The Power of Storytelling in Art Curation: Emerging Arts Leader Elizabeth Xiong Reflects

My first recreational adventure after settling in Seattle in 2021 was to SAM. As I had just recently decided to pursue a second degree in art history, I felt strangely comfortable throughout my visit. I left the museum that day filled with countless stories told through the installations, a growing curiosity for art curation, and a hope that I would be back soon.

And lucky for me, that desire came true. Working under the supervision of Theresa Papanikolas, SAM Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern over the last few months has allowed me to explore what curators do. As part of my role, I was tasked with research and writing supplementary information for the upcoming exhibition Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map. Opening Thursday, February 29 at SAM, the retrospective will survey five decades of Smith’s (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation) work. My work focused on researching and creating an in-gallery display for the exhibition that highlights the artist’s relationship to Seattle.

My research began with sifting through existing scholarship and archival materials on Smith. The more I read, the more I came to understand her as a leading contemporary Native American artist who examines American life by engaging with powerful ideas of Indigenous memory, culture, and history. Although I compiled a hefty list of Seattle public art, exhibition, and curatorial projects she participated in, I felt that it lacked cohesion since the documents appeared separate from existing discussions of her work. How, then, could I organize them together in a display case?

I temporarily filed these questions away as I sifted through 150 newly acquired scans from Smith’s personal archives dating from 1996 to 1998. These digitized letters outlined years of correspondence regarding the West Seattle Cultural Trail, a public art project she created alongside local artists Donald Fels and Joe Fedderson (Okanogan and Arrow Lakes).

As I meticulously pieced together these lengthy conversations, I watched the project unfold from a front row seat. It gave me a glimpse into the public arts process, the intentionality required, and the communications exchanged between differing personalities. I thought back to the initial questions Theresa encouraged me to consider within my work: What is Smith’s presence in Seattle? How do we illustrate it? I then recalled an interview in which Smith was quoted as saying, “All of our stories, all of our origin stories come out of the land.” Her words led me to reevaluate the trail’s physical dependence on land and its goal to “share in the collective memory of the West Seattle community.” 

Suddenly, the collaborative storytelling throughout her oeuvre did not exclude what she accomplished in Seattle. From the trail, my project expanded outwards into three main themes for the display: her dedication to teaching, and the importance of language in her practice, and the role collaboration has played throughout her career. Regarding the retrospective, Smith says “in this long journey, it is step by step, hand over hand, something like climbing a rope.” Therefore, my goal became to guide visitors to see Seattle as a crucial strand in the rope she climbed.

To demonstrate Smith’s dedication to education, her correspondences with Donald Fels revealed their shared interest in involving local students in the project’s development. Smith was adamant that the trail give visibility to hidden stories, and the accompanying Voices of the Community booklet gave students the opportunity to share their perspectives through poetry. Her commitment to education also extends beyond the trail to her other public works, lectures, and children’s workbooks. Considering how her Olympic Junior College art teacher once told her “she could teach… but she shouldn’t count on being a painter,” she powerfully accomplished both. Therefore, when she said “I go out and teach… that’s what my life is about, my work is about,” it is important that our illustration of her presence in Seattle brilliantly reflects this.

That said, the trail allows other dimensions of teaching in her practice to be explored, such as writing. Countless letters between Smith and other Indigenous colleagues reveal that the Native stories told on the trail are intended to teach visitors, and that their accuracy was of the utmost importance.

This intricate combination of writing and collaboration is evident throughout her own curatorial practice, which first blossomed in Seattle. In each exhibition, she approached texts intentionally because writing inclusively “[showcases] the voices of Native artists.” As a curator, her exhibitions helped propel the trajectory of Native recognition in the arts, in turn increasing visibility for new artists. Altogether, her curatorial practice emphasizes that writing and “networking [are] as much for her artistic medium as paint and canvas.”

Lastly, Smith’s insistence on collectivity through collaboration is not limited to her immediate Native community. Her cooperation with other artists of color is a lesser known fact, despite her clear belief that “passion for our art and for one another,” commitment “to narrative work,” and a “strong sense of survival” bonds them together. Therefore, as part of this last theme, which explores Smith’s involvement with Asian Americans through the trail project, I hope to challenge this chronically overlooked detail. 

Numerous letters reveal Smith’s dedication to including Asian American voices in retelling the history of Alki Beach. She spent weeks researching, and gaining approval from local experts and friends to ensure that the communities would be “proud of what is there.” With these letters, I hope to underscore how the diverse experiences and relationships that influence her are not constrained by gallery walls. These strands of her personal history may not be immediately apparent on the surface of her artworks, but through her ties to the city we share, they come to life. 

As a result of my in-gallery contributions to Memory Map, I hope visitors leave SAM with a clear understanding of how Smith and her relationship to Seattle do not stand in isolation. Their interconnectedness leaves room for the viewer to contemplate how their presence in the exhibition’s galleries is also an act of collaboration and learning with Smith. Therefore, it is important that her voice rings throughout my work, such that the answer to her question “can I take these feelings and attach them to a passerby?” is an overwhelming yes. 

I went into this internship eager to peel back the mysterious layers of museum work, in order to discover what processes are involved in curating exhibitions. Sitting at my desk in the corner of SAM’s administrative offices, I was initially afraid that I would feel alone. However, that sentiment couldn’t have been further from the truth. As I uncovered the intentional collaborations that flowed through Smith’s storytelling, I realized the same started swirling into mine. Through this experience, I found myself learning how to research unfamiliar topics with courage, and approach art curation as a storyteller. This growth was only possible because of the incredible SAM staff, who I want to take the time to thank.

