Rosa Sittig-Bell: An Emerging Arts Leader’s Look at SAM

Growing up in Seattle, I spent many years skipping school on the first Thursday of every month to wander the ever-changing exhibitions at SAM, picking out my favorite paintings and developing a personal relationship with them. I always knew that I wanted to be a part of creating the magic that happens when you enter a museum and experience the way one artwork can transform your perspective on the world and yourself. Through my internship at the museum, I was able to get closer to recognizable and historic artworks—many of which I have been enamored with for years—than I had ever imagined I would, as well as getting to intimately investigate, work with, and develop new relationships to new pieces in SAM’s collection. 

Like a child being pulled away from a candy shop, as my Emerging Arts Leader Internship at SAM concludes, I want to look back on how transformative and fascinating working with the conservation team has been as I focused on conservation projects at the Olympic Sculpture Park and on objects in the museum’s reinstallation of its American art galleries, which debuted this October.

In the ever-increasing heat of Seattle’s newfound summer, I spent days running around the Olympic Sculpture Park with Senior Objects Conservator Elizabeth Brown as we treated the various sculptures that inhabit SAM’s outdoor location. This work ranged from re-waxing Louise Bourgeois’ Father and Son, to painting Alexander Calder’s The Eagle, to treating George Rickey’s kinetic sculpture Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III. I was struck by the public’s fascination with our process, stopping on their strolls with their Australian Shepherds to inquire about what we were doing. I would stop—blow torch and wax in hand—and explain these routine art treatments. These interactions made clear to me that the public is invested in the art around them, and that this work contributes to dialogues on accessible art. 

The conversation around what it means to work in conservation tends to be slim outside of the museum sphere, and I believe it’s a majorly overlooked aspect of the processes artworks go through before they are sent across the world to various museums, acquired from collectors, or have been sitting on display for months. How do we interact with artworks in a way that will allow them to be experienced in the future? Conservation is a field that combines investigation in so many different directions: the hand-skills needed to replicate the movements of practicing artists, the chemistry knowledge that informs how to interact with various materials, and the knowledge of art history that is needed to investigate the unique mechanisms of every artwork. My understanding of how multifaceted conservation is has grown immensely during my time here at SAM. 

Working at SAM has also revealed to me how museums and other art institutions can work toward greater equity. As part of my internship, I attended a few sessions of the American art project’s advisory circle, a group of 11 members of the community who advised on the reinstallation. These sessions were eye-opening. I was able to see and be a part of how SAM is working to eliminate an echo chamber of only museum staff in reflecting how communities would like to be represented themselves in the galleries. 

I will look back longingly on my experience, wishing I could use the XRF machine (essentially a handheld X-ray) one more time or attempt to clean a 19th-century elevator screen using a CO2 gun with Objects Conservator Geneva Griswold and fellow conservation intern Caitlyn Fong again. I will forever cherish being able to work so closely with objects from around the world. Becoming so personal with the art that I grew up visiting in the museum and investigating it on a whole new, and sometimes molecular level, has been one of the greatest learning experiences I could have imagined.

In concluding my internship, I look forward to seeking out more opportunities in the conservation field and to make sure that the art that touches us can be seen for years to come.

– Rosa Sittig-Bell, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Conservation

Photo: Chloe Collyer.

Muse/News: Take Flight, Frontline Favs, and Benin Awakening

SAM News

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis spies a flock of bird-related art happenings around the city, including the “bird’s-eye view” that Alexander Calder’s The Eagle will have of SAM Remix at the Olympic Sculpture Park this Friday. Get your ticket now for this unmissable late-night art party featuring performances, tours, and interactive experiences!

Somehow there are also a number—we might even say a “colony”—of bat-related events in Seattle right now? Kari Hanson for ParentMap has the info on them all, including the tour led by Woodland Park Zoo’s Bat Program at SAM Remix.

TripAdvisor’s got “15 fun and unique things to do in Seattle,” including a visit to Volunteer Park to see the conservatory and the renovated Seattle Asian Art Museum. Our suggestion? Make a day of it with the contemporary Chinese art of Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artists on the Classical Forms and then walk the park to spot the Henry Art Gallery’s offsite sculpture installation by Chloë Bass.

Local News

Crosscut video producer Sarah Hall takes you inside the studio of Cactus & Clay Ceramics in Poulsbo, Washington.

Seattle Met’s Ann Karneus spotlights Vee Hua’s new short film, Reckless Spirits, which you can check out during the Northwest Film Forum’s upcoming Local Sightings Film Festival.

