The Seattle Asian Art Museum is reopening in May! Find out more about visiting »

Object of the Week: Lined Robe

This show-stopping bingata robe comes from Okinawa, the southernmost islands of Japan. With brilliant colors and a rhythmic pattern of cherry blossoms, swallows, irises, and flowing water, it is descended from an important textile tradition. See if you can spot it during your next visit to the Asian Art Museum, which reopens to the public at the end of May.

Bingata textiles are created with a paste-resist technique using either stencils or freehand motifs. The name refers to this process, not to the fiber or weave of the textile itself. This bingata robe is made of silk, but cotton and ramie were also used as a base. In paste-resist dyeing, a thick, water-soluble paste is applied to a textile in order to keep pigment or dye from coloring selected areas. For bingata, this paste is traditionally made from a cooked rice flour mixture. When the paste is dry, multiple layers of pigment are then brushed onto the open areas with thick, short brushes. Once the pigment has dried, the resist paste is washed away but the color remains. The process can be repeated many times to create detailed designs of many colors.

A Japanese katagami (paper stencil). Resist paste is applied to the open/white areas. When the paste is dry and the stencil removed, dyes or pigments are applied to the paste-free area, bringing to life the irises and their leaves.

Okinawa was an independent kingdom known as Ryukyu until it was formally annexed by Japan in 1872.  In 1879, Japan’s central government abolished the Ryukyu monarchy and renamed the region Okinawa. Under the Ryukyu monarchy, the production and consumption of bingata was tightly connected to the royal court. Expensive and labor-intensive, bingata was reserved for members of the monarchy. Family workshops, patronized primarily by the royal family, produced bingata from start to finish. The large-scale pattern and yellow ground of this striking robe are characteristic of the garments worn by the highest-ranking members of the Ryukyu royal family.[1]

When the Ryukyu monarchy was abolished, bingata was in danger of disappearing. Without the patronage of the royal family, bingata production collapsed. In the following decades, increasing popularity of western-style dress and the violent conflicts of World War II (some of which occurred on Okinawa) further diminished interest in traditional textiles like bingata. After World War II, descendants of bingata family workshops worked to revive the craft. The patterns of bingata were applied to objects other than garments, including folding screens, greeting cards, calendars, and placemats. Today, Okinawan makers apply the colors and patterns of bingata to a range of garments and accessories in an expression of regional identity.

– Rachel Harris, SAM Asian Art Conservation Associate


[1] Rathburn, William Jay. “Okinawan Weaving and Dyeing,” in Beyond the Tanabata Bridge: Traditional Japanese Textiles (Thames and Hudson/Seattle Art Museum, 1993), 196.
Images: Lined robe, early 20th century, Japanese, plain weave silk crepe with paste-resist stencil decoration (Oki., bingata) lined with modern replacement silk broadcloth, 47 3/4 in. long (from collar) x 43 in. wide, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 89.155. Paper stencil (katagami), late 19th century, Japanese, mulberry bark paper treated with persimmon juice and silk thread, 19 x 14 1/2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.1782

Kinetic Sculpture Inspired by Mark di Suvero

Create your own kinetic sculpture! Tune in to an art activity demonstration lead by teaching artist Romson Regarde Bustillo that takes cues from Mark di Suvero’s “Schubert Sonata” at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Follow along and think about how music impacts you as you get creative from your home.

The sculpture “Schubert Sonata”is a piece of moving art, which is also called kinetic art. The top part of the sculpture moves in the wind, while the tall pole holds the sculpture up and keeps it in the same place. Di Suvero has been interested in exploring movement in sculpture and has a strong interest in music. The title of this artwork refers to a piece of music written to be played on a piano. The artist formed curves, lines, and shapes out of metal while thinking of this music.

When you visit the Olympic Sculpture Park on the weekends, be sure to swing by the South Terrace to pick up a Park Pack, a tote bag which includes an activity to learn about kinetic art at the Olympic Sculpture Park. These Park Packs include sketching supplies and a family-focused activity lesson focused on movement, also inspired by “Schubert Sonata.” While you’re at the park, get inspired and start sketching. Park Packs are set out on Saturdays and Sundays and are available on a first come, first served basis. Free and open to the public.