I truly started to see curatorial work as storytelling after my lunches with Museum Educator for Digital Learning Ramzy Lakos, where he also encouraged me to use Smith’s own voice to frame my in-gallery display. It was after an insightful conversation with Catharina Manchanda, SAM Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, that compelled me to incorporate Smith’s involvement with other communities of color. I want to thank Carrie Dedon, SAM Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, for reminding me to courageously explore the intersections of my studies and extend a special thank you to my cubicle-mate, Danelle Jay, SAM Curatorial Print and Content Associate, for always lending a listening ear, and reminding me that our storytelling should relate to people. Most of all, I want to thank Theresa, for her indispensable expertise, patience, and genuine collaborative spirit that has made my SAM internship an incredible experience.

As my internship draws to a close, I look forward to seeing how my display comes to life when Memory Map opens at SAM this spring and urge you to visit the West Seattle Cultural Trail in the meantime. I am excited to take everything I have learned at SAM into my future endeavors, and am looking forward to where I next go.

– Elizabeth Xiong, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Curatorial

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Envisioning My Future in Arts Education: Emerging Arts Leader Zakaria Sadak Reflects

If you had asked me about my career plans a year or two ago, I would not have guessed that working at the Seattle Art Museum was in my future. It wasn’t until my first year of college when the histories, values, and principles embedded in my surroundings captured my full attention and academic interest. It left me with no choice but to abandon my math and economics studies in favor of art history. Combined with my latent interest in Korea, as fostered by a childhood richly patterned with Korean objects and visual culture, I chose to pursue a career in museums to further learn and digest my history through the lens of Korean art history.

It is with this background that I entered the Seattle Art Museum for the first time this past January. Though I grew up in various parts of Washington, visiting the Seattle Art Museum had always evaded me. I came to SAM with an interest in art history and connecting students to art, so my work within the institution’s education department creating educator and student materials was particularly relevant. Through all of this work, my supervisor SAM Manager of School & Educator Programs Yaoyao Liu’s mentorship and guidance was crucial.

Aside from putting up with my many (many) questions as I became acquainted with everything, Yaoyao and other colleagues in the education division were the resident experts who helped me get through it all and eventually join them as a staff member. Though general visitors may not be impacted by my work, I want to plug the SAM educator and student offerings. My work creating art activities and in-gallery materials with the exhibition Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth and the traveling exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will be available for students to work on in their classrooms and at home, as well as the numerous offerings created by colleagues.

A notable highlight of my internship was my work with Korean objects from SAM’s collection, on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. In March, I offered a presentation to museum staff and the public on a four-panel chaekgeori screen and wooden chest as furnishings in Joseon homes. Through research on these objects, I grew to value the ambiguity of the objects a museum sees come through its doors. That is to say, my research of these objects through the Emerging Arts Leader Internship afforded me the opportunity to break up the polished object lists that neatly fit into textbooks, coursework, and curriculums with objects I might not otherwise encounter.

The Seattle Art Museum is a space to thoughtfully learn about and digest information on a diverse collection of culturally significant artworks. I began my internship at SAM with a limited understanding of museums and am leaving with a clear vision for my future in the museum field and art history. With a two-pronged goal of further understanding Korea’s art history and bridging the gap between esoteric arts research and the public, I can’t help but be sad that I am leaving the work at SAM so soon. As a visitor, intern, and staff member, I certainly have been able to explore where my interest in historical Korean art and I might fit in a museum.

By no means will this exploration end with my time as an intern at the Seattle Art Museum. I am thankful for the support of everyone at the museum both throughout the internship and ongoing as I resume studies in Chicago and begin my next role at the Smart Museum of Art. I want to offer a final thanks to Yaoyao, everyone in the education division, SAM Human Resources & Intern Programs Coordinator Samuel Howes, and my fellow interns for creating the bright, welcoming, and uplifting environment at SAM.

– Zakaria Sadak, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in School & Educator Programs

Photos: Natali Wiseman & Chloe Collyer.

The Multitudes of Museum Work: Emerging Arts Leader Aranya Kitnikone Reflects

“What do you want to be when you’re older?” Time and time again, I’ve asked myself this question.

From a young age, I developed an affinity towards the arts from my older sister, who was an artist. As my role model, they influenced my passion and professional interest for the arts. However, as a first-generation Asian American, I’ve often had to confront the stigma that comes with pursuing a career in the arts and humanities over a more ‘lucrative’ or stable field like medicine or business. In my own family, this sentiment proved especially true; it was considered a waste of time to study the arts. This mindset naturally impacted the decisions I made regarding my own future.

While I love making art and consider myself a passionate and creative person, the negative opinion of my family and colleagues pushed me away from pursuing a career arts. In entering college, I decided to pursue Human Resources and Education (the idea of working adjacent to art had never really crossed my mind). It was only when I discovered an internship in the Seattle Art Museum’s Human Resources department that my passion for creative work was reignited. It served as an opportunity to combine my desire to work in the arts with my desire to pursue a broader career that might be seen as more ‘stable’ to my family (and admittedly, myself).

At SAM, I was encouraged to connect with other creatives to find out what goes on behind the scenes at an arts institution. I was able to schedule one-on-one meetings with staff across different departments of the museum, connect with other interns, and learn more about what museum work really is. I was most excited to meet the people behind the execution of the galleries and to see exhibitions go from the planning stage to the presentation stage. I especially want to highlight my meeting with Jenni Beetem, a fellow Emerging Arts Leaders in conservation, in which I learned about the preservation of yak milk from the Mongol Empire and the fundamentals of art conservation.