“A Frye Art Museum security guard takes us on a tour of his favorite pieces”: The Seattle Times launches a new series called “Art Through Their Eyes.”

“There’s no such thing as spending too much time in a museum. But as much time as you spend walking between artworks, pausing to absorb the work or read the accompanying text, you’ll never see a museum’s art quite the way those who regularly work around it do.”

Inter/National News

Ugonnaora Owoh for ARTnews on “8 Queer Artists Capturing Love and Intimacy, and Challenging Oppression.”

Via Artforum: “Michael Heizer’s The City To Open Following Half-Century Wait.”

Elian Peltier for The New York Times reports on the impact of artworks being restituted to Benin, noting that “more than 200,000 people have come to a free exhibition of the artworks in the presidential palace.”

“The artistic awakening of our population was switched off from the end of the 19th century to 2022,” [sculptor Euloge Ahanhanzo Glèlè] said. “We are now waking up.”

And Finally

Did you know that SAM is on TikTok? 

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Jen Au.

Object of the Week: Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III

As the wind picks up at the Olympic Sculpture Park, American artist George Rickey’s Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III (1973) uses the natural elements to transform from a still sculpture to a mesmerizing experiment in movement, allowing us to consider how that movement can in turn create its own forms. 

Rickey’s kinetic sculptures come from an amalgamation of life experiences and technical skills. He was born on June 6, 1907 in South Bend, Indiana; his father was an engineer, setting the stage for the technical foundation that would become a pertinent aspect of his future work. Rickey went on to temporarily reject engineering to study history and eventually art, becoming a history teacher and painter. During and after World War II, he was majorly influenced by the work of Alexander Calder, Naum Gabo, and David Smith among others. 

During the 1970s, Rickey began using flat planes in his kinetic sculptures, burnishing the stainless steel planes in order to create luminosity. He rejected motorized mechanics; instead the planes are able to create motion through the combination of weight, design, and ball bearings inside of the bearing housing. The laws of physics and the unpredictability of the natural world are his tools of choice.

Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III is inspected and treated annually by SAM’s conservation department to ensure that Rickey’s vision remains in motion at the sculpture park. In 2022, the sculpture was cleaned, examined for stability, spot treated to maintain an even and uncorroded exterior, and the access panels were opened up to inspect the stability of the rods and bearings. The sculptures at the Olympic Sculpture Park, including Rickey’s, require constant care to withstand weather, constant movement, and exposure to the Puget Sound’s salty water. 

As a part of my Emerging Arts Leader Internship in conservation, I am working alongside SAM conservators to examine, record, and treat a number of SAM collection works, focusing specifically on the outdoor sculptures in the Olympic Sculpture Park. It is very special to have the opportunity to work directly with sculptures that I have spent years studying or admiring. I’m glad to have contributed directly to the preservation and future enjoyment of modern and contemporary public art.

– Rosa Sittig-Bell, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern


1 George Rickey Foundation, “Glossary of Technical Terms,” https://www.georgerickey.org/art/glossary-of-terms

2 Hayden Herrera, “George Rickey,” in George Rickey in South Bend (South Bend: The Snite Museum of Art University of Notre Dame, 1985) 11–17.

3 Vero Beach Museum of Art, George Rickey Kinetic Sculpture: A Retrospective (Vero Beach: The University of Washington Press, 2007).

Image: Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III, 1973, George Rickey, stainless steel, 97 x 68 x 68 in. Gift of Martin Z. Margulies, 2007.263 © Estate of George Rickey/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Weightlessness: Tour The Eagle

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

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

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

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

Muse/News: Witnessing America, Asian Restos Go Digital, and Calder Maquettes

SAM News

The Seattle Art Museum is open, with limited capacity and timed tickets released online every Thursday. Chamidae Ford reviews Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle for South Seattle Emerald, noting that the exhibition “takes us on a journey through American history, reframing the narratives we have heard for centuries.”

And Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne reviews American Struggle as well as the solo show, Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence, exploring how they both “witness America.”

“As different as can be, the two shows are rooted in a truth: How we see our past and our present are inextricable from how we see our future. That is, we’re still filling in frames, and might, with some attention, fill them in more honestly.”

SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park is recommended by The Architect’s Newspaper as one of 11 “outdoor art spaces and museum grounds worth checking out this spring.” Take some allergy meds, mask up, and get out there!

