A Monumental Gift Goes On View: Inside Calder: In Motion at SAM

“How can art be realized? Out of volumes, motion, spaces bounded by the great space, the universe.”

– Alexander Calder

This November, SAM begins a long-term commitment to Alexander Calder, the American artist celebrated for revolutionizing sculpture with his renowned mobiles and stabiles. Earlier this year, SAM announced the incredible gift of more than 45 seminal Calder artworks by longtime supporters Jon and Kim Shirley. Their magnificent collection—one of the most important private holdings of Calder’s art—is the result of 35 years of thoughtful collecting. 

Now on view at SAM, Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection thematically highlights pieces from every decade of Calder’s career, dating from the 1920s to the 1970s. The exhibition also includes examples of Calder’s works on paper and an oil painting, among other media, representing the expansiveness of his oeuvre. Sections devoted to his artistic experimentation, natural forces and dynamics, and the artist’s lasting contribution to modern art are also featured.

“As truly serious art must follow the greater laws, and not only appearances, I try to put all the elements in motion in my mobile sculptures. It is a matter of harmonizing these movements, thus arriving at a new possibility of beauty.”

– Alexander Calder

To accentuate the artist’s exploration of height, scale, and movement, the exhibition is installed in the museum’s double-height galleries—a unique space for large-scale works with several overlooks from the floor above. The exhibition design captures a sense of movement, with an S-shaped, curved wall that wraps around the iconic 22-foot-tall sculpture Red Curly Tail (1970) and divides the galleries into a series of vignettes illuminating the exhibition’s themes and highlighting the lyricism of Calder’s creations.

Elsewhere on view are the oil painting The Yellow Disc (1958), a medium that Calder engaged with throughout his career but is not nearly as well known as his sculpture; Untitled (Métaboles) (1969), a mobile the artist created as part of a stage set for a ballet; and Fish (1942). The latter, a significant work from a rare series of mobiles created during and after World War II when metal was scarce, is made of wire framing and found materials.

The central gallery traces Calder’s career, highlighting his achievements across the miniature and the monumental. The expansive Toile d’araignée (1965), an airy, monochromatic mobile hovers over several artworks, including the masterful standing mobile Bougainvillier (1947).

“That others grasp what I have in mind seems unessential, at least as long as they have something else in theirs.”

– Alexander Calder

The final gallery considers the artist’s legacy, with works that demonstrate Calder’s accomplishments throughout his most productive decades and his impact on the evolution of modern art. It includes Untitled (1936), Little Yellow Panel (ca. 1936), Jonah and the Whale (ca. 1940), Untitled (ca. 1942), Constellation with Red Knife (1943), Yellow Stalk with Stone (1953), and Squarish (1970). This gallery also serves as a bridge into the museum’s modern and contemporary galleries.

The Shirley family’s generous gift will also inspire public programs exploring Calder’s artistic practice. Events are planned for both the Seattle Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park and will include talks, tours, performances, art-making workshops, and a family-friendly festival—stay tuned for more details!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

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

Image: Bougainvillier, 1947, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, sheet metal, rod, wire, lead, and paint, 78 x 82 x 54 in., Promised gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Nicholas Shirley.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Joe Max Emminger

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

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

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

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

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

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement

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

Artist Fulgencio Lazo’s Tapete Commemorates Migrant Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Chloe Collyer & Alborz Kamalizad.

Meet the 2023 Betty Bowen Award Winner: Tariqa Waters

The Seattle Art Museum and the Betty Bowen Committee are proud to announce Seattle artist Tariqa Waters as the winner of the 2023 Betty Bowen Award! The juried award comes with an unrestricted cash award of $15,000 and a solo exhibition at SAM. This year’s committee included Gary Glant (Chair), Mike Hess, Mark Levine, Sangram Majumdar, Catharina Manchanda, Llewelyn Pritchard, Greg Robinson, Norie Sato, Anthony White, and Merrill Wright.

Tariqa Waters’s innovative practice encompasses mixed-media tableaus, paintings, photographs, film, and immersive installations that push the aesthetics of commercial advertising into surreal, otherworldly territory. It is at the juncture with product advertising that Waters interrogates the importance of styling and beauty, especially its significance for Black women. Her work will be featured at the Seattle Art Museum in a solo exhibition in 2025, with dates to be announced.

Solo exhibitions of Waters’s work have been shown in Seattle at the Hedreen Gallery, the Northwest African American Museum, and the Museum of Museums (MoM). She has been awarded multiple prizes and grants, including the Conductive Garboil Grant, the Artist Trust Fellowship Award, the Neddy Artist Award, and the Artist Trust Arts Innovator Award. Waters is a two-time finalist for the Betty Bowen Award, winning the Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award in 2020 and the Gary Glant Special Recognition Award in 2021. She was named one of Seattle’s Most Influential People in 2023 by Seattle Magazine.

Samantha Wall won the Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award and Mary Ann Peters won the Gary Glant Special Recognition Award, in the amount of $2,500 each. Finalists Derek Franklin, Lisa Liedgren Alexandersson, and Ido (Lisa) Radon will each receive Special Commendation Awards in the amount of $1,250, awarded annually since 2020. The six finalists were chosen from a pool of 414 applicants from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho to compete for the $23,750 in awards.

Founded in 1977 to continue the legacy of local arts advocate and supporter Betty Bowen, the annual award honors a Northwest artist for their original, exceptional, and compelling work. Betty Bowen (1918–1977) was a Washington native and enthusiastic supporter of Northwest artists. Her friends established the annual Betty Bowen Award as a celebration of her life and to honor and continue her efforts to provide financial support to the artists of the region. Since 1977, SAM has hosted the yearly grant application process by which the selection committee chooses one artist from the Northwest to receive an unrestricted cash award, eligible to visual artists living and working in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

“This award serves as a testament to the countless hours, sleepless nights, and relentless dedication that I have poured into my craft,” says Waters. “It is a validation of the risks I have taken, the boundaries I have pushed, and the artistic growth I have experienced along the way. As an artist, it is not always easy to navigate the complexities of the creative process, but this recognition affirms that my work has resonated with others and has made a meaningful impact.”

The 2022 winner was Portland artist Elizabeth Malaska. Her solo exhibition, All Be Your Mirror, debuts at the Seattle Art Museum November 17, 2023–June 16, 2024. Learn more about Waters and all of the 2023 Betty Bowen finalists here.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Images: Tariqa Waters by Alex Cayley. Samantha Wall by Stephen Slappe. Mary Ann Peters by Amanda Smart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad & Chloe Collyer.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on Her New Book, Touching the Art

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the 2023 Betty Bowen Award Finalists

Every year, SAM and the Betty Bowen Committee, chaired by Gary Glant, give the Betty Bowen Award, a juried award that comes with an unrestricted cash award of $15,000 and a solo exhibition at SAM. The award was founded in 1977 to continue the legacy of local arts advocate and supporter Betty Bowen and honors a Northwest artist (from Washington, Oregon, or Idaho) for their original, exceptional, and compelling work. In addition, two Special Recognition Awards in the amount of $2,500 and three Special Commendation Awards in the amount of $1,250 will be awarded by the Betty Bowen Committee.

Recent winners include Elizabeth Malaska (2022; her solo show All Be Your Mirror is on view November 17, 2023–June 16, 2024),  Anthony White (2021), and Dawn Cerny (2020). On view in SAM’s galleries right now are works by past winners Natalie Ball (2018), Jack Daws (2015), and Marie Watt (2005). The connections between SAM and these exceptional artists from our region continue over the years. 

Today, we are announcing the six finalists of the 2023 award who were selected from a pool of 414 applicants. Stay tuned for the announcement of the winner on October 23!