Muse/News: Magical Connections, Jazz Sculptures, and History’s Presence

SAM News

The Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens this week to members and will reopen to the public May 28. Margo Vansynghel of Crosscut visited the museum, which had its grand reopening in February 2020 before closing again on March 13, 2020, to see its reimagined galleries and learn what the closure meant for the curators and conservation team.

“To demonstrate the magic these new connections can create, Wu walks us to another dimly lit gallery, this one filled with delicate paper scrolls and book folios dedicated to the holy word. In one display case, two pieces of priceless paper seem to have been drenched in the night sky… On the surface, the two are linked by the shimmer of gold and tempestuous blue, but together they also suggest a power beyond words.”

KNKX also recommends a visit to the museum on their list of activities and events honoring Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May. Curiocity recommends it, too, and it’s on the Stranger’s list of events for May.

The Seattle Times’ Megan Burbank launches a new visual arts column, On View; in her first edition, she includes Dawn Cerny: Les Choses, an installation of sculptures now on view at SAM.

Local News

Spend some time with the Stranger’s Ann Guo and The Station co-owner Leona Moore-Rodriguez, as they talk about coffee, community, and ̕90s R&B.

Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne has you covered on upcoming festivals in the region: what’s happening and what’s not.

In her weekly ArtSEA letter, Crosscut Brangien Davis highlights some public art now on view at the new Jackson Apartments complex, including an installation honoring Northwest jazz legends by Paul Rucker (the tonearm is a bench!).

“He hopes this piece is both enlightening and fun. ‘I’d love for it to be a place to do rubbings,’ he said, noting the inscribed names. ‘Or a place people take selfies. I want it to be like the Troll, that’s my dream.’”

Inter/National News

Billionaire art collector, philanthropist, and entrepreneur Eli Broad—a towering figure in the cultural scene of the United States, and most of all, in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles—has died at 87,” reports Artnet. 

Art in America’s “New Talent” issue was guest-edited by Antwaun Sargent and sees him “realize a decade-old fantasy” by bringing together a team of Black writers and critics. Read his editor’s letter and explore the new issue.

Tausif Noor for the New York Times on An American Project at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a retrospective survey of the work of photographer Dawoud Bey.

“Under Bey’s careful eye, history emerges as an active presence, authored in real time by individuals and societies who transform and are transformed by the continual unfolding of the past.”

And Finally

RIP, Olympia Dukakis.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Jueqian Fang

Object of the Week: Essence of Spring, Chevreuse Valley

Born Jean Baptiste Armand Guillaumin, Armand Guillaumin was born in Paris, France, to a working-class family in 1841. And while he might not have achieved the same level of recognition as his contemporaries Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, or Camille Pissarro, Guillaumin was embedded in this important circle of Impressionist artists.

Guillaumin’s youth was spent in central France, where he studied art locally. After moving to Paris at the age of sixteen, he continued his education by attending evening drawing classes after working shifts at his uncle’s clothing store. In 1861, he enrolled at the Académie Suisse, further supporting himself through employment at the Paris-Orléans railway and, later, Paris’s Department of Roads and Bridges.[1]

For Guillaumin, his interest in the ephemerality of light and color connected him with his fellow classmates Cézanne and Pissarro, who would become lifelong friends. His work was included in the famous 1863 Salon des Refusés—a “historical launching pad”and, a decade later, the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874.[2]

During this formative period, Guillaumin’s mode of employ and proximity to the French railway system allowed him to travel (albeit locally) and explore the quickly industrializing landscape. Interestingly, many scholars also believe his financial situation and full-time employment impacted the time he could devote to his artistic career. Still, given his background and preoccupations as a member of the Impressionist circle, Guillaumin was committed to depicting working class scenes, landscapesoften with modern infrastructure such as bridges or viaductsand the changing environment on the outskirts of Paris.