Local News

Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka asks Karen Maeda Allman of Elliott Bay Books to recommend “15 books to read to learn more about Asian American history and experiences.”

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis is back with her weekly ArtSEA; this time, she visits Seattle’s new newsstand, previews the ByDesign festival, and some musical events.

Seattle Met’s Erin Wong with the story of how adult children of owners of Chinatown-International District restaurants are bringing their digital literacy to help the businesses during the pandemic crisis.

“Now, it’s the younger generations who are circling back to help their parents navigate the internet age. ‘This is just one thing I can do for my tribe, you know?’ [Carol] Xie says, ‘If that’s all it takes, I’m more than happy to do it.’”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic says, Listen to the Sounds of an 18,000-year-old Conch.” Muse/News says, OK.

Catching up with gallerist Mariane Ibrahim, a Seattleite for a short and lucky-for-us time: in addition to her Chicago space, she is now expanding to Paris.

“The secret stunt doubles of the art world”: Peter Libbey for the New York Times on the seven maquettes—or models—of works by Alexander Calder made for MoMA’s new exhibition, Modern From the Start.

“Calder’s mobiles, whose orbits are eccentric, are particularly hard to anticipate. ‘I’ve never encountered a museum before that makes large, full scale cutouts for the actual gallery where the sculptures are going to go into,’ [Alexander S.C.] Rower said. ‘I think that’s amazing.’”

And Finally

A mural for the Storm.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

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

Muse/News: Eagle’s makeover, open gazes, and dancing wire

SAM News

Brangien Davis of Crosscut notices that Alexander Calder’s The Eagle, the monumental sculpture that perches in the Olympic Sculpture Park, has its own protective covering these days. She spoke with SAM Chief Conservator Nick Dorman about the conservation and repainting of the steel sculpture, thanks to a grant from Bank of America. Look for “the big reveal” sometime around Labor Day. 

The sculpture park is where it’s at these days: John Prentice of KOMO’s Seattle Refined interviewed SAM curator Carrie Dedon about how important accessible public art is—now more than ever.

“‘Anything that can broaden your horizons or challenge your worldview, or spark your emotions, these are the things that make us human and connect us to our humanity,’ Dedon said.”

Local News

Longtime cultural critic Misha Berson writes an opinion piece for Crosscut, outlining her thoughts on how “the arts need a New Deal to survive the pandemic.”

Tom Keogh for the Seattle Times has recommendations for some streamable films (a TV series) about presidential campaigns that “give us a peek into the peculiar business of running for the White House.”

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig takes her “Currently Hanging” series outside of Seattle; here, she visits Jordan Casteel’s Within Reach, viewable via the New Museum

“Her subject, Devan, stares openly at the viewer, seemingly aware of our gaze on his body, our intrusion on his space, our sussing out of his mental state…Devan projects an openness, a sort of straightforward vulnerability that makes this painting compelling.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone on several upcoming art projects in Tusla, Oklahoma to memorialize the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, during which white mobs destroyed homes and “Black Wall Street,” killing at least 300 Black residents. 

The American Alliance of Museums is out with another survey on the impacts of COVID-19; Valentina Di Liscia of Hyperallergic outlines the major findings, including that 12,000 institutions may close permanently.

Thessaly La Force for the New York Times’ T Magazine on artist Ruth Asawa, who spent her teenage years in two concentration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II and whose important sculptural work has long been overlooked.

“I have stood in a gallery hung with Asawa’s wire sculptures, where the movement of my own body has caused them to sway, the shadows of the woven wire dancing against the floor. For a moment, I was quietly transported elsewhere — to the deep sea, to a forest or maybe to someplace altogether unearthly.”

And Finally

The making of washi paper

Photo: Sarah Michael

All Walks of Life: Public Programs at the Olympic Sculpture Park

The radiant clouds that stretch across the bridge of Teresita Fernández’s Seattle Cloud Cover look different every time you encounter them. On a rainy day, the site-specific work at the Olympic Sculpture Park offers a shelter of saturated colors that pop against the surrounding gray sky. When you witness a freight train moving beneath it, the train’s cargo becomes part of the art, washed over in its rainbow assortment of hues. As you stand beside it to watch the sunset over the Puget Sound, your body appears in silhouette to onlookers across the Park. As Fernández describes, Seattle Cloud Cover “…blur[s] the lines between your presence as participant and observer.”