Derek Franklin – Portland, Oregon

Derek Franklin is an artist, curator, and artistic director who utilizes painting and sculpture to investigate the ways in which one responds to violence inextricably woven into societal structures. Drawing from constructivist theatre design, Franklin conceptualizes the home as a kind of stage and centers his inquiry on the objects that bear witness to daily domestic rituals, such as eating or drinking. Activated by the audience’s presence, Franklin’s work asks viewers to engage in communal experiences of sadness, awkwardness, and humor.


Lisa Liedgren Alexandersson – Seattle, Washington

Lisa Liedgren Alexandersson’s current project explores the intersections of artistic hierarchy, labor, and skill through the process of creating cotton and linen woven works. These materials evoke the history of painting through both material and the notion of the grid, a key point of investigation for their work. Adapting 1960’s Swedish kitchen towel weaving instructions into new artistic works, Liedgren Alexandersson prods the dual status of textiles as domestic, utilitarian objects, and as demonstrations of skillful aesthetic exploration.


Mary Ann Peters – Seattle, Washington

As a second generation Arab-American, Mary Ann Peters’s work constructs an outline for cultural inquiry that employs history, architecture, science, and heritage to respond to undermined diasporic narratives. Peters filters a personal exploration of these themes through the concept of audience perception and the ethical considerations of artistic discourse. Peters challenges the concept of an image being neutral, instead focusing on visuals that coalesce and redefine contemporary topics.


Ido (Lisa) Radon – Portland, Oregon

Ido Radon’s mixed media and multi-sensorial work is guided by long-term interests in the ideological and material structures and processes that produce reality under the conditions of advanced capitalism. Radon interrogates the use of various technologies to mediate the abstractions of capitalism and counter-histories of revolutionary impulses. The rise of the personal computer and community computing provide a historical and cultural grounding through which Radon incarnates feminist theory and critical discourses in complex aestheticized forms. 


Samantha Wall – Portland, Oregon

Samantha Wall’s recent series, Beyond Bloodlines, pulls from Korean folklore and Euro-centric mythologies to expose the effects of alienation and exile within the diaspora. Delicately layered on Dura-lar, the symbolic form of the serpent woman represents the status of Otherness applied to women who deviate from narrow margins of social acceptance. Wall’s drawings navigate the artist’s identity as a Black Korean immigrant, and remodel pathways for Black American narratives of existence within the US. 


Tariqa Waters – Seattle, Washington

Tariqa Waters is a multimedia artist who invokes traditional pop aesthetics to mediate the co-opting of Black culture, and consumerism. Her immersive installations, video works, large-scale sculptures, and photographs utilize humor, satire, and spectacle to critique and defy expectations, incorporating intentional anachronisms that navigate ideas of femininity, gender, race, and beauty. By recalling memory, myth, and tall-tales, Waters lays bare the contradictions and dualities rooted in Americana aesthetics.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Images: Installation view of Grief is On My Calendar Everyday at 2:00 PM, 2023, Derek Franklin, mixed media, 110 x 216 x 192 in. © Derek Franklin. B-cognition, 2023, Lisa Liedgren Alexandersson, linen, cotton, and wood, 63 x 30 x 240 in. Photo: Musse Barclay, © Lisa Liedgren Alexandersson. impossible monument (the threads that bind), 2023, Mary Ann Peters, silk, silk thread, silk waste, silk pods, glycerin, wood, and water, 84 x 60 x 144 in., © Mary Ann Peters. Sail or Temporary composition of a specter of a world, 2023, Ido Radon,, mixed media, 138 x 47 x 2 in. © Ido Radon. Becoming, 2023, Samantha Wall, conté crayon and ink on Dura-Lar, 80 x 80 in., © Samantha Wall. Pink Ball Barrette, 2022, Tariqa Waters, blown glass, 9 x 9 x 9 in. © Tariqa Waters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: L. Fried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Doreen Chen, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Curation

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Renegade Edo and Paris: A Tale of Two Cities

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

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

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

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

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Dr. Gregory Levine on the Unusual Buddha in California’s Redwood Forest

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Dr. Gregory Levine, a professor in the history of art at UC Berkeley, California, kicks off the series on Saturday, September 9 with a discussion about a peculiar Buddhist sculpture in the Bay Area forests. SAM spoke with Levine about Buddhist visual cultures, investigating archival discoveries, and the emergent field of arboreal humanities.


A man smiling against a background of green leaves

SAM: What can we expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture?

GREGORY LEVINE: A decade or so ago, I came across a black-and-white photograph of a quite peculiar and large statue of a Buddha preserved in the Bancroft Archive at the University of California, Berkeley. The photograph is startling. It shows this statue——constructed in the late 19th century by a group of American, self-styled “renegades”—in a North American old growth forest but without surrounding architecture. Who would think, right? The photograph was taken not far from Berkeley, across the San Francisco Bay. What’s going on in this photograph, I wondered, what’s the story here? Who made this statue, why, and—since it is not immediately recognizable in the Bay Area today—what’s become of it? How does this statue’s particular story, as we recover it today, inform the sorts of stories (art historical, historical, religious, and social) we tell about Buddhism and Buddhist visual cultures, be they stories told in religious spaces, museums, domestic, online, or retail spaces? What happens when some of these stories are more complicated than they seem—not simply fascinating but troubling? How do we respond in ways that acknowledge the different pasts and presents of art and visual culture, and imagine and work towards just and inclusive futures?

SAM: It sounds like we’ll learn and also leave with many fascinating questions to ponder. My next question: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture topic that you could share with us?

GL: I came across this photograph not by chance but by casting out my search net widely for images of Buddhist sculpture preserved in the University of California’s digital collections and un-digitized archives (and elsewhere). I didn’t have to travel far to see some of the actual materials firsthand; the Bancroft Archive resides in the building adjacent to where my faculty office is located. The archive included other images of Bay Area Buddhas, but for this particular statue in the forest, I found myself on the road traveling across the Richmond Bridge to Marin County, to Muir Woods National Monument, and into fascinating conversations with rangers, archaeologists, and others at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Additionally, I managed to gain access to the archive and photographs of the San Francisco Bohemian Club, which “thickened the plot” in more ways than one. 

I learned a great deal as well from my often naive conversations with forest ecologists and Native American scholars—and doing so, I got a sense of the multiple histories that entangled and continue to entangle this peculiar statue and its forest (a homeland), and of the need to critically engage those different histories together in a practice of art historical ethics and care. As this also suggests, this was a “travel experience” that took me rather far from my previous research and into less/unfamiliar disciplines and knowledge systems—I count this distance covered (and more to go) as a gift, a chance to (re)shape my own learning and to acknowledge others in their expertise, communities, and commitments.

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

GL: I am obviously drawn to the museum’s works of Japanese Buddhist wood sculpture, and of particular interest to this talk—in terms of iconography and form, to some extent—is the 18th-century statue of the Buddha Amida and the 12th-century Amida. The trick, however, is to view the museum’s statues in a kind of dialogue with the statue I present in the talk—not to somehow fully reconcile the two but to explore how visual forms proliferate, and may alter, slip (up), as they move across cultures and historical, social, and visual spaces, for various reasons and to various implication (take Sherrie Levine’s Fountain II (Buddha), for example.

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

GL: One book only? Argh…that’s a tough one! Given the modern context of the topic and its convergence of Buddhism, modernity, and North America, I’d suggest (and admittedly the following are academic books): David McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism (2008). If I can sneak in two other titles, they’d be: Joanna Levin, Bohemia in America, 1858-1920 (2010) and Jane Iwamura, Virtual Orientalism: American Religious and American Popular Culture (2010).

