Masks in the Bullitt Library’s Collection

The Seattle Art Museum’s current exhibition, Disguise, examines 21st-century evolutions of the African mask and explores contemporary forms of disguise. For this latest book installation from the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library, we drew upon unique works in our Special Collections related to masks. They run the gamut between the restraint of an early 20th-century collection catalogue and the intensity of an early 21st-century work that delights the senses.

Masks Alone

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Portier, André and François Poncetton. Les Arts Sauvages: Afrique. Paris: Editions Albert Morancé, 1956. SPCOL OSZ NB 1080 P6.

Les Arts Sauvages: Afrique is a large folio edition that focuses its attention on the form of each mask, leaving context to our imagination. It was first published in Paris in 1927, and is authored by the French academics, André Portier (French, 1886–1969) and François Poncetton (French, 1875 or 1877–1950). It includes fifty loose-leaf collotype photographic plates printed in sepia, some overprinted with color. An elaborate, beautifully produced collection catalogue, this work displays the collections of important artists, critics, and writers of the French Surrealist and Dada movements.

Two examples of the overprinted color plates are on currently on view: Masque Pongwé (Gabon), from the collection of Stéphen-Charles Chauvet, (French, 1885-1950), known for his authorship of the first illustrated compendium on Easter Island; and Masque Man (Côte d’Ivoire), from the collection of Paul Éluard, (French, 1895-1952), the French surrealist poet.

Soundsuits in a Box

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From Cave, Nick. Soundsuits Boxfolio. Chicago: Soundsuit Shop, 2006. SPCOL N 6537 C447 S68 2009.

“The wearers and their masks participate in a consuming spectacle: sounds, smells, the audience and the setting all play essential roles.” —Herman Burssens, African Faces: An Homage to the African Mask

Unlike the quiet, reflective nature of Les Arts Sauvages: Afrique, this artist’s book by Nick Cave (American, 1961–) has movement, makes noise, and shows us masks represented in a totally different way from that of more traditional books.

From Cave, Nick. Soundsuits Boxfolio. Chicago: Soundsuit Shop, 2006. SPCOL N 6537 C447 S68 2009.

From Cave, Nick. Soundsuits Boxfolio. Chicago: Soundsuit Shop, 2006. SPCOL N 6537 C447 S68 2009.

This Boxfolio is a rare, wonderful, instance of an artist leaving a remnant behind after a show. In 2011, artist Nick Cave held a solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum and this work ultimately ended up in the Bullitt Library. Best described as an artist’s book, this work contains a diverse and fascinating assortment: an iron-on patch, lenticular image, magnet, pin, blow-up punching bag, set of playing cards, set of postcards, hanging ornament, booklet, fiber optic wand, and a Viewmaster. Cave’s Soundsuit Shop tells us that “Nick’s 2006 exhibitions were accompanied by this Boxfolio which, like the Soundsuit, is a collection of unexpected items that make sound when shaken.”

Two of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits are on view in the exhibition, Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, which runs through September 7, 2015.

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

The book installation, Masks in the Bullitt Library’s Collection, is on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum, during the library’s public hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm. (Please note the library will be closed July 1-3, 2015.)

Plateau Artists’ Book on View at Bullitt Library

In conjunction with the exhibition, Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection, this installation features the Native American artists’ book, Terrain: Plateau Native Art & Poetry.

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Cover of Terrain: Plateau Native Art & Poetry. Olympia: Self-published at Evergreen State College, 2014. SPCOL E 78 C64 F43 2014.

Terrain: Plateau Native Art & Poetry is the print portfolio/artist’s book that was curated by artist Joe Feddersen, Evergreen faculty emeritus and member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. Corwin Clairmont, Salish and Kootenai, was responsible for printing the works’ monotypes and creating the embellished folio cover.

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Elephant Rock, monotype by Vanessa Enos.

As one reviewer described, “[Terrain] presents a visual and verbal journey through physical, emotional, and visionary landscapes.” Feddersen, in the volume’s introduction, explains:

“Defined by the crest of the Cascades to the Continental Divide, touching northern California extending far north into British Columbia, Terrain speaks of the textures of the earth—the homeland of the Plateau people. This compilation of expressions, relief prints and poems, breathes the life of ongoing cultures inherent to place.”

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HomelessTerrain.info, monotype by Ron Carraher. By moving a QR code scanner over the image, the viewer can connect to Carraher’s website.

In a phone interview, Feddersen impressed upon me the importance and purpose of this project. It was a chance to shed some light on artists of the Plateau area, who don’t often receive the attention that artists from the Northwest Coast and Plains regions receive. It was also an opportunity to bring people together. More than half of the participants were present at the printing: older artists working alongside younger artists; well-known artists working alongside emerging ones. It became a very multigenerational experience.   Editions were produced for museums, the artists themselves, and people who volunteered on the project. When the artists came to Evergreen State College in the spring of 2014 for the exhibition component of the project, they got to exchange prints with one another. Feddersen described it like a “coming home week”—a time when people came back together after being dispersed in their various locales, away from their Native culture.

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Unnecessary Housing, monotype by William (Bill) Passmore.

The portfolio is comprised of prints and poetry by thirty-four Plateau artists and writers: Leo Adams, Sherman Alexie, Neal Ambrose, Gloria Bird, Ron Carraher, Vic Charlo, Corwin Clairmont, Cameron Decker, Alyne Watamet DeCoteau, Debra Earling, Vanessa Enos, Carly Feddersen, Joe Feddersen, Ryan Feddersen, Jennifer Feddersen, Frank Finley, Ric Gendron, Cheryl Grunlose, Michael Holloman, Van Holloman, Rochelle Kulei, James Lavadour, Miles Miller, Ramon Murillo, Ed Archie NoiseCat, William Passmore, Lillian Pitt, Lawney Reyes, Susan Sheoships, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Kirby Stanton, Toma Villa, Ramona Wilson, and Lizzy Woody.

The SAM Libraries are grateful to have this distinctive work. Artist’s books by Native artists are unfortunately rare. Feddersen hopes that projects like this will continue. We do too.

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Terrain: Plateau Native Art & Poetry is on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum, during the library’s public hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm. During the run of Indigenous Beauty, we will rotate the selection of prints and poems being displayed.

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