Woman gives a tour in front of Fernandez's Seattle Cloud Cover during Remix at Olympic Sculpture Park

The blurred line that Fernández refers to between participation and observation is integral to the art at the Olympic Sculpture Park, as well as to SAM’s Education Department as they design programs to engage visitors from all walks of life. “It’s amazing to have the Sculpture Park as a free resource located in the heart of Seattle and to think of how we as educators can maximize that opportunity for the community by creating programs that challenge visitors to rethink the relationship between art and environment,” says Regan Pro, SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs.

Easels set up for art marking during Summer at SAM at Olympic Sculpture Park

Pro continues, “I love thinking about all of the different ways we have had visitors interact and engage with Alexander Calder’s The Eagle over the last ten years and how people have come to think about all of the permanent sculptures in new ways.” Every year, all second graders from Highline School District explore the land and art around The Eagle during the free tours and art workshops offered as part of SAM’s School Programs. Dogs and their owners walk along the path at its base during Dog Night. Revelers dance into the night beneath its wingspan during Remix, which moves to the Sculpture Park for its summer iteration. Dancers from the Pacific Northwest ballet perform new work beneath its steel limbs as part of Summer at SAM for Sculptured Dance, a night of site-specific performances. These are only a few of the many programs that offer a chance for the public to participate and think about The Eagle and other works in the park in new ways.

Child participates in light mural during SAM Lights at Olympic Sculpture Park

In recent years, SAM has expanded the programming in ways that stretch ideas about what art museum experiences can be. This fall, the museum will partner with Tiny Trees to offer an outdoor preschool at the Sculpture Park that focuses on art and the environment. In the winter, SAM Lights illuminates the landscape with temporary light installations and hundreds of luminarias. And, the PACCAR Pavilion temporarily becomes an artist residency space, where performers create new projects in response to the artworks and landscape.

Essential to all of the educators’ work is the participation of departments from across the museum and beyond, including community organizations like Pacific Northwest Ballet and Forterra. “This is work that incorporates ideas of so many people,” emphasizes Pro. “It’s this shared vision that’s made the programs at the park successful.” Similarly, it’s the coalescence of elements—the art, the design, the environmental achievements, the landscape, the programming and the community—that together create the Olympic Sculpture Park as we know and celebrate it now, on its tenth anniversary.

— Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

This post is the final installment in a series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary.

Images: Photo: Robert Wade. Photo: Jen Au. Photo: Robert Wade. Photo: Sasha Im.

Ephemeral Art, Lasting Effects: Temporary Installations at the Olympic Sculpture Park

Spencer Finch’s The Western Mystery portrays one of our most familiar temporary experiences: a sunset. This new installation of ninety glass panes suspended from the PACCAR Pavilion’s ceiling opened at the Olympic Sculpture Park in April. The glass panes are sixteen shades of yellows, oranges, blues, and pinks based on the hues found in the artist’s photographs of Seattle sunsets. As the glass squares subtly rotate overhead, their surfaces capture fragmented reflections of the park that fade in and out of view.

The Western Mystery by Spencer Finch

Much like a sunset itself, The Western Mystery is an ephemeral experience. Over the past 10 years, the Seattle Art Museum has hosted 15 temporary installations by local, national, and international contemporary artists. SAM celebrates the sculpture park’s 10th anniversary this summer with Spencer Finch’s installation, as well as a new sculpture by Tacoma artist, Christopher Paul Jordan. Titled Latent Home Zero, Jordan’s “interactive silent film” is experienced through a binocular telescope that integrates collaged imagery related to the migration of African American people across the US with distorted, real-time views of the sculpture park.

SAM first began installing temporary art with Dennis Oppenheim’s five, massive Safety Cones, in the summer of 2008. But, the first temporary work appeared unexpectedly in 2007, shortly after the sculpture park opened. Mimi Gardner Gates, SAM’s Director from 1994–2009, recalled, “Early on, the artist group PDL created Eaglets under Alexander Calder’s The Eagle—a nest with three little Eagles. I loved that because it was Seattle’s artists responding to the sculptures in the park. To me, that really brought the park alive.”

Blue Sun by Victoria Haven

That lively spirit returns to the park every year through the temporary projects SAM commissions. For some artists, the short-term nature of their installations can lead to experimentation they wouldn’t always attempt in a permanently sited piece. In April of 2016, Seattle artist Victoria Haven created Blue Sun, a large-scale wall drawing that was based on the path and reflections of the sun as she experienced them from her studio window in South Lake Union. “I think the process involved a sense of immediacy that gave Blue Sun an energy and an aliveness,” Haven said. “It was like a breath on the wall; it was there and then it was gone. And, there’s something beautiful about the rigor and commitment involved in creating a monumental project that exists for a relatively short amount of time.”