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

GL: It’s more a matter of what I haven’t mentioned. This talk is part of my effort to explore environmental humanities, and in particular to try to shape what I’ve come to think of as arboreal humanities. Doing so with specific attention to visual representation—how the visual arts in particular (historically, culturally, expressively, and politically diverse), are not only materially and ecologically interrelated in a simple sense with the “natural world” but are vitally important to how we understand, feel, and act, and what we value in our human and more-than-human differences and interdependent being. 

Of course there is now an immense amount of vitally important (and diverse) writing on ecological interrelation as engaged in the humanities and social sciences, multi-species theory and legal frameworks, environmental justice—writing that is scientific, Indigenous, anti-capitalist, philosophical, literary, in public health, archival as well as activist, etc. etc.…—and situated into what one writer recently termed our planetary ecological derangement (aka the Anthropocene or, for some, the Capitalocene). How do those of us who focus our interests, attention, expertise on the visual arts bring these conversations into our sensory, aesthetic, and cultural experiences and our critical and ethical engagements with the arts and visual worlds and their makers/communities? What are the overlooked as well as emergent and possible visual worlds that we as artists, viewers, critics, historians, curators, educators, and beyond can elevate or envision that will act directly and with care towards each other, human and more-than-human?

– Jason Porter, Kayla Skinner Deputy Director of Education and Public Engagement

Photo: Gregory Levine, Courtesy Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

Endless Possibilities in the Art World: Emerging Arts Leader Samantha Companatico Reflects

Originally from Rhode Island, I spent countless hours roaming the galleries and storied halls of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), soaking in all of the art, and hearing new concepts. I wondered if one day I would be someone whose artwork would be up on those walls. I thought about how I could be a part of creating these special places for others. From there, I attended the San Francisco Art Institute where I obtained my BFA in Printmaking and was selected for the Arion Press Bookbinding Apprenticeship. I recently moved to Seattle for this internship from Portland, Oregon where I was the recipient of the Undergrowth Educational Print Fund, a studio scholarship program at Mullowney Printing Company. I had the opportunity to work closely with several well established artists over the course of both these apprenticeships such as Enrique Chagoya, Marie Watt, Jeffrey Gibson, and Kara Walker. As I move forward in my career, I am eager to find ways to incorporate myself into the local book and print arts community in Seattle.

Admittedly, I felt scared and scattered during my first few weeks at SAM, trying to find my place while putting my best foot forward. When I was first asked to consider the personal and professional goals I hoped to achieve, I only had questions for myself about what I wanted to do and about what I wanted to try next. Is working in a museum for me? Is conservation something I want to pursue further? Do I want to or need to go back to school? These questions shaped my conversations at SAM, and I am so thankful for the support from the conservation department as I confronted these uncertainties. 

While at SAM, I learned about the education and career paths of other conservators and museum professionals. It was eye-opening to see how conservators at SAM build connections and community with other artists and academics. As I focused on conservation writing and object preparation for future gallery rotations, I am now more excited than ever to take my newfound skills into my future endeavors in the art world, whatever they might be.

I believe the path to a better world is through respect for art, the skill of craft, an understanding of people, and a recognition that art has a powerful role to play in supporting a hopeful transformation of the world. The ways in which I see SAM aiming for equity within the entire organization has been inspiring. To have this symbiotic relationship between my personal artwork, my passion for historical objects, and my political convictions is why I continue my work in uncovering hidden histories and sharing my knowledge with others.

It’s bittersweet as my Emerging Arts Leader Internship comes to a close. My experience at SAM has been nothing short of life-changing and my work with the conservation team has been a dream come true. I will always look back on this experience and my time with Geneva, Liz, Nick, and fellow intern Caitlyn fondly. I hope one day again I might have the chance to color match tissue to an object for repair, attempt to reattach a broken handle on a cedar bark purse again, or write one last condition report. I will forever cherish being able to work so closely with objects from around the world. Forming such a personal relationship with the art that I grew up enamored by and considering it in a completely different way has been one of the greatest learning experiences I could have ever hoped for.

– Samantha Companatico, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Conservation

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Making History: Meet Tanya Uyeda, SAM’s Inaugural Senior East Asian Paintings Conservator

This spring, Tanya Uyeda joined SAM as the museum’s inaugural Senior East Asian Paintings Conservator. A leader in conservation practice, education, and research, Tanya assumes responsibility for the care of SAM’s East Asian painting collection, focusing on conservation treatments and sourcing the necessary specialized materials and tools. 

Her appointment also marked the start of regular activity in the landmark Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Conservation Center, which opened as part of the renovated and expanded Seattle Asian Art Museum in February 2020. The center is one of only a handful of museum studios nationwide dedicated to the comprehensive treatment of East Asian paintings, and the only studio of this type in the western US.

Tanya comes to SAM with over 28 years of experience in art conservation, including over 20 years as a conservator of Japanese paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Born in Eugene, Oregon, Tanya received a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies: Japanese Language and History from Oberlin College and earned a Master’s Degree in Preservation of Cultural Properties from Tokyo University of the Arts. She also trained at an elite painting conservation studio in Tokyo. She is one of only four American conservators of a similar background working in a US institution, as there are no conservation training programs for East Asian paintings outside of Asia.

Just a few months into her tenure at SAM, Marketing Content Creator Lily Hansen spoke with Tanya about her short- and long-term goals, what members can expect in her upcoming Up Close With Conservators talk this fall, how she’s adjusting to Seattle, and more.


LILY HANSEN: Welcome to SAM! After spending more than 20 years in Boston, how are you adjusting to Seattle?

TANYA UYEDA: It seems I arrived in Seattle at the best time of year—I’ve really been enjoying this spectacular summer weather! I’ve settled into a home in the Ballard neighborhood and have been getting it ready in anticipation of my family relocating from Boston later this fall. It’s been so nice to explore the Ballard Farmers Market every Sunday and recently took a weekend jaunt over to Bainbridge Island. I also have extended family in the area, and it has been lovely to be able to reconnect with many of them.

LH: How does it feel to be named SAM’s inaugural Senior East Asian Paintings Conservator?

TU: I feel very honored to be chosen for this important new position. Before arriving at SAM, I worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which houses one of the most important and comprehensive collections of Japanese art in the US. Most of my work on the Japanese painting collection supported large-scale touring exhibitions that were shown primarily in Japan. 

I am looking forward to continuing this work at the Seattle Asian Art Museum and contributing to the preservation of, and scholarship on, the museum’s East Asian painting collection. I can’t wait to share my insights with members and visitors alike, and to support the care and appreciation of these important artworks throughout the entire Western Pacific region.

LH: What are a few of the goals you set for yourself in taking on this position?

TU: Since assuming my role, my immediate focus has been setting up the Tateuchi Conservation Center as a fully functioning conservation studio. The renovation of the Seattle Asian Art Museum included the creation of this beautiful new workspace, necessary infrastructure such as work tables, sinks, light tables, and fume hoods. The tatami mat flooring and low work tables are what you would see in a traditional Japanese scroll mounting studio, and is what I am accustomed to from my training.

In addition to the basic conservation equipment, East Asian paintings require highly specialized (and expensive!) materials and tools, such as handmade paper, woven textiles, decorative fittings, and various types of brushes, adhesives, pigments, and dyestuffs. Many of these necessary items are imported directly from Japan and China, and are becoming increasingly difficult to source due to the aging out of the artisans that produce them and a lack of younger craftsmen to replace them.

For example, there is a type of paper called “misu-gami” that is produced in the Yoshino region of Japan and provides the flexible inner structure of Japanese hanging scrolls. However, there is now only one papermaker producing it. I will be relying on the generous cooperation of conservation colleagues in Japan and the US, as well as suppliers and craftspeople, to support me as I work to outfit the Tateuchi Conservation Center and carry out the treatments we intend to complete.

LH: The Emerging Arts Leader Internship Program is an integral part of SAM’s mission to connect art to life. This summer, you welcomed Alexa Machnik as your first Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Conservation. What has it been like working with Alexa? Do you intend to take on more interns in the future?

