club: Reading Octavia Butler in 2020

Join SAM Book Club! SAM’s staff is reading and responding to Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler on the blog as a way to continue considering some of the themes in our currently closed exhibition, John Akomfrah: Future History. We can’t wait to spend time with John Akomfrah’s video essays once we are able to reopen—they will be on view through September 7. Read along with us in preparation for visiting this exhibition of three immersive video installations and share your comments and questions with us! Our next book club reflections will be posted May 20, June 3, and June 16. Our colleagues at the Northwest African American Museum are also reading Parable of the Sower for their June Book Club and SAM is canceling our Zoom Book Club discussion, previously taking place June 16, to join NAAM’s live discussion on June 26. Join us by registering here! Please read along and share your thoughts with us while you stay home with SAM!

Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993) is the fictional autobiography of Lauren Oya Olamina. Her story begins in 2024, on her fifteenth birthday. Lauren dreams that she’s learning to fly. (Has anyone else been dreaming wildly, as I have, since the stay-at-home order?) The dream shifts to a remembrance of her seven-year-old self and stepmother, taking laundry down from a line beneath an inky, star-bright sky. Her stepmother recalls the formerly light-washed skies of her youth. “City lights”, she says. “Light, progress, growth, all those things we’re too hot and too poor to bother with anymore.”

The Olamina family lives in a tight-knit community—a tightly-secured, walled-in cul-de-sac in the Los Angeles suburbs. Water is expensive and rain is rare. Each house keeps a vegetable garden and hunts. The neighborhood shares one family’s television, the Window, for entertainment. The work at hand is survival.

Parable of the Sower lives on the science fiction and fantasy shelves of your local bookseller or library. Yet, Lauren’s economic and climate-collapsed world reflects irreconcilable elements of our own daily lives in the coronavirus pandemic. The constant plane dinning (I live under the flight path) has given way to bird calls, while our aviation-employed neighbors are furloughed. Amidst compounded food and housing insecurities, some report seeing stars for the very first time.

For Lauren, stars and acorn bread and vigilance are normal. What’s more, Lauren has hyperempathy syndrome: she explains, “I feel what I see others feeling or what I believe they feel.” Lauren hides the condition from everyone except her family because it is “better to have them think anything than let them know just how easy it is to hurt me.” We learn this as she riskily travels beyond the neighborhood walls to get baptized. However, Lauren doesn’t believe in her Reverend father’s god.

Change is her god. Each chapter begins with a verse from Lauren’s own belief system called Earthseed. Butler explains in an interview: “Lauren Olamina says that since change is the one inespcapable truth, change is the basic clay of our lives. In order to live constructive lives, we must learn to shape change when we can and yield to it when we must. Either way, we must learn to teach, adapt, and grow.” The beginning of Lauren’s story, like ours, is one of adaptation.

– Geneva Griswold, SAM Associate Conservator & Equity Team Member

Photo: Chelsea Werner-Jatzke

SAM Connects: Youth Artists Reflect on COVID-19

Founded in 2007, The Seattle Art Museum’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive program for highly opinionated high school-aged youth who are interested in learning about themselves and the world through art. TAG is designed to cultivate the voice and leadership of diverse young people who share their passion for the power of art to build community.

When the world came to a halt, TAG put that passion into the power of zines. In this publication, you will find creative expressions addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Seattle-area youth. Their responses range from life before stay home orders to the impact of school closures and everything in between. What they created together is a powerful, moving zine titled, Peering Through the Looking Glass: Youth Artists Connect and Reflect on COVID-19.

As the world continues to navigate this pandemic, it is vital that those of us who work alongside, support, teach, and love young folks, do not exclude them in these conversations about the future. Our youth have a big stake in the future and they should be at every table advocating and fighting for it alongside the adults in their lives. They recognize the value and necessity of working together and using this shared experience to heal and move forward. The opening of the zine, created solely by the members of TAG, says it best.

Images: Alex depicts the loneliness this pandemic has caused and finding ways to reach the ones they love and miss. One work in a series of four that Lucia created for the zine. Grae & Zya collaborated to pair Grae’s original poetry on top of Zya’s designs.

Object of the Week: Seattle Cloud Cover

For over a month, Seattle’s public spaces, like those in cities around the world, have experienced a marked transformation. Bustling downtowns are eerily empty, with freeways, bike lanes, and sidewalks much quieter. Our parks, however, have remained (when open) as vital as ever to the collective life of the city and the publics they serve.

For landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1902), who with his brother designed Volunteer Park, home to the Asian Art Museum, parks should be socially valuable—“gregarious” (inclusive) rather than “neighbourly” (exclusive) spaces that bring people together, no matter where they live or who they are.[1] This may seem like a given today, but in the 19th century it was a radical notion. Another beloved public park with a SAM connection is, of course, the Olympic Sculpture Park. In keeping with Olmsted’s vision for inclusive, truly public spaces, the park’s nine acres have multiple entrances, an abundance of native plants, zigzagging pathways, over 20 artworks, and is free and open to the public. Like Volunteer Park, it is a place meant for physical, mental, and spiritual relaxation.

Throughout this pandemic, I have found myself reflecting on the role that such public spaces hold and the value they bring, especially when the very nature of “a public” has been recast. I keep returning to one artwork in particular at the Olympic Sculpture Park: Seattle Cloud Cover by Teresita Fernández. 

A glass bridge above a working railroad, Seattle Cloud Cover features images of a changing sky whose cloud formations are high-keyed and highly saturated. Appearing at consistent intervals throughout the image are small apertures, or holes, through which visitors can catch glimpses of downtown Seattle and their environs. Demonstrating Fernández’s interest in light and vision—specifically the relationship between seeing and not seeing—this visual layering of the built and natural environment encourages us to more deeply consider our surroundings, and our place within them. For Fernández, a landscape is not only that which is seen, but inhabited. 