YOU ARE HERE by Trimpin

The sense of immediacy also played a role in Seattle artist Trimpin’s 2014 temporary sound sculpture, YOU ARE HEAR. The installation’s three listening stations were comprised of repurposed tractor seats and oversized sets of “headphones.” Visitors who interacted with the piece experienced sounds created within their immediate environment, both from mechanisms the artist constructed and the sounds that naturally occur around the park. The artist himself became immersed in the sculpture park environment as he installed YOU ARE HEAR over a period of three days.  He explained, “I noticed there were lots of regulars coming through every day and that they were noticing how something unusual was going on. It was great to have a conversation with them . . . . It was an exciting chance to engage with the public as they were walking their dogs or jogging through the park.”

The Olympic Sculpture Park offers a unique experience for both seeing and creating works of art. Just as the spinning reflections of The Western Mystery create a new perspective on the Olympic Sculpture Park, all of the temporary projects have given visitors reasons to rethink their surroundings over the last 10 years, both within the park and out in the world.

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

This post is the fifth installment in a series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.

Images: Installation view of The Western Mystery (detail), 2017, Spencer Finch, American, b. 1962, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Mark Woods.  Installation view of The Western Mystery, 2017, Spencer Finch, American, b. 1962, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Mark Woods. Installation view of Safety Cones, 2008, Dennis Oppenheim, American, b. 1938, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Paul Macapia.  Installation view of Blue Sun, 2016, Victoria Haven, American, b. 1964, acrylic, 57 x 14 ft., Seattle Art Museum Commission 2016, Photo: Natali Wiseman. YOU ARE HEAR, 2014, Trimpin, German, b. 1951, three part sound installation at SAM Olympic Sculpture Park, commissioned by the Seattle Art Museum. © Trimpin, Photo: Nathaniel Willson.

Beneath the Surfaces: Conservation and Care at the Olympic Sculpture Park

Stroll through the Olympic Sculpture Park on a summer day, and you’ll find yourself immersed in an overload of the senses. The Puget Sound scents the air around Alexander Calder’s towering sculpture, The Eagle, with a salty freshness, while the waves below lap in the wind. Uninterrupted sunlight warms the curving, concrete benches of Roy McMakin’s Love & Loss to the touch. Bike commuters coast along the Elliott Bay Trail, an urban artery connecting bustling downtown Seattle and the neighborhoods to the north. But while visitors enjoy the natural and manmade beauty of the park, the outdoor sculptures on view are constantly under attack by the very elements that makes the park so special.

This coalescence of elements within the Olympic Sculpture Park provides a different sensory experience when your job is to preserve its works of art. SAM’s Chief Conservator Nicholas Dorman explains, “It’s a pretty aggressive environment out there. When the sun does shine, it’s unimpeded and bounces off the Sound, creating very intense light levels. Unhindered wind also comes through, carrying salt and lots of pollution. All of these elements break down the sculptures’ materials over time.”

Love & Loss

Care for each sculpture in the park requires attention to a range of factors that include its materials and fabrication, the artist’s or foundation’s intentions, and SAM’s curatorial and exhibition design philosophies. It’s easy to understand that the illuminated ampersand in Love & Loss requires upkeep in order to keep glowing. However, even its concrete benches and paths are prone to deterioration. Once a sculpture requires intervention, the conservators must consider many questions before deciding on a solution. Liz Brown, SAM’s Objects Conservator, describes, “When I’m looking for a treatment system, I have to keep in mind everything from how the public might interact with the piece, to the artist’s intent, to how the sculpture and the materials we apply are going to react to the environment.”

Coating the surface of Love & Loss is one part of its conservation treatment. When the conservators found that the original acrylic-polyurethane coating wasn’t performing well within the interactive environment of the installation, Brown worked with artist McMakin to replace it with a water-borne acrylic paint designed for pools, which she reapplies every year in order to preserve the aesthetic he originally envisioned for the piece. By comparison, sculptures painted with matte, highly pigmented paints, such as The Eagle and Tony Smith’s Stinger, are susceptible to damage by human touch because oils and contact more easily mar and break down the underbound coatings. The park’s proximity to the Puget Sound also brings the problem of chloride corrosion, making the coatings’ maintenance essential to the preservation of the metal sculptures.

