My Five – An Intern’s Favorite Things

Katie Morris is a graduate intern at the Seattle Art Museum, working with the Curatorial Division this fall. This week, she gave a thoughtful and insightful tour of five of her favorite objects to SAM staff and interns. Here, she shares her thoughts with you.

-Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections

 

Having been asked to choose my five favorite pieces of art on display at SAM I must apologize because I have come to the conclusion that I simply cannot achieve this goal. For me, it is impossible. Not only did I find that choosing five objects above all others on my preliminary “list of favorites” too difficult, in the process of attempting to fine-tune my selection I would inevitably find another intriguing or beautiful object that captured my eye with every walk through the gallery space. And don’t get me started on what a new day and different mood did to my selection.

So, with defeat not an option I tried to look at the task from a different angle, to give myself some boundaries and to try and anchor my selections. With this in mind a very large theme began to emerge across many of the objects at SAM – the theme of Ceremony.

In its most basic sense, ceremony is defined as a ritual observance and procedure performed at grand or formal occasions. In many regards, ceremony is apart of our daily lives.

 

Canoe-shaped bowl with quail topknots, early 20th century, Native American, Californian, Pomo, willow, sedge root, bracken fern root, quail feathers, 1 3/4 × 6 1/4 × 2 1/4in., Gift of the Estate of Robert M. Shields, 2013.4.13. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

Canoe-shaped bowl with quail topknots, early 20th century, Native American, Californian, Pomo, willow, sedge root, bracken fern root, quail feathers, 1 3/4 × 6 1/4 × 2 1/4in., Gift of the Estate of Robert M. Shields, 2013.4.13. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

This canoe-shaped bowl with quail topknots is a quiet symbol of ceremony. For Native American Indians of the American West, basketry and weaving is considered a highly skilled art form passed down between generations. A woven object not only usually serves a direct and functional purpose, but it is also indicative of a broader system of cultural knowledge in its design, technique and the materials available locally for its creation.

Baskets such as this one were made as simple containers, but also as gifts during formal occasions. For example, traditional wedding ceremonies in certain regions often included the bride and groom gifting each other baskets full of objects signifying commitment; for women, bread and corn to symbolize the lifetime of support she will share with her new husband, for men, meat and skins for his bride to represent his promise to feed and clothe her. Baskets in other clans were used during birthing ceremonies, holding the baby’s umbilical cord along with other objects of meaning so that the ancestors will recognize them when they arrive in the spirit world.

 

Lkaayaak yeil s'aaxw (Box of Daylight Raven Hat), ca. 1850, Native American, Tlingit, Taku, Gaanax'adi clan, maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, paint, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather, Flicker feathers, 11 7/8 x 7 3/4 x 12 1/4in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.124. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

Lkaayaak yeil s’aaxw (Box of Daylight Raven Hat), ca. 1850, Native American, Tlingit, Taku, Gaanax’adi clan, maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, paint, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather, Flicker feathers, 11 7/8 x 7 3/4 x 12 1/4in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.124. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

This carving of maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather and Flicker feathers is an elaborate example of Tlingit carved wood hats. These carvings, attached to larger headdresses, are among the most significant objects of Tlingit clans, kept safe by the clan leader or caretaker. They are shown or worn only on ceremonial occasions and their carving often captures distinct geographic features, animals or natural phenomena that form part of the clan’s legends to which it belongs.

 

This carved wood hat depicts Raven with human-like hands and fingers. Tlingit legend says that Raven was responsible for organizing the world to the form that we inhabit it today – this carving shows him releasing the sun, the red disk above his head, and the stars and moon which are in the box that he holds. It is unusual in its full sculptural form of Raven, who is frequently depicted in the face only.

 

Pukamani pole, 1999, Leon Puruntatamari, Australian Aboriginal, Tiwi Islands, Melville Island, born 1949, natural pigments with fixative on ironwood, height 104 5/16in., Partial and promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.155, © Leon Puruntatamari. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

Pukamani pole, 1999, Leon Puruntatamari, Australian Aboriginal, Tiwi Islands, Melville Island, born 1949, natural pigments with fixative on ironwood, height 104 5/16in., Partial and promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.155, © Leon Puruntatamari. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

This ironwood Pukamani pole is another example of carving used in ceremony. For the Tiwi people of the Tiwi Islands, just off the coast of the Northern Territory in Australia, Pukamani is the ceremony surrounding death. It is performed over a series of rituals beginning with the burial of the body and culminating in the final ceremony where carved Pukamani poles are placed around the grave in a circular shape to contain and comfort the spirit of the deceased.

Between death and the final placement of burial poles around the grave sometimes more than a year will pass, but most often about six months, as the family of the deceased work to organize the people who will be involved in the ceremonial duties. It also takes a long time to carve and paint a Pukamani pole. The artists of Pukamani poles such as Leon Puruntatamari, who made this example, are paid for their artistic efforts as whilst it is a privilege to be commissioned to complete a burial pole, the deceased’s honor is attached with how his or her family arranges the Pukamani ceremonies and how generous they are with those participating.

At a Pukamani ceremony members of different Tiwi clans congregate to ensure the safe and happy journey of the deceased to the spirit world through dance and song. People will paint their bodies with designs not foremost to designate clan as is usually thought to be the case, but rather to disguise the body from the deceased who is considered to be in trickster mode until the completion of Pukamani rituals. Tiwi people will also wear feather armbands and headdresses in order to better disguise themselves.

 

Katie Morris, looking at paintings by Emily Kngwarreye, promised gifts of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, all paintings © Emily Kngwarreye. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

Katie Morris, looking at paintings by Emily Kngwarreye, promised gifts of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, all paintings © Emily Kngwarreye. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

Although there are thousands of miles between the Tiwi Islands and Emily Kngwarreye’s Country Alhalkere, in Australia’s Utopia region of the central Desert, the act of body painting during and for ceremony is of equal and sacred importance.

Emily Kngwarreye starting painting on canvas in 1989 and before her death in 1996 she completed close to 3000 works. Posthumously she has been celebrated as a great abstract painter, contributing to the same artistic dialogue as artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. But Emily Kngwarreye never saw one of these iconic artist’s work, let alone studied them in a book. For Emily, her work considered and was about one subject only: her Country.

In Awelye (Ceremony), we are seeing the same lines on the canvas as they traditionally appear on the body during women’s ceremonies. With this in mind, the surface of the painting can be likened to a ceremonial ground in which Emily Kngwarreye reenacted the ceremony to which she was custodian. She was known to sing as she painted, using the canvas to remember and pay homage to her Country. With each brushstroke she connected herself to her ancestors and kin.

 

Tureen, ca. 1725-30, Austrian, Du Paquier manufactory, hard paste porcelain, 7 3/4 x 8 1/8 x 14in. overall, Gift of Martha and Henry Isaacson, 69.171. Currently on view in the Porcelain Room, Seattle Art Museum.

Tureen, ca. 1725-30, Austrian, Du Paquier manufactory, hard paste porcelain, 7 3/4 x 8 1/8 x 14in. overall, Gift of Martha and Henry Isaacson, 69.171. Currently on view in the Porcelain Room, Seattle Art Museum.

With family in mind, my final object of ceremony is of a vastly different tone to my four previous choices. It is in no way intended to trivialize the extreme significance of the four preceding examples of objects I have presented which are tied to ceremony, but rather to simply present another object from a new angle. Given the time of year and the busy Holiday season approaching, I cannot help but reflect on the ceremonies that I know I will be apart of in the last months of the year.

This hard paste porcelain tureen was produced in Vienna sometime between 1725 and 1730. The many treasures that made their way back to Europe as a result of increased trade in the eighteenth century influenced its design. You can see the lure of exotic and distant lands that came about with this travel is visible in the monkey and Japanese-inspired floral decoration.

When looking at this quirky object of domesticity I find myself wondering of the tables that this tureen has graced and the conversations it has overheard. Has it been apart of a wedding or a birthday celebration? Or perhaps a meal on a religious holiday? After all, what is the act of sitting around a dining table during the holidays or a special occasion with family and friends? Whether your holiday meals involve an elegant monkey tureen or paper plates and takeaway containers, I suggest that it is all ceremony.

-Katie Morris, Curatorial intern, 2014

 

 

 

Dream Job Involve Coffee Runs and Endless Menial Tasks? This One’s NOT for You

The Seattle Art Museum is looking for interns for fall quarter! If you are a Communications or Digital Design major, then these internships would be great for you. If you aren’t either of these majors, there are choices for you too, including positions in Human Resources and Corporate Relations.

The concept of an intern has long been associated with the likes of a lackey who exists solely for coffee runs and dry cleaning, or a scapegoat who carries the blame for anything going wrong at a company. Luckily for those in this entry level position, times have changed.

For the past three months, I have been a Communications intern for the Seattle Art Museum. SAM takes really good care of their interns; as long as you work hard, you play an integral role in the team. For Communications, interns’s work is fondly called “Intern Power” as a way to reflect the important tasks we are assigned. It’s surprising the number of small but significant tasks that have to be done. Whether it’s writing blog posts like this, or working with admissions to produce materials, there’s always something to be gained educationally. SAM works super hard to provide interns with an enriched and informative experience that involves a variety of tasks.

Working as an intern has helped me gain insight into the field I someday aspire to work professionally. I can apply tasks I’ve learned in class, like how to speak to the press, to the real world. Not to mention, it’s a great resume builder! Whether this is your first internship or your 18th, you cannot go wrong. Each internship, each intern, is diverse and everyone will learn something different. For me, I have improved my writing, my people skills, and I have a much better grasp of Excel than before.

This has been the first internship I’ve ever worked my entire life, and it has been totally worth it. Working for the Seattle Art Museum has done nothing but affirm how excited I am to be doing what I am doing, to be pursuing a future career in Public Relations or Marketing. Beginning my path with such kind, supportive, and driven people was the best thing that could have happened to me.

So, after 10 wonderful weeks, I leave here knowing that I harbor the capability to succeed with my ambitions, something that this wonderful SAMily has shown me.

For more information, visit us here, or call us at (206) 654-3100. We are accepting applications now for all listed positions. Apply today! Trust me, you won’t regret it.

-Erin Dwyer, Seattle Art Museum Communication’s Intern

Mona Lisa Smiles, Girdles, and Artistic Accomplishment

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, November 1, 1953

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, November 1, 1953

Let’s face it: women were not exactly free to challenge the system in the 1950s.  Donna Reed was the ultimate hero for women of that decade; the perfect example of what a housewife and mother should be.  Other examples of these women are found in the Seattle Times’ historic archives, where engagement announcements, sorority fundraisers, and art show reviews mix and mingle on the society pages.  Advertisements proudly display the latest fashions and gadgets that can help the average housewife “wow” her family and friends with her ability to clean the house, cook a full meal, and still look like she just stepped out of a magazine (note: this usually involved a girdle).

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, July 19, 1959

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, July 19, 1959

This decade has been picked apart in retrospect by television and film, but not many have explored the art and history of this time period better than Mona Lisa Smile.  Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts), an art history professor at Wellesley College in 1953, challenges her female students by asking them to reconsider everything they’ve ever been told about “the roles they were born to fill.” [1]   Katherine Watson pushes them to think beyond marriage and the expectations of the time.