Celebrated for such installations that interrogate notions of landscape and place, Fernández has demonstrated, in her words, a “20-year interest in landscape, perception, and the viewer as someone who is constantly moving, walking, and shifting in real time.”[2] For Fernández, the activation of her work with a viewer—a public—is essential. Seattle Cloud Cover mediates our surroundings, allowing us to both move through the work and see beyond it, all the while drenched in its colorful shadows. The passageway augments our relationship to the world around us, and hopefully prompts us to reflect on the value of public spaces—mutable and fluid as they currently are—and our place within them.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate

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

Images: Seattle Cloud Cover, design approved 2004; fabrication completed 2006, Teresita Fernández, laminated glass with photographic design interlayer, approx. 9 ft. 6 in. x 200 ft. x 6 ft. 3 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.140, © Teresita Fernández.
1 Richard Sennett, Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 45.
2 Teresita Fernández, “Artist’s Statement,” in Fata Morgana (New York: Madison Square Art, 2015), 16.

SAM Creates: Collage Covered with Teresita Fernández

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

 – Teresita Fernández

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

What you’ll need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Message from SAM’s Director, Amada Cruz

At SAM, we have long held an unofficial motto: We are all in this together.  Perhaps you’ve seen these words as you’ve entered our downtown building? This work by artist Mark Mumford is a reminder that in good times and bad, we all stand together. We hope this video from Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO is nice reminder of this motto and that you will stand with SAM—your art museum—while our three locations are currently closed.

If you make a gift to the SAM Fund today or during GiveBIG, May 5 and 6, you will not only have a wonderful opportunity to directly support SAM, but your donation will be doubled! Thanks to a group of generous trustees, all memberships and donations to the SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000, now through the end of June.

During this difficult time, we have been heartened by the generous support that we have already received from our patrons, members, and community. For this, we cannot thank you enough. We hope you too will also consider making a gift to the SAM Fund to help us overcome the dramatic and sudden loss of ticket, event, and shop revenue during our closure. Gifts towards the SAM Fund, will not only help navigate our temporary closure but also directly impact our ability to retain our dedicated and talented staff, preserve our world-class collection, develop new exhibitions and programming, and provide innovative virtual art experiences.

Please help us to connect art to your life. SAM has been your art museum and a vibrant part of the Seattle cultural community for more than 85 years and with your help we’ll surely be here for another 85 . . . and beyond.

Tour the Olympic Sculpture Park’s Trees

As the weather shifts toward spring many of us are staying indoors but that doesn’t mean we have to miss out on the hopeful awakening of all the plant life around us. SAM ‘s facilities and landscape manager, Bobby McCullough, is here to give you a tour of a selection of the trees at our Olympic Sculpture Park! The park includes four distinct habitats: The Valley, the Grove, the Meadow, and the Shore. This innovative design achieves a wide range of environmental restoration goals, including brownfield redevelopment, creation of a salmon habitat, extensive use of native plantings, and the capture and use of rainwater on-site. Bobby’s description below share some ways the many plants in the park contribute to making the park an important green space in downtown Seattle.

The Olympic Sculpture Park is open to the public so you can go get your fill of art and nature, we just ask that you practice proper social distancing while you do so. This is the last in SAM’s series of Earth Day posts, but it’s not the last of SAM’s celebrations of the Earth. As we celebrate, we’d like to acknowledge that SAM is located on the ancestral land of the Coast Salish people.

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)

An ancient tree with an amazing story. Fossils of the needles have been found in dinosaur footprints. Thought to be extinct, it was rediscovered in China around 1944. This deciduous conifer drops all its foliage in fall after turning a beautiful golden color. A small handful of these can be seen on the valley floor.

Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)

“Big” is the perfect word, as far as maples go. Nothing about this abundant species is anything but big. With leaves often the size of dinner plates, these stately trees can easily grow to 120’. Very common in many Seattle parks. The mature, gigantic canopies act as host to a variety of ecosystems. There are four of these in the sloped wedge overlooking Bay street.

Pacific Crabapple (Malus fusca)

A little known tree, often merely a large shrub, is remarkably slender in form. This specimen is a unique addition, as it was chosen from the nursery of the late Richard Haag, a landscape architect who was best known for designing Gasworks Park, the Bloedel Reserve, and founding the University of Washington’s landscape architecture department. This tree was procured because of its perfect “V” shaped trunks that help make Roy McMakin’s Love and Loss sculpture complete.

Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)

This variety is actually the Cornus “Eddies White Wonder.” A hybrid of the native, it is a heavily flowering deciduous tree with large, white, rounded bracts (flowers) that appear in spring. These showy trees can be found on the west slopes of the Valley and are always a sight to behold when in bloom!

Lupine (Lupinus latifolius)

Just one of many native Lupines, this variety is an attractive semi evergreen with interesting foliage and lovely flowering stalks that we always look forward to seeing in the Meadows at the Olympic Sculpture Park throughout the summer months.

Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)

Also known as Canoe Birch or White Birch, this short lived (pioneer) species is right at home on the waterfront. It is named for its thin white bark that often peels in paper like layers from the trunk. It was once used to make canoes after being hollowed out by the Native peoples.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

Oregon’s state flower, the Oregon grape, is widely used throughout the park for its’ reliable early blooms and hardiness. The long hedge that greets you upon entering the park along the west side of the Pavilion was planted during the park’s second year, successfully acting as a human and canine deterrent. In their natural form, these would easily grow to 8 to 10 feet tall.

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)

Perhaps Salal is our most important and common native shrub. Ranging from Alaska to California, it is abundant in the most widely varied habitats, and is planted in many areas of the park. April into July is the main blooming period. This gives rise to the purplish, blackish sticky berries valued by humans and animals alike often into December.