Working alongside the Human Resources team was also an invaluable experience. Ellie Vazquez, SAM Human Resources Specialist and my program supervisor, helped me to better understand what equity looks like in a museum setting and how it is practiced throughout recruitment and hiring processes. Throughout my project work, I was able to observe the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices currently in place at SAM, and was tasked with co-editing our Equitable Hiring Guide and hosting a gallery tour of American Art: The Stories We Carry that highlighted the topics of HR and DEI. In that tour, I spoke of how DEI and collaboration have shaped gallery spaces at SAM and beyond, as well as the importance of reflecting the diversity of local communities within museum staff and projects.

In my role as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Human Resources, I created training videos and resources for SAM’s internal staff. Sitting in on staff meetings and having one-on-ones with my supervisor helped me gain a greater understanding of what I wanted my role in (or out of) HR to be. As I performed research on staff benefits—which, admittedly, wasn’t the most exciting aspect of my role—I enjoyed knowing that I could assist someone to understand their workplace better. So, while Human Resources did not start off as a passion, I did find joy in the principles, the learning opportunities, and especially the collaboration and connection fostered in this space. While my work may not have been directly involved in the operations of the public-facing museum space, the opportunity to connect with others behind the scenes will always be a highlight for me.

My time at SAM has been a transformative experience. I have met people from all different walks of life and have been fortunate enough to see the passion that goes into running this museum firsthand. When I first came to SAM, I held all sorts of preconceived notions on what it would be like to work in a museum. In my mind, a degree of privilege and higher education was needed to work in an institution such as this and I thought myself to be a terribly under qualified outsider. The Emerging Arts Leader program does an amazing job of combating these notions, allowing those from different walks of life to participate in, and contribute to, museum spaces. It has given me a greater understanding and respect for these institutions especially as SAM continues to grow and reflect the values of Seattle’s ever-evolving community. In leaving SAM, it’s clear that this institution is the product of a community-wide effort from the visitors, the volunteers, and the staff. Being here has allowed me to shift my idea of museums from being an institution of privilege to a space made for communities.

Finally, I would like to thank the specific individuals who helped me during my time here. I would like to thank my supervisor, Ellie, for all her support and guidance. I would like to thank the rest of our Human Resources team, Kathleen Maki and Andrew Young, and especially our internship coordinator, Sam Howes, for facilitating the internship process and creating a support system for us. I would also like to thank my fellow interns Elizabeth Xiong, Teagan Nathe, Jenni Beetem, Zak Sadak, Rebecca Wong, and Jo Cosme—this experience has been an unforgettable one especially because of the other amazing interns I have met during my time here. While I am now at the end of my time here as an intern, it in no way means the end of my relationship with SAM and its community.

– Aranya Kitnikone, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Human Resources

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad & Sam Howes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad & Chloe Collyer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: L. Fried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Doreen Chen, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Curation

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Samantha Companatico, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Conservation

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Finding Where I Belong: Emerging Arts Leader Brie Silva Reflects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Brie Silva, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Development

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jennifer Beetem, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Conservation

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad & Marta Pinto-Llorca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Alexa Smith, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Curation

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Chloe Collyer.

Object of the Week: Uncle Thomas

Despite becoming interested in art relatively late in life, Titus Kaphar quickly built an impressive career by blurring the line between art and activism. Through his use of paint, tar, sculpting, and a wide range of other techniques, Kaphar uses his work to recontextualize and reimagine the way we look at history. This includes literal instances of altering history by crumpling, shredding, and reforming well-known images.

With his 2008 painting Uncle Thomas, Kaphar uses his gift for portraiture to shift an age-old archetype. The term “Uncle Tom,” named after the lead character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, has long been used to promote a picture of blackness that centers on obedience and servitude. In this work from SAM’s collection, Kaphar takes inspiration from his real-life uncle Thomas to display his updated perception of the name. By placing his uncle—a well-respected, land-owning black man—at the center of Uncle Thomas, Kaphar exchanges an image of servitude and oppression for one of strength, dignity, and authority. During Black History Month especially, Kaphar’s art represents an important example of empowerment and support within one’s own community.

This work is less experimental than other pieces Kaphar has created in more recent years, but its bold confrontation of history is representative of the artist’s larger body of work. Kaphar’s willingness to challenge complicated historical narratives directly through images has driven him to work with Time magazine and receive several accolades, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2018. Through his unique approach, Kaphar is altering the way many view our nation’s past while shining a light on the unheard voices and forgotten faces of history.

Michael Miller, SAM Communications Intern

Image: Uncle Thomas, 2008, Titus Kaphar, tar on paper, 48 x 36 in., Contemporary Art Support Fund, 2009.31 © Titus Kaphar

Lauren Farris: Emerging Arts Leader Intern Look at SAM

“Vulnerability” has been a bit of a buzz word ever since Brené Brown’s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” Having watched Brené’s TED Talk and read one of her books, I value vulnerability a lot, but being vulnerable myself can still feel fairly nerve-wracking. So when the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern and I were asked to lead a My Favorite Things Tour, little did I know that the next 10 weeks would also include a road trip down vulnerability lane. 

When I first heard about the tour, I thought this tour would remain in the realm of theoretical, academic concepts. To be fair, a large part of the process involved researching the history behind each piece, utilizing resources from SAM’s libraries (thanks, Traci, Jordyn, and Yueh-Lin!), and meeting with curators (thanks, Pam and Chiyo!). But along with the historical research, our mentors and colleagues, Rachel, Seohee, David, and Priya (thank you all!), encouraged us to delve vulnerably into our stories and weave them into each piece. 

Because of this, I began asking myself some questions about my story, including being mixed race. For a while, I’ve been nervous about my voice because being mixed race often feels like a grey area between two distinct points of view and voices in society. But as I worked on the tour, each of our mentors and countless people shared their time, insight, stories, and vulnerability to help me process, ask deeper questions, and craft the content of the tour. Without them, the tour and this blog post would look entirely different. 

