Imogen Cunningham: Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore

Imogen Cunningham often took photographs of unsuspecting strangers on the street. Uncomfortable with confrontation, she found beauty in capturing daily public life without interference. At times, she used windows, spun around, or bent over and pretended to be searching for something in her purse to distract from the sound of her camera’s click. She called these surreptitious photographs “stolen pictures.”

Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore marks a stark contrast from Cunningham’s typical street photographs. In this image, her subject—a Black woman dressed in a long coat, stockings, and heels—has spotted Cunningham. Waiting for the bus, her right eyebrow is raised as she looks directly into the camera.

The woman’s stare is intensified as the image is cleverly reflected off of a storefront window, dividing the composition down the center, and creating a “doubled” illusion. Cunningham was fascinated with this effect and often used mirrors or glass to create this perspective.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts, discusses Cunningham’s “stolen pictures” and the changing dynamic shared between Cunningham and her subject after being spotted. Tune in to all 13 recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location through February 6.

Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore, ca. 1940

Narrator: Taken in Cunningham’s San Francisco neighborhood, this photograph captures two figures waiting for a bus. On the right, a man wearing a hat holds a paper bag. In the center, a woman stands dressed in a winter coat with her purse at her feet.

Chris Johnson: She’s giving Imogen a very strong direct gaze and there’s nothing reticent about that gaze and I think Imogen liked that because she was a strong outspoken woman herself.

Narrator: The image is doubled in the reflection of the storefront window on the left. Cunningham was fascinated with this effect, something she first encountered in the compositions of eighteenth-century Japanese prints. She often used mirrors or glass to create this perspective. The doubling effect places the woman in the center of the image and creates a dynamic between individuals, including the photographer.

Chris Johnson: The implied relationship between the photographer and the woman who’s giving her that gaze… between the black woman and the white man who is presumably ignoring both of them, Imogen and this black woman are in their own world. The white man is in his other world. He has his back turned to us. So Imogen is affirming her allegiance to this black [woman] and I really think the meaning of the image resides there.

Narrator: These “stolen pictures”, as Cunningham called her street scenes, were sometimes taken without the subject’s knowledge and represented a stylistic departure for her. But in this case, the central figure directly confronts Cunningham, and us.

Chris Johnson: Isn’t this a clear example of photographic seeing, you know, the way that the camera sees differently than the way eyeballs see?

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore, ca. 1940, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 7 3/4 × 7 1/2 in., Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of the Junior League of Oakland, A67.130.33, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: Hand Weaving with Hand

Hands play a prominent role in the work of Imogen Cunningham. Many of her most recognizable photographs focus on the movement of hands and their connection to the body. In Hand Weaving with Hand, the shadow of a hand with spread fingers protrudes from the lower left side of the image. Although the majority of the photograph is composed of a thin, rumpled fabric with vertical stripes, it is the ambiguity of this shadowed hand which captures the viewer’s attention.

Tune in to this audio recording to hear nonbinary Black transfem choreographer and dancer Randy Ford explore Cunningham’s use of hands throughout her work and relate it to her own dance production, Queen Street. Hear this and other audio recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective when you visit the Seattle Art Museum.

Hand Weaving with Hand, 1945

Narrator: While the right side of this photograph is dark, filled with billowing folds of a draped cloth, the left portion is backlit, and the fabric hangs flat. Behind the weaving, a light silhouettes a hand with fingers splayed. This hand is what first caught the eye of Seattle native Randy Ford, a dancer and choreographer.

Randy Ford: So I just think the hands are very interesting. You know, we create a lot of things with our hands. You know, we draw. We open doors. We close doors. We celebrate with our hands. They just play a really huge part in our lives and choreograph what we do every day. I don’t think of dance as just something that you do with your legs and your body and your torso. You know you can do a lot of expressing with just your hands, which is probably just why I again gravitated toward this shadow of a hand on this masterpiece of a sheet. The hands really kind of direct us a lot of places.

Narrator: In her portraits, Cunningham often zeroed in on hands—tickling the keys of a piano, delicately playing a violin, or shaping the rim of a clay pot. This singular, open palm appears to almost clap the suspended weaving. Is this the hand that made it? Is it presenting the cloth proudly… lovingly? As with so many of Cunningham’s photographs, the layering—in this case of fabric, lighting, and shadow—and ambiguity allow for multiple interpretations. Randy Ford, who recently told her own complex transition story in her dance production, Queen Street, can relate.

Randy Ford: I love making work that, is definitely visually appealing, but I also want people to realize what they’re looking at or maybe where their feelings are coming from. There’s definitely just a lot of depth within this simple-looking image and that’s why I chose it. It was very simple but still complex. It had like a little bit of a story. It invoked something about creation for me as a choreographer and director and an artist myself. I always kind of just wonder what are the beginnings of things? You know, things aren’t just the way they are just because they appear to us.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Hand Weaving with Hand, Imogen Cunningham, 1945. Gelatin silver print, Image: 13 1/4 x 9 1/2 in. Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: Mills College Amphitheater

In June 1920, Imogen Cunningham’s husband, Roi Partridge, accepted a teaching position in the art department at Mills College, a private liberal arts school for women in Oakland, California. With their three young sons, Cunningham and Partridge moved from San Francisco to an old house situated near campus which initially had neither plumbing nor electricity.

While in Oakland, Cunningham established herself as a well-educated woman and progressive role model in the community. She offered Mills College students uncensored advice about their professional aspirations and her home came to be recognized as a safe haven for private discussions about sexuality and family planning.

One important stream of income for Cunningham at this time was photographing Mills College student portraits, dance performances, and campus architecture. Her photograph, Mills College Amphitheater (ca. 1928), captures the curved concrete design of the college’s outdoor auditorium. The image, likely inspired by the work of American photographer Paul Strand, plays with abstract geometric forms created by sunlight and shadows.

In this audio recording from the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum, nonbinary black transfem choreographer and dancer Randy Ford discusses the significance of this image within Cunningham’s larger body of work. She points out Cunningham’s decision to forgo photographing the amphitheater’s stage, opting instead to play with the shadows and sunlight of the empty audience.