Bobby McCullough, OSP Facilities and Landscape Manager

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

Photos: Bobby McCullough

SAM Creates: Suit Up with Walter Oltmann

While a human-caterpillar hybrid such as Walter Oltmann’s Caterpillar Suit I, may seem strange, it’s completely appropriate for these strange times that we’re currently living in. The tiny hairs that encompass the insects referenced in Walter Oltmann’s work are called setae. The function of these hairs are practical—they’re connected to nerve-endings and give caterpillars a sense of touch—as well as a defense mechanism. A recent study showed that the longer and denser the setae, the less likely predators were to eat the caterpillars. 

Looking at Oltmann’s work in the era of coronavirus brings to mind biomimicry. Biomimcry is described by the Biomimcry Institute as “the practice of applying lessons from nature to the invention of healthier, more sustainable technologies for people.”[1] Another way to understand this concept is through antennae-inspired outfits, designed to help with social distancing.

What ways can nature spur ideas to help us adapt to our new normal? Come up with your own biomimicry design for coronavirus through drawing. Oltmann makes more than sculptures, he also creates drawings and prints with similar designs as his sculptures. We’ll use this approach for our activity.

What you’ll need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Fine-tipped marker or pen.

With drawing, like any physical activity, you may want to start with a warm up. Try sketching some simple shapes to warm up your drawing muscles!

Sketch a figure drawing of yourself or have someone in your home pose for you!

First, draw in pencil, then outline the essential lines in marker or pen. Erase the pencil marks. Your figure should be a very simple form, like a gingerbread man shape.

Next, think about ways that nature, your favorite animal, or an ecosystem protects itself. For caterpillars, it might be a visible attribute, such as setae protecting against predators, but it could also be a non-visible process, like how they consume poisonous milkweed without getting sick. For inspiration check out asknature.org.

Draw this natural defense attribute onto the figure you’ve drawn using lines, shapes, or patterns.

Share your innovative ideas with us by posting using the hashtag #StayHomewithSAM and celebrate everyone working hard in the midst of this pandemic to find practical ways of protecting us from the coronavirus.

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

1 https://toolbox.biomimicry.org/about-the-toolbox/
Image: Caterpillar Suit I, 2007, Walter Oltmann, anodized aluminum and brass wire, 46 7/16 x 23 1/4 x 16 9/16 in., Gift of Josef Vascovitz and Lisa Goodman in honor of Kimerly Rorschach, 2019.25.1, © Walter Oltmann.

SAM Book Club: Parable of the Sower

50 years ago, who would’ve imagined that Earth Day’s 50th anniversary might occur on a day like today? As we all stay home and our days are full of uncertainties, there are also comforts; news articles about Venice’s canals flowing clear, video call birthday celebrations, and much more—amidst it all, we desire to honor Earth Day more than ever.

One way SAM is celebrating this Earth Day is to launch a new edition of our book club, and we encourage you to participate! Calling all bibliophiles, humans, pets, plants, and everyone—join us as we read Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Set in an apocalyptic dystopia of 2026, Lauren Olamina and her family reside in one of the last, safe enclaves of society in Los Angeles. As Lauren’s father struggles to salvage the remains of a society crumbling under global warming, wealth disparity, and crime, Lauren seeks to establish a new community founded on a revolutionary religion that may bring reparation. 

We selected this book because it connects powerfully with John Akomfrah: Future History at SAM, which features video essays on migrant diasporas across the globe, Afrofuturism, and visions of the natural world. Good news, the exhibition will be extended until September 7 so you can come consider it in person after reading the book!

While we read, SAM staff will be reflecting and posing questions for you to join along in your own reading. Check back here every two weeks on May 6, May 20, June 3, and June 16 to hear from us and share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll conclude this virtual book club, with a Zoom meet up for all of our book club participants and beyond! 

If you are looking for a copy of the book, here’s a list of independent bookstores with direct links to the book.

  1. Ada’s Technical Books & Cafe (Usually ships in 1-5 days)
  2. Queen Anne Book Company 
  3. Phinney Books 
  4. Secret Garden Books (Usually ships in 1-5 days)
  5. Elliot Bay Book Company (Usually ships in 1-5 days)
  6. Edmonds Bookshop (Usually ships in 1-5 days)
  7. Powell’s Books (Ships in 1-3 days)

Please join us back here in two weeks on May 6 for our first discussion of the book. We are so excited for you to join us with your comments and questions while you stay home with SAM!

Have a Happy Earth Day!

– Lauren Farris, SAM Campaign Assistant & Equity Team Member

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

Photo: Elisabeth Smith

Things To Do For Earth Day & Every Day

In the spirit of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day tomorrow––and our current stay-at-home situation––we’ve compiled a few resources and recommendations from members of SAM’s Green Team for April 22 as well as a fun art activity for all ages!

Earth Day is the first holy day which transcends all national borders, yet preserves all geographical integrities, spans mountains and oceans and time belts, and yet brings people all over the world into one resonating accord, is devoted to the preservation of the harmony in nature and yet draws upon the triumphs of technology, the measurement of time, and instantaneous communication through space.

– Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist, 1978


Check out Earth Day Northwest 2020 

#Next5 actions features tips to effectively reduce your home energy bill and work toward zero-waste! A few ideas below, since we’re all at home more these days.

100% Clean Energy

  1. Turn off lights, use turn-off power strips and unplug all appliances that you are not using. 
  2. Set the thermostat to 68°F or lower when you’re at home and awake, and lower 7°F to 10°F when you’re asleep or away.
  3. Turn down your water heater to 120°F or the “low” setting. 
  4. Run your washing machine and dishwasher only when full.
  5. Using a ceiling fan to circulate air can lower both your cooling and heating costs (counterclockwise recirculates warm air).