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, July 19, 1959

Frederick and Nelson advertisement, The Seattle Times, July 19, 1959

For those who have seen this film, you might remember the scene where Katherine Watson comes to class with slides featuring the latest advertisements for girdles and kitchen appliances.  Women were expected to go to college to find a husband and receive their “M.R.S.” degrees, and clearly Ms. Watson had had enough of students disappearing from class to get married.  In this particular scene, she asks:

“What will future scholars see when they study us? A portrait of women today? There you are ladies: the perfect likeness of a Wellesley graduate, Magna Cum Laude doing exactly what she was trained to do…I wonder if she recites Chaucer while she presses her husband’s shirts?  Now you physics majors can calculate the mass and volume of every meat loaf you ever make!”[2]

It is revealed in the film that Katherine’s mother was a part of the war effort and her independence from this time translated onto her daughter.  Many women of the 1950s were influenced by World War II and the aftermath of it that changed America and the way people thought about gender roles in society.  Women had been given a chance to be independent and made up a large portion of America’s work force while they held down the home front.  However, much of this changed when the war ended and men returned from overseas.

The Bon Marché advertisement, The Seattle Times, November 13, 1950

The Bon Marché advertisement, The Seattle Times, November 13, 1950

But what does this have to do with the Seattle Art Museum and the artists that we have in our collection?  A lot.  Many of the female artists I have been researching over the last year worked in this decade and had difficulty breaking the barriers that society had created.  Katherine Watson is a prime (Hollywood) example of what female artists were trying to do in the 1950s.  However, we have two artists that are a little closer to home for us that were able to create a name for themselves.  Ebba Rapp and Jean Cory Beall were both born in 1909 and were highly accomplished and well known in the art community.

Log End, ca. 1946, Jean Cory Beall, American, 1909-1978, tempera on Masonite, 17 5/8 x 21 ¾ in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 46.225, © Jean Cory Beall

Log End, ca. 1946, Jean Cory Beall, American, 1909-1978, tempera on Masonite, 17 5/8 x 21 ¾ in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 46.225, © Jean Cory Beall

Jean Cory Beall grew up drawing and painting and took this passion with her into higher education in Paris, Mexico, and Seattle.  Her watercolors and mosaics were primarily created for private clients but she also began receiving public commissions for mosaic murals.[3]  Beall’s work was quickly recognized as something special and led her to accomplish an extraordinary amount, especially for a woman living and working in 1950s America.  However, her career wasn’t easy to build.  Beall created her own art and assisted her husband with design sketches for some of his Boeing products, while also taking care of their three children, Alan, Corey, and Barbara.[4] Beall seemed to “do it all,” and was recognized many years by the Seattle Art Museum’s Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists, winning an honorable mention in 1943 for her piece, “Boomtown.”[5] Her work continues to hang in various museums and public buildings across the country, including the Federal Reserve Bank, the General Administration Building (Olympia, WA) and the Erco/Co. in Washington D.C.[6]

Originally a painter like Beall, Ebba Rapp was an accomplished portrait artist by the time she reached high school, but in the 1930s she had an opportunity to study under the renowned sculptor, Alexander Archipenko.[7] She began to incorporate sculpture into her work and her talent was eventually noticed outside of her local community when one of her pieces was included in the American Art Today exhibition at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.  Rapp was also an active member of the Women Painters of Washington, founded in 1935.  Rapp joined this group of women in 1936 after commenting that the Seattle art community was “dominated and politically controlled by a clique” of men, and that women were “systematically excluded.”[8]  The Women Painters of Washington came together to “overcome the limitations they faced as women artists and to realize their artistic potential through fellowship.”[9]  This community was needed at a time when women were not afforded the resources and recognition that they wanted or deserved and it continues to support women and their artwork today.

The Rumor, 1946-52, Ebba Rapp, American, 1909-1985, terracotta, 15 ½ x 14 ½ x 9 in. overall, Gift of David F. Martin and Dominic Zambito, in memory of John D. McLauchlan, 2011.3, © Ebba Rapp

The Rumor, 1946-52, Ebba Rapp, American, 1909-1985, terracotta, 15 ½ x 14 ½ x 9 in. overall, Gift of David F. Martin and Dominic Zambito, in memory of John D. McLauchlan, 2011.3, © Ebba Rapp

Rapp, like Beall, had very a supportive husband who pushed her to share her work with the community.  Rapp was incredibly humble; she often “turned commission invitations to others and was reluctant to enter her work in exhibitions.”[10] Oftentimes her husband, John D. McLauchlan would enter work to shows on her behalf.[11] A Seattle Times reporter noted in 1959, that Beall’s husband, Wellwood E. Beall, was “a person who believe[d] in letting wives have careers.”[12]  This was out of the ordinary for the time; a husband who supported his wife having a career instead of a hobby?  Ludicrous!  Both Mr. McLauchlan and Mr. Beall broke the mold of a 1950s husband by encouraging their wives to follow their passions.

Among other things, the opinions of men are something that Katherine Watson tries hard to counter in Mona Lisa Smile.  Topher Grace’s character, Tommy, says it would be hard for his fiancée, Joan (Julia Stiles) to commute to and from law school and still get dinner on the table by five.  These were the expectations that many held during that period.  Finally, Katherine gets through to one of the girls.  Betty Warren (Kirsten Dunst) was Katherine Watson’s most staunch opponent, but by the end of the film she understands that even though Mona Lisa is smiling in Leonardo’s masterpiece, we do not know if she was actually happy.  Like so many women of the time, Betty Warren wore a mask and pretended she was happy because she was doing what she was told she should be doing.  Jean Cory Beall and Ebba Rapp may not have had easy journeys to begin their creative careers, but they proved that they could support their husbands and families while also breaking those social mores and being successful and driven women who opened the doors for generations of artists to come.

 

-Annika Firn, Curatorial Intern

 

[1] Mona Lisa Smile.  Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures, Inc., California, USA, 2003.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Fitzgerald, Annamary.  “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: General Administration Building,” United State Department of the Interior, National Park Service, July 1, 2006, p. 8.

[4] “1994 Distinguished Engineering Alumni/ae Award Recipients,” The University of Colorado, 1994.

[5] “Newcomers Win Prizes in Art Preview,” The Seattle Times, October 7, 1943, p. 26.

[6] “Assembly Names Five As Leaders in Fine Arts,” The Seattle Post Intelligencer, November 4, 1958, p. 12.

[7] John McLauchlan. Interview by Barbara Johns.  Tape recording.  Seattle, WA., 26 February, 1987.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “History,” Women Painters of Washington, http://www.womenpainters.com/ABOUT/About.htm

[10] McLauchlan interview, 1987.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Mexican Muralist is Teacher,” The Seattle Times, August 23, 1959.

My Five – an intern shares her favorite things

Emma Johnson joined us a an intern in Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art this June. Today, on her last day with us, I asked her to share her “Five,” her top five favorite objects from our collection. I think her choices are pretty great. Do you? What are your favorite SAM objects?

-Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections

 

After being at SAM for only three short weeks, I didn’t know how I could possibly choose five pieces of art that were my absolute favorite, as my supervisor Sarah Berman had requested. But after wandering through each gallery, several pieces stood out to me. Objects have always caught my eye more than paintings or other mediums so each piece I have selected is an artifact, not something hung on a wall.

Mirror with scene of the Judgment of Paris, 4th-3rd century B.C., Etruscan, `bronze, 10 3/8 x 7 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.36. Currently on view the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Mirror with scene of the Judgment of Paris, 4th-3rd century B.C., Etruscan, `bronze, 10 3/8 x 7 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.36. Currently on view the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

As a Classics major, ancient Greek myths are pieces of history that I find fascinating. One of my all-time favorite myths has always been the Judgment of Paris, so when I discovered an ancient mirror with the judgment scene etched into the back of it, the piece immediately claimed a position in my “top five.” As the ancient story goes, Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, three Olympic goddesses, asked Zeus to choose who among them is the ‘fairest of them all.’ Not wanting to create further drama among the goddesses, wise Zeus tells the Trojan mortal, Paris, to make the final decision. Each goddess quickly approaches Paris with a bribe, attempting to win him over in order that he chooses her. Hera offers to make Paris a king. Athena tells Paris she will give him the skills and wisdom every man needs in war. Lastly, Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful woman in all the lands, Helen. Paris excitedly chooses Aphrodite as the winner, as no man could ever turn down beautiful Helen. However, Helen is the wife of the Greek King Menelaus. Angered by this transaction, Menelaus seeks revenge and thus the Trojan War begins.

Ring, Asante, Ghanaian, gold, 1 3/16 x 1 5/8 x 1 1/2 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.1684. Currently on view in the African Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Ring, Asante, Ghanaian, gold, 1 3/16 x 1 5/8 x 1 1/2 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.1684. Currently on view in the African Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

In the African art collection, there is a beautiful and intricate gold ring which claimed a place among my favorite pieces once I heard the story behind its creation. There are several Asante proverbs behind the design of the tortoise shell on the ring. The first is along the lines of ‘a tortoise is suffering in its shell,’ meaning that no matter how confident and put-together a person might seem, they are always dealing with issues that you cannot see. The second proverb says, ‘if the tortoise eats the Earth, you eat some too.” This saying explains that if you are ever a visitor, either in someone else’s home or an entirely different country or culture, no matter how strange and foreign their customs seem, you must respect them and take part in them. (As a Classics major, I might phrase it, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”) The ring is displayed in a glass case among many other pieces of gold jewelry, and at first I almost overlooked it. However, the story and meaning behind the ring is so powerful to me that it is now in my “top five.”

Kantharos with Satyr and Maenad Heads, ca. 1st century, Roman England, ceramic, 7 1/4 x 6 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 47.108. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Kantharos with Satyr and Maenad Heads, ca. 1st century, Roman England, ceramic, 7 1/4 x 6 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 47.108. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Back in the Greek and Roman collection is another of my favorites, a ‘kantharos’ or cup for wine. On either side of the cup is a head; on one side of a maenad and on the other of a satyr. Both are mythological creatures who are followers of Dionysus, the wine god. I love that on an object made for wine there are the two symbolic representations of drinking. I also find this piece interesting because the satyr and maenad look simple and peaceful while usually they are depicted during a Dionysian rite in which they are in an altered state of mind.

Amulet with mummified monkey, Egyptian, Early Dynastic period (ca. 2920 - 2649 B.C.), wood, 3 3/16 x 11/16 x 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 55.136. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Amulet with mummified monkey, Egyptian, Early Dynastic period (ca. 2920 – 2649 B.C.), wood, 3 3/16 x 11/16 x 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 55.136. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

On the first day of my internship, a guard pointed out the small amulet of a mummified monkey and informed me it was one of the oldest objects in SAM’s collection. The monkey became a favorite because of its age. Made somewhere between 2920-2649 BC, the old age of it fascinates me. While I do not know much about the monkey, it is still one of my favorites here.

Divination Container (Opon Igede Ifa), Areogun (Yoruba, African, 1880-1954), wood, 21 1/2 in. diam., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.621. Currently on view in the African Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Divination Container (Opon Igede Ifa), Areogun (Yoruba, African, 1880-1954), wood, 21 1/2 in. diam., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.621. Currently on view in the African Art galleries, 4th floor, Seattle Art Museum.

Lastly, a wooden divination container caught my eye as I was walking back from the ancient Mediterranean gallery. The container by Nigerian artist Areogun is easily in my top five favorite pieces at SAM. It is used to hold the diviner’s ritual equipment but is so elaborately decorated. As I looked into more information about the object, I learned that the detail of the carvings were a sign of the diviner’s success. I find it incredible that an everyday object can have such significance in one culture, but be completely mundane in another.