Not to mention, I’ll always cherish the times the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern, Cat, and I practiced nearly 50 versions of our ever-evolving tour with each other. Because our tours delved into more personal topics, we became each other’s support and cheerleader through a lot of ups and a few downs. Together, we also arranged informational interviews with staff across many departments, assisted at events like SAM Remix, DragonFest, and Summer Institute for Educators, and attended department and equity team meetings. I learned so much from working with Cat (miss you!) and love the ways in which SAM values and integrates collaboration. 

Throughout this entire internship, I’ve learned so much about museums, equity work within museums, and about myself. The interdisciplinary focus provided the opportunity to learn about many of the departments that comprise SAM. All throughout and above the galleries, it’s inspiring to see how many dedicated individuals play a role – from fundraising to checking coats to communicating with the press to leading student tours—to make SAM the museum that it is. 

I also learned a lot about equity work in museums that I didn’t know before. I’ve realized that it’s not enough to know some terms or read some papers or books, but it takes the vulnerability to ask myself the same questions within these papers. And it takes the bravery to answer these questions honestly. 

SAM gave me a safe space to ask questions and come from a posture of growth and progression rather than perfection. More than ever, I’ve learned how crucial and empowering it is to connect with people who share both similar and different experiences. The ways that SAM strives for equity within education, programming, exhibitions, staff, and every part of SAM is inspiring. SAM is opening up dialogue, asking themselves, and others, critical questions, and aiming to lead and learn with each step towards furthering inclusivity and equity. SAM taught me that it takes vulnerability and guts to genuinely look at equity within ourselves in order to implement equity institutionally and beyond.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who made this internship so special. And guess what? I’m so grateful, honored, and thrilled to continue on with SAM’s amazing Development Team as a Campaign Assistant! See you around!

– Lauren Farris, SAM Campaign Assistant & 2019 Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photos: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Radical times, art world internships, and online wives

SAM News

The summer edition of the Stranger’s Art & Performance Quarterly is out! Recommended SAM shows in the visual arts listings include Hear & Now, 2018 Betty Bowen Award Winner: Natalie Ball, Victorian Radicals, Zanele Muholi, Material Differences: German Perspectives, You Are on Indigenous Land: Places/Displaces, and Claire Partington: Taking Tea. They also recommend upcoming events Summer at SAM and Remix.

Fine Art Connoisseur, 425 Magazine, and Seattle Gay Scene are also among those who look forward to getting radical with the Victorians when our major exhibition opens this Thursday night.  

Local News

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig looks—and looks again—at Cecilia Vicuña’s first major US solo exhibition, now on view at the Henry Art Gallery.

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley reports on the formal launch of the Art Workers Union (AWU), formed by and for security guards at the Frye Art Museum.

Margo Vansynghel for Crosscut on the future home of an incredible archive of Black Panther newspapers; a satellite of Estelita’s Library, it will be the first “tiny cultural space” from the Office of Arts & Culture.

The newspaper collection, says Dixon, preserves “an important, critical part of American history. To see that [this] time existed and that it’s captured in the pages of these newspapers so that people can actually see and read what we said—not what someone else is interpreting from afar—but what we said, how we articulated revolution in this country, that’s the importance of them.”

Inter/National News

From the Los Angeles Times: The Natural History Museum of LA County announced a major rethink of the La Brea Tar Pits site; the Olympic Sculpture Park’s designer Weiss/Manfredi is one of three firms making proposals for the project.

Hyperallergic’s Kealey Boyd on Margaret Kilgallen’s first posthumous museum exhibition—now on view at the Aspen Art Museum—and the artist’s “unique mix of folk, feminism, and street art.”

Artsy’s Benjamin Sutton examines “how internships are changing the art world,” detailing various initiatives at the Getty Foundation, Souls Grown Deep, and Artpace.

“Museums desperately need talent in all sorts of positions—curators represent a fraction of the staff of museums,” Anderson said. “We’d be thrilled if an accountant emerges from [the Souls Grown Deep initiative] and finds their way into the museum profession, but they’re an accountant who has knowledge and experience in a particular cultural remit that otherwise they may not have.”

And Finally

Please, My Wife, She’s Very Online.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: The Long Engagement, ca. 1854–59, Arthur Hughes, British, 1832–1915, oil on canvas, 42 1/8 × 21 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Presented by the executors of the late Dr. Edwin T. Griffiths, 1902P13, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

SAM Connects Culture to Emerging Arts Leaders

Read all about Trang Tran’s experience at SAM as our 2018 Emerging Arts Intern. The Emerging Arts Internship at SAM grew out of SAM’s equity goal and became a paid 10-week position at the museum designed to provide emerging arts leaders from diverse backgrounds with an in-depth understanding of SAM’s operations, programming and audiences. We’re searching for our next Emerging Arts Intern! Does this sound like you? Applications are due April 1!

When I was asked to write a wrap-up blog about my experiences as an Emerging Arts Leader intern at the Seattle Art Museum, I asked myself, “Jeez, where do I even begin?” There are so many experiences, memories, and relationships that I have built at this museum, a place I now consider a second home, that it’s hard to summarize my journey in a paragraph or two.