TU: I was very fortunate to meet Alexa and convince her to spend the summer with me in Seattle before she begins a fellowship with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this fall. As a Mellon Foundation Fellow at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University and a fourth-year student in the university’s MA/MS program in art history and conservation, she also has extensive working experience at institutions such as the Yale University library and Metropolitan Museum in New York.

The primary focus of Alexa’s internship has been to work alongside me in building eight new karibari, or drying boards, for the studio. These boards are an essential component of every East Asian painting conservation and mounting studio. They consist of a wooden lattice undercore and feature up to 11 layers of handmade paper pasted in specific configurations on either side to provide a sturdy and breathable, yet lightweight surface for stretch drying and flattening artworks during treatment. It is a time consuming and physically demanding task, and I am grateful to have Alexa’s assistance! Building the boards is also excellent training in the use of brushes and knives, different thicknesses of paste, and the preparation of various types of handmade paper. She is also helping me process an important series of artworks gifted to SAM at the bequest of longtime benefactor, the late Frank Bayley III, as well as designing  new display apparatus for upcoming gallery rotations at the museum.

My hope is that the Tateuchi Conservation Center will serve as a training resource for future conservators of Asian art, as coursework in East Asian painting conservation is not an area of study offered in North American or European graduate conservation programs. Training in this field is still largely apprenticeship-based, taking place in private studios across Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. As a result of their unusual formats, Asian paintings require dexterity, specialized tools, refined aesthetic sensibilities, and linguistic, cultural, and historical knowledge. In the US, the field tends to attract students with a background or interest in paper conservation. These include so-called pre-program students (those seeking admittance to North American conservation programs) or recent graduates from these same programs. Occasionally, students with academic or practical training from Asia are considered as well. 

LH: This fall, SAM will launch Up Close with Conservators, a members-only lecture series offering an in-depth look at the conservation work taking place at the museum. For the inaugural lecture, you’ll be in conversation with SAM’s Jane Lang Davis Chief Conservator Nick Dorman. What can SAM members expect to hear in your discussion with Nick?

TU: Up Close with Conservators is an exciting opportunity to highlight the individuals who make up SAM’s conservation team and to share the details of our work with the public. We chose to title the series “Up Close” because much of our work begins with a close examination of the objects. We look forward to educating members on the works of art in our care, sharing our discoveries, explaining how we assist the museum’s curators in interpreting the artistic intent of each artwork’s creator, and articulating how best to handle, store, and preserve art for future generations. 

In our lecture, Nick and I will discuss the museum’s long journey to establish the Tateuchi Conservation Center at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and what the role of this new resource will be for the understanding and preservation of the important East Asian collections in the West Coast region. I will also be giving a brief overview of the kind of work that will take place in the studio, and what conservation of East Asian paintings looks like. It will be my first opportunity to speak to SAM’s members and is sure to be a engaging conversation.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

SAM Announces Kim Rorschach as Interim Director and CEO 

Two weeks ago, we shared the news that Amada Cruz is stepping down after serving as SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO for the past four years. Today, we are pleased to announce that former director Kimerly Rorschach has agreed to serve as SAM’s interim director and CEO. Rorschach retired in September 2019 after seven years of leadership at SAM as the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. Rorschach will begin in early September, allowing overlap time with Cruz prior to her departure in early October, to ensure a seamless transition. 

“We are delighted to welcome Kim back to SAM, a place she loves and led with great vision and care,” says Constance Rice, Chair of the Board. “The museum flourished under her leadership, and we are grateful that she will bring her deep knowledge of SAM and her many relationships with trustees, donors, staff, and larger arts community to bear in this moment.” 

Kim is a highly regarded leader with 25 years of experience as a museum director. During her tenure at SAM, Rorschach planned and oversaw an extensive renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum, a project that brought SAM’s 1933 historic Volunteer Park building up to 21st-century structural and environmental standards and reimagined the presentation of its celebrated Asian art collection. She led a successful $150 million fundraising campaign for SAM, which included $50 million for the Seattle Asian Art Museum project. She also launched DEI initiatives at the museum and diversified the exhibition and acquisition programs. Exhibitions devoted to Kehinde Wiley and Yayoi Kusama, among others, attracted broad new audiences to the museum. 

Welcome back, Kim!

Finding Where I Belong: Emerging Arts Leader Brie Silva Reflects

When I first applied to SAM as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern, I felt lost. Having moved here from California just a few years before, I felt lost in Seattle and lost as a recent graduate of the University of Washington’s Certificate Program in Museum Studies trying to figure out how to navigate the job market in this new world affected by COVID-19. I needed a way to break back into the museum scene after its brief lapse following museum closures, and in doing so I wanted to experience a new field as I explored Seattle’s arts scene for the first time.

I saw SAM’s internship posting while scouring museum websites and online job boards, and was intrigued by how this opportunity stressed the importance of achieving a thorough understanding of the many roles available within a museum setting and how they all connect. I had never previously worked in a larger museum setting—most of my experience in San Francisco had been with organizations made up to fifteen people—and was excited to learn how a museum of much larger size functioned on a daily basis.

In applying for an Emerging Arts Leader internship at SAM, I wasn’t sure which department I would be best suited for. I wanted to experience a part of museums I had not yet before, and was aided by those I interviewed with on which department that may be. Eventually, we landed on the Development team. This department is composed of several different roles that all aim to bring in additional revenue and maintain funding. I worked most closely with Sarah Michael, SAM Director of Institutional Giving.

In the galleries I had previously worked in, the Development team was be made up of one or two individuals who oversaw all donor, sponsor, and member relationships. But in an organization as large as SAM where the collection, space, and scope of everything is nearly quadrupled, ‘institutional giving’ has an entirely different meaning.

In addition to the work I was doing as part of the Development team—prospecting new potential corporate members, contemporary art funders, and other exhibition or event specific sponsors; creating sponsor reports to be sent out to already existing partners of the museum; working in Tessitura and Raiser’s Edge and learning how to navigate other related sites and programs—my internship included a few other elements that provided the well-rounded experience I was originally searching for. I had the opportunity to meet with, and interview, many amazing staff members occupying a variety of roles across multiple departments within the museum—some of which I had never even considered pursuing. Interns were also tasked with giving a gallery presentation towards the end of our 11 week program. For this project, I picked two ceramic works on view in Pacific Species to research and study, then connected museum staff to help me structure a comprehensive 20–30 minute long presentation in the galleries.

Through this variety of separate tasks and opportunities, I felt connected to the museum as a whole and the many teams that work together to make it function. I was introduced to so many people who had experienced that same overwhelming feeling of finding your place in the arts world, whether they had years’ worth of experience or not, and learned of many new positions that weren’t covered in the many articles, papers, and textbooks I had read in school.

There were times during my internship that I still felt a little lost—wondering what I was going to do after it was finished and how I was going to make the transition from part time internship to full time employment—but I no longer felt alone. I had others with me who knew exactly what I was going through because they had been there too. Now, my uncertainty no longer feels scary, it feels exciting.

This experience has reawakened my love for museums and reminded me why I decided to pursue a career in this industry. As I move forward in my career, I will remember my time at SAM fondly as the experience that got me back on track to an exciting future in museums. I am incredibly thankful to SAM for this opportunity and everyone that I met along the way.

– Brie Silva, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Development

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Elizabeth Gahan

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

In the heart of Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood sits artist Elizabeth Gahan’s intimate art studio. There, hyper-saturated paintings of layered natural and built environments line the white walls. With translucent and fluid colors, crisp architectural lines, and dense textures of organic forms, Gahan’s paintings display the delicate relationship between cities and neighborhoods as ecosystems and the balance they need to thrive.