Mills College Amphitheater, ca. 1928

Randy Ford: My name is Randy Ford. I use she/her and goddess as pronouns, and I’m a nonbinary Black transfem, just out here trying to live and make art that’s going to change the world.

Narrator: Imogen Cunningham’s photo of an outdoor amphitheater reminded Randy, a choreographer and dancer, of the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle where she staged her first full-length performance, Queen Street.

Randy Ford: I’m also a Greek drama nerd, and so this just looks like a Greek amphitheater like back in the day. It looks like a coliseum.

Narrator: The photograph was actually taken at Mills College, a women’s liberal arts college in Oakland, California, where Cunningham’s husband taught. She often photographed architectural elements on campus, including the amphitheater. There is no stage in Cunningham’s abstract interpretation. Instead, we see only curved concrete rows and rectangular steps highlighted by sunlight and shadows.

Randy Ford: Cunningham was very much just like, yeah, you know, the audience is the show. It’s not always about what’s on stage. It’s kind of like what’s the environment? What’s the tone? What time of day is it? Was this right before the performance? Was this an empty show where no one showed up? Audience plays a huge role in live performance. As a live performer, I live for an interactive audience. Just let me know you’re here. Let me know you feel me because, performers are also humans.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Mills College Amphitheatre, Imogen Cunningham, ca. 1928, Gelatin silver print, Image: 8 1/8 x 12 1/4 in, Collection of Gary B. Sokol.

Imogen Cunningham: Ruth Asawa Family And Sculpture

In 1950, Imogen Cunningham’s son Randal introduced her to Japanese-American artist Ruth Asawa. Despite their 43-year age difference—Asawa was 24 and Cunningham was 67 at the time—the two artists quickly developed an unbreakable bond.

“Asawa and Cunningham placed a priority on relationships and refused to choose between the life of family and their art,” explained art historian and curator Daniel Cornell of their friendship. “They shared a similar fate as the critics who labeled their work feminine as a way to suggest its inherent inferiority to the work of male artists.”1

Over the next two decades, Cunningham and Asawa’s careers regularly intertwined. For the cover of the June 1952 issue of Arts & Architecture magazine, Cunningham photographed a few of Asawa’s wire sculptures, developed four individual prints, and mounted them on a single board. In 1964, Aperture magazine used a photograph Cunningham had taken of another of Asawa’s sculptures on the cover of its winter issue.

Imogen Cunningham’s photograph for the cover of Arts & Architecture featuring Ruth Asawa’s sculptures on view at SAM. Photo: Natali Wiseman

In a drafted letter recommending Asawa for a Guggenheim Foundation grant, Cunningham wrote of her friend: “However remote and obscure Ruth Asawa’s project may seem to most of us, I have very strong reasons to believe that she can achieve a real improvement in building ornament by carrying it out… To me, she is what I call an unfailingly creative person and there are very few of them.”2

Listen to this audio recording to discover the backstory of one particular photograph Cunningham took of Asawa and her family in 1957. Produced by the Seattle Art Museum, this recording includes a discussion by Japanese and Chinese Canadian photographer Kayla Isomura on the significance of Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture and its influence in her own work. Learn more about this image from SAM’s personal collection and Ruth Asawa’s legacy here, then see it on view alongside Ruth Asawa’s sculptures now in Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at SAM through February 6.

Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957

Narrator: Photographer Kayla Isomura.

Kayla Isomura: I really enjoyed this image actually because of how candid and sort of natural it is, and it’s so every day in a way, but there’s also this interesting juxtaposition of just the art that takes up so much of the space. I’m not even sure if I should be looking at the sculpture or the kids, but I think just all of that put together, for me it just seems very intriguing as an image.

Narrator: Cunningham often photographed Asawa’s sculptures, but this image incorporates the domestic studio. Beneath the central sculpture sits a baby drinking from a bottle and a girl with a stick. Partially hidden by the suspended work, a third child watches as his mother pulls wire from a spool to begin another looped sculpture. A fourth child crouches on top of a low table.

Kayla Isomura: It doesn’t feel like the family or the kids are necessarily aware that the camera is there. They’re just kind of doing their own thing.

Narrator: Like her sculptures, in which open weaving reveals forms inside the forms, multiple facets of Asawa’s life are on view. You can see several of Asawa’s sculptures in this gallery. Asawa, her parents, and five siblings were among approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent incarcerated during World War II. In her work, The Suitcase Project, Kayla, a fourth-generation Japanese and Chinese Canadian, asked Japanese Americans and Canadians what they would pack if they were forced into an internment camp. The process raised questions about the complex relationships among artist, subject, and identity.

Kayla Isomura: Something that in recent years that I’ve really come to consider is this sort of question of who is allowed to do this work. Do you have that connection, or do you feel this as part of your identity if this is what you want to do? Or can you work with somebody who has a closer connection if you do not? So is it enough that the subjects in their work, are maybe being represented? Or, does it matter equally as much that the person behind the work, you know, has that direct connection, to whatever it is that they’re documenting? And I think those are the questions that I have.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957, Imogen Cunningham, Gelatin silver print10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in. (26.4 x 26.4 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.43 © Imogen Cunningham Trust.

1 Daniell Cornell et al., The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2006), 148.

2 Imogen Cunningham, undated draft of Asawa recommendation (probably 1971),
Imogen Cunningham Papers.

Imogen Cunningham: Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse

In Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse, Imogen Cunningham captures a moment of joy with two of her young grandchildren, Joan and Loren, as they experiment with the effects of a warped mirror. Despite the playful nature of the image, Cunningham remains stoic in photographing herself. Her face points down as she looks into the viewfinder of her black and silver-lined rectangular camera which she steadies with both hands. She is small in comparison to her grandchildren, whose elongated arms stretch the entirety of the image, but identifiable by her white hair, gemmed cap, and metallic glasses.

Tune in to this audio recording to hear Imogen Cunningham’s granddaughter, Meg Partridge, discuss Cunningham’s relationship with her grandchildren. Produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Partridge describes how this image came together and emphasizes Cunningham’s signature artistic style. Listen to this and other audio recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective when you visit the exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum through February 6, 2022.

Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse, 1955

Narrator: An outing with two of her granddaughters and a fun house mirror provided Imogen Cunningham with an irresistible subject. Meg Partridge, granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham.