From this assignment, I learned that I cannot simply choose a favorite item solely by looking at the art. My favorites became my favorites once I had learned the story behind each piece and heard the details which made it unique. Learning about all of these objects’ stories, is what made my internship at SAM so useful and interesting.

-Emma Johnson, intern, 2014

Decorative Arts, Porcelain Tea Sets, and Mr. Darcy

Archives and exhibitions intern Kaley Ellis joins us again to talk about her discoveries in SAM’s archival holdings.

This month, after an impressive 37 years working at SAM, Julie Emerson, the Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts, is retiring. In recognition of Julie and her career, I am writing this blog entry on an exhibition that featured decorative arts. I am currently cataloguing the exhibition Worcester Porcelain: The Klepser Collection, which ran from August to September of 1985, and featured works that remain in SAM’s collection today.

Upon researching Worcester Porcelain, I was immediately drawn to the film screenings – highlighted in the 1985 Member’s Preview brochure – that were shown throughout the duration of the exhibition, including Tom Jones, Barry Lyndon, That Hamilton Woman, and Pride and Prejudice (the romantic black and white – but slightly less accurate – version, for those of you who know your Austen multimedia). Laurence Olivier plays the dashing hero in both That Hamilton Woman and Pride and Prejudice, and while he is the war hero in That Hamilton Woman – including missing limb and roguish eye patch – I remain drawn most strongly to his portrayal of Mr. Darcy (shocking, I know, but it’s hard to beat his reluctant fall for Ms. Elizabeth Bennet, played by the timeless beauty Greer Garson). These romanticized depictions of 18th century England (excluding, of course the rather depressing tale of Barry Lyndon’s misfortunes) offer their viewers a look at both the time period and the grand estates where these porcelain objects would have been found.

And if these classic films weren’t enough to lure visitors to the exhibition, there was also the promise of a reenactment of the tea scene from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (a delightfully witty play – later made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Rupert Everett, and Colin Firth, who also played Mr. Darcy in the most famous version of Pride and Prejudice). Here, the actors demonstrate the tea ceremony, a tradition in 18th century England in which a proper tea set was required – according to the exhibition catalogue – containing 48 pieces plus the additional eight mugs required for sipping chocolate (a necessary addition, in my opinion).

Tea scenes from The Importance of Being Earnest. Performed on August 11th 1985 at Volunteer Park.

Tea scenes from The Importance of Being Earnest. Performed on August 11th 1985 at Volunteer Park.

Although these films do not specifically reference 18th century English porcelain, they offer the viewer a glimpse at what would have been their natural setting, in which these objects would have served both an aesthetic and functional purpose. The elegant, romantic, vividly colored, and often Asian-influenced designs of the Worcester porcelain objects hint at the type of lifestyle found on the elaborate English estates during that period – one of luxury and everyday grandeur. In many cases the exhibition space for Worcester Porcelain: The Klepser Collection reflected the dual role of these art works – their functional role as serve ware arranged on elegant tables and their decorative role that shows them displayed in large wall cabinets or featured in individual cases that highlight their artistic value.

 Installation views from Worcester Porcelain: The Klepser Collection (Volunteer Park), 8/8/85 – 9/22/85


Installation views from Worcester Porcelain: The Klepser Collection (Volunteer Park), 8/8/85 – 9/22/85

The production of Worcester porcelain is separated into three main categories based on the period it was created, between the years 1751 and 1776. The first period (1750-55) saw the manufacturing location for porcelain shift from Bristol to Worcester. This period emphasized rococo styled European-scenes (think Fragonard and Boucher) in addition to oriental decorative influences (specifically Chinese – a result of Chinese porcelain that was being imported during the 17th and 18th centuries to England) seen in the graceful landscapes, floral varieties, long flowing robes worn by the central figures, and the animals portrayed. One example from this period can be found at SAM (seen below). The floral decorative pattern and color usage on this vase reflect the stylistic impact that Chinese arts had on the European porcelain market. The second phase of production (1755-65) saw hand-painted designs replaced by a new technique called overglaze transfer-printing, which allowed these luxury goods to be produced at a faster rate and resulted in a period of rapid growth in the porcelain business. The use of this technique – in which patterns and designs become standardized – allowed these pieces to be reproduced quickly and more economically. Furthermore, the sturdy quality of the glaze made it possible for it to hold boiling water without cracking unlike other porcelain products of the time, creating a significant advantage over their competition. Finally, the period from 1765-76, appears to have been one of the most lucrative periods, in which the decorative aspects are increasingly praised, blue underglaze transfer-printing reaches its pinnacle, and color grounds are mastered (Worcester now has the largest array of colors in England, including yellow, green, pink, purple, several shades of blue, and red).

Fluted Vase, 1962. English, Worcester. Seattle Art Museum, Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser Porcelain Collection, 94.103.1

Fluted Vase, 1962. English, Worcester. Seattle Art Museum, Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser Porcelain Collection, 94.103.1

In the end, Kenneth Klepser – Seattle businessman and owner of this impressive collection – viewed these works of art in much the same way as their original owners in 18th century England, as something to be cherished and integrated into his home. These objects act simultaneously as works of art as well as pieces of functional history, creating a more complete picture of the historical setting from which they originated. The combination of the exhibition’s installation space – which highlighted the dual function of these objects – and the events associated with the exhibition provided a successful lens through which audiences could view these art works. However, viewers don’t dismay! While this exhibition is no longer on view, the Seattle Art Museum has a gallery (curated by Julie Emerson) that is dedicated solely to porcelain! This rather splendid room – organized by color and theme – accentuates the intricate patterns and Asian-influences comparable to those highlighted in the Worcester Porcelain exhibition and offers contemporary viewers a chance to see these elegant styles favored by Europeans during the 17th and 18th centuries. Come visit, and see if you can find all the porcelain objects from the Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser Porcelain Collection.

See Julie Emerson’s guide to SAM’s Porcelain Room here.

Scene from Pride and Prejudice (1940), featuring Greer Garson as Ms. Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy. MGM Studios

World War II through Artists’ Eyes

Battle of the Spirits in the Piazza Navona, 1953-54, Windsor Utley, American, 1920-1989, oil on Masonite, image 36 x 52 in., Gift of the artist, by exchange, 89.8, © Windsor Utley

Battle of the Spirits in the Piazza Navona, 1953-54, Windsor Utley, American, 1920-1989, oil on Masonite, image 36 x 52 in., Gift of the artist, by exchange, 89.8, © Windsor Utley

As an intern in the Curatorial Department at the Seattle Art Museum, I have spent much of the last year researching and writing about Northwest artists, all of whom experienced World War II in some way.  It has been an interesting project to learn about people who allow me to look at this era from different and very personal points of views.  World War II was a monumental event for the whole world.  It reached into every community and every household, becoming the single most written-about event in history.  The three artists who are highlighted in this post all have connections to the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Art Museum, and World War II.  While each of them has a distinct story from this time, their shared identities of being artists consumed by war bring them together in a unique way; they each contributed to the wider war effort, both at home and abroad while furthering their artistic talents.

Juanita Vitousek was a mother in Hawai’i when bombs fell on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  A watercolor artist, already known both in Hawai’i and in the continental United States, she had lived in Hawai’i for twenty-four years before the war.  During World War II, Juanita wrote a daily account of life on the Island during and after the attack on Pearl Harbor.[1] She originally kept her wartime journal so she could send it to her children on the mainland when mail was once again able to flow freely without censorship.  She opened her diary with: “We can’t phone, cable or even write you. I want you to know all about us, so I will write a daily account of what has happened. Some day you will see it.”[2] She contributed to the war effort by donating blood and volunteering to make camouflage nets for troops.[3] Her husband, Roy Vitousek Sr, also made history as “the first American plane engaged in combat during World War II.”[4]  An amateur pilot, he was out for a flying lesson with their son, Martin, when the Japanese began to attack Pearl Harbor.  He was able to land the plane amid Japanese fire and hide with his son in nearby bushes.[5]

Windsor Utley was more removed from the action because of his objection to violence and war.  He was classified as a conscientious objector during World War II.  He believed in the Baha’i faith, which continues to spread ideas and practices of peace in the world today.[6]  Utley was one of 12,000 conscientious objectors in the United States, who were required to perform free labor around the country in lieu of serving in the armed forces.[7]  The Civilian Public Service (CPS) program allowed these men to avoid conflict but still contribute to the war effort.  Men in 152 camps worked in soil conservation, forestry, firefighting, agriculture, social services and mental and public health instead of going to war.  Some also served as test subjects for medical experiments.[8]  Originally from California, Utley arrived in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1940s, where he completed his civilian public service duties as a cook at Fort Steilacoom’s Western State Hospital for the mentally ill.[9] Here, Utley painted portraits of the hospital’s patients and staff, among other subjects, which allowed him to practice and refine his painting skills, using the war to turn a part-time hobby into a full-time passion and future career.[10]

Unlike Vitousek and Utley, Jess D. Cauthorn personally took part in combat action.  He was studying as a commercial-art student at Seattle’s Edison Vocational School when he was drafted into the army.  Cauthorn “knew little of combat but quite a bit about art…stocking his pack with pencils, charcoal, brushes, watercolors, and sketch paper.” [11] The army was where his artistic career as an illustrator and watercolor artist began to flourish.  During his spare time, Cauthorn produced small watercolor portraits of his comrades, using whatever materials he could find, often mixing his paints with water from his canteen.[12] He was later commissioned to create illustrations of his wartime experiences while in the South Pacific.[13] His depictions include “quiet moments in camp.  A line of soldiers on the move…the jungle canopy.  Mortar explosions and GIs,” and the liberation of Japanese-occupied Manila.[14] His personal collection of illustrations created during his three years in the army serve as a unique glimpse into the life of an infantryman in the Pacific theater of World War II.  He signed each picture with “Sgt. Jess Cauthorn” and used them as his journal from the war, adding text to the larger sketches to describe the scenes he chose to depict.[15] Cauthorn returned from war after three years with the 146th Infantry Regiment and earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.[16]

Each of these artists has pieces of the work in the Seattle Art Museum’s permanent collection, none of which indicate their respective histories with the war, but they were all influenced by this major event.  Cauthorn and Utley started their art careers during the war, and all three artists continued on to have nationally recognized careers.

I find these three stories so compelling because they go beyond the history books to show us what life was like at the time.  Windsor Utley’s story is particularly intriguing because he did not go to war.  We do not tend to hear about those who stood by their beliefs and fought for peace, while still contributing to the war effort; they are often a passing thought in history because they were not a part of the action.  His artwork is also incredible to see.  There is no hint of the fact that he was a self-taught artist, someone who only started painting as a hobby.  His artwork is not always clear, favoring a non-objective approach that often excludes reality; but that’s just part of the fun for the viewer.

For more information about these artists, be sure to search the Seattle Art Museum’s online collections for their biographies.

 

-Annika Firn, Curatorial Intern, 2014

 

[1] Krauss, Bob.  “Journal Captured Turmoil of Life,” The Honolulu Advertiser, December 5, 2001.  http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2001/Dec/05/ln/ln02a.html

[2] Krauss, 2011.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fournier, Rasa.  “Family Plane Hit By Zero Fighter,” East Oahu News, December 13, 2006.  http://archives.midweek.com/content/zones/east_news_article/family_plane_hit_by_zero_fighter/

[5] Fournier, 2006.