As I was walking toward the museum on my first day of the internship, the word “anxious” wouldn’t have entirely encapsulated my emotions. I was also thrilled, grateful, and honored to be working at one of the best art institutions on the West coast. My first week flew by as I met staff members who were inclusive, welcoming, supportive, and helpful as I tried to find my way around the maze of the administrative office. Over the next weeks, I began conducting informal interviews with staff members, working on projects with the curatorial, communication, and educational departments, and I ran around the museum trying to find meeting rooms but repeatedly ending up on the wrong floor (“M stands for Maloney”– David). I also toured the Olympic Sculpture Park (Thanks, Maggie!), made multiple trips to the galleries and library as I began research for my December My Favorite Things Tour, spiraled down the rabbit hole in art storage (Thanks, Carrie!), attempted to write a press release for an upcoming exhibition (Thanks, Rachel!), participated in many events hosted by the museum, and more!

One event I was especially honored to participate in was the Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodpur, India Community Opening Celebration. I had the opportunity to interact with the community by greeting them at the door and answering questions about the evening’s programs. Instead of running around the administrative office or staring at a computer screen, I was able to engage with the museum’s audience. It was amazing to witness the enthusiasm, anticipation, and joy radiating from everyone I met at the door. Even though I ended up losing my voice that night, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

I was also fortunate to spend the day with my little brother, Kevin, at the Diwali Family Festival. Diwali, or the “festival of lights,” is one of the most important celebrations in India where people celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The museum’s annual Diwali Family Festival included a vibrant fashion show, numerous art activities, dance performances, live music, and tours of the special exhibition, Peacock in the Desert, as well as tours of SAM’s permanent collections and installations. By attending this event, I hoped to show my brother that art is not just about color pigments on a white canvas on the wall or a sculpture encased in glass that you forget about as soon as you walk away. Art has the effect of bringing people together. People of different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds come together to celebrate, learn about, and appreciate a culture. Art also has the power to encapsulate political struggles, social changes, cultural values, and art movements. These are the reasons why I love, and am passionate, about art. I hope that if I can help the youngest member of my family see how powerful art can be, maybe one day my parents, as well as the wider Asian-American community, will learn to accept and recognize the existence of the art world.

Throughout this 10-week interdisciplinary internship, I found myself learning about the numerous operations that keep the museum running on an everyday basis. Such operations range from researching artworks in the curatorial department to fundraising in the development department, from promotional strategies in the marketing department to writing press releases in the communication department, and from preserving artworks in the conservation department to engaging the public in the educational department. But if I were to selected one main lesson to take away after this internship, it would be that a museum is not just about the artworks in the gallery; it’s also about people coming together to successfully bring these artworks to the public. For an artwork to be displayed in the museum, for a sculpture to be standing in the gallery, or for an exhibition to be showcased for three months, it takes cooperation from every department in the museum. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has welcomed, accepted, supported, challenged, and encouraged me throughout this internship. Thank you for all the hard work that you are doing, not only for the world of art, but also for the public community.

– Trang Tran, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern 2018

Say Hi to SAM’s New Emerging Arts Leader: Trang Tran

SAM’s ongoing Emerging Arts Leader Internship continues this winter with Trang Tran, a senior at the University of Washington.

This paid internship is aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. It’s an interdisciplinary internship that allows the intern to interact with diverse aspects of museum work and contribute their unique insights and perspectives. Members of SAM’s Equity Team, representing several departments at the museum, make up the hiring committee for this important internship that is just one way SAM is working to create points of entry into the museum field and work toward equity and inclusion within our own walls. Launched in 2016, the internship program now boasts seven graduates.

Trang started her internship in September and will be here through the end of 2018. Growing up, she was expected to pursue a STEM career and planned to study biology—until an introductory art history course changed the course of her life (art has a way of doing that). Graduating next June from UW, she’s now pursuing an art history degree—with a minor in microbiology! During her cross-disciplinary internship, she’ll explore all facets of the museum field and share her unique insights along the way. Says Trang, “I want to demonstrate to society—especially the Asian community—that every child deserves to have an equal opportunity to choose their career path. I want to become that change.”

Save the date for Thursday, December 6! Trang will lead a free My Favorite Things Tour in the galleries focusing on some of what she’s learned while contributing to SAM. You won’t want to miss it.

We asked Trang: What’s a work of art that challenged your perspective on life?

Trang: The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, which he painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City during the Renaissance era. The stylistic goals of the Renaissance era were rationality, balance, and unity. However, Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment was very dynamic, chaotic, and filled with ambiguity. Michelangelo challenged the norms of the Renaissance movement and as a result, he created one of the world’s greatest treasures. His refusal to conform to the norms of the current art movement encouraged me to pursue a career outside of the ones that children who grow up in Asian communities are generally expected to pursue. I want to demonstrate to society that I can become successful doing something I love instead of chasing a career that society labels as “successful.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

Seohee Kim: Emerging Arts Leader Intern Look at SAM

During my first week as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern at Seattle Art Museum, I was told that by the last week of the internship this reflection post for the blog would be due. I remember thinking, “Oh, that sounds easy enough—just summarize what happened in a paragraph or two.” Clearly, I had no idea what was headed my way. The past week has been an endless cycle of drafting, writing, editing, only to draft again. (You know that feeling of when there’s so much you want to say, and say eloquently, that words and sentences are flying around your mind and you’re scrambling to make sense of them, but you actually just end up staring at the blinking text cursor for an hour? Yeah, that.)

When I reflect on the past 10 weeks of my internship, I imagine having one of those View-Masters (they’re still relevant, right?) and clicking through reels of moments at SAM. It starts with the welcoming faces of everyone I meet coming into view. Then, a whirlwind of back-to-back meetings; getting lost in the labyrinth of the administrative office; storage visits with Carrie (thank you, Carrie!); always pressing the wrong level in the elevator; researching objects; conducting informational interviews with staff; preparing for my My Favorite Things tour; taking part in Career Day, Seattle Art Fair, Summer at SAM, and Remix; and so much more. As if in slow motion, images of my last week include the nerve-wracking day of my tour and saying goodbye to everyone I had the privilege of working with.