As summer approaches, much of the conservation work at the park moves from behind-the-scenes to more publicly visible processes. Brown will soon begin cleaning all of the art and treating areas where corrosion has appeared. Several larger projects will also take place. This year, she hopes to manage refabrication of the Love & Loss ampersand and to determine a painted surface that will work for that portion of the sculpture in the long term. The next time you’re at the park, sitting on Love & Loss may feel a bit different, knowing more about the care that lives both within and beneath its surface.

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

This post is the fourth installment in a series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.

Images:  Photo: Benjamin Benschneider. Love & Loss, 2005-2006, Roy McMakin, American, b. 1956, mixed media installation with benches, tables, live tree, pathways and illuminated rotating element, Overall: 288 × 480 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund and gift of Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.2, photo: Benjamin Benschneider, © Roy McMakin. Stinger, 1967-68 / 1999, Tony Smith, American, 1912-1980, steel, painted black, 6 ft. 6 in. x 33 ft. 4 1/4 in. x 33 ft. 4 1/4 in., Gift of Jane Smith, 2004.117, photo: Paul Macapia © 2006 Estate of Tony Smith.

The Park In Balance: Siting the Olympic Sculpture Park Collection

Walking through the nature and art of the Olympic Sculpture Park, from the low-lying valley around Richard Serra’s Wake to the span of open water that fills the sightlines of Jaume Plensa’s Echo, one experiences an impeccable balance of nature and whimsy. “I think the way all of the art in the park works together, in combination with the way everything is spaciously placed, is what makes the Olympic Sculpture Park truly unique. You have breathtaking views, while the art can really stand on its own and be appreciated,” said Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

But, the process of achieving this effect was far from simple. SAM’s former Director of Exhibit Design, Michael McCafferty, led the process of arranging the park’s permanent sculptures within Weiss/Manfredi’s architectural design while collaborating with artists, curators, museum staff, and other partners. McCafferty approached the placement of the art as if he were working with a “very complex gallery”—a larger, outdoor version of the exhibit spaces he designed at SAM’s downtown location and the Asian Art Museum. He worked with a to-scale model of the Park that included the varied topography of its landscape, as well as miniature, hand-painted versions of most of the 21 works that were on view when the Park opened.

McCafferty began by placing the largest pieces that would be on view, such as The Eagle by Alexander Calder, the Sculpture Park’s founding gift from trustees Jon and Mary Shirley, as well as Stinger by Tony Smith and Typewriter Eraser, Scale X by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. “I would take the various models of the sculptures and move them around and around, considering the best viewing angles for someone who will walk all the way around the piece while they’re in the park and also for someone driving along Elliott Avenue,” McCafferty said. The medium and smaller sized works were then sited, through a design that balanced their weights and masses with the larger sculptures and the landscape, in a spirit he likened to a Japanese garden.

Over the past ten years, the park has grown and changed. The Aspen trees around Stinger stretch taller, the grass beneath The Eagle has thickened and new sculptures have entered the collection. One of the most recent is Jaume Plensa’s Echo, a large-scale piece depicting a tranquil visage that was donated by trustee Barney Ebsworth in 2013. Maintaining the approach established during the Park’s initial design, Echo’s placement, looking out onto the Puget Sound, was made by considering the pedestrians and cyclists who pass beneath it, as well as those who approach it from the water. The location of Echo also thrilled the artist, as Ebsworth described: “Jaume Plensa said how wonderful the placement overlooking the Olympic Mountains is because the sculpture’s subject is from Greek mythology. It’s perfect because Echo looks out towards Mount Olympus.” This siting of Echo between nature and art, between open space and calculated design, between land and sea—embodies the ethos that makes the Olympic Sculpture Park a uniquely Seattle place to experience art.

This post is the second in our series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

 Photos: Paul Macapia

Blue Sun: Interview with Victoria Haven

Hovering overhead in the Olympic Sculpture Park’s PACCAR Pavilion is the work of Seattle native, artist Victoria Haven. Blue Sun is a wall drawing inspired by a 2015 video project where the artist filmed the large-scale demolition and development of South Lake Union over a ten-month period. One of the more dramatic examples of Seattle’s rapidly changing urban core, Haven captured over 500,000 still frames through her art studio window and created a time-lapse video piece. Editing and viewing this footage piqued Haven’s interest in the movement of light and shadow and how light impacts a space differently depending on the objects, or in this case architecture, it encounters. With the Olympic Sculpture Park as a canvas for light and shadow, Haven approached the PACCAR Pavilion with a curiosity and intent that she shares with us in this interview about the bold crystalline forms that traverse the entire length of the east wall. Blue Sun closes March 5—don’t miss it!