[6] Transcript, Windsor Utley Oral History Interview, March 14, 1985, Laguna Beach, CA, by Barbara Johns, Seattle Art Museum, Northwest Cataloguing Grant, pg. 3.

[7] “CPS Unit Number 021-01,” The Civilian Public Service Story: Living Peace in a Time of War.  2014.  http://civilianpublicservice.org/camps/21/1

[8] Ibid.

[9] Transcript, Windsor Utley Oral History Interview, March 14, 1985, pg. 2.

[10] “Composer of Paintings Windsor Utley dies at 68.” The Seattle Times, 1989.

[11] Goodnow, Cecilia.  “Through The Eyes of a Soldier,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 12, 2001.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “News,” The Art Institute of Seattle, August 16, 2010. http://www.artinstitutes.edu/seattle/news-and-events/the-burnley-gallery-at-the-art-institute-of-seattle-to-host-an-exhibition-of-work-by-northwest-watercolorist-and-art-educator-jess-cauthorn-2522510.aspx

[14] Ibid.

[15] Goodnow, 2001.

[16] Ibid.

Spring showers in the SAM archives

Drops of Rain, Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925), ca. 1903, National Gallery of Australia

Drops of Rain, Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925), ca. 1903, National Gallery of Australia

It’s raining again. I stare as rivulets of water course down the window panes of my room, obscuring the view outside. Beyond my window, the passing cars blur together alongside the chairs that decorate my lawn. Everything assumes a greyish cast. “Welcome to Seattle,” people say. Prior to moving to here, I had never encountered a group of people so fixated on the weather, and I’ve lived in Cleveland where it is not only grey but also claims ownership of “The Lake Effect,” which encompasses all manner of atmospheric sins.

Yet as I approach my second year of living in Seattle, I too, have become consumed by thoughts of the dreary weather – so consumed by these thoughts that I seem to have neglected my blog – and the ever-present hope that sun is just around the corner. However, it was the weather that inadvertently led me to the exhibition Camera Work: Process & Image held at SAM from November 26, 1985 to February 2, 1986and focused on the early pioneers of photography including Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Steichen, Clarence H. White, Paul Strand, Alfred Langdon Coburn, and Alfred Stieglitz.

Cover of Camera Work, Issue No 2, April 190, published by Alfred Stieglitz and designed by Edward Steichen.

Cover of Camera Work, Issue No 2, April 190, published by Alfred Stieglitz and designed by Edward Steichen.

Determined to elevate both photography and the photogravure to the status of fine art, Stieglitz produced a magazine whose primary focus was photography. As a member of the New York Camera Club, Stieglitz spearheaded the production of a quarterly journal – called Camera Notes – dedicated to both high quality photography and articles surrounding the art form. Yet Camera Notes was merely the beginning, for in 1902 – a mere five years later – Stieglitz left the Camera Club and started his own quarterly, Camera Work, in which he strove to establish a journal that was in and of itself a work of art. From 1903 to 1917, Stieglitz edited and published a total of fifty editions of Camera Work, through which he championed photography as a form of art instead of a mechanical process that simply documented reality. He pushed photographers to take an active role in the editing process of photogravure production – a print of the photographic image that emphasized deep shadows and a rich textural quality – in which the photo negatives are transformed into photo positives and transferred onto a printing plate that is then etched and printed. Stieglitz strove to maintain high quality photogravures that he felt could be viewed as original prints that had their own artistic value. Through this process, photographers in Stieglitz’s circle were able to participate in the production of the photogravures, which instigated a collaboration between the artist’s intent and the hand that created the final product.

Exhibition media file - including exhibition installation views and transparencies and prints of checklist images - from Camera Work: Process & Image and the exhibition catalogue. Photo: Kaley Ellis.

Exhibition media file – including exhibition installation views and transparencies and prints of checklist images – from Camera Work: Process & Image and the exhibition catalogue. Photo: Kaley Ellis.

This examination of Stieglitz’s Camera Work and the photographers involved in that publication act as the focal points of the 1985 exhibition at SAM. Of the works displayed, Clarence H. White’s Drops of Rain, Adolf de Meyer’s Still Life, Hugo Henneberg’s Villa Falconieri, and Alfred Stieglitz’s Spring Showers, New York are the works I find the most compelling. Water is prominently featured in all these works, whether it takes the form of rain, a glass of water, or a shimmering river. The water either distorts and obscures aspects of the work or is itself distorted. Far from being a direct representation of fact, the water provides a medium through which the artistic intent becomes clear. The fact that it is raining outside is not the point of the image in White’s Rain Drops; instead, the simplicity, the lighting, and contrast between the smoothness of the glass ball compared to the pattern of rain drops on the window pane combine to make this work beautifully compelling. The emotional response that these images evoke transcends time and, like other forms of art, is subjective.

Today – despite rapid advances in technology and the advent of the digital camera – artists such as Stieglitz, White, and Cameron remain relevant. New lens are engineered, such as the lensbaby, to create a blurring effect or to obscure the background, while plastic cameras allow photographers to further experiment with light and shadows and finally Photoshop and the Instagram app offer the opportunity to enhance or manipulate an image with the click of a button. Despite these developments, photographers are still creating images that favor the deep shadows, blurred lines, and sometimes dreamlike quality that continues to reference the past and the art of Stieglitz’s circle that he tirelessly perfected for publication in Camera Work.

By Kaley Ellis, Exhibitions and Archives Intern

 

Echo: 46 Feet of Quiet Contemplation

Installation has begun for the newest addition to the Olympic Sculpture Park. Shovels first hit the shoreline on Monday, March 31 to create space for a 46-foot-tall sculpted head titled Echo, by the internationally recognized artist Jaume Plensa. Installation aims to be complete in late spring 2014.

The Olympic Sculpture Park has always been a special place for me. I’ve spent the past three summers in a row volunteering and interning at the Olympic Sculpture Park’s SAM Camp as counselor. Part of being a SAM Camp counselor involves cleaning up art project debris, but counselors and staff also help educate the campers and make art approachable, relatable, and fun for them. On the first day of camp, we usually give the campers a tour of the park and encourage them to sketch various sculptures and scenery. I can only imagine what this summer’s campers will have to say about the Echo installation.

At first the campers might be intimidated by the large scale of the towering resin, steel and marble dust head. After further explanation and observation, I think the campers will begin to see themselves in Echo. The sculpture’s face is inspired by a young girl Plensa knew, who mustn’t have been much older than the children who attended SAM Camp. Echo’s eyes are closed in a peaceful state of meditation; hopefully she won’t be roused by curious campers.

The name “Echo” derives from the nymph in Greek mythology who crossed goddess Hera. Echo offended Hera by engaging her in conversation and distracting her from spying on Zeus’s amours. As punishment Hera deprived Echo of speech, except for the ability to repeat the last words of another. Echo will silently laugh to the playful observations SAM Camp participants this coming summer, and endure many rainy Seattle days until then.

Echo was originally created for Madison Square Park in New York, in 2011. If you are curious about Echo’s appearance, I recommend looking up pictures of the Madison Square Park sight. The sculpture will be visible from the land and the water, facing the Puget Sound towards Mount Olympus.

Also, check out this video from KOMO News capturing the first day of the installation:

Jaume Plensa
Echo, Gifted from Collection of Barney A.Ebsworth
Coming Late Spring 2014
Olympic Sculpture Park

Maddie Thomas, Seattle Art Museum’s Communications Intern

What every holiday season needs… The Nutcracker

By Kaley Ellis, archives and exhibitions intern

As I was considering what to write in my next blog post, I stumbled upon an exhibition from 1984 featuring the works of Maurice Sendak, famous for the book he both wrote and illustrated, Where the Wild Things Are. Young and old alike seem drawn to his tale of Max, the mischievous boy who cavorts about in a monster costume (which I sometimes wish came in my size). Upon being sent to his room as punishment for his behavior, Max escapes to a fantasy isle where he soon discovers real monsters. Much like the stories of Peter Pan, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Alice in Wonderland, Sendak creates an alternate realm where the main character – a child – can escape. Fashioning a magical place where children can explore and monsters can be friend or enemy, Sendak offers something that most children – and if I’m being honest, myself included – would be intrigued by.

Intern Kaley Ellis, with the Maurice Sendak-illustrated Nutcracker book

Intern Kaley Ellis, with the Maurice Sendak-illustrated Nutcracker book

As I look through the folder of prints, negatives, and slides, I can see the exhibition where Sendak’s fantasies were brought to life. The 1984 exhibition titled Sendak Onstage displayed sketches, intricate theatrical sets and even costumes. Prominently featured in this exhibition are the tales Love of Three Oranges and Higgelty-Piggelty Pop with smaller selections from Where the Wild Things Are and The Nutcracker. I am immediately drawn to images of The Nutcracker because as a child I used to perform in the ballet every year. While I always dreamed of being one of the party girls (who got to wear pointe shoes and carry dolls), I was inevitably something less glamorous – like a gum drop or a rat soldier. Nonetheless, attending The Nutcracker (to my brother’s dismay) has always been a holiday favorite. However the Seattle version – with theatrical sets and costume designs by Sendak – is the most spectacular rendition I’ve yet to witness.

Installation shot from Sendak Onstage, Seattle Art Museum (Volunteer Park), 11/15/84 – 1/27/85

Installation shot from Sendak Onstage, Seattle Art Museum (Volunteer Park), 11/15/84 – 1/27/85

Asked in 1981 – by Kent Stowell with the Pacific Northwest Ballet – to design theatrical sets for the Nutcracker, Sendak created another fantasy realm for children to explore. Here, members of the European aristocracy gather for a holiday party in which the daughter of the host is given a magical nutcracker that comes alive at the stroke of midnight. But in this version, the mice appear to have a more exotic (possibly Colonial) appearance and carry curved sabers instead of swords and battle Imperial foot soldiers and cavalry with variations in costuming that seem to link them to French, British and German armies (distinctions in rank not typical in other ballets). Following the battle’s conclusion, Clara and her nutcracker prince travel to another realm, akin to a sultan’s palace that might have been found in the Middle East or South Asia. The ruler of the palace regales the couple with exotic performances (including one featuring a ballerina in a peacock body suit and elaborate feathered tail) after which they are inevitably sent home to their realm. Sendak’s costumes are vibrantly colored and have a magical quality to them much like Max’s monster suit, for they allow the viewer a glimpse into the evening’s fairy tale resplendent with life-size dolls, an epic battle (at one point there is an enormous rat tail that extends from the wing of stage merely hinting at the size of its owner), a sea voyage across turbulent waters, a sultan’s palace and last but not least, the sugar plum fairy and her court. However, my favorite part of the performance is the end in which Sendak has created a nutcracker head that becomes visible on the curtains when they close – from the top and bottom of the stage – with teeth chomping shut to hide the performers from view.  If you haven’t already, everyone should take a trip to the The Nutcracker in Seattle, for it allows the viewer to interact on a grand scale with Sendak’s art, much like the 1984 exhibit at SAM did for its audiences.

Top image: Installation shot from Sendak Onstage, Seattle Art Museum (Volunteer Park), 11/15/84 – 1/27/85

Interning with the buried treasure

By Kaley Ellis, archive and exhibitions intern

What is an archive? And why would I work in one?

When I first spoke with Sarah Berman, Collections Coordinator and Research Associate at the Seattle Art Museum, she mentioned the possibility of interning in SAM’s archives and my mind immediately conjured images of buried treasure languishing in the basement of the museum awaiting a moment (or in this case a person) to tell its story. Although admittedly somewhat implausible, the thought of digging through the museum’s archive – tucked out of sight and thus inherently mysterious – was intriguing.