Meg Partridge: Imogen was really being very playful as she always was with photography.

Narrator: Partridge was only two when this photograph was taken, and too young to tag along. Instead, we see her older sister Joan, in the middle with both hands raised, and her cousin Loren, on the right with a hyper-elongated arm.

Meg Partridge: Imogen did not spend a lot of time taking grandchildren places and doing grandmotherly-like things. She enjoyed children once they became, as I would say, of interest to her. They could be articulate. They could have opinions. They could share thoughts.

Narrator: Cunningham worked while raising her three sons, and continued to do so once their children came along.

Meg Partridge: Looking at her work, you can see some of the same subjects coming in again and again. So we see many photographs of Imogen looking into her camera and photographing herself in a reflection or often in a shadow as well. But another is a very sort of surrealistic view that she took with her camera.

Narrator: Unlike the distorted versions of her granddaughters, her reflection in the self-portrait remains relatively true. We get just a glimpse of her grey hair beneath an embroidered cap and one-half of her eyeglasses, as her hands adjust the dials on her ever-present rolleiflex camera.

Meg Partridge: She was able to capture great shots that were unexpected because she had a camera around her neck and she just always wore it.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse, 1955, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 8 3/4 × 7 5/16 in., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2006.25.2, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: My Father At Ninety

Around 1901, Imogen Cunningham purchased her first camera. Aware of his daughter’s interest in photography, Cunningham’s father, Isaac Burns Cunningham, built her a darkroom in a woodshed on their property in Seattle. With her photography career in full bloom, Cunningham returned to the site of the original darkroom more than 30 years later to photograph her first and biggest supporter, her father.

Seated on a log in front of split wood, Cunningham intimately captures her aging father. In this recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Meg Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, reflects on Cunningham’s loving relationship with her father and reveals the supportive role he played throughout her career. Listen to this and other audio recordings when you visit Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum.

My Father at Ninety, 1936

Meg Partridge: In all the photographs Imogen took of her father, you can just see that relationship between the two. You experienced that relationship a bit when you look into the eyes of Isaac Burns in this photograph.

Narrator: Cunningham had a host of ways for getting her subjects to relax and reveal a bit of themselves. She’d chat them up, catch them off guard, or mesmerize them with her own fluid, busy movement, all in order to, as she once said, “gain an understanding at short notice and at close range.” But with this sitter, those techniques weren’t necessary. Her father’s guard was never up.

Meg Partridge: Imogen was very close to her father. I think there was a real similar interest in their curiosity and their intellect and their pursuit of information.

Narrator: Isaac Burns Cunningham was a freethinker. His formal education was interrupted by the Civil War, yet he was a voracious reader and a student of all religions. He supported his large family with a wood and coal supply business. In his daughter, named for the Shakespearian character he found most noble, he nurtured a love of nature and art, buying her first set of watercolors and arranging painting lessons on weekends and summers.

Meg Partridge: This is from a very low-income, frugal family that didn’t have a lot of extra money to spare. Isaac Burns also made her a darkroom in his woodshed. So that’s how Imogen got started actually processing her own work as a teenager in Seattle.

Narrator: Like her father, Imogen Cunningham lived into her nineties. When asked in an interview two months before her death at age ninety-three which one of her photographs was her favorite, she replied, “The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: My Father at Ninety, 1936, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 9 3/4 × 7 11/16 in., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 87.XM.74.12, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: The Dream

In this soft-focused black and white photograph, a woman is visible from the waist-up. She sits in three-quarter profile and wears a loose, white robe which emphasizes her pale skin. This woman, who glows in contrast to the dark, hazy background which surrounds her, is miniaturist painter Clare Shepard.

Imogen Cunningham photographed her friend, Shepard, at the peak of the pictorialist movement. This movement saw photographers approach cameras as a tool—similar to a paintbrush—that made an artistic statement. Rather than capturing the real, pictorialism emphasized the beauty of a subject and an image’s composition.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts, considers the pictorialist approach Cunningham took in creating The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi) and the romantic feelings it relays. Listen to this and the rest of the audio tour when you visit Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at our downtown location as part of the exhibition’s free smartphone tour.

The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi), circa 1910

Chris Johnson: It’s a kind of a classic, romantic, pictorialist image of a young beautiful woman.

Narrator: Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts.

Chris Johnson: You can see that Imogen is very sensitive to the falling of light and shadow over this young woman.

Narrator: The atmosphere around her, seems to glow. Diffused light falls on her headscarf and the folds of her painter’s smock. Her eyes are half closed, as if in a trance. The close framing of the portrait keeps the background abstract. The subject is Clare Shepard, a friend and miniaturist painter.

Chris Johnson: Imogen, in her heart of hearts, was really a romantic and a romantic takes her feelings very seriously so her feelings as she was projecting them on to this young woman are pretty clear.

Narrator: The otherworldly portrait hints at Shepard’s rumored abilities as a clairvoyant. The image exemplifies pictorialism, an approach that prioritized beauty and expressiveness, composition and atmospheric effects. The movement rejected the realistic, documentary nature of photography and instead looked to painters as artistic influences.

Chris Johnson: One of the ideas behind the pictorialists was that you would use the soft-focus technique as a trope to indicate dreamy, romantic, ethereal, spiritual qualities. She’s catching this moment when Claire is lost within thought and it intends to try to draw us into the mood space that she’s occupying using pictorialist soft-focus as a formal strategy.

Narrator: When Cunningham took this portrait around 1910, Pictorialism was at its peak. Cunningham had recently opened her own studio in Seattle after studying photographic chemistry in Germany. The photograph marked a specific, early period in her career.

Chris Johnson: All of her photography subsequent to this phase is in marked contrast to the visual effects of this image.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi), about 1910, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, platinum print, 8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 88.XM.44.5, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: The Unmade Bed

While teaching at the California School of Fine Arts in 1957, Imogen Cunningham overheard her friend and co-worker Dorothea Lange give her students an assignment: photograph something you use every 24 hours. Inspired by the simple prompt, Cunningham returned to class the next week with a new photograph she had taken titled The Unmade Bed.

Listen to an interpretive analysis of the work from Cunningham’s close friend and collaborator Judy Dater. From the perfectly rumpled sheets to the spread out piles of bobby pins, Dater discusses how this image acts as a self-portrait of the artist and explains the reason why Cunningham often gifted a print of this image to newlyweds.