SAM: How do you see Blue Sun functioning as a sculptural painting in dialogue with the sculptures around it?

Victoria Haven: The first thing I did upon being offered the opportunity to create a work for the Pavilion wall, was to spend many hours in the space considering both the interior architecture (windows, walls, floor, chairs) and the exterior forms in the Sculpture Park; the most visible being Serra’s Wake to the North and Calder’s Eagle to the West. These colossal structures are incrementally transformed throughout the day as dramatic shadows appear and recede, based on the intensity and variety of natural light. I tried to capture this dynamic sensibility in the bold shapes and implied motion of my wall painting.

Also at play are the Olympic Mountains in the distance, which I consider an extended border of the park, as they are visible from nearly every vantage point—including the Pavilion where my work is sited. The composition and forms of Blue Sun are in conversation with these works and others (i.e. Tony Smith’s Wandering Rocks), in terms of scale and geometry, as well as being a direct response to the monumentality of the peaks to the West.

There is movement to this piece. Do you ascribe a narrative to the work? If so, is this narrative motion cyclical, linear, other?

There is an implied motion/movement in this work in that it is a sequence of forms presented horizontally, and (for most Western trained eyes) from left to right. These forms create an arc that points to the cyclical nature of the sun’s transit across the sky, referring to both daily and cosmological durations. In this sense, it operates as a narrative—or perhaps a framework or container for a narrative—by addressing two vastly different time-scales via repetition.

The geometric forms of Blue Sun appear in a lot of your work. Why are these forms useful or important to this piece?

I consider all of my work, whether in two dimensions or in three, to operate within the discipline of drawing. Line is the essential component of my practice, and I employ it as a tool which allows me to define and describe space.

When I first began making work that emphasized the space between two and three dimensions (i.e. the Oracles 1999/2009, Wonderland 2004, etc) it looked like a kind of DIY extrusion of the grid. I often begin with a single line or shape that mutates and proliferates to become an expanded wire-frame-like structure. The geometries I employ, though they may suggest mathematical systems, are usually intuitive and wonky.

Oracle 4, 2009, Victoria Haven

Wonderland, 2004, Victoria Haven

In the case of Blue Sun, I saw it in a flash. I had the vision of a large blue crystalline form repeating but transforming across the space (echoing the sun as it appeared in the time-lapse). It was one of those rare and lucky moments when the ideas that had been gestating in my mind merged instantly with the space in the Pavilion.

My challenge was figuring out how the piece would have the same strength of that original vision, with the emotional punch of something between joy and oppression. The space requires the work to have a powerful visual impact, from afar as well as up-close. To accomplish this I drew from my deep well of mind and body memory; drawing and painting line upon line and edge upon edge to create these enigmatic forms as well as the negative space that defines them.

You filmed 10 months of footage for Studio X, the piece that inspired Blue Sun. Did you watch all 10 months of the footage? What was it about the blue sun spots that made them jump out from within so much footage?

Yes!! I not only WATCHED all 10 months of footage, I (along with my studio assistant Elliot Bosveld) edited over 500,000 still frames that became the 24-hour time-lapse video, Studio X—a video projection which documents the radical transformation of this city, shot from the fourth-story windows of my studio in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

In the process of filming and editing Studio X, certain recurring patterns unfolded. What struck me most as I sorted through day after day (293 in all) of altered city and sky, was not only the massive construction site my neighborhood had become, but the subtler recurring moments that stood out among the drama; the trees that would appear to wiggle in the distance, and the sun (when it showed up) stuttering across the sky in 30 second intervals.

Still from Studio X, 2015, Victoria Haven

I was captivated by how my low-fi camera transformed the glowing celestial orb into a blue blob, with a halo of fractured pixels and varying values. It was also this aspect of the sun’s repeated and consistent trajectory that opened-up the work beyond the frame-by-frame depiction of gentrification and development on a human scale toward a broader poetic geological timeline. I knew I wanted to isolate this feature and explore an abstract version of this phenomenon. This commission for the Olympic Sculpture Park Pavilion wall provided me with the perfect opportunity to do so.

—Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter/Content Strategist

Images: Installation view of Blue Sun, 2016, Victoria Haven, American, b. 1964, acrylic, 57 x 14 ft., Seattle Art Museum, 2016 Commission, photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Blue Sun (detail)Oracle 4, 2009, Victoria Haven, selenium toned silver gelatin print 19″ x 15.75”  Edition of 6. Wonderland, 2004, Victoria Haven, shelf paper, adhesive, Yupo, pins. View of title lettering from Blue Sun. Still from Studio X, 2015, Victoria Haven, dual screen video projection, dimensions variable.

Olympic Sculpture Park: Sculpting a Universe

“How does art come into being? Out of volumes, motion, spaces carved out within the surrounding space, the universe.” –Alexander Calder

Read these words on the silver plaque as you stand beneath Calder’s The Eagle, in the Olympic Sculpture Park, and they resonate deeply. The bolts and bends in its blazing, red steel prompt you to envision the way its parts came together in the artist’s mind. This year, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Olympic Sculpture Park, Calder’s words become especially poignant. Looking out at the park and the surrounding slices of Seattle framed by The Eagle’s wings and legs—the art, the land, and the architecture—we are reminded of the way people came together to build this unique green space in the downtown corridor.

The park’s true beginnings go back to 1996, when SAM trustee, collector, and arts philanthropist Jon Shirley saw the potential for something greater. “My late wife Mary and I were looking at our outdoor sculpture collection around the yard of our home and wondered where it might end up one day. . . . As collectors, we visited many sculpture parks around the world and thought, why not here?”

They shared their idea with arts benefactors and SAM trustees Virginia and Bagley Wright, as well as SAM’s Director from 1994–2009, Mimi Gardner Gates. Later that year, Gates brought those conversations with her on a fly fishing trip in Mongolia with a group of twelve women, where she got to know Martha Wyckoff, volunteer and national board member at the Trust for Public Land. Following a helicopter crash that left Gates, Wyckoff, and the rest of the group unharmed but stranded in the steppes of Mongolia, the two women found themselves discussing a mutual interest in civic engagement that spoke to the aspirations of both organizations: free, public green spaces and art for Seattle’s community. As Martha Wyckoff explained, “Community can include everyone in Seattle and anyone who comes to visit. As we developed the project, we realized it also included the salmon, and the plants, and the future, by making sure there’s more green, natural settings in the downtown core for all to enjoy. Where else has a major city art museum created salmon habitat in partnership with a national nonprofit land conservation group?”

After Gates and Wyckoff returned to Seattle, they began discussing possible sites, along with the Shirleys, the Wrights, and Chris Rogers from the Trust for Public Land, who went on to manage the sculpture park project on behalf of SAM. Rogers and Wyckoff had been mapping park possibilities in King County for over a year and kept coming back to a strip of land on the waterfront beside Myrtle Edwards Park. Still contaminated by its former life as a site for petroleum storage, the space was far from inspiring. Yet, when the team visited, something sparked. Gates explained, “It was much lower, it was fenced in, and people were living on the edges. Plus, it had a railroad track running through it. . . . Jon [Shirley] was particularly visionary in terms of really being able to see what it could be. I was very enthusiastic about the idea of space on the waterfront that was open and free. And so, we started running.”

The Trust for Public Land was familiar with brownfield restorations from their previous projects, so they took the lead on the complex negotiations required to acquire and clean up the site. But the park as we know it fully came to be through architects Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi’s submission to a competition for its design. Gates explained, “We didn’t have a set vision until Marion and Michael presented their plan. Their design went over the road and the railroad tracks, incorporating and integrating the infrastructure of the city into the park while creating a space that was tranquil, quiet, and a place you wanted to be—that vision was critical to what the park has become.”

During the years that passed since the park opened on January 20, 2007, the sculptures, the design, the plants and all of the activities that happen among them have become embedded into the city that has grown around it. Skyscrapers bloom around the thick carpet of green and open span of sky while hundreds of container ships and ferries, otters and seals, pass through the Puget Sound below. When you scan the downtown skyline from the West Seattle shore, between CenturyLink Field’s white arches and the Space Needle’s hovering disc, the park’s patch of green and The Eagle’s spot of red stand out, too. Inside the park, a universe of sorts was carved, by two organizations and many individuals—a universe that continues to be shaped by Seattle itself.

In the months ahead, we will continue reflecting on the Olympic Sculpture Park’s history with an in-depth look at the permanent and temporary works of art, the landscape, the programming, and more. We hope our memories of the last 10 years bring to mind some of your own and, even better, that you’ll visit in 2017 to create new experiences during the park’s 10th year.

 

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