The mid-1880s are understood as a turning point for the artist, as he started focusing primarily on color. For this reason, he is often positioned as a bridge between Impressionism and Fauvism.[3] His painting Essence of Spring, Chevreuse Valley, ca. 1885, is one such painting, depicting an idyllic countryside with rolling forested hills and a gentle pastel-colored sky.

Lyrical sections of bold, saturated colorwhere forest abuts grassare interspersed with flowering cherry trees and, behind them, small cottages and homes. Unlike some of Guillaumin’s other paintings from this period, where the encroaching and expanding reach of Paris looms like a specter (this might resonate for those reading here in Seattle), the Chevreuse Valley’s transition into springits atmospheric effects and energytakes center stage.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate


[1] Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, “Armand Guillaumin,” https://art.famsf.org/armand-guillaumin. Selected bibliography: Gray, Christopher. Armand Guillaumin (Chester, Connecticut: Pequot Press, 1972); Rewald, John. History of Impressionism (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973).

[2] Pissarro, Joachim. Pioneering Modern Painting: Cézanne and Pissarro 1865–1885 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2005), 28.

[3] Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, “Armand Guillaumin.”

Image: Essence of Spring, Chevreuse Valley, ca. 1885, Jean Baptiste Armand Guillaumin, oil on canvas, 26 x 48 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Philip E. Renshaw, 67.147

The Contemporary American Struggle: Hank Willis Thomas

Sit down with multi-media artist Hank Willis Thomas and hear about the works on view in SAM’s exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. The exhibition questions the stories we’ve been told by amplifying narratives that have been systematically overlooked from America’s history. This exhibition reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958, and SAM is its only West Coast venue. These 30 panels are heavily informed by the contemporary issues of Lawrence’s time as they address the history of what it means to be an American. Viewing this rarely exhibited series today is a reminder of shared histories during this current divisive chapter in America, where the struggle for freedom and justice marches on.

Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. A trained photographer, Thomas incorporates mirrors and retroreflective vinyl to challenge perspectives and explore often overlooked historical narratives. My Father Died for This Country Too/I Am an American Also in this exhibition is an example of his work that is activated by flash photography. This role reversal makes the viewer create the image and asks who is included or erased in the biased storytelling of history. Rich Black Specimen #460, Thomas’ sculptural contribution to the exhibition, is a life-size interpretation of a symbol used in runaway slave advertisements in the 19th century.

Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series interprets the democratic debates that defined early America and echoed into the civil rights movements during which he was painting the series. Works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.

Wild at Heart: SAM x Woodland Park Zoo

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and Woodland Park Zoo have joined together to protect what we love! This lively partnership is part of the Wild at Heart series to celebrate local cultural organizations.

For the April photo celebration, Woodland Park Zoo’s Skyáana the porcupine and Harry the skunk made a special visit to the Seattle Art Museum in downtown Seattle. Skyáana and Harry are ambassador animals at Woodland Park Zoo who are featured in the zoo’s educational programs that help build empathy for animals and promote ways to take action for wildlife. You can find these photos on the Woodland Park Zoo or Seattle Art Museum social media pages. As a special bonus, you can see Amarillo the armadillo in this video spending some time in the SAM Porcelain Room checking out the more-than-1,000 magnificent European and Asian pieces from SAM’s collection.

Skyáana spent time in the Brotman Forum enjoying Middle Fork by artist John Grade. While food and beverages are not allowed in the Seattle Art Museum galleries, Skyáana found a “Claws Clause” loophole and received a special snack exemption to munch on her favorite biscuits during her visit. Harry, a native Pacific Northwesterner (by species), spent his time taking in the beauty of Albert Bierstadt’s 1870 oil painting Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast.

“It’s been wonderful having all of our visitors back in the galleries, but I have to say that Skyáana and Harry are particularly special,” says Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. “Just as the zoo takes care of these precious animals, we take care of precious artworks so that everyone can enjoy them for generations to come. Our time together in these cultural places are precious to us, too.” We hope you’ll take some inspiration from Skyáana, Harry, and Amarillo and visit SAM soon!