I could easily imagine Indiana Jones (relocating to the Pacific Northwest for example) uncovering a treasure map that led to an underground chamber in SAM, overflowing with riches, long lost paintings by Titian, Vermeer, or Degas, ancient Egyptian coffins, or Roman marble sculptures for example. Now, seeing as my mind had already made this leap from archives to Indiana Jones to priceless art work, the next obvious step was to accept Sarah’s proposed internship working with the archives.

During my first few weeks interning, Sarah asked if I’d like to see where the archives were kept – which I clearly needed to see if I was going to discover the previously mentioned hidden treasure. However, I was instead led to a small, rather dreary room, decorated with a table, chair, and numerous filling cabinets. While this was a bit depressing, I was promised I would not be left alone to work in this windowless room that had a door that occasionally locked you inside, so I suppose there was a silver lining. However, this process of imagining an archive filled with treasure – whether those are jewels and piles of gold or artwork – and then coming to terms with the reality of a room bursting with metal cabinets of old documents made me think about what it means to be an archive.

The SAM archives (part of them, at least). Photo: Kaley Ellis.

The SAM archives (part of them, at least). Photo: Kaley Ellis

Archives preserve documentation of the past, in this case a visual reminder of the art and exhibitions held at the SAM since the 1930s. While these files do not contain actual treasure, they do offer valuable insight into the museum’s history and collection. They offer the chance to analyze and reflect upon the past while simultaneously acting as a reservoir of memories. (And, thankfully they have been moved from that cell-like room to the much sunnier library!) During the upcoming months, I plan to delve into and share some of the secrets found within these file folders. I hope you’ll join me.Recognize the fedora and whip? Photo: Gary Stewart

 

Top photo: Recognize the fedora and whip? Photo: Gary Stewart

 

Where the Park Meets the Sound

The view from the Olympic Sculpture Park is heavenly. As you sit in one of the vibrant red chairs, you can gaze out on a harbor filled with sailboats, and onto the Olympic Mountains scraping the clouds. The meadow’s colorful flowers bloom and sway with the ocean breezes, and the native foliage is juxtaposed against clean, modernist lines and bold contemporary art to create a visual feast. It’s hard to imagine, with all its runners, dog walkers, and parades of children running through the distinctive Z-path, that this now iconic park was once site to the Union Oil Company of California.

Since it’s birth in 2007, the Olympic Sculpture Park has undergone hefty changes and challenges, but a large portion of the transformation is ongoing. It was World Ocean Day June 8, and there was no better location to celebrate than on the reclaimed rocky shore of the park. As an intern gardener at the park, I work closely with Bobby McCullough, who has been head gardener since the park opened its gravel walkways.  He ensures that water is being used efficiently, and that the naturalized beach area is healthy for park visitors of all kinds, from people to dogs and even harbor seals. Keeping this area in good shape is an important part of the crew’s work: the beach is patrolled for litter almost daily, plants have been placed and cared for to act as a natural buffer, and we even climb the trees to search for troublesome insects. It is safe to say that years after the design implementation, the Olympic Sculpture Park is continually taking efforts to create a clean Puget Sound.

I assist Bobby by hand weeding and performing maintenance, keeping plants healthy and the open space clean and friendly. The park uses organic gardening methods—no pesticides, fertilizers, no harmful chemicals. By using these techniques, it prevents contamination in the soil and on the ground surface, which could then wash into Puget Sound. And what’s even more unique and sustainable than our gardening practices are the plants themselves; they are all native to the Pacific Northwest. Visitors experience four distinct archetypal landscapes at the Olympic Sculpture Park: the valley, the meadows, the grove, and the shore. These series of precincts give the park a sense of regional identity, and reduce water use.  The plants are already adapted to Seattle’s climate, and therefore do not require any additional water. Sprinklers in the park are energy-efficient and only turned on when necessary. Young plants are watered while they become established, but in the future they will require little-to-no watering.

Without a doubt, the sculpture park’s most carefully maintained area is where the park meets the Sound.  The beach features large logs and boulders, perfect for climbing and sitting to admire the harbor. The shore was designed to act as a natural filter, collecting debris that wash up with the tides. Each year after the storm season, usually in February, Bobby organizes a massive clean up to remove trash and treated lumber. Creosote is a substance created through the distillation of tar to preserve wood, and is toxic. It is often used to treat lumber used in structures like boats and docks, and can wash up onto the beach. Each year Bobby removes six to eight tons of this treated wood from the shore to prevent creosote from leaking into the water. This maintenance continues throughout the year, with treated wood removal and daily trash pick-ups.

The shoreline is carefully monitored through a variety of efforts to create safe wildlife habitat. Learn more about the Olympic Sculpture Park and its restoration.

-Stephanie Stroud, Intern Gardener, Olympic Sculpture Park

World Environment Day 2013: Think Globally, Eat Locally

When you have, as I do, the privilege of living in a setting as beautiful as the Pacific Northwest, nature’s abundance and magnificence are both too easily and too often taken for granted. More difficult, however, is to acknowledge and pursue the changes that need to be made in order to sustain them.

If you’re at all like me (someone with only a modest understanding of environmental issues) and you love nature’s playground here in Washington State, you’re probably thinking: I want to make a difference, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Well, fear no more! I recently learned that today, June 5, 2013, marks the 41st annual celebration of World Environment Day (WED).

While WED, like Earth Day, promotes worldwide environmental awareness, it advocates for primarily local participation and action. In doing so, WED enables small-scale involvement and activity and large-scale awareness, encouraging people to think globally, but act locally.

As a new intern in the Communications department, and thus a new member of the “SAM fam,” I wanted to learn how SAM’s environmental efforts pertain to this year’s WED theme, Think.Eat.Save. Think.Eat.Save addresses food-waste and food-loss around the globe and its effects on the environment, an issue I’ve come to learn is taken very seriously by the museum’s own TASTE Restaurant. The TASTE team has made it their mission to support the local community, and since May 2007, when the restaurant opened in the newly expanded museum, they have affirmatively implemented a wide variety of strategies to reduce their food print.  In speaking with Executive Chef Craig Hetherington, I was informed that these efforts include recycling, composting (did you know that most of TASTE’s take-away-food packaging is compostable?), buying organic foods, and supporting local farmers and farms, many of which are within 60 miles of the restaurant. According to Chef Hetherington, purchasing locally is both environmentally and economically beneficial. Supporting local farms allows farmers to continue to and more actively farm sustainably, in turn helping to foster the growth of local farms.

Among the numerous local farms incorporated into TASTE’s edible repertoire are:

  • Skagit River Ranch in Sedro Wooley
  • Stokesberry Chicken in Olympia
  • Neuawkum Farms in Olympia
  • Foraged and Found in Seattle
  • Olsen Potatoes
  • Nash’s Organics in Sequim
  • Tonnemakers Fruits
  • Smith Brothers Dairy

The efforts made by TASTE are among those most widely acknowledged and practiced in the anti-food-waste/loss movement, but such efforts can also be quite costly. If you don’t have the time or, like me, are on a college-student’s budget, you can still make a difference!

Here are a few of the less-costly ways to participate and raise awareness this World Environment Day:

  • Visit your local farmers market and get to know a farmer!
  • Create posters about food-waste/loss and other ways to conserve natural resources around the city. Then take a photo and share it: Follow Seattle Art Museum on Instagram (http://instagram.com/seattleartmuseum), then post photos with #seattleartmuseum.
  • Share an article on Facebook about an issue that you’re passionate about, tell your followers on Twitter about WED and how they can get involved, or post a picture on Instagram to show your friends how you’re making a difference!
  • Visit the Seattle Parks and Recreation website to discover ways to make a difference here in Seattle, such as planning a park cleanup!
  • Plant and sustainably cultivate food at home
  • Compost
  • Encourage friends and family to get involved
  • Think before you eat and help save our environment!

With summer in sight there’s no better time to ‘give back’ to this glorious place that we are lucky enough to call home.  Now let’s get out there and make a difference!

 

Facts about Food Waste/Loss

-Caroline Sargent, Communications Intern

TASTE Restaurant’s Executive Chef Craig Hetherington paying a visit to Skagit River Ranch. Photo: Clare Barboza.

Sam at SAM: Through the Back Door

On my first day at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), I was a nervous, fidgety high school senior from The Bush School who entered through the back door on Second Avenue. Fumbling with my purse I told the security guard, “Um…My name’s Samantha Simon. I think I should have a badge up there.” A shaky hand pointed to the wall filled with SAM IDs and sure enough, my face was among them. It was official: I belonged at SAM. Taking multiple wrong elevators, not realizing the museum is closed to the public on Mondays, I finally made it up to the correct 5th floor where I greeted my supervisor. Sarah Berman, Collections Coordinator and Research Associate at SAM, patiently showed me to my desk where four large coffee table books awaited me.

I smoothed my dress. “Pick a piece of art,” she told me. After a year of art history, I still hadn’t been exposed to anything past the Rococo, so when I scanned through a book labeled Contemporary Art, my mind went wild. I found a beastly wooden sculpture entitled Bovine by a local artist named Whiting Tennis. Showing Sarah, she told me that I was to write a biography on who owned that piece before it came to the museum; the technical term for this history of ownership is provenance.

For the next three days, I poured my caffeine-driven energy into finding out every piece of information I could about Greg Kucera, owner of the Greg Kucera Gallery in Pioneer Square, Seattle, and donor of Bovine. I worked in the shadows printing anything relating to Mr. Kucera, from graduation announcements to gallery reviews, and putting them in a growing pile on my desk. Finally, when I sat down to write, the words came naturally. By the end, I presented the man’s life story thus far in two pages.  After writing about Greg Kucera, I was so excited about contemporary art. I moved on to Robert and Honey Dootson, Asian and contemporary art collectors who have now passed away. Quickly becoming an obsession, I combed through SAM catalogues from the ‘70s and used the SAM library to my fullest advantage. Seattle Times articles from the 1960s became my best friend as I researched for fifteen hours, and when it came time to write, four detailed pages magically appeared. Another life: captured.  Finally, still newly fascinated with contemporary art, I decided to write about Sidney and Anne Gerber, Native American and contemporary art collectors, who had also passed away. Five pages quickly emerged.  Soon, my biographies on Greg Kucera, the Dootsons, and the Gerbers will make their way into SAM’s art database, and will be available to the public in the coming years. It’s an amazing experience to know that, because of me, those people’s stories will be heard.

Along with writing these biographies in the curatorial department, I was also given the opportunity to explore and volunteer in other departments. From conservation to registration to education, I explored SAM widely in my three weeks and learned about how a museum operates. Ducking in and out of ventilating systems, industrial elevators, and lighting rooms, I felt like a character in Narnia as I would turn a darkened corner and enter into a serene museum gallery surrounded by tourists. Like the siblings returning from Narnia, I wanted to tell the patrons about what they might be missing. I saw a room of art storage two stories high, a room behind the Porcelain Room with lighting panels to the ceiling where taped to them were practical jokes, and a conservation lab containing every chemical imaginable where a Jackson Pollock was being restored.  Of course, as a SAM patron, one may never know about any of this. The calm gallery floors are a stage and we, the staff and volunteers, the puppet-masters on the other side, have the privilege of sneaking around behind the scenes waiting for the curtain to rise, making sure the art receives the undistracted recognition it deserves.