Gahan’s works are a puzzle as she develops the foreground and background separately before mashing them together. In the background, each work begins with recognizable urban imagery. To Gahan, these images serve as “a jumping off point for a creative conversation.” The images are then edited and manipulated through layers of artistic elements that effortlessly illustrate the intricacies of our natural environments. At this stage, the works look fluid and ephemeral, composed of bubbles that she said, “act as the first domino, impacting the rest of the painting.”

From these beautifully imagined atmospheric forms, Gahan adds the foreground: architectural elements drawn from existing environments. In her most recent series, the structural forms are inspired by buildings found in the Bay Area and Seattle. These added elements are familiar with their simplistic building block forms and clear lines that emphasize the geometry found in both nature and human-designed architecture. Plants, trees, and organic forms are layered atop these structures in a variety of media and textures, including acrylic gel and enamel.

When we stopped by her Georgetown studio for a visit in June, Gahan was in the process of experimenting with spray paint, an artistic medium new to the artist. This additional layer, she explained, serves to further blur the distinction between the natural and built environments emphasized across all of her paintings. No matter how many layers Gahan chooses to incorporate in a work, the final result always makes clear the interconnected nature of our urban ecosystems.

View a few of Elizabeth Gahan’s available artworks now on SAM Gallery’s featured sliding wall or online. Stay up to date on the artist’s upcoming projects at SAM Gallery—including an October 2023 exhibition featuring all new works—by following gallery manager Erik Bennion on Instagram at @atSAMGallery.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

SAM Leadership Update: Thank You, Amada

With deep gratitude and sincere appreciation, we bid farewell to Amada Cruz, SAM Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, after four years of leadership at the museum. 

Amada joined SAM in September 2019 and led the museum through what may be one of the most challenging periods in its 90 year history: the global COVID-19 pandemic and sudden closure of its three sites. Thanks to her tenacious leadership throughout this time the museum prioritized supporting its staff and created online experiences for the communities it serves to continue to engage with the museum. As the pandemic abated, her focus shifted to carefully reopen its sites to the public while maximizing the safety of both staff and visitors. SAM came through it stronger, with steady financial recovery, the return of audiences to its galleries and programs, and a renewed commitment to its mission to connect art to life.

Although the global pandemic was the undercurrent during much of Amada’s time at SAM, it did not define her tenure. During these unprecedented and complicated times, her achievements have been many. Under her leadership the museum ushered in many significant new initiatives and reached milestone moments including:  

  • In July 2020, the museum created a board-staff Equity Task Force to respond to the urgency of the moment and align around support for Black lives. This task force worked to establish a set of priorities across all departments and build a roadmap for the museum to be more equitable, diverse, and inclusive museum. In 2021, that task force became a board committee to shepherd these ongoing efforts. 
  • In August 2020, SAM’s first-ever Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion was identified. This executive role shapes the museum’s priorities, partnerships, communications strategies, and audience-engagement efforts to move SAM towards a more equitable future. 
  • SAM’s acquisitions strategy brought in even more works by Black, Indigenous, and artists of color as well as women into its global collection.
  • The transformation of SAM’s American art galleries, funded primarily by a $1 million grant from The Mellon Foundation. An unprecedented collaboration among SAM curators and staff, artists, and advisors from the Seattle community, the project deepened the museum’s commitment to inclusive exhibition-planning practices and debuted as American Art: The Stories We Carry in October 2022.
  • Two major collections of modern art and supporting funds came to the museum, transforming its already stellar holdings of modern art:
    • The Friday Foundation, celebrating the legacy of Seattle philanthropists and collectors Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis, gave 19 iconic works of Abstract Expressionist paintings and sculptures in 2021 as well as a total of $14.5 million to support various museum initiatives over the course of 2020-2021. The works went on view in 2021. The gift included the creation of The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global Contemporary Art.
    • And in April 2023, a gift of 48 major works by Alexander Calder was made by longtime museum supporters Jon and Kim Shirley. The gift of the Shirley Family Calder Collection is supported by a $10 million endowment and an annual financial commitment from the Shirley’s to support Calder-related exhibitions and research. The works will debut in November 2023 in Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection.

“The Board of Trustees want to express our sincere gratitude to Amada for her leadership at SAM,” says Board Chair Constance Rice. “Amada’s achievements have been many. In addition to steering SAM successfully through a global pandemic, the museum came through even stronger with spectacular exhibitions, landmark gifts of art and funding, and an expanded commitment to equity across the museum. SAM faces a bright future thanks to her leadership during these immensely difficult times.” 

This fall, Amada takes the helm at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) as the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Director and CEO where we know she will bring the same dedication and vision to SBMA that she did during her time at SAM. 

Amada will continue at SAM in her current role through the first week of October providing museum leadership the time and opportunity to collaborate on a smooth transition plan. 

Thank you, Amada, for your steadfast leadership of SAM the past four years. You are leaving SAM well positioned for a bright future. We wish you much success and fulfillment in Santa Barbara and know you will take SBMA to new heights like you did SAM. 

… you will be missed!

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

TAGZEEN: Teen Leaders Reflect on Their Year at SAM

Founded in 2007, the Seattle Art Museum’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive internship program designed to cultivate the voices of diverse high school-aged youth who share a passion for the power of art and building community. TAG members meet monthly between October and May to learn about the many unseen sides of an art museum, develop leadership skills, plan Teen Night Out, and create their own art in new and familiar mediums.

As part of TAG, members are expected to complete a year-long project emphasizing the creation, curation, or discussion of art. While some TAG members opted to collaborate on Home Is Where the Heart Is, a teen art exhibition currently on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, three of the teens—Lila, Cris, and Smriti—decided to team up to create a zine they titled TAGZEEN.

Inspired by the community they call home, these adventurous teens set out across Seattle to highlight sights, food, and fashion that any teen can enjoy! Together, they left no stone unturned, exploring new and known Seattle staples; swimming through seas of people, petals, and felines; and examining teen fashion trends and their historic parallels.

Browse the zine below and be sure to check out a few of the sights and scenes the TAG teens recommend!

– Cristina Cano-Calhoun, SAM Museum Educator for Youth Programs

Photo: Chloe Collyer.

The Importance of Preventative Care: Emerging Arts Leader Jennifer Beetem Reflects

Over the decade between my very first lab tour at the Seattle Art Museum and my SAM Emerging Arts Leader Internship in Conservation, I learned that the scope within which conservators work is much larger than the lab. My earlier internships took place in private practice home studios, on-site projects, and archaeological fieldwork. During my EAL internship, I did numerous preventive conservation projects in collections spaces, shared workspaces, and the galleries. As SAM’s first IAIA Collections Care Intern, I am excited to share about the IAIA and the projects I’ve worked on! 

The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) is an intertribal college in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As a non-Native conservator whose work intersects with collected Indigenous objects, I enrolled in its museum studies online certificate program to study museum history and contemporary practices. Over the past two years, I participated in class discussions and learned from stellar professors on the best practices in navigating collections and curatorial work. This last semester I successfully hustled for an in-person internship for credit with SAM Senior Collections Care Manager Marta Pinto-Llorca.

Preventive conservation is like preventive medicine: appropriate and timely care intended to slow deterioration. This includes monitoring objects’ condition, using safe storage and display materials, managing indoor climates, emergency planning, surface cleaning, and pest management. Preventive care review included shadowing SAM Collections Care Associate Vaughn Meekins on his weekly gallery cleaning rounds. 

Here is a glimpse of the preventive care that was completed for Marie Watt’s sculpture Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations. Before installation in American Art: The Stories We Carry, conservation workers treated the wool blankets to prevent introducing invisible pest activity into the gallery. Vaughn Meekins, SAM Collections Technician Ignacio Lopez, and I spent many hours non-contact vacuuming both sides of each blanket, refolding, then sealing batches in plastic to freeze for a week. 