I’m surprised how much I changed in this short time span. In the beginning, I thought I knew enough about diversity and equity work from courses at university and my past experiences that I was only focused on giving my perspectives rather than allowing myself to be vulnerable and molded by those far more experienced than I. Working closely with the equity team this past summer, I found myself constantly learning, practicing, and honing the use of an equity lens in my work. I experienced the behind-the-scenes of a museum and community working towards transparency and racial and social equity. I saw every meeting ask how to be inclusive, provide access, and advance equity. There was, and is, so much I don’t know, not only regarding the arts and museums, but also in becoming a better ally for community. Watching and working alongside these amazing and passionate individuals, I’ve come to reevaluate myself, my goals, and my passions on a weekly basis.

What resulted of this reevaluation was the “My Favorite Things” tour I had the privilege of leading (I still can’t believe I led a tour). To close off, I’d like to share a snippet from what I shared at the tour.

We tend to get easily distracted if an issue doesn’t directly affect us. From this internship and conducting research for this tour the past few weeks, I’ve realized again and again that privilege doesn’t always mean monetary wealth or status. It could be not having to worry about being seen as a threat walking in your own neighborhood late at night. It could be not feeling your heart pound every time you see words like ICE and DACA and UNDOCUMENTED in the headlines. It could be your close friends and family asking you if you’re doing alright and being able to genuinely answer that you’re well instead of brushing it off with an “I’m okay” when you really cried yourself to sleep at night because you’re supposed to have everything under control. Just because it doesn’t affect us directly, doesn’t mean it’s not there nor does it mean it’s less important. As a community, in order to work towards true equity, we have to embrace and endure all pains as if they are our own. We must face our worst selves and acknowledge our lacking. It’s going to be difficult; it will be uncomfortable…but I invite you to join me in this continuing journey of becoming more aware, becoming more responsible, and becoming more informed not only for ourselves but also for each other.”

To everyone I met and worked with this past summer, thank you so much for your continuous kindness, encouragement, and acceptance. I’ve never felt more welcome and cherished in a workplace setting than at SAM. And, thank you for all you do on a daily basis to work for and better our community.

–Seohee Kim, 2018 SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Dovey Martinez: Emerging Arts Leader Look at SAM

As I walked towards the Seattle Art Museum to begin my Emerging Arts Leader internship, I was excited. I knew I would be working with the education and curatorial departments, but had only the minutest idea of what the internship would entail. At the staff entrance, I saw the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern for the summer nervously sitting on the couch. As Seohee Kim and I began to get to know each other, it was apparent we had many similarities. We are both passionate about immigrant rights and we both originally intended to take a law career track but found ourselves working in the arts, despite the initial backlash from our parents. I didn’t know it then, but Seohee and I would become an inseparable and fierce duo.

Everyone we met was genuine, welcoming, caring, and passionate. I honestly could not believe my eyes, it seemed almost suspicious. The education department glows with kindness and a love for the Seattle Art Museum’s mission to connect art to life. I went to college in Connecticut, and although I was raised in Seattle, I didn’t have many friends or connections with the arts community. This quickly changed. I could share with you about how I gained professional experience using The Museum System to research and organize objects. I could tell you about the meetings I sat in on where my voice mattered and my opinions were valued. I could tell you how I learned about the behind-the-scenes work that most people don’t know about. I could tell you how this internship opened my eyes to a possible career path that I would’ve never known about prior to this summer: exhibition design. I could write about each of these topics, but I want to focus on the amazing events that allowed me to get involved with the Seattle community and touched my heart with the amount of support and healing that took place at these events.

Three events, in particular, had a strong impact on me; the [Black] Power Summit, the Creative Advantage, and Remix. The Power Summit was a health and wellness conference for Seattle’s Black community. The first panel was one on mental health and mindfulness. The panel spoke about generational trauma and the stigma behind mental illness within the Black community. I could relate to these trends within the Latinx community. Often times, our parents work so hard to provide for our families that they dwell in survival mode. When we are raised in households where mental illnesses are stigmatized, we feel as if we are a burden to our family if we bring up issues we may be facing. As we keep hiding, the marble-sized issue becomes a bowling ball. One panelist suggested that we sit with our discomfort and strip it of its power over us. The trauma may still be present in the form of memories or thoughts, but it will no longer have power over our ability to thrive.

If you’ve never been to Remix, just know you’re sleeping! Remix is a beautiful event in which many people come together to share the dance floor, art activities, tours, drinks, as well as their most fly outfits. I loved the art activities, but what really impacted me was the dancing. With performing artists such as the Purple Lemonade Collective, Bouton Volonté, and Randy Ford, the dance floor was throbbing with presence and beauty. When the dancers dipped, catwalked, and, yes, even twerked, a semi-circle formed around them of mainly white allies. Space was created for queer and trans people of color to exist, express their passion, make art, and share joy. As they created magic with their bodies, the viewers cheered and recorded, but mainly they yelled words of encouragement and awe. This wonderful space for marginalized groups to feel at ease within a large group of white folks didn’t feel uncomfortable or unwelcoming though. At that moment, race, gender, and sexuality were being praised and we were allowed to take up space with the knowledge that our allies are there to support us. If I wasn’t so busy sweating through my orange romper from all the dancing, I probably would have shed a tear of joy and love.