This fall I will be leaving for college and as I will soon be finished at the museum (at least for this summer) I leave my own personal Narnia behind by exiting through the same door, but different from the way I came: More confident, independent, and ready to take my next step.

Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: A final note

Until this weekend, the Seattle Art Museum was proud to play host to Rembrandt van Rijn; Mary, Countess Howe; Mrs. Musters; and their “friends,”—the figures in the great paintings from Kenwood House, London. We spend quite a lot of time talking about these pictures, referring to the “characters” within, but don’t usually give deeper thought to the sitters portrayed, whose names give the pictures their titles. These were people who had lives, families, and legacies—of which we were wonderfully reminded last week.

On Friday, two days before Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London closed to the Seattle public, we were paid a visit by Bob Chaworth-Musters, and his wife Barbara. Bob and Barbara had driven down to Seattle from British Columbia, just to see the show. Does their name sound familiar? It ought to—his five-times-great grandmother was the Mrs. Musters painted by both George Romney (a lady in a blue and white hat) and Joshua Reynolds (the larger-than-life Mrs. Musters as ‘Hebe’).

Bob and Barbara were kind enough to stay and speak with me for a few minutes. They talked about their explorations into family genealogy, the locations of other Musters family portraits, and Mrs. Musters’ storied life and loves—including the English King George III! It was a pleasure to hear from them, learn about their family, and see the exhibition with them before it closed.

Sometimes we forget that the characters in our favorite works of art were people, with real stories, and often with real descendants. Bob and Barbara Chaworth-Musters were a great reminder—and gracious guests at SAM!

Bob Chaworth-Musters with SAM curatorial staff member, Sarah Berman, and his ancestor Mrs. Musters (Photo: Barbara Chaworth-Musters)

SAM Art: Examining, interpreting, analyzing in public

The multidisciplinary field of art conservation involves the examination, interpretation, analysis and treatment of cultural, historic and artistic objects. Professional conservators rely on their knowledge of both the humanities and the sciences in order to understand the creation and production of material culture in the past and present, and to ensure its preservation for future generations.

After acquiring an extensive traditional technical understanding of clay and glazes, artist Robert Arneson experimented with these elements to push the medium in expressive and colorful new directions. Pool with Splash is currently undergoing conservation treatment before being put on view. This process has been visible to the public in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries at SAM since March. The final two days of public conservation are next Wednesday and Thursday, 17 and 18 April, so stop by SAM before then to see this behind-the-scenes activity.

Conservation intern Josh Summer working with Pool with Splash, 1977, Robert Arneson (American, 1930-1992), ceramic with glaze, 18 1/2 x 145 x 116 in. overall, Gift of Manuel Neri, 82.156, Art © Estate of Robert Arneson/Licensed by VAGA, New York NY. Conservation treatment on view to the public in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown, on Wed., 17 April and Thurs., 18 April.

A Glimpse of Seattle Art Museum’s School Tours- Art Workshops

After exploring works by many women artists in the Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris and Elles: SAM exhibitions, how can students be encouraged to make personal reflections? How can they explore the ideas and challenges provoked by these works of art? Can this reflection be a creative personal exploration of their own experience?

In SAM’s school tour art workshops, professional Teaching Artists engage school groups of all ages with these questions. Teaching Artists are employed by SAM to enrich our education programs with hands-on arts projects that provide an additional way of learning and understanding the art students see on their tours. These projects encourage students to take on art and creativity to express their own experiences. Each teaching artist holds a different background in art and in teaching. They are all professionally trained artists and teachers and come to SAM to join both art and education in one place. Here in our art studios students can explore their own artistic creativity with the guidance of working artists.

The art workshop developed for the Elles: Pompidou exhibition focuses on issues of identity, gender and stereotypes.  Gender Stereotyping, or standardized portrayals of males and females, is something everyone witnesses in everyday life. In the streets, in a classroom, in our communities and homes there are images attached to certain gender roles. In the Elles art workshop students are asked to think about commonplace assumptions of the roles and images that can be attributed to women and men. Sometimes these standardized attributes can be hard to see and should be observed more closely to get to the root of how stereotyping has shaped our ideas of gender.

What better way to explore associated relationships amongst an assortment of stereotypes than in a collage? Students look through popular and vintage magazines to find images that speak to them about familiar gender stereotypes. They collage these images, advertisements and words onto a poster. The poster presents bold statements through eye-catching images, questioning media messages. Some collages contain vibrant colors and blunt phrases with pictures from women’s magazines. These collages explore challenges about what women are expected to be: a lady, a housewife, a mother, a cook, or a lover.

Images are taken out of their intended context to make us re-examine where we feel they belong and why. The collage collects art and experience into one gathering place and so doing, beckons us as viewers to question how we look and what symbols we associate to certain gender roles.

All SAM’s School Tours can be joined with an Art Workshop, each of which integrates a project related to the themes of the tour. All our Teaching Artists have been working at SAM for several years and are extremely experienced in presenting art in an encouraging, accessible way for students of all ages. Come by our Chase Open Studio on the Grand Staircase where many of the student art projects are showcased and where visitors are welcome to make their own art during their tour of the museum.

For more information on SAM’s School Tours & Art Workshops, email schooltours@seattleartmuseum.org

A Glimpse of SAM’s School Tours

My name is Paige Smith. I work in the School & Educator Programs Department at the Seattle Art Museum. I have interned and worked at SAM for a little over a year now, and in all of my different positions I’ve learned so much about the museum’s role as an educational institution.  My current position as the School Tour Greeter has given me the most exposure to how important educators are to the museum and the critical role they play in bringing art and people together. I have a great admiration for educators and a strong personal and professional goal to become an educator, thus the opportunity to work with school tour groups and with SAM’s wonderful Docents seemed not only a great experience for me, but also sounded fun! The School Tour Greeter serves as mainly a liaison between school groups who come for a tour and the Docents who lead the tours. In this position I communicate with Docents about any extra information they may need to know about their school tour group. I also make sure the Teaching Artists are in the art studios and prepared for the school groups that join their tour with an art workshop.

Docents play an essential role as educators in the museum. Observing their strengths in educating all types of groups has been very inspiring. Docents are volunteers who apply to become a touring guide for school, public, and private tours. They endure a lot of training and lead many types of themed tours for all the permanent collection and special exhibition galleries at all three SAM sites ( SAM downtown, The Seattle Asian Art Museum, and Olympic Sculpture Park). I get to witness an incredible exchange between students, docents, and teachers as they prepare for their venture into the art galleries.

As the students and teachers enter the museum they move all in one organic mass. Sometimes entering as one herd, shuffling close together, or sometimes entering more fluidly, spreading out as their minds ponder the new open space they’ve filtered into: the museum. Docents greet them eagerly and the relationship between guide and school group begins. Students of different ages present different kinds of energy and the Docents can interpret and immediately bounce off this energy with much enthusiasm, friendliness, encouragement and leadership. I’ve seen Docents lead all ages of students from little kindergarten tots to angsty high schoolers and they handle them all differently. I had a conversation with docents Karin Roth and Ann Hardy about guiding a group of kindergarten students after their tour. Karin was very excited about how engaged her group was. She said it was very different from her experiences guiding high school students because of how eager these young toddlers were to engage themselves in what they were seeing, whereas teenagers are often more reserved or can be preoccupied with other teen worries or social dynamics. They both enjoy any group type but Karin was exhilarated by how differently they interact with her and how she was able to gear her tour towards their responses.

Docents cater their language, questions, and explanations to the age and the types of group dynamics they observe from the start. The distance the group has come, the type of school they attend, and teacher they come with all influence the dynamic of the group. It is exciting to watch how docents can read the dynamic and then accentuate different aspects of the museum and exhibits to encourage the group’s particular interest and intellect as much as they can.

Docents come from a diverse background of different professions and experience with teaching, but I cannot emphasize enough how devoted each Docent is to bringing art and art history into a personal level of connection for each student. As educators of the museum SAM Docents bring a whole world of knowledge and adventure to the experiences of each individual school group, and every tour is a different adventure!

Reflections on a summer at SAM

It is my pleasure to introduce another intern we have been lucky enough to work with this summer. Beimnet Demelash has been a terrific colleague–it is difficult for us to believe that she is still in high school! Without further ado, here are Beimnet’s thoughts about her summer with us at SAM.

-Sarah Berman, Collections Coordinator and Research Associate

Nobody really knows what happens on the 5th floor of the museum. Everyone just thinks the art is placed there for them to look at and don’t understand how much work it takes for everything to go smoothly in the museum. All of the hard work is done on the 5th floor, whether it’s planning exhibitions, sending out invitations, planning events, or raising money for the museum. The staff on the 5th floor does it ALL.

This summer I have had the pleasure of working as a YWCA intern for the Seattle Art Museum. I have worked on a lot of different things that I feel will prepare me for any office job, things like entering data into different databases, filing, filling out paperwork by hand, mailings and much more. Some of these things were challenging at first, but after asking the right questions I got the hang of it.

My favorite part of my internship was giving a tour of my three favorite pieces of art in the museum. My three choices were “A Country Home”, “Man and Mouse”, and “Some/One”. I was very scared at first, but once I got in front of the art I knew exactly what I was going to say. Another thing that made everything go smoothly during the tour was the fact that everyone was very involved in the conversation. I want to say Thank you to my supervisors and the staff for helping me step out of my comfort zone and talk about the things I loved about those three pieces of art.

I thought my biggest challenge as an intern this summer was going to be adapting to the office environment, but everyone is very nice and helpful and best of all they all know that it’s ok to have fun while working. As a 15 year old that made everything easy to learn and more fun. I love being able to laugh and have fun during work. I think that the goofing off helped bring me closer to everyone. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else this summer. Thanks again to everyone on the 5th floor for making this an amazing internship!

-Beimnet Demelash, YWCA GirlsFirst Intern, 2012

Beimnet Demelash with “Some/One,” 2001, Do Ho Suh (Korean, works in America, born 1962), stainless steel dog-tags, nickel plated copper sheets, steel structure, glass fiber reinforced resin, rubber sheets, 81 x 126 in. overall, Barney A. Ebsworth Collection, 2002.43, © Do Ho Suh

Art and Adventure

I’ve been down to the Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection exhibition a few times now. I find the paintings spellbinding and mysterious. They remind me of those Magic Eye images from the 1990s—those 2D images that if you blurred your eyes and stared long enough, a secret 3 dimensional world would magically appear to the patient viewer. Like that art of yore, I find myself mesmerized by the paintings in the SAM exhibition, trying to see the story or the place or the songlines the artist is representing.

Traci departing from Golden Gardens, Seattle.

Recently, a colleague at SAM set off on a walkabout, of sorts, of her own. SAM’s Web Programmer/Software Engineer, Traci, and her friend—also Tracy—have set off on an epic journey up the inside passage. They are kayaking from Seattle to Ketchikan. They are carrying most of their food and supplies in their kayaks—50 days worth in 50 gallons (you can imagine what kind of culling that might entail). And they will only supplement and refill whenever there is a town close enough to the water to do so.


View Inside Passage 2012 in a larger map

They’ve mapped out a tentative route (yellow pins), plus some optional campsites as recommended by other paddlers (blue and pink pins). As Traci says, “I didn’t think I’d find the charts so mesmerizing, especially as I’ve spent time on Google Maps, charting applications, and smaller book-sized charts, but having big table-size maps to wander in is strangely compelling.”