On my days at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, I supported periodic gallery rotations of scroll paintings and textiles. Marta trained me to handle boxed scrolls and to safely unbox, unroll, roll, and box Japanese hanging scrolls. SAM Senior East Asian Paintings Conservator Tanya Uyeda taught me specific terms related to Japanese scroll paintings which added to my vocabulary for condition reporting paper and textiles. 

Over many downtown work sessions, I condition mapped William Cordova’s massive mixed-media assemblage Untitled (Cosmos). Cordova intentionally applied dust, unstable collage adhesives, and non-archival tape in his artwork, so it was important to create a detailed condition map before going on view later this year. To mitigate risks during installation and display, I gently tested delaminating collage papers with an air puffer and collected runaway pieces in labeled bags.

Working with invisible disabilities is tough and I’m grateful to my community for sharing collective ambition to build a culture of caregiving: for people and for art. Thank you to SAM for giving me the space to cook up my first public education session! For my EAL intern gallery talk, I introduced the subject of preventive conservation to colleagues and visitors alike, and pantomimed how to dust frames, objects, and casework. I loved fielding questions and teaching skills people can use to care for art in their own homes!

– Jennifer Beetem, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Conservation

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad & Marta Pinto-Llorca.

Pride Month: The Fleet’s In and Queer Art at SAM

This July marks my one-year anniversary at SAM and June was my first Pride in Seattle. I even had the honor of walking the parade with the city’s Consulate of Mexico. As a gay professional of Mexican descent, this is all a big deal for me!

In my role as the museum’s deputy director for art, I work among so much art, and every day I’m actively discovering captivating items within the SAM collection. Thinking about LGBTQ+ artists, I was surprised to learn that the collection has a print of The Fleet’s In (1934) by gay artist Paul Cadmus. He created this work on paper in response to the censorship of his painting of the same subject. In it, a raucous group of sailors enjoy shore leave while in Manhattan. The original painting, commissioned through the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) during the Great Depression, caused quite a stir in its day. So much so that it was removed from view for what Naval officers and critics considered “outrageous” for the behavior depicted in the work: the figures, many from the LGBTQ+ community, merrymaking with the featured service men. A queer celebration appropriate for Pride Month! The original painting is part of the Met’s collection, and you can learn more about it here.

To this day, the painting has had limited exposure but it is well known within queer art history. The print version, like the one in SAM’s collection, is important because it was intentionally created by Cadmus in an act of rebellion to disseminate the image and prevent its censorship. He would even credit the uproar with making his work more well known during his life. The work may have garnered a negative response, but the image itself carries gay culture, much of it coded and strategically placed by Cadmus, during a period when homosexuality was illegal. The print at SAM is interesting because it was gifted to the collection in 1944 by the founder of our museum, Dr. Richard Fuller. Could he have known about its notoriety and importance before gifting it to the museum? To more surprise, we also have a 1937 photographed portrait of Cadmus by Carl Van Vechten in the museum collection.

Reflecting on the collection during Pride Month, I sought other queerness currently on view in SAM’s galleries and by gay artists. Pop artist Andy Warhol has a strong presence in the museum; he even came to the museum for a solo exhibition in 1976. His large painting of the musician Elvis Presley as a young gunslinger heartthrob immortalized in silver is not only a reference to the future but to the reflective aesthetic of his famed studio the Silver Factory. It was an inclusive space for its day and a beacon for anyone who felt different, including members of the LGBTQ+ community. Some individuals who stood out even took on a role as  “Superstar” of the Factory for their beauty, personality, or talent. While Warhol’s universe tended to focus around himself, his impact on popular culture included making queerness more visual, and many artists today follow in his footsteps.  

Everywhere you turn, the museum also has a younger generation of queer artists on view: Mickalene Thomas’s large bedazzled painting, Chicano artist Laura Aguilar’s evocative and haunting black-and-white photography, Native American multidisciplinary artist Jeffrey Gibson’s beaded punching bag with the phrase “If I Ruled the World” in colorful plastic beadwork, Jacolby Satterwhite’s projected video work about his mother and Ballroom culture, Kehinde Wiley’s portrait featuring a Black subject in a classical style and Nick Cave’s maximalist soundsuit. There’s a recent acquisition by Naama Tsabar, an Israeli artist (and friend) whose practice includes intimacy and contact through the tactile materials that she uses, sculptures she builds, and evocative sonic performances. In my previous role at The Andy Warhol Museum, I hosted a performance of hers in conjunction with the exhibition Fantasy America. Titled Stranger, it comprised a double-sided guitar and two nearly physically identical women (the artist and Kristin Mueller) struggling through a non-verbal but acoustic conversation. Many of these artists I have followed for years and have even met. Having them in the collection is so inspiring and special for Seattle.    

Although marginalized peoples enjoy this honorary month of acknowledgement, the support in this city is ongoing and Pride Month felt the most festive during a time of nationwide hate and oppression against LGBTQ+ people. In addition, I’ve met so many people, including colleagues at SAM, who are also part of the community or dedicated allies. We work across many departments in the museum and it’s clear we really care about the community in Seattle. Pride Month has passed, but the visibility and support of LGBTQ+ artists has and will continue at SAM.

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

Photos: The Fleet’s In, 1934, Paul Cadmus, American, 1904-1999, print, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.229. © Estate of Paul Cadmus. Paul Cadmus, 1937, gelatin silver print, 10 x 7 5/8 in. (25.4 x 19.4 cm), Mary Arrington Small Estate Acquisition Fund and Photography Purchase Fund in honor of Cheryl Ann Christie, 98.87. © Estate of Paul Cadmus.

 

Shawna Bliss Celebrates 24 Years of Service at SAM

Earlier this year, volunteers across all the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and Olympic Sculpture Park came together to celebrate another incredible year of service at SAM. Hosted by the Seattle Art Museum Volunteers Association Advisory Committee (SAMVA-AC), the 2023 Volunteer Soirée honored the landmark accomplishments of some of SAM’s longest-serving volunteers.

Of the many awards handed out that evening, none were as significant and surprise-filled as the Dorothy C. Malone Award. Established by the SAM Board of Trustees in 1989, the award is given to an exceptional volunteer who exemplifies the highest standard of dedication and service to the museum.

Dorothy “Dottie” C. Malone is a significant part of SAM’s history, having invested 63 years in the museum as a staff member and volunteer. She treated the museum as her family, taking a warm and personal interest in the staff, volunteers, and operations of the museum. She cared deeply and held the museum to a high standard of excellence. Her concern for volunteers, which she called “the backbone of the museum,” combined with her own dedication and commitment, inspired the Board of Trustees to establish this award in her name.

This year’s recipient of the Dorothy C. Malone Lifetime Achievement Volunteer Award is Shawna Bliss. A volunteer for over 24 years, Shawna currently volunteers in our docent program and has consistently contributed to the development of gallery learning across all three SAM locations. Born and raised in West Seattle, Shawna is the oldest of five siblings and discovered a passion for education at a young age. She received her bachelor’s degree in education and psychology from the University of Washington and completed her master’s in education at the University of Utah.

The following years saw Shawna traveling with her husband, Don, throughout the United States and Australia before settling into a long term home in Bremerton to raise their family. For many years, Shawna commuted from Bremerton to Seattle to volunteer at SAM, becoming one of the museum’s most prominent supporters. Family gifts often included museum memberships, invitations to view exhibitions and programs, and one-of-a-kind items from SAM Shop. She encouraged her siblings and children to visit SAM and often brought her parents downtown to explore the museum’s galleries.

Following our celebration of Shawna and her continued contributions to SAM, we asked her about her time at SAM and any advice she’d offer prospective volunteers. Read below to see what she had to say!