This audio recording is part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum. Tune in to all 13 recordings when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

The Unmade Bed, 1957

Narrator: A rumpled sheet and blanket are thrown back to reveal a pile of hairpins and another of bobby pins. Subtle gradations vary from the crisp white sheets exposed by sunlight, to the grey wool blanket with a shimmery trim, to the completely dark background.

Judy Dater: I can’t look at that photograph and not think of it as a self-portrait, a very personal self-portrait.

Narrator: In 1957, Dorothea Lange, best known for documenting the Great Depression, was teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. Cunningham was also teaching there when she heard her friend and fellow photographer give her students an intriguing assignment.

Judy Dater: And the assignment that, apparently, that Dorothea Lange, gave the class that day was to go home and photograph something you use every twenty-four hours. And so Imogen went home and made that particular photograph. And then when she came back the following week, she brought that in as her example.

Narrator: Did she intend it as a self-portrait? After all, those are her hair pins. Do they signify the letting down of one’s hair or one’s guard? Cunningham never said as much, but she did ascribe one message to the image.

Judy Dater: She sometimes would give that photograph to people as a wedding present so that the husband would know that the wife was going to be busy, that she had things to do, and not to expect the bed to always be made.

Narrator: Cunningham may have deliberately arranged the sheets and hairpins, or perhaps she happened upon the unmade bed exactly as she left it. For photographer Judy Dater, that’s irrelevant.

Judy Dater: She saw it and she was at the right angle at the right moment, and she knew what to do with it.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: The Unmade Bed, 1957, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 10 11/16 × 13 1/2 in., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, 2016.173.5, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom

For nearly a decade of her 70-year career, Imogen Cunningham focused on capturing the beauty of botanicals. Having studied chemistry and worked in the botany department at the University of Washington, she wrote her thesis in 1907 on the chemical process of photography while employing a variety of plants as her subjects.

Magnolia Blossom is perhaps Cunningham’s most well-known botanical image. The close-cropped photograph of the flower reveals the cone of stamens and pistils hiding between the petals. Taken as a whole, the image represents a transfixing study of light and shadows within the history of black and white photography.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Meg Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, discusses the significance of this photograph within Cunningham’s larger body of work and provides insight on the photographer’s fascination with botanicals. Tune in to this and twelve other recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective when you visit the Seattle Art Museum.

Magnolia Blossom, 1925

Narrator: This close-cropped image of a magnolia flower fills the entire frame. The petals have completely opened revealing the cone of stamens and curlicue carpels.

Meg Partridge: It’s really a beautifully sharp, focused, large-format image that is a simple subject, but it’s very powerful.

Narrator: For roughly a decade, Cunningham focused her attention on botanical studies. This is perhaps her most well-known example. She had an extensive knowledge of plants—as a chemistry major in college, she worked in the botany department, making slides for lectures and research.

Meg Partridge: She knew the botanical names of all of the plants that she had photographed and all the plants that she gardened with. She spent a good bit of time in the garden. So I think it was more about the relationship she had with her subject—be it a person or a plant—that we really see and respond to.

Narrator: There was a practical aspect to these botanical works as well. Cunningham once explained: “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small. I photographed the plants in my garden and steered my children around at the same time.”

Meg Partridge: And she would do it in moments where she had children underfoot, but also a moment to focus. She always used natural light and she often took photographs either inside with a simple backdrop or she even took simple backdrops, a white board or a black cloth, out into the garden to photograph.

Narrator: Cunningham’s full-frame botanicals such as this one were groundbreaking in early modernist photography.

 Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Magnolia Blossom, negative 1925; print 1930, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 9 5/16 × 11 5/8 in., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, 54042, Photo: Randy Dodson, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: Morris Graves In His Leek Garden

From close friends to strangers, and even the artist herself, photographer Imogen Cunningham found inspiration in capturing the human form in various settings. Taking portraits of those around her, Cunningham aimed to find the “beauty of the inner self.”

Listen to this audio interview to hear Japanese and Chinese Canadian photographer Kayla Isomura discuss the lessons she has learned from Cunningham’s extensive body of work. Paying particular attention to the artist’s 1973 portrait, Morris Graves In His Leek Garden, Isomura highlights the intentional melancholy of the image and shares admiration for Cunningham’s keen ability to capture her subjects in their natural state.

This audio recording is part of a free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospectivenow on view at the Seattle Art Museum. Tune in to this and twelve other recordings when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

Morris Graves In His Leek Garden, 1973

Narrator: Like Imogen Cunningham, photographer Kayla Isomura is known for her portraits.

Kayla Isomura: I am a fourth-generation Japanese and Chinese Canadian, with a background as well in journalism, all of which have influenced my interest in multimedia storytelling.

Narrator: Kayla identifies with Cunningham’s goal of finding the “beauty of the inner self” in her portraits. Here, Kayla notes Cunningham’s deft touch with her subject, the painter Morris Graves.

Kayla Isomura: For me, I really like capturing people kind of as they are. Even taking a photo on the spot. Sometimes people will feel self-conscious about that. But more often than not I’m taking a photo of them because there is something about them that is photogenic even if it might not be in the sort of what society might expect. It’s very important that anybody can feel comfortable in front of the camera, or anybody can feel like they’re able to see themself in a photograph.

Narrator: Twenty-three years after Cunningham first photographed her friend Graves, she received a somewhat concerning letter from him. In addition to asking if she would once again take his portrait, Graves wrote, “Like us all, I am undergoing changes that are beyond my comprehension. I am tired of life, and I understand less and less.” Soon after, Cunningham visited Graves at his retreat, a 380-acre property in Loleta, California, where she took this photo.

Kayla Isomura: Something that really stood out to me is how authentic I guess in a way that I feel like this image was captured. Looking at how the photo was taken through the leeks and the contemplative expression on his face, it made me feel like there was more to this too. Like I didn’t know if there’s a sense of even mourning or even loss or maybe he’s just kind of lost in thought in his garden.

Narrator: After developing her photographs, Cunningham sent them to Graves along with her own letter, complimenting his “aura of beauty” and hoping that her portrait would inspire him to paint again.

 Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Morris Graves in His Leek Garden, Imogen Cunningham, 1973. Gelatin silver print, 8 ¼ x 11 3/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg, 79.72.

Monet’s Letters: La Falaise And The Porte D’Aval

Claude Monet was not the first painter to find artistic inspiration in Étretat. Throughout the 19th century, impressionist painters including Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Charles François Daubigny traveled to the small seaside fishing village to capture the landscape’s breathtaking views.  

Tune in to a letter Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, during his first voyage to Étretat in 1883. In it, the plein-air painter expresses his intention of painting a large-scale canvas of the village’s defining cliff, the Manneport. Aware of Courbet’s recent series of paintings depicting the same landscape, Monet calls the move “audacious.” However, he promises Hoschedé that his interpretation of the view will be different and worthwhile.

This audio recording is available on the free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretatnow on view at the Seattle Art Museum. Listen to excerpts of five letters Monet wrote to Hoschedé while in Étretat, when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location, on view through October 17.

La Falaise And The Porte D’Aval, 1883

“I worked well today, I am very happy, the weather is superb if a little cold. I plan to do a large canvas of the cliff at Étretat, even if it is terribly audacious on my part to do that after Courbet did it so admirably, but I will try to do it differently. . .” February 1, 1883.

– Claude Monet

Image: La Falaise and the Porte d’Aval, 1883, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, oil on canvas, 23 5/8 × 31 7/8 in., Private Collection.

Monet’s Letters: Fishing Boats (Bateaux De Pêche)

During his time in Étretat, as well as many other periods in his life, Claude Monet’s greatest enemy was himself. Despite the physical challenges presented by the cold winter weather in the seaside village on the Normandy Coast, the plein-air painter’s most difficult challenge to overcome was his persistent fear of a lackluster career and overall artistic failure.

In a letter written to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, while on his first sojourn in Étretat in 1883, Monet describes a series of sleepless nights when thoughts of hopelessness seemed to never end. But the discovery of a new painting location in the annex of his hotel which captures the picturesque cliffs and fishing boats lining the shore brings Monet renewed creative inspiration.

This audio recording is paired with Monet’s painting, Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), on the free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat at the Seattle Art Museum through October 17. Tune in when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), 1883

“… I am so worried that I can’t sleep anymore; tonight too, consumed with thinking about this damned exhibition, I listened to the lashing rain and felt hopeless. However, I didn’t waste my day. I was able to install myself in an annex of the hotel from which you have a superb view of the cliff and the boats. So I worked all morning from this window, regretting I hadn’t done it sooner because I would have been able to quietly create some superb things. Anyway, there are always calamities.” February 10, 1883.

– Claude Monet

Image: Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), 1883, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 × 36 1/2 in., Denver Art Museum: Frederic C. Hamilton Collection, 2020.568, image courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.

Monet’s Letters: Boats on the Beach at Étretat

Claude Monet traveled to the small fishing village of Étretat twice to paint the setting’s spectacular natural landscape. Both voyages—one in 1883 and another in 1885—took place in the winter season. Despite consistently cold weather and an unpredictable sea, Monet found these months of uninterrupted solitude and pure engagement with nature to be the most fruitful in his artistic endeavors.

Listen to excerpts of three letters Claude Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, while in Étretat in 1885. Written across five days, these letters express a combination of artistic inspiration and frustration. An unexpected period of good weather and the sight of local fisherman lining the shore each morning left Monet feeling both grateful for the beauty that surrounded him and raging at his inability to capture it all on his easels. With his time in Étretat soon coming to a close, Monet wondered whether he would ever be satisfied with his work.

This audio recording is part of a free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat and accompanies the painting Boats on the Beach at Étretat, on view at the Seattle Art Museum through October 17. Take the tour when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

Boats on the Beach at Étretat, 1885

“. . . Etretat is becoming more and more amazing; it’s at its best now, the beach with all these fine boats, it’s superb and I rage at my inability to express it all better. You’d need to use both hands and cover hundreds of canvases.” October 20, 1885.

“For three days it’s been superb weather and I’m taking advantage of it, I can tell you; the boats are getting ready for the herring, the beach is transformed—very animated, so interesting.” October 21, 1885.

“I’ve begun quite a few things here, repetitions, in the hope of being able to work every day, but it doesn’t go quickly. It is true that with several good sessions the canvases can quickly take shape; I have returned to some canvases and I don’t really know how I will get it all.” October 24, 1885.

– Claude Monet

Image: Boats on the Beach at Étretat, 1885, oil on canvas, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, 26 × 32 7/16 in., Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1947.95, photo: The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY

Monet’s Letters: The Cliffs at Étretat

While looking for inspiration in Étretat, Claude Monet faced numerous mental and physical challenges. From the gloomy weather of the winter season to constant bouts of self-doubt, Monet struggled to keep his artistic spirit alive. Amidst all these hurdles, however, the plein-air painter also found days where everything seemed to go right.

In a November 1885 letter Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, the artist describes a productive workday. With the sun shining above and the tide exactly right, the artist was able to make progress on several paintings. Yet Monet knew these ideal working conditions would not last long. The start of a new moon signified another impending change in the environment of the small fishing village on the Normandy Coast.

Accompanying the painting The Cliffs at Étretat, this recording is available on the free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretatnow on view at the Seattle Art Museum. Listen to this and four other letters Monet wrote to Hoschedé while in Étretat, when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

The Cliffs at Étretat, 1885

“Finally a good day, a superb sun . . . I was able to work without stopping, because the tide is in this moment exactly what I need for several motifs. This helped me catch up—and if I had had the chance that this weather would continue for several days, I would get a lot of work done. It’s new moon today and the barometer is going up a lot, even quickly.” November 6, 1885.

– Claude Monet

Image: The Cliffs at Étretat, 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 × 32 in., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1995.528, image courtesy Clark Institute.

Monet’s Letters: Waves at the Manneport

Two years after he first made the journey to the small fishing village of Étretat on the Normandy Coast, Claude Monet returned in the winter of 1885 to find renewed artistic inspiration. After one rainy morning, the plein-air painter set out to capture the landscape’s defining natural arch, the Manneport, from the beaches below but found himself victim to the sea’s raging tides. Too entranced by his own work to notice the turbulent waves ahead, Monet was thrown against a cliff and dragged into the sea along with his art materials, destroying the painting he was working on.