The Tracies also have a blog and a SPOT Connect Satellite Communicator that allows those of us at home, to track their journey. They set off on June 24th and have been on the road, erm, open water, for 47 days now—and I learned that they reached their destination, just this morning! I’ve been keeping tabs on them and following their progression and as I look at the map with their path on it I can’t help but be reminded of the paintings in the Ancestral Modern exhibition. All the undulating lines of the British Columbia coastline and organic shapes are evocative of the similarly undulating and vibrating paintings of place by the aboriginal artists. But not only that, both the map and the paintings evoke place, journey, story and adventure.

“Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming”, 1996, Kathleen Petyarr, Australian Aboriginal, Anmatyerr people, Utopia, Central Desert, Northern Territory, born ca. 1940, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 48 1/16 x 48 1/16 inches, Seattle Art Museum, Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan. © Kathleen Petyarr, photo: iocolor, Seattle.

In drawing the connection between the map and the paintings, the Australian paintings seemed to snap into focus  for me. Like those Magic Eye paintings of yore, something in my brain needed to switch and now I feel like I can zoom in and out (like a Google Map) and I can see what is being represented. All at once I can see the lizard skin, footsteps in the sand and the cracks in the desert sand simultaneously. If you haven’t already, drop by the Ancestral Modern exhibition, on view through September 2nd. And maybe like me you’ll be transported to Australia or into some fantastical story.

Follow the Tracies as they navigate the wild blue yonder.

Liz Stone, Digital Media Support Specialist

Top Photo: “Wati Kutjarra (Two Men Story)”, 2003, Spinifex Men’s Collaborative (Ned Grant, born 1942; Kali Davis, n.d.; Ian Rictor, born ca. 1962; Lawrence Pennington, n.d.; Frank Davis, n.d.; Fred Grant, born 1941; Gerome Anderson, 1940–2011; Wilbur Brooks, n.d.; Simon Hogan, born 1930; Mark Anderson, born 1933; Roy Underwood, born 1937; Walter Hansen, n.d.; Loren Pennington, n.d.; Cyril Brown, n.d.; Alan Jamieson, n.d.; Lennard Walker, born 1949; Byron Brooks, born 1955), Australian Aboriginal, Pitjantjatjara people, Tjuntjuntjara, Southwestern Deserts, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 82 11/16 x 74 13/16 inches, Seattle Art Museum, Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum. © Spinifex Men’s Collaborative, photo: Susan Cole.

Summering at SAM

This summer, I have had the pleasure of working with a number of talented interns in the Curatorial division. Today, I share reflections from Sophia Green, whose project focused on background research for a future exhibition project.  -Sarah Berman, Collections Coordinator and Research Associate

As an art history major at Middlebury College interested in the museum world, my decision to apply to SAM’s internship program was a no-brainer. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my summer than working in a museum with such a longstanding commitment to fine art in the Seattle community. Growing up in Seattle, I have many fond memories at SAM. Spanning over a decade, they began in elementary school when my first grade class lined up by the Hammering Man, waiting impatiently for the museum doors to open. Over the years, my family and I brought many out-of-town guests and family to the museum. As I grew into my own and truly adopted a passion for art, I visited the museum alone and explored the collections for hours. Upon receiving the internship, I was thrilled to add another experience to my SAM memory book.

During my time spent in the curatorial department of SAM, I worked primarily on a specific research assignment. I am certain that the research assignment strengthened my critical thinking and problem solving skills. I received a unique insight into the museum’s inner workings by performing odd jobs, such as making wall labels, cataloging books, and archiving images. In the curatorial wing, I was surrounded by SAM’s curators and staff who incredibly helpful and friendly. While incredibly busy, they always had time to say hello, answer any question I might have had, or offer me some delicious chocolate or exotic tea. During my time, I also attended a luncheon at the Asian Art Museum for all the interns and received a private tour of the permanent collections.

I greatly enjoyed my internship at the SAM and would readily recommend it. My internship was interesting, intellectually stimulating, and greatly informational. It was invaluable being surrounding by such bright, passionate people who are committed to the museum. It was also a treat to be located in downtown Seattle where I got to explore the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and cafes in Pike Place Market during my lunch breaks. The summer has flown by too quickly and I hope to stay involved with SAM for years to come.

Mounting and Yam Masks at the Oceanic Gallery

On April 30, I begin exploring the inspiring installation on view at the Oceanic gallery.  This gallery not only contains the unusual art of the Oceanic islands but also an unusual approach to viewing the work.  The inclusion of commission installation pieces created by local Seattle artist Allyce Wood provides, as curator Pam McClusky explains, clues to the objects origins beyond the accompanying textual plaques.  These objects, which were removed from their originally context to a museum context, are reunited with the visual elements of their initial environment.  Part One, The Unique Installations in the Oceanic Gallery, examined the ways in which the installation connects the works to their native environment and functional cultural contexts.  Part two continues the discussion with a behind-the-scenes perspective on the gallery exploring the mounting of these objects.

 

You may not initially realize that the Yam Masks are displayed on replica yams.  Despite the huge size of those in the case compared what you’d expect from a grocery store, these yams are actually much smaller than the champion yams of Papua New Guinea’s Abelam people.  Their yams reach heights of nine or even twelve feet!  If you don’t believe me, the case text, or have trouble imaging a yam so large an accompanying photograph provides a visual of the yams: taller than their proud owner and nearly as tall as his house!  The yams’ size demonstrates the conflict between the museum environment, the objects’ natural environment, and providing proper context.  A museum environment dictates that objects should be approachable and so are displayed at an appropriate height.  The natural environment for these masks would be mounted on tall yams, a biodegradable natural product where the mask is above our heads.  This poses problems in a museum since the natural material would degrade and having the masks at a similar height would inhibit viewing.  Their current context in the Oceanic gallery compromises these two methods by shrinking the size of the yams so they can display the mask within a similar context but at an approachable level, much like a manikin.  Perhaps we should refer to these yams as, yam-ikins for the masks.

These yam-ikins, while mimicking the shape, color, and at least width of the yams, might look like a simple installation created by Allyce, but they double as an intricate and supportive mount for the masks.  For one mask with a simple curved back the creation of the yam-ikin was fairly straightforward.  The mount for the other mask is far more complicated.  The process highlights the skill of the mount makers who need to capture the feel of the object in its environment without compromising its vitality.  They must both present the object to the viewer, while restricting its motion and preserving the object for future generations.

The Yam Mask’s “Pillow” Mount

The mask in question for this mount is beautifully woven.  Its reds and yellows contrast against a rich dark black and a few of its original arching feathers remain.  In order to accommodate the mask’s dome-shaped interior, mount maker Gordon Lambert created a “pillow” with flaps.  The pillows fill the form of the mask, supporting the fibers without straining or stretching them.  They are flexible and are attached to a frame with a hinge, so they can move and respond to the mask as needed.  This support rests on aluminum tubes that provide vertical stability.  Parts of the pillows that might be seen were painted black and to disguise an awkward connection between the base of the mask and the yam, Allyce created a grass necklace in the proper style.   Allyce also created the yams, which wrap around the plain base to provide the masks their appropriate context on a yam.

Gordon noted how fun the yam-ikins were to create make due to its inventiveness and the challenges it created.  Rebecca Raven, another mount maker, commented on the overall inventive nature of the mounts.  For instance, the Asmat War Shields maintain their old steel L-mounts and were originally displayed facing forward in a line.  Now the shields twist and turn.  In order to turn the mounts for the new display, the mount makers required a specialized wrench to reach a bolt within a shallow space.  As no wrench of this kind exists, they built a special one-of-kind wrench just for this project and the mounts for these war shields.

Other elements of mounting and installation deal with issues of conservation.  While the Marquesan bone ornament, on displayed with the tattooed man and War club, would originally be hung around the man’s neck or head, conservation differences between the ornament and the club required their separation.  Therefore the reproduced tattooed Marquesan could not both hold the club and be adorned with the ornament.  The current separation between the man and the ornament allows the ornament to interact with the figure while not becoming lost in a crowd of objects.

Each part of the mount is ready for final assembly!

Issues such as these demonstrate the complex problem solving for Rebecca and Gordon in regards to mounting the work.  The added collaboration with the Allyce and her installations along with their collaboration with gallery designers and curators provided a new dimension to the mounts they often create.  New problems had to be solved for these unique Oceanic objects so they could both be protected and appreciated.  Their work with the Oceanic gallery prepped the team for the mounts they needed to create for the current exhibition Gauguin & Polynesia whose Polynesian materials are quite similar to those in SAM’s Oceanic gallery.  However, as Pam notes, the permanent Oceanic gallery provides longevity for the museum and the Oceanic collection as opposed to the fleeting views the special exhibition offers.

 

From the unique installation elements that provides visual context to the arts so far removed from their original, non-museum context to the mounting of these pieces we learned so much about the process of creating such a unique and beautiful display for SAM’s Oceanic collection.  The considerations, effort, and preparation that all occurred behind-the-scenes for this seamless viewing, is incredible.  Each element of the gallery—the installations, the Oceanic art, the mounts, the information panels—come together creating an inviting environment that transports the viewer away from Seattle and onto the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

 

Be sure to check out the final product!  The Oceanic Gallery is located on SAM’s third floor.

 

– Sarah Lippai, Public Relations Intern

Top photo: Styrofoam Model of a Yam Mask

The Unique Installations in the Oceanic Gallery

When walking into the Oceanic gallery on the third floor you may be struck by a mix of the familiar and the unusual.  This occurs with both the art and the display.  The pieces that comprise the collection include shields, masks, clubs, and figures.  There is nothing too unusual about them until you take a closer look and discover the unfamiliar carved designs or shapes whose culture you can’t quite place, that are if you didn’t catch Gauguin & Polynesia.  While the works are within a familiar museum setting—some behind glass or on a pedestal—you probably noticed, almost immediately, that they are given an environment.  As you walk into the gallery Asmat War shields confront you.  They burst out of the forest.  Lush New Guinea flora in various shades of green backdrop the shields, rejuvenating them.

Oceanic arts curator Pam McClusky decided that in creating this gallery the artwork’s origins required elaboration in order to offer clues about their original function and cultural tradition not only through text, a traditional museum approach, but also through installation.  When considering the works from SAM’s Oceanic collection, Pam realized just how unusual these objects were in terms of their origin and context.  As most of us approach art from a Western perspective and a Western tradition, the works from Oceania are a bit of a puzzle.  For us, art falls into definable categories where the ancient arts of painting and sculpture are favored and in which most art adorns the walls of our houses for decoration or honored in the rooms of our museums for contemplation.  While not all Western arts are removed from functional contexts, our history favors these more traditional arts.  In the region of Oceania the arts are steeped in culture and context.  Their strange context derives from their function and the cultural traditions of the people who made them.

The Asmat War shields, Jamasji, for example are not static parts of their environment.  They are beacons painted in red and white that contrast from the greens of the forests.  They protect the warriors handling them.  They twist and turn as they fend off opponents in the fields.  Pam decided that installations designed to reunite the objects with their original visual context would facilitate our approach; bridging the gap between Western artistic traditions and the abandoned visual environment and foreign culture of the islands of the Oceania.  This approach allows for the animation of the Asmat shields along with the other objects of the gallery.