SAM: How did you learn about the opportunity of becoming a SAM volunteer? What was the process like for you to join?

Shawna Bliss (SB): I learned about the opportunity of becoming a SAM volunteer at an education job fair held in Seattle before the start of the 1999 school year. A SAM representative was promoting SAM’s education programs and volunteer opportunities. I completed a volunteer application, had an interview with SAM’s Manager of Volunteer Programs, and was hired to assist a SAM educator in the Art Studio.

SAM: What is your favorite memory of being a SAM volunteer?

SB: I have so many favorite memories of being a SAM volunteer! What keeps me at SAM year after year are the opportunities to work with, and learn from, other volunteers, SAM staff, and museum visitors.

SAM: Were you surprised to receive the Dorothy C. Malone Award? What was your reaction?

SB: I was totally surprised! 2019 was the last year SAM held its Volunteer Soirée, so I came to this year’s soirée expecting to celebrate “our” return to SAM. I was not expecting any of us to be personally recognized!

SAM: Why should people consider becoming a SAM volunteer? 

SB: Do you like making new friends? There are many volunteer opportunities at SAM, all of which give volunteers occasions to meet and engage with like-minded people, including other volunteers, SAM staff, and visitors. 

Do you like learning about art, artists, and connecting art to the lives of visitors? If so, there is always much to see, read, and think about at SAM.

Do you like SAM and support its mission, vision, and values? SAM volunteers do! Young or old, just getting started or having volunteered for decades, all of us take pride in representing SAM as we serve in our volunteer roles. 

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

SAM’s Teen Arts Group Reflects on a Year of Programming

SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are interested in leadership, eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and want to make SAM fun and engaging for teens. This year’s cohort of future art leaders met once a week from October 2022 to May 2023 to create art, learn about the many unseen sides of an art museum—including exhibition conceptualization, curation, and conservation—lead public gallery tours, and plan Teen Night Out. As we close out another school year, we asked a few of this year’s members to share a bit more about TAG’s purpose and their favorite memories from their year at SAM. 

Let’s start with the basics: What is TAG and what did you do as a TAG member?

TAG is all about community to me. Essentially, we work toward our collective goal of making events, activities, and opportunities for teens at the museum. My favorite aspect has been hosting art making activities at influential spaces such as the Seattle Symphony and the Gates Foundation. I was surprised to learn that we get the opportunity to tour the museum after hours and have direct access to staff across a range of departments at SAM. This included folks from Public Programs, Education, AV, Curatorial, and Exhibition Design.

My favorite TAG meeting was when we got creative in how we announced the call-for-artists for our teen exhibition, Home is Where the Heart Is, on view through September 17. We drafted, directed, and filmed a skit that served as one of our core advertisements on social media. It was really fun to work together and come up with a product that we thought would be interesting for teens our age!

– Nivedita Raj, 17
Home is Where the Heart Is at Seattle Asian Art Museum in June 2023.

An integral part of TAG is planning and overseeing the museum’s annual teens-only celebration, Teen Night Out. What was this process like? What was your favorite part of putting this event together?

Planning Teen Night Out was an exciting journey filled with creativity and teamwork. We brainstormed themes, curated an array of activities, and transformed the museum into a vibrant space for teenagers.

My favorite part of Teen Night Out was watching the museum come alive with colors and people. Seeing the galleries turn into immersive environments was truly magical, and it showed the power of our artistic expression. The most rewarding thing was witnessing the impact of our efforts on the teenagers attending the event. Their laughter, curiosity, and awe reflected how art can inspire and touch hearts. It was a priceless reward to see their newfound appreciation and the spark of inspiration in their eyes.

Teen Night Out was more than a party. It was a chance to explore, create, and connect. I think in that evening we helped to bridge a gap between generations, making young voices heard and fostering a sense of belonging in the museum. By opening the doors of the art museum to a new generation, we painted a brighter future. Together, we showed that art has the power to transform lives and unleash boundless potential.

– Kaz Jennings, 16
SAM’s 2022–2023 Teen Arts Group leaders.

This year marked your second year as a TAG member. What advice would you offer any teen thinking about joining TAG?

This was my second year as a TAG member and I have genuinely loved every moment. A word of advice I would give to future TAG members or any teen looking to work with and around art is to just take it slow. Being in a program like TAG there is a lot of information being presented to you every meeting and a lot of opportunities for you to take advantage of. Just remember to pace yourself through those opportunities. You don’t have to take on every elective task that applies to your pursuit of the arts outside of TAG. Balance is essential.

Enjoy learning and watching your peers learn with you; I promise your resume and experience are already cool enough. I mean, you intern at SAM so you have to be cool! Take time to build connections with SAM staff and the other TAG members. They are cool people, you are cool people. Surround yourself with cool people!

If I could go back and give myself some advice before I joined TAG it would be that there is not one way to be an artist or someone who enjoys art. There are all kinds of personalities and people in TAG and everyone brings something unique to the table. Everyone is an important member of the team, myself included!

– Mori Peña, 18

– Cristina Cano-Calhoun, SAM Museum Educator for Youth Programs

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Pride Month: Rosemarie Trockel’s Bibliothek Babylon

In honor of Pride Month, SAM Blog features reflections by SAM voices on artworks from the collection that explore LGBTQIA+ art and artists. Queer lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate histories of joy, advocacy, and resistance.

In Det lika olika/The Same Different, a 2018–2019 solo exhibition at Sweden’s Moderna Museet Malmö, contemporary German artist Rosemarie Trockel interrogated viewers with a single question written on a small piece of paper: What is it like to be what you are not?

SAM’s collection features Trockel’s Bibliothek Babylon (1997), a photographic screenprint on transparent red Mylar. In it, the subject sits at a library table surrounded by books, wearing only cords of rope that outline where clothing seams would fall on the body. The title, in Trockel-fashion, asks to be picked apart: “Babylon” the Greek, Latinized form for “city of Babel.” In Abrahamic tradition, the Tower of Babel is a bastion for humanity and explanation for the world’s languages. One would have to guess that Trockel means to contrast this with the biblical Babylon (a woman atop a seven-headed beast, meant to personify promiscuity).

“[Trockel] started in Germany in the 80’s. It was a male-dominated art world she lived in and tried to make herself visible, which was not that easy. So she infiltrated the art world with materials that perhaps did not belong to that male art world. Such as wire, wool and knitting instead of painting… Many have said or read her art as feminist. And I think, yes there’s a truth in this, but there is so much more.”

– Iris Müller-Westernmann, Curator, Det lika olika/The Same Different.

The purpose of the title is to conjure religious and historical fears regarding femme people’s pursuit of knowledge and bodily autonomy. The use of rope—a fiber—invites us to consider whether the subject is liberated or restrained in their nakedness. For this image, the total edition consists of 60 screenprints: 25 on red, 20 on yellow, 15 on clear, as well as 25 artist proofs. The tone of each varies in how the subject and the books’ covers are accentuated and made readable.

In other works, Trockel deftly uses medium to talk about women as creators of art subjugated to the realm of the underappreciated “craft” and the household. “Woman,” also, as a narrowly defined and restrictive category. Much of Trockel’s body of work incorporates clothing and textile that’s often unisex in appeal until stretched, conformed, and gendered by the wearer. Reflecting on reunification years, Trockel’s series of masks, Balaclava, are a commentary on gender roles, women’s muteness, and the necessity for radical action. Trockel herself has at times rejected the title of “artist” or referring to her work as “art.”

“In Trockel’s art, the mixing of the idealized feminine with the mundane is a potent means of raising consciousness about the ways women have come to be classified and evaluated…

…Without question, the body and what has been designated as ‘woman’s work’ are powerful signifiers… to blur the division between genders and to suggest the foundering of the traditional ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ connotations associated with dress.”