The Seattle Art Museum is a highly inclusive environment that truly values racial equity. The institution is not building inclusive spaces or challenging our thinking because it is the trendy thing to do. The Seattle Art museum genuinely values equity work, from the director of the museum to interns like me and Seohee, and in between. This experience was one of healing for me after graduating from an institution on the East Coast that lacked passion for equality and often protests had to occur to demand visibility for underrepresented groups. The Seattle Art Museum is taking a stand and a leadership role to highlight and welcome all identities. When the mission statement says that the Seattle Art Museum connects art to our lives, I understand that they connect art to our lives because they know that our lives matter and want to be a space for healing, learning, and unity.

– Dovey Martinez, SAM 2018 Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photos: Natali Wiseman

 

Building a Digital Collection: The Photographs and Lists of William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains

Do you ever wonder how Seattle Art Museum acquired enough porcelain objects to fill an entire room? Through my Directed Fieldwork (DFW) at the University of Washington I decided to illuminate a piece of the provenance story behind some of SAM’s porcelain objects in the beloved Porcelain Room.

Not much is known about the New York dealer, William H. Lautz’s life outside of the porcelain world, however William Lautz was a key figure in the growth of eighteenth-century porcelain in the United States during the 1940s and 50s. I’ve created a digital collection of porcelain object photographs and associated descriptive lists from the New York dealer, William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains, from the physical collection held in SAM’s Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library.


As a dealer of European porcelain, Lautz helped form the Warda Stevens Stout Collection at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis1, the Martha and Henry Isaacson collection in Seattle, and the Blanche M. Harnan Ceramic Collection, also in Seattle; the latter two now located partially at the Seattle Art Museum.


Both Martha Isaacson and Blanche Harnan were founding members of the Seattle Ceramic Society, which stimulated the collection of European porcelain through study groups. Their stated goal was to collect European porcelain worthy of exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. To that end, they connected with important dealers in the field.

In the mid-1950s, Lautz sent barrels of porcelain to the Seattle Ceramic Society, accompanied by photographs and descriptive lists of the pieces. In turn, the Ceramic Society members selected pieces and returned empty barrels to Lautz with checks for their purchases. This method became known as the “Seattle Scheme” and continued while the Seattle Ceramic Society members grew their individual collections.2

Over time, the Seattle Ceramic Society and its members held five exhibitions of their European porcelain collections at the Seattle Art Museum between 1949 and 1964. Many active members of the Ceramic Society donated pieces of their collection to the Seattle Art Museum, including the aforementioned Martha and Henry Isaacson and Blanche M. Harnan, along with Dorothy Condon Falknor, DeEtte McAuslan Stuart, and Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser.

To create this digital collection, I scanned all of Lautz’s photographs into JPEGs and all of his descriptive lists into PDFs. Using Adobe Acrobat’s OCR function, I made the lists keyword searchable. I then created a spreadsheet with the associated metadata for each file to improve online navigation and searching.

The collection was then uploaded to the Libraries’ Omeka site where I created an online exhibition by linking photos of the Lautz pieces that ended up at SAM with their descriptions. By providing online access to William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains photographs and descriptive lists I hope to encourage researchers and others to investigate the porcelain objects in SAM’s collection and to visit the Porcelain Room at SAM to see some of the objects in person.

Learn more about Lautz by visiting the William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains, the Seattle Ceramic Society, and the Seattle Art Museum exhibit at Omeka.net

–Nicole Sonett, Intern, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Note: We want to thank Julie Emerson, the former Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts at the Seattle Art Museum, for her assistance in identifying porcelain objects from William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains that are now featured in SAM’s Porcelain Room.

1 Nelson, Christina H., and Letitia Roberts. A History of Eighteenth-Century German Porcelain: The Warda Stevens Stout Collection. Memphis: Dixon Gallery and Gardens; Easthampton, MA; New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2013.
2 Sebastian Kuhn in “Collecting Culture: The Taste for Eighteenth-Century German Porcelain,” in Cassidy-Geiger, Maureen et al. The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain, 1710-50. New York, NY: Frick Collection in association with D. Giles London, 2008.
Photos: Natali Wiseman.

Building a Digital Collection: Annual Reports at Seattle Art Museum

The following post is from two students who have been interning at SAM’s Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library while completing their Master of Library and Information Science degrees at the University of Washington’s Information School.

We are Michael Besozzi and Kate Hanske, and we have been working with Librarian Traci Timmons in the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library on an exciting digital initiative for the culminating work of our degree program. At the University of Washington’s iSchool, every student must complete a Capstone project, which should apply classroom theory to address a real-world information problem. For our Capstone work, we decided to tackle an information gap presented by access to SAM’s institutional annual reports.

Dating back to 1932, the reports include information about specific accessions, ongoing museum activities, exhibitions, and other special events in addition to the financial statements for the year. In a survey of nearly 900 American museums and cultural institutions, only 171 host their annual reports online. Out of those 171 institutions, many have unaccountable gaps between years of published reports. In the library, we saw an opportunity for SAM to create a unique digital collection and exhibition that includes every annual report in the museum’s history. We decided to aim for three outcomes for the digital collection: accessibility, transparency, and posterity.

The Bullitt Library is composed of “open” and “closed” stacks. The “open” stacks consist of shelves containing materials that any member of the public, from curators to visitors, can browse and handle without the assistance of a staff member. The “closed” stacks, located in a back room, contain a number of historical special collections materials. Due to the fragility of special collections materials, the closed stacks are only accessible by staff and designated volunteers. Located in those closed stacks are the Seattle Art Museum’s annual reports, dated from 1932 to the present.

SAM Libraries Annual Reports Archives

In order to access a report from a particular year, a visitor must have a staff member physically walk into the collection, pull out the box from the time range, and bring it to the patron, who must browse the materials in the box for the desired information. Requests for annual reports are common, ranging from staff members attempting to research financial records to visitors researching the history of the museum and the museum’s collections.