Zero-Waste

  1. Recycle right: Empty. Clean. Dry. 
  2. Reduce, reuse and up-cycle: donate or give new life to old clothes and home goods instead of throwing them out.
  3. Target food waste – reduce, donate, and compost. 
  4. Reduce or eliminate single-use plastic.
  5. Avoid last-minute purchases and reduce excess by making a shopping list- and sticking to it.

Articles 

Books/Poetry

Podcasts

Movies

  • Ice on Fire, 2019  (Hulu and HBO)
  • Chasing Coral, 2017  (Netflix)
  • Before the Flood, 2016  (Disney and Amazon Prime)
  • How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, 2016  (iTunes)
Takpekpe (Conference), 2006, El Anatsui

In SAM’s galleries, you will find artist El Anatsui’s sculpture, Takpekpe (Conference) draped on the wall. From a distance, the artwork appears to be a gold, purple, and red tapestry, or wall hanging. But up close, you will notice interesting materials the artist has chosen for his artwork – metal tops from recycled bottles and cans. El Anatsui, who lives and works in Nigeria, creates his sculptures from metal, wood, and reused materials from bottles and packaging. The artist works collaboratively with a team to create sections of theses materials, arrange the sections in different positions on the floor, and then take pictures of the arrangements to document the process. Through a practice of experimentation and play, El Anatsui creates sculptures of different patterns and colors that represent abstraction in African Art.

In honor of Earth Day, we want to consider ways to minimize our waste and reuse items in our home recycling bins. What types of packaging or plastic do we often have in our homes? Where might these items go when they leave our homes? How can we creatively reuse items like packaging, bottle caps, and plastics?

Art Activity

El Anatsui gathers packaging, bottle tops, and other items to create artwork. Through a process of play and experimentation, the artist creates patterns and documents these with photographs. These images help guide El Anatsui to create new sculptures.

Play, experiment, and create your own recycled material artwork!

  • Gather recycled materials in your home over a week. Ask yourself if an item could become an interesting art material before you place it in the garbage or recycling bin. Rinse off the material and set aside until you are ready to begin creating.

Some items you could collect include: cardboard boxes, paper tubes, bottle caps, aluminum can tabs, foil yogurt lids, egg cartons, twist ties, and cereal boxes.

  • Once you have some recycling gathered, imagine how these items can be transformed. Can they be cut, twisted, folded or combined to create a new material?

For example, you could cut paper tubes into rings, cut shapes out of cardboard boxes, or trim egg cartons into smaller objects.

  • Lay your materials out on a surface and move them around to see what patterns you can create. Take pictures along the way to document your experiments! Try arranging the materials into groups by size, color, shape, texture, transparency. Or into patterns!
  • Once you find a pattern you like, glue or tape your materials to a piece of cardboard to finish your artwork. Share your abstract recycled artwork on social media using #StayHomewithSAM.

– Maggie O’Rourke, Program Associate for Arts and Environment

Images: Installation view of Takpekpe (Conference) by El Anatsui, photo: Natalie Wiseman. Art making images: Maggie O’Rourke.

SAM Creates: Drawing from Margaret Gove Camfferman

Margaret Gove Camfferman was an early Northwest modernist whose colors and compositions reveal her love of the Pacific Northwest landscape. The soft palette of colors, blooming trees, and gentle light on the Sound reveal as much about the painter in that moment as the scene she painted. To learn more about Landscape before starting this art activity, click here!

Create your own landscape inspired by Camfferman’s work by choosing a landscape to work from. You can work from real life, a photograph, or an imagined landscape. For materials, you will need paper, pencil, and—if available—any kind of paint, pastels, crayons, or markers to add color.

Once you find your inspiration, start by completing some thumbnail sketches. Draw a series of little boxes on your paper and experiment with your composition. Keep it loose, and draw the scene in a few different ways. Compose in both portrait and landscape formats to see what is most effective.

To create the illusion of space in your work, start by thinking about where the horizon line is. In Camfferman’s Landscape the horizon line is in the upper third of the painting, and her vanishing point is obscured by the tree in the upper left corner. She uses them as tools in her composition to provide the illusion of space.

As you’re sketching, think about what objects are in the foreground (closest to you), middle ground, and background (furthest from you). Objects in the foreground are larger than objects in the middle or background in order to make them appear closer to you.

After finding a composition you like, translate it into a larger drawing; you can still work fairly small if you want—think of this as a study. In pencil, draw the basic shapes in the landscape, leaving out the details.

Now, add color: setting up your palette in advance can help you control the mood and tone of your composition. Working with a limited palette of colors that relate to one another creates harmony in the work. If you need inspiration, check out Coolors for samples of warm, cool, pastel, or vintage color palettes. Like Camfferman, skip the details and try using planes of color to create form and volume in your landscape.

After you’ve laid down some of the larger shapes, add some finer lines to help tell your story.

Take this further by creating a series of works, recording the daily changes in nature and the landscape we live in. Share your work with us using the hashtag #StayHomeWithSAM.

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

Object of the Week: Landscape

On Earth Day, we tend to take stock of the impact humans have had on our planet: how our polluting, mining, deforestation, and other acts have affected this round wonder that we call home. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, however, the Earth is seeing a brief respite from this negative human activity—we’ve all seen the reports of air pollution temporarily plummeting. As many of us are limiting our contact with others, staying at home, or even sheltering in place, the Earth’s beauty—blooming flowers, the sounds of animals, lapping waves, or the sound of wind through the trees—has become a source of comfort. I’d like to focus on those gifts the Earth provides for this Earth Day post.