– Sidra Stich, Art Historian

Another who took inspiration in literary metaphor is Argentine thinker and librarian Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). In his 1941 short story The Library of Babel, Borges imagines a theoretical library containing all knowledge. The dimensions of such a place are impossible, but its books would contain letters and punctuation in every possible combination. Meaning, if searched for long enough, you could find a copy of this blog post, a transcript of any conversation, and even the details of your own death.

In 2015, writer and coder Jonathan Basile tried exploring the implications of this by describing the library through algorithm. On his website, enter any text you like: a favorite memory, a bold lie, a list of groceries. You’ll then be pointed to the room and book where, in an ontological sense, it’s already written. Not all things in the library are true and few pages are legible. But is it not helpful (and terrifying) to know your thoughts have already taken form? What, read back, would feel the most validating? What might Trockel, wishing to be “free of the binary system,” write? It’s already there to be found, of course.

Here’s one final resonance: The 2017 German television series Babylon Berlin invokes “Babel” to depict the last days of the Weimar Republic as a time of extravagance, danger, unrepressed art, and sexuality. These are the oft-forgotten “golden twenties” preceding totalitarian rule and the burning of books and libraries. Of things lost: the significant shift away from traditional roles  for the Neue Frau (“new woman”), as well as a wealth of research on identity and gender-affirming care.

Celebrate Pride Month in Seattle with these suggested events:

Fri Jun 23
Trans Pride Seattle
Produced by Gender Justice League, this event in Volunteer Park will feature music, performances, food trucks, and educators.

Sun Jun 25
Seattle Pride Parade
The official 49th annual Pride Parade! Join in the fun or grab a spot in the grandstand. Say hi to SAM’s LGBTQIA+ affinity group who will be marching together. 

Aug 17–20
Pacific Northwest Black Pride 2023 in Columbia City
Celebrate the 6th year celebrating the Black LGBTQIA+ community with workshops, a health festival, music performances, parties, and more.

– Travis L., SAM Event Security Officer

Travis (they/them) is a mixed-media artist working in the realms of history and romanticism. They were recently featured in The Process Project and currently have work on view in the group exhibition Freedom at Gallery B612 through July 21.

References: Rana, Matthew. “What Is It like to Be What You Are Not? Rosemarie Trockel’s Diverse Practice.” Frieze, 31 Oct. 2018. Issue 200. Drier, Deborah. “Spiderwoman: Rosemarie Trockel.” Artforum, Sept. 1991. Vol. 30, No. 1. Stich, Sidra. The Affirmation of Difference in the Art of Rosemarie Trockel. 1991. Phillips. “Bibliothek Babylon (Trockel).” Artsy, June 2019. Auctions. Edition Schellmann—Fifty Are Better Than One.

Images: Bibliothek Babylon (Library Babylon), 1997, Rosemarie Trockel, German, b. 1952, screenprint on transparent red Mylar, 47 x 35 1/2 in. (119.38 x 90.17 cm), Print Acquisition Fund, 97.57 ©️ Rosemarie Trockel, photo: Mark Woods. The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1563; in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Leaving My Mark on Art: Emerging Arts Leader Alexa Smith Reflects

Art has always been a passion of mine. I have been drawing and painting since I was a kid, and as I grew up, I knew art needed to be an ever-present aspect of my life, no matter the capacity. I have had some significant figures that helped me come to that conclusion: teachers, mentors, and so many more. With their influence, I came to recognize my path in life: to help people realize their own love of art, just as others did for me. The journey to this point was not without its difficulties, perhaps even a bit tumultuous. Yet, it’s what led me to teaching art classes and, most importantly, my internship here at the Seattle Art Museum.

Being at SAM has been a dream. I truly never expected to be here. During the application and interview process, I admittedly was not the most confident. Had I done enough to deserve to be here? But, I knew if I spoke to my passions, I had a chance. Teaching has always been my way of helping to foster creativity and artistic passion in kids at developmental ages, but being at SAM has allowed me to contribute to something bigger. I have had the opportunity to be a part of an institution dedicated to connecting art with the public and to be a part of a curatorial department that informs, educates, and inspires people through all facets of art—I couldn’t imagine a better place to be!

Seeing all that goes into what makes a museum function successfully has been an education in and of itself. It has been amazing to see the cross-departmental collaboration at work, and to be a part of it. To have conversations with staff across departments and learn more about their contributions to the museum has been one of my favorite parts of this experience thus far. In particular, my conversations with the education, interpretation, and public engagement teams have been so impactful, especially with my mentor. From him, I’ve been able to learn more about what each team is doing in the realms of accessibility and further connecting the public to the work that is displayed in the museum. I have even been given the opportunity to contribute research and content to a few artworks at the Seattle Asian Art Museum and build upon the educational materials already available for them. That kind of experience—to have my contributions be a part of the museum in a permanent capacity—is what I want to continue to do, to leave my mark.

Thankfully, the work that I have done within the curatorial department has given me that chance. I have worked on presentations for exhibition proposals, formatted labels for objects, researched artists for interviews and future exhibitions, imagined my own exhibition, and developed an in-gallery presentation. But, one of the most rewarding parts of this experience has been connecting my conceptual exhibition with the development of my in-gallery presentation because of how personal it became for me. 

When I was assigned to curate a potential exhibition featuring ten items from SAM’s collection, I wanted to use this chance to explore my heritage and learn more about the available Filipino art and artifacts. I am incredibly proud of my culture, and it has always been disappointing to see how Filipino art and culture is rarely showcased or discussed in the greater context of Asian culture and history, even though it is incredibly rich and multi-faceted. Even in higher education, where I’ve taken classes dedicated to the history of Asian art and culture, the curriculum usually centers on China, Japan, Korea, and India. And I can imagine most people think of those countries, as well, when they think about Asian culture in general. 

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much variety or depth in the artworks from the Philippines at SAM, but there was one set of figures that stood out among the rest: the bulul figures from the Ifugao people of Northern Luzon. Researching these objects provided me with a new direction to take my project. I decided to focus on Indigenous cultures and spirituality throughout the islands in the Pacific. After learning more about the history of the bulul and the Ifugao, it was clear that prehistoric and indigenous Filipino cultures and traditions were more akin to other Oceanic and Austronesian Indigenous cultures found in regions like Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia, with their spiritual beliefs centered on honoring the earth and ancestral relationships. That belief system has been appointed the term animism by western cultures and it is the perspective in which all things—animate and inanimate objects, places, and creatures—possess a distinct spiritual essence. 

With these findings, my conceptual exhibition focusing on the important bonds between visual traditions and spiritual beliefs in Indigenous cultures across islands in the Pacific took shape. In my gallery presentation, I wanted to spotlight the bulul figures, the Indigenous culture of the Ifugao people, and its similarity to the cultures of other Pacific Islands, all a divergence from the more discussed modern history of the Philippines (i.e., Spanish colonization, American occupation, and Philippine independence). All I wanted was to share with people the ways that Filipino culture is special, and now I can. 

I cannot begin to describe how excited I am to share the research I’ve done so far. It has been such a fulfilling experience to be able to learn more about the history of my culture in the context of art, and being here at SAM has given me the opportunity and the resources to do just that. I am extremely grateful for what this internship has provided me in terms of exploring my passions and building upon what I have already learned. I feel as though I have just scratched the surface as to what I can accomplish here at SAM and I am itching to see the contributions I can make at SAM in the near future. 

I’d like to thank SAM Intern Programs Coordinator Samuel Howes for helping me adjust and transition into this internship; to SAM Museum Educator for Digital Learning Ramzy Lakos, for being such an amazing mentor and for our stimulating conversations that I always looked forward to; and, of course, to SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz—I couldn’t have asked for a better supervisor and mentor.

– Alexa Smith, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Curation

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

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