Listen to an audio recording of a November 1885 letter Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, recounting the accident. In his own words, the artist describes his struggle to emerge from the freezing waters, his fragile state after getting soaked, and the anger he felt toward the “old hag” he calls the sea. Despite the loss of his painting, Monet returned to the beach the next day with a new easel to once again paint Étretat’s breathtaking cliffs.

This audio recording is part of a free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretatnow on view at the Seattle Art Museum. Tune in to this and other letters Monet wrote while in Étretat, when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

Waves at the Manneport, 1885

“After another rainy morning I was glad to find the weather slightly improved: despite a high wind blowing and a rough sea, or rather because of it, I hoped for a fruitful session at the Manneport; however, an accident befell me. Don’t alarm yourself now, I am safe and sound since I’m writing to you, although you nearly had no news and I would never have seen you again. I was hard at work beneath the cliff, well sheltered from the wind, in the spot which you visited with me; convinced that the tide was drawing out I took no notice of the waves which came and fell a few feet away from me. In short, absorbed as I was, I didn’t see a huge wave coming; it threw me against the cliff and I was tossed about in its wake along with all my materials!

My immediate thought was that I was done for, as the water dragged me down, but in the end I managed to clamber out on all fours, but Lord, what a state I was in! My boots, my thick stockings and my coat were soaked through; the palette which I had kept a grip on had been knocked over my face and my beard was covered in blue, yellow etc. But anyway, now the excitement is passed and no harm’s done, the worst of it was that I lost my painting which was very soon broken up, along with my easel, bag etc. Impossible to fish anything out. Besides, everything was torn to shreds by the sea, that ‘old hag’ as your sister calls her.

Anyway, I was lucky to escape, but how I raged when I found once I’d changed that I couldn’t work, and when it dawned on me that the painting which I had been counting on was done for, I was furious. Immediately I set about telegraphing Troisgros to send me what’s missing and an easel will be ready for tomorrow . . . I send you all my love and hug all the children for me, remember me to Marthe. To think I might never have seen you again.” November 27, 1885.

– Claude Monet

Image: Waves at the Manneporte, ca. 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, oil on canvas, 29 × 36 ½ in., North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Gift of Ann and Jim Goodnight, 2016.8.5, image courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art

Weightlessness: Tour The Eagle

Let yourself linger under and around Alexander Calder’s The Eagle with this stop on our free audio tour of the Olympic Sculpture Park. This iconic work can be seen from most locations in the park as well as from the ferry’s coming in from the Puget Sound. Follow the entire tour the next time you visit the park.

Carefully restored in summer 2020, The Eagle, is once again its original and stunning Calder red, making it impossible to miss on a walk through the park. The Eagle displays its curving wings, assertive stance, and pointy beak in a form that is weightless, colorful, and abstract.

The Olympic Sculpture Park has four distinct landscapes that reflect the native ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest: The Valley, The Grove, The Meadow, and The Shore. They provide a diversity of settings for art and introduce an array of plants and birds found in the Puget Sound region. You can find The Eagle standing in one of the meadows. On both sides of Elliott Avenue, meadow landscapes with expanses of grasses and wildflowers meet the bordering sidewalks to achieve the “fenceless” park that SAM conceived from the start. Both the meadows and the grove were intended as regenerative landscapes that provide flexible sites for sculpture and artists working in the landscape.

Image: The Eagle, 1971, Alexander Calder, painted steel, 465 x 390 x 390 in., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2000.69, © Calder Foundation/Artist’s Rights Society, NY, photo: Benjamin Benschneider.

A Meditative State: Tour Echo

Bring your ear buds the next time you visit the Olympic Sculpture Park and take a free audio tour through some of the monumental artworks at the park! This week on the blog, we are featuring the fifth stop on the tour, Jaume Plensa’s Echo.

Echo is a 46-foot-tall sculpture installed on the shoreline, made from resin and steel, and coated in marble dust. Rising from the center of the park with eyes closed, its stunning surface is luminous in daytime and at night. Jaume Plensa is a Catalan artist who lives and works in Barcelona. He has come to great prominence in the last decade with his monumental figurative outdoor sculptures. Reminiscent of memorial sculpture, Plensa has created seated figures and heads in introspective, meditative states.

The Olympic Sculpture Park features works from SAM’s collection, sculpture commissioned specifically for the park, loans, and changing installations. The artistic program reflects a range of approaches to sculpture, past and present, and is designed to respond to evolving ideas about sculpture in the future.

Image: Echo, 2011, Jaume Plensa, Spanish, Born 1955, Polyester resin, marble dust, steel framework, Height: 45 ft. 11 in., footprint at base: 10 ft. 8 in. x 7 ft. 1 in., gross weight: 13,118 lb, Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2013.22, © Jaume Plensa, photo: Benjamin Benschneider.

The Changing Sky: Tour Seattle Cloud Cover

Follow an audio tour of the Olympic Sculpture Park the next time you find yourself strolling along Seattle’s waterfront. Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art offers four stops along the Z-Path that runs through the park. This week we are featuring Seattle Cloud Cover, by Teresita Fernández. This artwork connects the upper park area to the stunning waterfront. Her work incorporates images of the changing sky discovered in nature and art, and offers a beautiful view of downtown and the park.

The Olympic Sculpture Park evolved out of a mutual commitment between SAM and the Trust for Public Land to preserve downtown Seattle’s last undeveloped waterfront property. The Seattle Art Museum resolved to return the site as much as possible to a functioning ecosystem, while providing a unique setting for outdoor sculpture and public recreation. This was no small task given a century of change amidst the state’s largest urban environment. The design for the park grew out of a desire to embrace the city’s energy and to creat​e collaboration between art, landscape, architecture, and infrastructure. It also afforded a wide range of environmental restoration processes, including brownfield redevelopment, salmon habitat restoration, native plantings, and sustainable design strategies. The Olympic Sculpture Park is open all year and always free!

Image: Seattle Cloud Cover (detail), 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, photo: Paul Macapia.