While contemplating the art and its context and relation to the human scale, Pam walked past the windows of SAM Gallery which were displaying the work of Allyce Wood.  Allyce’s two dimensional layered environments were just what Pam was looking for.  Starting with sketches and images from Pam along with her own research Allyce reproduced the visual elements required to reunite the work with its artistic environment and cultural context. The installation elements allow the glass to disappear and for the objects to return to their original setting.  This is one of the most striking aspects about the gallery space.  It is amazing how the objects and the installation negotiate the museum space and environmental context.  Some objects are intricately paired with Allyce’s installations while the installations for other objects are subtle additions.  Each object and its installation are unique, as the installations reflect the origins of the art.  A painstakingly reproduced Asmat man stands next to one of the shields, providing human scale and emphasizing the object’s use for warfare.

Take the time to explore the gallery.  You will discover the interplay between the museum and the origins, the art and the installation.  Perhaps you’ll be drawn to the Marquesan man or the male figure from Rapa Nui.  The Marquesan man, a reproduced figure created by Allyce sits with a War Club or u’u.  The design for this installation derives from an engraving of a Marquesan warrior by Emile Lassalle in 1843.  The man stands out for his tattoos, tattoos that identify his power and prestige, and for the u’u that he holds.  Compare this u’u to those on display upstairs at Gauguin & Polynesia.  They are all very similar with craved heads and a deep, rich color, although the club in the Oceanic gallery lays across the lap of the plywood tattooed figure, mimicking the weapon’s handling by a warrior and merging the object as one of both function and of art.  This dynamic counter-play between installation and art demonstrates the seamless method of display created by Pam and Allyce.

More subtle installations occur on the walls opposite the entrance with the Rapa Nui male figures, Moai Kavakava, and Melanesia canoe figurehead, nguzu nguzu.  Wall paintings contextualize the pieces.  A painting of a massive stone statue behind the Maai Kavakava links the figures with their iconic counterparts that encircle the Chilean Island of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island.  A similar method is used for the canoe figurehead, behind which extends a prow of a canoe.  Originally Pam and Allyce planed for a three-dimensional canoe model to extend from the wall, with the nguzu nguzu nestled in the right location.  The painted model demonstrates not only a subtle reminder of the work’s functional relevance but also an example of the installation’s developed.  Besides the difficulties of mounting and the conservation requirements, Pam and Allyce decided that a three-dimensional model would overshadow the art, taking the installation aspect too far.  Furthermore, the painted model allowed for new opportunities; Allyce researched Melanesian figureheads and this model includes a figurehead in a different style from piece on display.

When recalling the process Allyce notes the challenges of the work and the differences between her own creations and those for the installation.  For the installation pieces, Allyce researched the works and their environment to create the most accurate reproductions possible.  As she notes, “I did the research.  I embodied the research,” and it shows.  The painstaking reproductions of male warriors, both the sitting Marquesan and standing Asmat, demonstrate how her lively approach contributes to the Oceanic gallery.  Reproducing the environment, etchings of indigenous population, or other intricate works of art are only one aspect of the installation.  Another important aspect of the installation involved collaboration with the mount makers who were tasked with determining how to seamlessly merge the art with the installation in way that protected and conserved the works while allowing them to interact with their less museum-like environment.

 

Part Two, Mounting and Yam Masks at the Oceanic Gallery, continues the discussion on the Oceanic Installation.  In this part, which will follow in a few days, we will look behind the scenes at the mounts of the gallery and the collaboration between the mount makers and installation artist, Allyce Wood.

 

– Sarah Lippai, Public Relations Intern

Happy Earth Day!

If you liked Earth Hour then you’ll love Earth Day (it’s like 24 times better than Earth Hour). While Earth Hour challenged people to make lasting change, Earth Day is a celebration of all that we have achieved and a look forward to differences we can still make.

SAM has already made a number of changes in an effort to be more sustainable. They include:

  • Reduced the museum’s carbon footprint, including cuts in energy use, paper conservation, and waste reduction
  • Switched to 100% recycled copy paper
  • Earned Salmon-Safe certification of land management practices at the Olympic Sculpture Park. (Watch this video of Gardner Bobby McCullough employing one of those practices)
  • Supported SAM’s museum educators in designing art activities that use repurposed, recycled and non-toxic supplies
  • Created a culture of sustainability within SAM, including meeting with departments to identify barriers to “going green”

And now that it’s Earth Day, the SAM Goes Green team isn’t letting this opportunity go by without challenging our coworkers to continue moving forward and establishing more green habits. This week we are asking SAM staff to pledge to make a difference. We’re going to track the changes they make at home and at work and offer incentives for the most actions taken. A little positive reinforcement will hopefully encourage big change!

-Liz Stone, Operations Assistant/Digital Media Support Specialist

Specter, 2011, Gretchen Bennett, American, b. 1960, blown glass, hemp rope, Photo: Robert Wade

Last Call for Color

Time is running out to bring your collection of lids in to the Olympic Sculpture Park!

In Trenton Doyle Hancock’s wildly fictitious narrative, color is the source of salvation to a race of creatures who are seeking spiritual nourishment. For his installation, A Better Promise, Hancock playfully encourages you to pour color into his work by bringing plastic tops in all colors. The plastic caps add a whole spectrum of light into the installation and, for Hancock they “are in a way the surrogates for the color salvation.” As the artist has said, this installation “has to do with hope, color, connecting with people, connecting with community.” And you all have shown that he’s definitely connected with this community. Read More

Intrigue….Intrigued?

Picasso and Gauguin are all well and good, but just you wait and see what the people behind these smash-hit exhibitions have to offer. SAM employees are combining their collective artistic prowess to present a multi-talented, multi-media creative explosion. Many of the dedicated employees, from all departments, started their careers at SAM because of their love of art. That love also often includes some serious artistic talent. What kind of talent you ask? See for yourself at Art/Not Terminal this February.

 

By Gordon Lambert

After hearing about fellow co-workers’ projects over the years, a small group of SAM employees decided it was high time that someone put all of this hidden talent together to present to the community the combined works of 37 artists working at SAM.

By Taggard Wood

Come support local artists at the Intrigue, Works by SAM Staff on view February 4–29.

Opening Night Reception
Saturday, February 4, 7–10 pm
Art Not Terminal Subterranean Room
Map courtesy of Microsoft Bing

Paul Klein will be performing througout the evening. DJ Transport will be mixing chill music all night long.

Artists on View

Allison Manch Lindsey Dabek Sara Osebold
Ann Waller Lynda Swenson Sarah Hollingsworth
Chris Keenan Mark Thomas Scott Roseburrough
Christina Park Megan Harmon Shannon McConnell
Courtney Harris Monica Cavagnaro Stephanie Battershell
Craig van den Bosch Natasha Lewandrowski Steve Kummerer
Emily Hicks Phil Stoiber Taggard Wood
George Nunes Ray Price Thomas Krueger
Gordon Lambert Rebecca Bush Tom Douglass
James Ghormley Robert Wendt Vaughn Meekins
Joe Finn Rodger Greene Wendy Wees
Jonathan MacKinnon Roy Stanton
Joshua Gosovich Rush Fay

-Emily Eddy, Donor Services Representative

Top photo: Christina Park

 

Communications Team Preps for Gauguin & Polynesia Opening!

Everybody at SAM is in a flurry to get the Gauguin & Polynesia exhibition ready to open to the public on February 9. Of course you know that we must hang paintings on walls, but what else is there to do? The answer is, lots! The Communications department is responsible for all printed materials at the museum (from the quarterly members newsletter SAMconnects, to invitations sent to 50,000 households, to the Map & Guide that get when you arrive), advertising and museum signage, so there’s no lack of things to do! Below you’ll see a big sign going up on the outside of the building, the tools we use for selecting the perfect color for our billboards, and one of our designers working away at her desk. What other behind-the-scenes images do you want to see?

-Calandra Childers, Communications Manager

Photo credits: Carlos Garcia

 

 

This is a gigantic PMS color chart, printed onto billboard material. Because colors can print differently on different material, our billboard rep provided us with this huge print out. We used it to make sure the two main colors of the campaign would match across all mediums.

 

 

Here you can see one of our graphic designers, Michele Bury, busily working on a new design. She’s creating the wall signage for the special Gauguin & Polynesia shop that will be located outside of the exhibition.

Top photo: Here you can see the special lift that is required to install this huge sign on the outside of the building at 1st Ave and Union St. The sign is 45′ x 36′ when it is complete! The image is of Gauguin’s Three Tahitians, a stunning work that’s become the signature piece for the exhibition promotion.

Not Your Ordinary Screen Savers

Apropos the fabulous Golden “Bamboo and Poppies” Kanō school screens, and the other famous and beloved screens currently displayed in Luminous: The Art of Asia, the Seattle Art Museum’s collection of approximately 70 Asian screens, has been recently rehoused in the best state-of-the-art storage cabinets available thanks to a generous federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

SAM’s significant collection of Asian screens includes paintings of singular artistic and cultural importance. The screens range in date from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century. Together with our collection of hanging scrolls, they convey to visitors an experience of splendid art and vivid impressions of the story of painting in Japan, China and Korea.

Although SAM’s collection has a handful of Chinese wood, lacquered and cinnabar panel screens, the bulk of the collection is comprised of Japanese and Korean painted screens. The Japanese screens at SAM fall into two categories, the byōbu, or folding screens (from two up to eight panels) and the fusuma, or sliding screens, typical partitions used to divide large rooms in temples or castles. Both of these styles are represented in Luminous.

Read More

SAM’s Got Talent

I sit right next to Joshua Gosovich every morning at the reception desk in the administrative offices of the museum. We talk a lot. We are always updating each other on the most recent movies we’ve watched. We share ideas on how to cook unusual produce. He is an adventurous farmers market shopper and I get strange fruit in my CSA produce box. (According to Josh, roasting a Jerusalem artichoke is really good!). And of course we commiserate on the woes and hilarity of a rather public desk. In addition to being the museum receptionist and my compatriot, Josh is also an artist. He is currently having an art show at the Balmar in Ballard through December 9. I realized that I didn’t know very much about Josh, The Artist. Following is my bright-light-in-the-eyes interrogation to learn more about my artist friend.

Read More

All Roads Lead to SAM: New and Improved Visitor Information

At the suggestion of one of our customers, SAM’s online visitor information just got tricked out. In an effort to encourage people to use different forms of transportation and to make it easier to find us no matter where you are, we’ve added several links to maps that show people how to bike, bus and even walk to SAM Downtown, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park. Some of the exciting new features include:

  • Bike rack information (did you know that there are bike racks at all three locations?) as well as maps that have bike and bus directions.
  • Links to three different public transportation sites with a SAM location already entered as the destination, as well as a link to Metro that lists all the buses that go nearby.

    Read More

A Call to Color

If you haven’t been to the Olympic Sculpture Park lately, you should go. Not only is it summer in the park but Trenton Doyle Hancock’s, A Better Promise—an art installation in the PACCAR Pavilion—is especially mesmerizing and animated when the bright sunshine manages to peek out of the clouds and shine into the pavilion. Ironically, this is partly because of its numerous colorful raindrops but partly it’s because of the giant vitrines full of plastic lids that sit below the installation.

As part of the work, Hancock issues a “call to color” by encouraging visitors to bring their own morsels of color—in the form of plastic bottle caps—to the park and drop them into the work of art. Nine large-scale “earthbound” vitrines have been placed on the floor in front of the hand sculpture. On the face of each of these nine containers, there is a teardrop cut-out where plastic bottle caps can be deposited by color. Visitors are encouraged to bring plastic bottle caps ranging in all shapes and sizes from detergent bottles, to clear water bottles to the black and white caps from drink bottles.

Read More

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