For my family, this time of human isolation has brought an enhanced appreciation of nature and all of the beauty that can be found right in our own yard and neighborhood. We’ve been taking two walks a day (practicing social distancing, of course) and spending whatever time we can in our backyard. We’ve noticed many more flowering trees and plants, and the new gardens that people are eagerly starting. Friends who live in apartments have mentioned pulling chairs up close to a window so that they can be closer to nature while they work from home—even if they lack a view, the sounds of birds help.

Margaret Gove Camfferman’s Landscape elicits this sense of the appreciation of nature for me. This work, sometimes called Orchard on Sound, was painted for the Public Works Art Project of Washington in 1933.[1] The view is from Camfferman’s property on Whidbey Island looking across to Camano Island. It demonstrates a deep awareness of her surroundings. How much I appreciate these flowering fruit trees, the shrubs and other trees, the view of the Sound and the cliffs across the water. Camfferman moved to Langley in 1915, soon after she married the Dutch painter Peter Camfferman, whom she had met in New York. They built their home, called Brachenwood, there and established the Camfferman Art Colony on the property, which included cabins for visiting artists and instructors.[2]

Camfferman, who often painted flowers and landscapes, studied with artist Robert Henri in New York (we even have a painting of her by him in SAM’s collection) and André L’Hôte in Paris. Landscape, which was painted shortly after returning from France, illustrates her development toward modernism. One scholar notes that her work “relied on the theme of nature for her point of departure and attempted to create an analogy between music and painting.”[3] (We recently shared an art activity inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s work, Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1 which helps us better understand that connection between music and art. Check it out!)

Obviously, nature was important to Camfferman, and, perhaps, it’s more important now to many of us—especially during the current COVID-19 crisis. Has your perception and appreciation of nature changed during this time?

– Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

[1] Rebecca Bruckner and Cindy Beagle, Pioneering Women Artists: Seattle, 1880s to 1940s (Seattle: Kinsey Gallery, Seattle University, 1993), p. [9].
[2] David Martin, An Enduring Legacy: Women Painters of Washington, 1930-2005 (Bellingham, WA: Whatcom Museum of History & Art, 2005), p. 57.
[3] Bruckner and Beagle, Ibid.
Image: Landscape, ca. 1933, Margaret Gove Camfferman, oil on board, 25 x 29 3/8 in., Public Works of Art Project, Washington State, 33.213 © Margaret Gove Camfferman

Object of the Week: Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels

Photographer Imogen Cunningham was not naturally inclined to stay home. Throughout her long and prolific career she travelled and exhibited widely, was celebrated for her portraits ranging from the rich-and-famous to the anonymous citizens of San Francisco, and even became a minor celebrity late in her life, appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and easily identified walking her hometown’s streets with her iconic black cape and peace sign pin.

For a brief period in between all of this activity, Cunningham was more-or-less bound to her home. In 1917, she moved with her 18-month-old son from Seattle to San Francisco to join her husband; less than one month later, she gave birth to twins. As the mother of three young children, her life was suddenly largely circumscribed by the boundaries of the family’s Oakland home. But Cunningham did not allow these circumstances to impede her work—her ambition and drive would, simply, not allow for it. Instead, she turned inward to subjects within her home—or more accurately, created subjects within her home—by cultivating a garden in her backyard.

In a 1959 interview, Cunningham recalled: “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small.”[1] And later, with her characteristic sharp wit: “I photographed the plants in my garden and steered my children around at the same time.”[2] True enough about the circumstances, but these direct statements belie the care and attention with which Cunningham shot her celebrated botanical works, such as Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels (1925).

Tightly framing her composition, Cunningham makes the subject of this work not the plant as a whole, but rather the innermost folds and stamen of the blooming magnolia flower. The luscious gradients of white in the petals, the play of shadows on the stamen, and the sharpness with which these details are captured serves to abstract the blossom, allowing us as viewers to see this familiar subject in a new way. This technique was at the heart of a new form of modernist photography, and Cunningham’s experimentations in her own garden were at the forefront of this aesthetic shift. It would not be until 1932 when a group of artists—including Cunningham, along with Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and others—would formalize this style of photography under a collective they dubbed Group f/64, named for the smallest aperture setting that captures the kind of sharpness we see in Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels.

Years later in 1957, after her children had grown and she’d long-since left the garden to experiment with other techniques and subjects, Cunningham returned to her earlier themes by capturing another artist and mother, at home and at work, in her portrait of Ruth Asawa with four of her children. The scene must have been familiar to Cunningham, and it was no mistake that she framed Asawa’s biomorphic, hanging sculpture at the center of the composition: at the heart of it all, she seems to suggest, is the work that drives us.

When SAM reopens its doors, you will be able to find Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture in the exhibition Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920-2020. And November 2021 will bring together nearly 200 of Cunningham’s photographs, along with sculpture by Asawa, in the exhibition Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective. Until then, as we all stay home, may their work inspire you to continue the work that drives you, whatever that may be.

Carrie Dedon, SAM Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today! Your financial support powers Stay Home with SAM and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again.

[1] Imogen Cunningham and Edna Tartaul Daniel, Imogen Cunningham: Portraits, Ideas, and Design (Berkeley: University of California Regional Cultural History Project, 1961), 26.
[2] Imogen Cunningham, in Brooks Johnson, ed., Photography Speaks: 150 Photographer On Their Art (New York: Aperture, 2005), 120.
Images: Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels, 1925, Imogen Cunningham, gelatin silver print, 11 1/4 x 8 1/4 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.67 © (1925), 2009 Imogen Cunningham Trust. Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957, Imogen Cunningham, Gelatin silver print, 10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.43
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The Case of the Weeping Buddha

The recent renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum allowed SAM to evaluate and conserve artworks we have previously been unable to display. One such work is the seated Buddha Shakyamuni which is on view for the first time in over a decade. Cast in the late 8th to early 9th century in Kashmir, Buddha Shakyamuni is seated in the dharmachakra mudra, a gesture that signifies the sharing of spiritual teachings. The sculpture is one of only a few examples known in Western collections. It is featured in the inaugural exhibition Boundless: Stories of Asian Art—a thematic, rather than geographic or chronological exploration of art from the Asian continent—celebrating the historic renovation of the museum’s 1933 Art Deco building located in Seattle’s Olmsted-designed Volunteer Park.