Muse/News: Enticing Art at SAM, Identity at Wing Luke, and the Huntington Gets Hip

SAM News

For USA Today, Harriet Baskas shares “some of the most enticing exhibits across the US,” including Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at SAM. The exhibition closes May 23.

And for Fodor’s, Chantel Delulio highlights 10 sculpture gardens in the US “where you can stretch your legs and take in some stunning pieces of art.” First on the list: SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park, which remains open 365 days a year. 

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Jenn Smith on “Tales of Quarantine,” a national art and writing contest for teens sponsored by Seattle-based nonprofit Mission InspirEd, which asked the question: “How has COVID-19 impacted you and your community?” 

Brangien Davis of Crosscut with her weekly ArtSEA: in this edition, she spotlights pop-up gallery From Typhoon, a local artist’s work for the Academy Awards graphics, and more. 

For her South Seattle Emerald column, Jasmine J. Mahmoud engages in conversations with artists & culture makers and also shares recommendations. For a recent edition, she speaks with poet and artist Shin Yu Pai about her work in Paths Intertwined, a group show now on view at the Wing Luke Museum. 

“…For people who don’t know much about Chinese American artists or artists of the diaspora and/or how they relate to or connect to their culture or cultural traditions, this show is an opportunity for people from outside those communities to come in and look at the many ways in which Chinese American artists are innovating the ways in which they reflect upon and interrogate their identities and their cultures.”

Inter/National News

“Fragile Art for the Anxious Mind”: Nia Bowers for Art & Object on kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending pottery with gold lacquer

As you’re catching up with all the Oscar-nominated films, don’t miss out on the nominees for international feature, including one inspired by an actual artwork.

The Made in L.A. biennial returns, this time with a new venue in the mix: The Huntington Art Museum. The New York Times’ Robin Pogrebin on how the museum you thought you knew is suddenly “a hub for cutting-edge contemporary art.”

“‘It’s a shot across the bow,’ said Christina Nielsen, who became the director of the Huntington Art Museum in 2018. She considers the exhibition ‘an opportunity to engage with the broader contemporary art community here in L.A. It’s really opening the doors.’”

And Finally

What is, “one step closer to the best host” for $1000?

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at Seattle Art Museum, 2021, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Sarong (kain kapala)

When I first saw this Javanese sarong on display, its indigo dye was its commonality with other works on view in the 2016 Seattle Asian Art Museum exhibition, Mood Indigo: Textiles from Around the World. The label for this particular textile was striking: “step into a sarong and you enter via a network of symbols that support your place in a cosmic sacred landscape.” 

Every label for Mood Indigo, written by Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art,was beautifully informative and poetic, but this sarong was more than a costume or uniform: It promised to be fully transportive—beyond Earth—while recalling living things on our planet, with its plants and depiction of night and day. It is replete with delicate flowers on the trim, intricately veined flora against a dotted night sky, and a lighter sky contoured with broad diagonal lines, with butterflies and birds with trailing tails.

Batik—the Indonesian textile-based process in which designs are applied with wax to cloth that is then dyed—is a celebrated Javanese cultural tradition practiced on a national scale. In its early history, however, batik designs were tightly regulated as a court art, with certain designs reserved for reigning Javanese families to wear, signifying and legitimizing their power within a kingdom. To describe batik as only an aesthetic demonstration of the wearer’s authority, however, falls short of its greater ambitions as a means of contributing to the balance of the cosmos. 

Very generally speaking, in the context of the universe within ancient Javanese culture, bringing society to align with the harmony and balance of the cosmos also meant centering the aristocratic family, from which order and prosperity would follow. The practice of wearing certain batik designs differed between courts and regions, but certain symbols would be consistent, such as winged, long-tailed birds, indicative of royalty in reference to the prominent Hindu deity Vishnu, or his son, Skandi-Karkitteya. Patterns of plant life with animals, which were also part of the categories reserved for royalty, referred to fertility and the growth promised by Javanese sovereignty. The design might be dictated depending on the type of clothing (sarong were usually worn around the waist, and in full ensembles, with an accessory such as a type of knife known as a kris), and would complete a ritual ensemble aimed to place the wearer in greater cosmic alignment. 