Tangible Space: Tour of Wake

Take a tour through some of the large, stunning artworks of the Olympic Sculpture Park with Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. This audio tour offers a history of the park and new views of artworks that have become iconic elements of Seattle’s waterfront.

One of the largest works, Wake by Richard Serra, is located in the park’s valley, in the Northeast corner. For artist Richard Serra, space is a substance as tangible as sculpture. He uses materials and scale to alter perception and to engage the body, encouraging consciousness of our relation to space. Follow along as Dedon shares the artist’s process and leads you through various ways to experience the work depending on how you approach it.

The Olympic Sculpture Park is SAM’s third location and it opened January 2007. Covered in monumental artworks, this award-winning nine-acre sculpture park on the waterfront is Seattle’s largest downtown green space and is just one mile north of the Seattle Art Museum. As the site of prior brown field, restoration was at the heart of the development of the park as well as integration of the urban core of the city with the wild coast line designed to foster the recovery of salmon habitat. The park is open all year and always free.

Image: Wake, Richard Serra, 2004, 10 plates, 5 sets of locked toroid forms, weatherproof steel, each set, overall: 14 ft. 1 1/4 in. x 48 ft. 4 in. x 6 ft. 4 3/8 in.; overall installation: 14 ft. 1/4 in. x 125 ft. x 46 ft.; plate thickness 2 in.; weight: 30 tons (each plate), Purchased with funds from Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Virginia and Bagley Wright, Ann Wyckoff and the Modern Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2004.94, © Richard Serra to Wake, photo: Stephanie Fink.

Flow with Keet Shagoon

Hear artist Preston Singletary talk about the imagery in his work and how he uses the medium of glass to reconnect and reinterpret traditional Tlingit art and culture.

In addition to being a visual artist, Preston Singletary is a musician and member of Khu.éex’, an Indigenous band. The band focuses on bringing awareness to social issues affecting Indigenous communities and keeping tribal culture and endangered ancient languages alive through music, storytelling, and art.

Listen to a Khu.éex’ song. As you listen, think about the story being told through the song and how this might be visually represented in Keet Shagoon.

Excerpt from”Khu.éex’: the Magic of Noise” by Heartstone Studios.

Watch this clip of Singletary describing how his glass art flows like music.

Singletary was inspired by YéilX’eenh (RavenScreen), which hangs in SAM’s galleries across from Keet Shagoon. YéilX’eenh (Raven Screen) is an interior house screen like those that can be found in the clan houses of the Tlingit tribal community. These screens separate the chief’s quarters from the rest of the clan house. The small hole in the middle of the screen acts as a portal that is used by the chief to make dramatic entrances when entertaining guests or at potlatches. The imagery on the screen depicts a family crest—in this case, it depicts Raven.

How are these artworks similar? How are they different?
How are the materials the artists use different?
What could these continuities and departures tell us?

Formline by Steve Brown, courtesy of Sealaska Heritage.

Both Keet Shagoon and YéilX’eenh use formline design, a stylistic approach that serves as the foundation for designs by artists from central British Columbia to southeast Alaska. Objects like animals or people are depicted with one continuous outline, called a form line, and then filled with different shapes that represent anatomical details like eyes, wings and fins, thus creating positive and negative space within the delineated object.

Formline designs are typically made up of four basic shapes. See how many you can identify in both the contemporary artwork and the traditional artwork the next time you visit SAM.

Images: Keet Shagoon (Killer Whale), 2003, Preston Singletary. Fused and sand carved glass, 72 x 92 x 3/8 in., Purchased in honor of John H. Hauberg with funds from the Mark Tobey Estate Fund, John and Joyce Price, the Native American Art Support Fund, Don W. Axworthy, Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Marshall Hatch, C. Calvert Knudsen, Christine and Assen Nicolov, Charles and Gayle Pancerzewski, Sam and Gladys Rubinstein, SAM Docents, SAMS Supporters, Frederick and Susan Titcomb, and Virginia and Bagley Wright, 2003.12. © Preston Singletary. Yéil X’eenh (Raven Screen), ca. 1810, Native American, Kadyisdu.axch’, Tlingit, Kiks.adi clan. Spruce, paint, 105 3/4 x 129 in. Gift of John H. Hauberg, 79.98.

Wonder with Mann und Maus

I am concerned with the point where you start to wonder about the existence of things.

– Katharina Fritsch

The artist Katharina Fritsch creates sculptures of familiar objects but adjusts them through changes in scale and color. Looming over a sleeping man, the rat in Mann and Maus inspires many interpretations. Although the delicate figure is seemingly crushed under the giant rodent, the man appears to slumber soundly. In the 1980s and ‘90s a generation of German artists emerged who were deeply distrustful of dominant social and historic narratives and broke from the art movements that preceded them. Fritsch wields her dark strand of irony as a tool for critical commentary. Fritsch says this about her work: “The results are often jarring and may remind you of a dream or perhaps a nightmare.” 

Take some time to let your wonder wander as you listen to storyteller Jéhan Òsanyìn’s response to Mann and Maus above.

Now take a listen to Sylvia Fisher, SAM docent and former docent for The Wright Space, discuss her view on Jinny connecting audiences with art, both as a collector and a docent herself. Jinny collected contemporary works of her time that are often simultaneously complex and broadly appealing. Created in 1991–92, German artist Katharina Fritsch’s Mann und Maus combines the emotional response of animals with the psychological impact of larger-than-life scale, making it a popular artwork for audiences of all ages. In the photo above, her grandchildren admire the sculpture at The Wright Space.

The Wright Exhibition Space was a noncommercial gallery designed purely for the enjoyment of art that opened on Dexter Avenue in 1999. Jinny curated different thematic exhibitions and invited friends, family, and curators to organize shows, drawing on the holdings of their growing collection. Free to the public, it became a gathering space and a favorite place to mingle and discuss art.

We’re celebrating Jinny’s collection in City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped A New Seattle. The works in our galleries are a transformative gift for SAM and a foundation on which we will build. As we consider the pressing issues of our time, the museum envisions the city of our tomorrow with new collection priorities and artists that represent and reflect our broader community. Unfortunately, City of Tomorrow has to close before the museum will be able to open due to the recently updated WA State official public health restrictions on indoor gathering. We’re sad we won’t be able to share this stunning exhibition with you, but thanks to Jinny’s incredible generosity and legacy, visitors to SAM can see artworks like Mann und Maus on view as part of our collection. 