In 2009, during a condition assessment for a multi-venue international traveling exhibition, it was discovered that large white drips of zinc hydroxychloride corrosion product were seeping down the sculpture’s back. Independent conservation scientist John Twilley had identified the corrosion product in 1988 and the object was then treated for chlorides, however corrosion had reactivated in the intervening years.

Due to the severity of the problem and the importance of the sculpture, Twilley was engaged in 2009 to perform a technical study that included, among other techniques, x-radiography and metallographic study, including electron microscopy. Twilley determined that the metal contains 34-39% zinc, which is an extraordinarily high percentage of zinc to copper even for Kashmiri production. Twilley states that “a critical technological value of 28% zinc… is believed to be the highest value normally achievable by cementation methods” (Twilley 2003: 144), in which vaporized zinc is directly absorbed by copper metal to form the alloy. This finding has great technological implications: it identified the Shakyamuni as a rare, surviving example of brass produced from the earliest actual smelting of zinc, achieved by Kashmiris approximately 1,000 years before Western Europe.

Reverse view before removal of white corrosive product. Photo: Elizabeth Brown

However, the sculpture’s stability is inherently compromised as a result: the presence of two phases (or different crystal microstructures of copper and zinc) in the alloy creates the potential for galvanic corrosion in the presence of chloride contamination and moisture. Above 5% relative humidity, moisture penetrates the alloy’s higher zinc component causing dissolved corrosion products to migrate through the sculpture’s porous casting network.

Detail during treatment: corrosion product removed from lower third of drip. Photo: Elizabeth Brown

Conservation treatment options are limited. Chemical treatments can control chloride corrosion in copper alloys, and were tested for this sculpture and previously performed locally, but the high zinc level of Buddha Shakyamuni renders the figure particularly susceptible. Immersion of the sculpture is impractical due to the surface ornamentation and extant casting core. Therefore, controlling the environment in which the sculpture is stored and displayed remains the preferred preservation approach. 

The SmallCorp case being tested prior to installation of the sculpture. Photo: Geneva Griswold

For the last decade, the sculpture has been successfully stabilized by storage at <5% relative humidity; a micro environment was fashioned from a glass bell jar packed with oxygen scavenger and silica gel, sealed to a plywood board (covered with aluminized polyethylene and nylon barrier film) on which the sculpture is mounted.

Construction of a low-oxygen, low-humidity case was required to enable display and to ensure its survival in long-term storage, as even a controlled museum environment provides ample moisture for the corrosion process to occur. A glass vitrine, rather than acrylic, was necessary to minimize the rate of air exchange. The sealed display enclosure is composed of inert materials including the 5-sided 8.8mm UltraVue laminated glass vitrine, powder-coated aluminum deck, and ample conditioning chamber located below. The case is intended to passively maintain a relative humidity below 5%, however two ports in the sub-deck are designed for dry nitrogen flushing if necessary. A glass and gasket access door in the sub-deck enables live-view of the temperature and humidity loggers inside the display area, and enables periodic replacement of the silica gel, oxygen scavenger, and temperature/relative humidity sensors.

The Seattle Asian Art Museum is thrilled for the opportunity to display the Buddha Shakyamuni, and to share both its innovative creation story and present-day preservation plan with the public. If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

This project would not have been possible without the leadership of Nicholas Dorman, Head of Conservation at the Seattle Art Museum; Mike Dunphy, Sales and Marketing Manager at SmallCorp; John Twilley, Independent Conservation Scientist; and Yadin Larochette, Museum and Conservation Liaison- Americas, Tru Vue, Inc. 

– Geneva Griswold, SAM’s Associate Objects Conservator & Elizabeth Brown, SAM’s Senior Objects Conservator

Images: Buddha Shakyamuni, Kashmir, late 8th to early 9th century, copper alloy with silver and copper, Floyd A. Naramore Memorial Purchase Fund, 74.70, photo: Susan A. Cole

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Object of the Week: Fireman’s Coat

April showers may bring May flowers, but the passing of the clouds bring clear nights to see the bright face of the moon. Moon gazing isn’t an easy task here in the Pacific Northwest, especially with all the rainstorms and grey days; however, in East Asian countries, Moon Viewing is a popular mid-autumn festival for celebrating the harvest and contemplating the beauty of the night sky. In Japan, this is called Tsukimi, and is held on the 15th day to the 18th day of the eighth lunar month––so, sometime in September or October, depending on year. In the past it was time to write waka, a form of Japanese poetry, which originated within the aristocracy. Today, Tsukimi is celebrated all over Japan with displays of pampas grass and white balls of mochi (sweet rice cakes).

At the Asian Art Museum, we have our own example of Tsukimi revelry in the form of a 19th century hikeshi banten, or a commoner’s fireman coat. Made of tough cotton to impede burning debris, this coat has a surprisingly playful depiction of rabbits on their hind-legs, pounding at a vessel of mochi. Made of glutinous rice, mochi needs to be pounded to make the smooth, stretchy texture for which it is known.

The video above shows families making mochi at the Mochi Tsuki Festival on Bainbridge Island, WA. People enjoy mochi today all over Japan. It can be found in Seattle’s Japanese grocery stores too! Have you ever tried it before? One of the most popular ways to eat it is wrapping the soft, squishy mochi over a sweet filling, like red bean paste or chocolate cream.