These traditions far preceded this 19th-century sarong. The early symbolism of batik design, and its regulation, was highly influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism, and was worn for a wide variety of ceremonies and more mundane purposes as well. By the time of the production of this particular sarong, Java would have already been colonized by Dutch and British rule, interrupting certain categories of batik design, though the original meaning of specific symbols would persist. 

Given the centuries-long endurance of batik to its present-day status as emblematic of Indonesian culture (in Java in particular), its practice and lexicon of patterns are protected, and its practice widely encouraged. In 2009, batik was recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity from Indonesia. 

Though it was not part of the original intention for this garment to be worn by just anyone, the transcendental state of being that was extended to the wearer asserts their place on a micro- and macro-cosmic scale: as participating in Javanese culture and sustaining Javanese traditions, as well as as their particular station in the broader context of the universe, as a point from which harmony and growth for a whole kingdom can emanate, wherever they go. 

Hannah Hirano, SAM Coordinator for Museum Services and Conservation

1 Robert Wessing, “Wearing the Cosmos: Symbolism in Batik Design,” Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 2, no. 3 (1986): pp. 40-82, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860214
2 “Decision of the INTERGOVERNMENTAL COMMITTEE: 4.Com 13.44,” 2009, https://ich.unesco.org/en/decisions/4.COM/13.44
Image: Sarong (kain kapala), 19th century, Javanese, Cotton, factory plain weave; wax resist (batik); natural/synthetic indigo dye
87 x 42 1/2 in. Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 37.35.

Muse/News: Otherworldly Sculptures, a Complex Holiday, and an Uprising Anniversary

SAM News

Now on view on SAM: Dawn Cerny: Les Choses, the solo exhibition of the winner of the 2020 Betty Bowen Award. The Stranger and Crosscut both shared an early look of the artist’s intimate sculptures.

“…like something aliens might make if tasked with replicating a human abode by hand.” 

Local News

Special to the Seattle Times, here’s Thomas May on “how Seattle Opera came to film its newest production at the Museum of Flight.” 

Northwest Film Forum’s Vivian Hua for South Seattle Emerald on the Seattle Black Film Festival, which kicked off last Friday and closes April 26—plenty of time to tune in!

Juneteenth was named an official Washington State holiday on April 9, joining many other states and organizations (including SAM, for the first time last year) who already recognize the day. Crosscut invited author Clyde W. Ford to reflect on the “long and troubling” history of the holiday.

“W.E.B. DuBois described the time period of Juneteenth succinctly, ‘The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.’ Each of DuBois’ three moments are inextricably linked. We need a holiday that commemorates them all.”

Inter/National News

ARTnews’ Angelica Villa on Robert Colescott’s satirical painting, George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook (1975), which is “set to break [the] artist’s auction record” at Sotheby’s in May. The painting’s inclusion in SAM’s 2018 exhibition Figuring History is mentioned. 

The New York Times’ Glenn Kenny on the “powerful medicine” of Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts, Jeffrey’s Wolf’s documentary on the artist. 

April 19, 1943 was the first day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Hyperallergic recognizes the anniversary with scholar Samantha Baskind’s reflections on the permanent exhibit devoted to the uprising at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and its complicated aims. 

“I was conflicted about its sensationalizing the ghetto’s story through its persistently honorific presentation. But I now better understand why the museum indelibly impresses upon us, in a very public and influential instance, the reprieve of physical and spiritual resistance mounted in the sealed city within a city.”

And Finally

Takuji Yamashita, Esq


– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view of Dawn Cerny: Les Choses at Seattle Art Museum, 2021, photo: Nina Dubinsky.