Credits: Mann und Maus, 1991-92, Katharina Fritsch. Polyester resin and paint, 90 1/2 x 51 1/2 x 94 1/2 in., Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.118. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Jinny’s grandchildren with Katharina Fritsch’s Mann und Maus, photo courtesy of Jan Day. Audio produced by Ambassador Stories, 2020 © Seattle Art Museum.

Collecting with Jinny Wright

Hear from Jinny Wright on how she came to own Mark Rothko’s #10, now in SAM’s collection and on view in City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art Shaped A New Seattle. #10 is an early characteristic abstract composition for Rothko and was of great significance to Jinny Wright, setting the tone, she said, for everything she subsequently acquired. The painting was exhibited at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, next door to where Jinny worked in the early 1950s, and she recalled being bowled over by it. Purchasing this artwork was a major milestone in Jinny’s collecting of contemporary art. Before she donated it to SAM in 1991 it hung in the Wright family’s dining room alongside Barnett Newman’s The Three, also on view in City of Tomorrow.

Unfortunately City of Tomorrow closes January 18 but thanks to the generosity and vision of Jinny Wright, all 64 works in this extraordinary exhibition will be on view at SAM in the future as part of our modern and contemporary collection. This is but a fraction of the many works that Jinny and her husband Bagley gifted to SAM over the years, leaving an undeniable mark on the cultural landscape of the entire Pacific Northwest. Tomorrow we will celebrate both the new year and the birthday of Jinny who passed on in February of 2020.

Audio: Unedited footage of Virginia and Bagley Wright: SAM 75th Anniversary, 2007 © Seattle Art Museum
Image: Photo of dining room with Rothko #10 in background, photo courtesy of Jan Day.

Rising Up with Daedalus

Listen in as DJ Riz Rollins discusses Daedalus/Upliftment by Fahamu Pecou. During SAM’s special exhibition, Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, the in-gallery audio tour featured Seattle area community members discussing works of art in SAM’s collections by Black artists.

In 2019 Rachel Kim, SAM’s Curatorial Intern unpacked this painting as part of our Object of the Week series. Kim writes: Daedalus/Upliftment alludes to the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus built wings of feathers and wax for himself and his son, Icarus, to escape their prison. Despite Daedalus’ warning, Icarus flew too close to the sun, melting the wax on the wings, falling and drowning in the ocean. Pecou reinterprets this classic tragedy and questions the actions of Daedalus as Icarus’ father. Daedalus/Uplifting provokes a meditation on paternalism and masculinity, in the artist’s own words, through “the breakdown of intergenerational communication and the emotional complexities within the Black male experience that trouble the desire and ability to take flight.”

We highly recommend following Pecou on Instagram to see more of this artist’s paintings and to hear directly from him on his work and current events.

Image: Daedalus/Upliftment, 2016, Fahamu Pecou, acrylic, gold leaf and spray paint on canvas, 84 × 48 in., Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.20 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

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.

New Views of Some/One

Now that the Asian Art Museum has expanded, we can fit this monumental sculpture by Do Ho Suh inside the galleries! Some/One is part of Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art and while the Asian Art Museum is temporarily closed we are taking you behind the scenes of installing this impressive and important artwork.

Some/One, 2001, represents artist Do Ho Suh’s interest in individual and collective identity. A minimalist sculpture, Do Ho Suh explores how art transforms public and private spaces through a painstaking amount of intricate detail that is not always apparent at first sight but is an integral part of the artwork. Some/One, as the title of the work indicates, juxtaposes the collective—represented by a larger-than-life armor sculpture—and the individual, consisting of life-size shiny-metal dog tags, each unique and representing a single soldier. This allegory is carried forward by contrasting the hard, insensitive character of armor with the delicate aspect of the dog tags, which are made up of thin sheets of metal and embody the poetic symbolism of fallen warriors.

While the Asian Art Museum was closed for renovation and expansion we reimagined the presentation of art to include community perspectives on art works. Below is a reflection on Some/One from artist HollyAnna CougarTracks DeCoteau Littlebull. You might remember her large-scale artwork on view at Arts at King Street Station as part of yəhaw̓. Check out some photos of Bigfoot, the artwork referenced in her statement.

The one thing that people of all races have in common is we have our protectors. My Crow family recognizes me as a warrior, because I used to be a police officer and got shot in the line of duty, and survived. We use either elk hide or buffalo to dress our warriors, which takes on a similar shape, and sometimes paint the rawhide side with the story of that veteran. It’s a way of them owning their story and being able to wear it with pride, but it also has the sad side to it too: the death, the destruction, the pain. With my contemporary artwork, Bigfoot, there are plastic toy natives next to the head, there’s one with the war bonnet on, and he’s representing the warriors in my family. It’s about dealing with the past, with assimilation, with boarding schools, with genocide. Bigfoot talks about the foundation and accepting your past even if it’s ugly. That’s what this artwork does here too. War is not pretty. 

– HollyAnna CougarTracks DeCoteau Littlebull, artist

We also include community voices on the free smartphone tour featuring artworks from SAM’s Asian art collection. Listen to musician Deems Tsutakawa discuss this artwork and how he relates to it in his own life.

We worked to represent a variety of voices in presenting Do Ho Suh’s Some/One because the sculpture is about both the individual and collective identities. One of these voices belongs to the artist. In an interview with Art21, artist Do Ho Suh talks about the dream that inspired Some/One.

“I saw this light in the stadium, and so I thought there’s some kind of activity going on. And as I approached the stadium… I walked slowly and went into the stadium on the ground level, and then I see this reflecting surface in the dream. And I realized I was stepping on these metal pieces that were the military dog tags. And it was slightly vibrating; the dog tags were touching each other, and the sound was from that. And from afar, I saw the central figure in the center of the stadium. I slowly proceeded to the center, and then I realized it was all one piece that gradually rose up and formed this one figure…. So, that was the dream and the image that I got. After that, I made a small drawing. The small drawing was about this vast field of military dog tags on the ground and then a small figure in the center…. That was the impact that I wanted to somehow convey through that piece.”

– Do Ho Suh, artist

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: Jueqian Fang
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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.
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