So why rabbits? At first glance it would seem odd to connect these bunnies to mochi creation, or Tsukimi at all. However, in terms of mythology, rabbits have a lot to do with both. In the West, we have a fairy tale about the man in the moon, so created by how the moon’s dark craters seem to mimic the features of a face. In many Eastern folktales, however, it is not a human face, but a rabbit. Specifically, it is a rabbit with a mortar and pestle. In China, this is because the rabbit is a companion to the moon goddess, and pounds her medicine of immortality. In Japan and Korea, this rabbit pounds mochi, and has an entirely different reason for being engraved on the moon. In the Konjaku Monogatarishu, a collection of tales from the Heian Period, the story is told like this:

A long time ago, the Man of the Moon came down to Earth in secret in the guise of an old man. There, he came across three friends: monkey, fox, and rabbit, who had all taken a vow of charity. To them, he begged for food.

The monkey, being nimble, brought him fruit. The fox, being clever, brought him fish. The rabbit, only able to gather grass, had nothing to offer. So he asked the old man to light a fire and jumped into it, offering his own body as a meal.

The old man changed quickly back to the Man of the Moon and pulled the rabbit from the fire. He was deeply touched by such sacrifice and said “Rabbit, you are a kind creature, but do not give yourself up for me. As you were kindest of all, you may come and live with me upon the moon.” The rabbit agreed, and was carried to his new home. He is still there to this day. If you look up at the moon, you can see his figure upon it.

Between the flame that the rabbit tossed himself into, and his associations to the moon and food, it seems a little clearer why there would be the image of a mochi-pounding rabbit on a fireman’s coat. The rabbit was miraculously pulled from the flame and provided honor for his sacrifice––the perfect emblem of protection for a fireman.

Listen to actor Hudson Yang discuss this artwork.

Even with social distancing, we can still look up and see the rabbit, pounding away at mochi on the surface of the moon. It makes you wonder if he is an essential worker, too, and whether they have such worries in the night sky. When the Asian Art Museum reopens, you can see this rabbit hikeshi-banten on view in the galleries as a fine example of what would have once defined a fireman.

Kennedy Simpson, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art

Images: Fireman’s coat, 19th century, Japanese, cotton, 49 1/4 x 49 1/4 in., Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.417

Make Dreams Come True with Jung Yeondoo

Since 2001, South Korean artist Jung Yeondoo has visited six different countries to make people’s dreams come true. In his Bewitched series, he asks local people about their wishes for their future and then makes them come true with a pair of photographs: the first, a portrait of the person in their everyday life and the second, showing their dream or fantasy. Bewitched #2 Seoul shows a Baskin Robbins employee at her job next to her dream of going to the Arctic. Her change in clothing, accessories, and setting changes how we see her and shows us a part of her that we might not know about upon first glance. Jung uses costumes, settings, and props to transform a scene from everyday life into the individual’s dream.

Speaking about his inspiration, Jung said in a 2015 profile, “I started this project with an artist’s curiosity about wanting to know about the lives of people you just pass every day,” he said. “It’s not about a happy perspective or a negative perspective . . . It is more about [my] attempts as an artist to communicate with someone else.”

Jung Yeondoo Helps 28 People Realize Their Dreams by Taking Pictures

Looking questions

  • What’s going on in these artworks? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?
  • What words would you use to describe the person in each photograph, based on what they are wearing? Are there any words that would describe both of them?
  • Look closely at the image on the left. What do you think are some things this person does every day? What do you see that makes you say that? Now do the same for the image on the right.
  • Why do you think you see the same pose in both images? What does it feel like to pose in that way?
Hear from actor Hudson Yang as he looks closely at Bewitched #2

Visualize

Take a moment to close your eyes and ask yourself these same questions: What is your dream? What is your fantasy? Who do you want to be? Think about this dream that you have for yourself. In this imagined future, what are you wearing? What are you doing? What are your surroundings? Time yourself for five minutes and free-write or draw any ideas that you have. Don’t worry about making it look or sound good, this is just to document your ideas.

Art Activity

Create a drawing or collage that represents the daily life and imagined dream of someone you know.

  • Call a friend and ask each other questions to learn more about your everyday lives, just like Jung Yeondoo interviews the people that he works with. Be sure to write down words that describe what they are saying! Here are some example questions:
  • Where are you right now? What does it look like there? What do you see around you?
  • What part of your daily routine happens in this space? Describe that routine.
  • Who else spends time here? Is anyone there now? What are they doing?
  • Is there anything else that you want to share?

Now, interview each other about your future dreams. This could be three months from now or far into the future. What is your dream? What is your fantasy? Who do you want to be? Keep digging—ask for more details that can help you imagine their dream. Write down more descriptive words as you listen.

For this next part, you can choose to either

Make a drawing!

  • Divide a blank sheet of paper in half. On the left side, create a drawing of your friend in their current daily life. On the right side, create a drawing of them in their imagined dream.
  • Tell a story with your drawing—the more details that you can include from the interview, the better!

Make a collage!

  • Choose a blank sheet of paper or piece of cardboard for your base. You’ll need: old magazines, newspapers, or other printed papers, a pair of scissors, and glue.
  • Cut out words and images from the magazines that remind you of what you learned about your friend in these interviews. Divide your cutouts into two piles: your friend’s everyday life and their wish for the future.
  • Draw a line dividing your base in half. On the left side, create a collage using the cutouts related to your friend’s everyday life. On the right side, create a collage using the cutouts related to your friend’s wish for the future.

When you are done, send each other photos of your artwork or exchange them the next time you see each other. What are some things that you learned about yourself and each other in this process?

– Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator & Lauren Kent, SAM’s Museum Educator for School Programs & Partnerships

Image: Bewitched #2 Seoul, 2001. Jung Yeondoo. C-print photograph. 62 5/8 × 51 9/16 in. (159.1 × 131 cm) Purchased with funds from the Estate of Rosa Ayer, 2016.8.1–2.

Object of the Week: Woman Playing a Harp

In honor of Women’s History Month, Object of the Week will highlight works by celebrated women artists in SAM’s permanent collection throughout the month of March.

Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) was born in Switzerland, but she traveled extensively throughout Europe in her early life. She started painting by assisting her father, a muralist, but she was somewhat of a child prodigy who quickly developed her own career as a history painter and portraitist, which soon supported both her and her father. At age 25, she moved to London, where she made such an impact on the arts community and market that a contemporary quipped, “The whole world has gone Angelica-mad.”[1] At age 27, she was elected as one of two female members of London’s newly-formed Royal Academy of Arts (RA). Kauffman’s trademark was to put female subjects first and foremost, and she often used her own likeness. Her Neoclassical personifications of art were more than the inert Renaissance damsels commonly used: they were women artists (see Self-Portrait Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting below). Pretty impressive stuff.

Self-Portrait Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting

But even knowing this illustrious resume, the feeling that pervades this possible self-portrait Woman Playing a Harp (ca. 1778) is one of uncertainty. The woman’s fingers seem too hesitant to be making any sound, and her eyes telegraph a wariness of her audience. My reading could be influenced by the strange times we currently find ourselves in, but I don’t think it’s just me. A Seattle Art Museum staff member, working from home, gave this painting new life as a quality art meme.

The more I looked into Angelica Kauffman’s work, the more I witnessed refreshing moments of “un-confidence.” Just look at Self-Portrait Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting (1791). Kauffman was a talented cellist and singer, and as a young woman she was torn between a career in painting and one in the opera. This self-portrait honestly portrays the common agony of having to choose a life path, decades after Kauffman chose painting. Many women today can likely identify with this feeling: you can be London’s finest hostess, speak five languages, take the art world by storm, and still feel completely unsure and inadequate sometimes. And that’s okay.

Admittedly, there are benefits to being multi-talented. Kauffman was commissioned not only for portraits and history paintings, but also for decorative work that adorned some of England’s greatest estates. However, her practice was not easily categorized in a culture of male super-painters, and this brought its own challenges. In the words of painter and Kauffman scholar Sarah Pickstone, “She was so flexible as an artist, making furniture decorations, ceiling decorations, that when the Victorians came along, they dismissed her as a purely decorative artist, and I think that can sometimes happen to women’s work.”[2] Kauffman’s history as a founding member of the RA was largely erased after her death, and over a century passed before the academy elected any more female members.[3]

Kauffman’s legacy has started to shift, however, as creative historians have come to appreciate her complex life and practice, including those “feminine” decorative arts. It follows a promising trend toward women being valued for their professional activities and qualities outside of a patriarchal framework. The RA is bringing Kauffman back into their history by planning a major exhibition of her work for Summer 2020. Though it may likely be postponed, as the museum is temporarily closed due to the coronavirus, that’s just another uncertainty we will have to embrace.

Linnea Hodge, SAM Curatorial Coordinator

[1] Brighton Museums, “Angelica Kauffman: An Eighteenth-Century ‘Wunderkind,’” 19 February 2015, https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2015/02/19/angelica-kauffman-an-eighteenth-century-wunderkind
[2] Royal Academy of Arts podcast, “Sarah Pickstone and Rommi Smith discuss Angelica Kauffman,” 3 April 2018
[3] Annette Wickham, “A ‘Female Invasion’ 250 Years in the Making,” 13 May 2018
Images: Woman Playing a Harp, ca. 1778,Angelica Kauffman, oil on canvas, 34 7/8 x 27 1/4 in., Gift of Mrs. Lew V. Day in memory of her husband, 66.63. Self-portrait of the Artist hesitating between the Arts of Music and Painting, 1794, Angelica Kauffman, oil on canvas, 70 x 98 in., Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire

Muse/News: Stay Home with SAM, couch sketches, and penguins on parade

SAM News

SAM is temporarily closed through the end of March, to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the community. To keep connecting you to art, we have launched Stay Home with SAM, with regular emails sharing videos, interviews, and art news from SAM Blog. Join us!

Local News

“Seattle Sketcher” Gabriel Campanario shared his latest work for the Seattle Times: a sketch of the view from his couch, of course.

Crosscut has gathered an impressive swath of local writers to share their reflections on the impacts of coronavirus on our daily lives.

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley reports on the City of Seattle’s wave of relief efforts for artists and cultural organizations, totaling $1.1 million.

“’This is 9/11 meets The Great Recession meets the snowstorm,’ Randy Engstrom, director of the city’s Office of Arts and Culture (OAC), said during an online public meeting Tuesday afternoon. ‘We know we’re going to get through this together — and this is our time.’”

Inter/National News

The Gothamist’s Ben Yakas reports on the dire situation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; they are projecting a $100 million loss in revenues and likely layoffs.

“American Alliance of Museums Asks Congress to Allot $4B for Nonprofit Museums” announces Jasmine Weber for Hyperallergic.

How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This? asks a just-launched online exhibition from writer-curators Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen, recruiting artists and building a website over 48 hours.

“‘It’s always been an intriguing contradiction between how important art is and how trivial it can be at the same time,’ said Pollack. ‘When crises come up, I think it’s a question we all ask ourselves…There is always something going on in the world that seems to overshadow creative effort, and yet it’s so important for creative effort to continue.’”

And Finally

Three cheers for the social media team—and the penguins!—at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

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