Annual Reports 1940s

Typically, a patron will perform a search that will require several boxes to be pulled at one time, which can also take up a lot of physical space in the small library. To add to the problem, the physical annual reports are not easily searchable: if a patron wants to locate a specific individual, exhibition, or piece from the collection, the user must usually go through multiple boxes (and other resources) in order to find what they need. This process can be time-consuming and frustrating! Further, the frequent physical handling of the documents, particularly the most aged and fragile, can cause irreversible damage over time.

Annual Reports 1950s & 1960s

Annual Reports 1970s

The completion of this digitization project empowers patrons to conduct research with the reports without being physically present in the library and without requiring the assistance of library staff and volunteers. The reports are more fully accessible to the public, which facilitates institutional transparency, and they are preserved digitally for posterity.

To create this collection, we scanned all 71 annual reports into the PDF file format and ran a program to make sure that the documents themselves are searchable. We then created a spreadsheet to store essential metadata (title, contributors, year, etc.) for the files to make the collection easy to navigate in an online environment. We uploaded these files and the associated metadata to the online repository and platform called Omeka.net

Annual Reports 1980s

Annual Reports 1990s

Once uploaded, we set about building and developing an online exhibition. With Omeka.net, we were able to customize the exhibition display, organizing the reports by decade, and share the narrative history of the museum as told through the reports themselves. This is the first online collection of its kind for SAM and we are incredibly excited to finally make it available!

—Kate Hanske and Michael Besozzi, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library Interns

You can explore the annual reports via the Omeka website here.

And watch a short video overview of the project here.

Photos: Natali Wiseman.

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

 

 

 

With Unlimited Power and Unlimited Funding, I Would…

This summer, intern Sholeh Hajmiragha has been working with me on two projects. Her first project was to sift through years of accumulated notes on SAM’s maiolica collection, and update our records according to the best and most recent information. Her second project was different. She tells you more, below.

-Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections

 

In the last three weeks of my curatorial internship at the Seattle Art Museum, I was given a project – to imagine that I had the power and the unlimited funding to acquire any and all art from contemporary artists in the Middle East.  This exercise was consuming and exciting, and it allowed me to gain a much greater insight into the acquisition process and research required in acquiring art.  On this last day of my internship, and for my farewell blogpost, I’ve decided to share one of my favorite artists that I researched during this exercise – ninety-eight year old Saloua Raouda Choucair.

Saloua Raouda Choucair represents an oversight in the western conception of contemporary art history.  Born in Beirut in 1916, Choucair is heralded as a pioneer of abstract art in the Arab world, though until recently Choucair was largely unknown outside of Lebanon.  Now in her ninety-eighth year, Choucair’s most recent exhibition at Tate Modern in 2013 was the first time her work has been shown publicly on a global scale.  In this regard, Choucair’s work can be considered new, with herself an unknown artist.  Yet, what makes her work significant is the reality that Choucair has been working as a female artist in the Beirut art scene from the 1940s, studying in the studio of Fernand Léger in Paris, and producing abstract art alongside the historical western modernist art movement.  Maymanah Farah writes in her essay “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Reinventing Abstraction”, “One of the many myths of the Western canon is that European modern artists invented abstraction…At the moment, there is a multidisciplinary campaign to correct the shortcomings of this history of Modernism by looking past the borders of Euro-American art centers.   It is within the experiments of artists who are noticeably absent from the Western view of art history, despite having been in pursuit of modern aesthetics, that examples of pre-modern abstraction are beginning to be reevaluated.”[1]  Choucair’s work is a perfect example of this as her abstract, modern forms and figures reflect both modernism aesthetics as well as historical Islamic art forms.

Choucair’s art encompasses the intersections of time, space, and place.  Though existing in the artistic school of western modernism, Choucair’s abstraction is distinct and notable.  As Samir Sayigh writes, “this abstraction, despite its proximity to that characterized by modern art in the great artistic capitals of the world, and despite its singularity in Lebanon and the Arab nation, remained an abstraction converging with the contemporary characteristics which characterize Eastern art, and more specifically Arab Islamic art, much more than with Western abstraction as perceived by Kandisnsky, presented by Mondrian, and realized in the Bauhaus Collection.”[2]  In addition to this dialogue of east and west lies another relationship of the object and space.  Not only does Choucair manipulate her paintings to reflect depth and form, but her three-dimensional sculptures present not only an abstraction of architecture and space and the manipulation of shape and form, but also bridge the divide between language and text and art and space.  Choucairs complex, interlocking sculptures are a clear example of this.  Choucair creates sculptural poetry that is constructed through various building blocks and carefully molded shapes that fit together and connect, creating a larger holistic form.  As Choucair has stated, “The way I organized my sculptural poems, for example, was inspired by Arabic poetry.  I wanted rhythm like the poetic meter, to be at once more independent and interlinked, and to have lines like meanings, but plastic meanings.”[3]  In this manner, Choucair translates the very deeply rooted Arabic cultural tradition of poetry into a modern and abstract art form that physically embodies a simultaneous interlocked dependence with a detached and separable independence.

Besides her sculptural work, her paintings reflect dualities as well.  In her painting Paris-Beirut, Choucair depicts an Islamic star, Cleopatra’s Needle, and the Arc de Triomphe in their most basic forms and shapes, both juxtaposed geographically and culturally, yet balanced compositionally, reflecting both an exchange between the east and west, while also hinting toward Choucair’s own decision to return to Beirut, rather than stay in Paris.  In her piece Les  Peintres Célèbres, Choucair presents a scene reminiscent of Fernand Léger’s Le Grand Déjeuner, while transforming it to reflect a new representation of women, presenting a contemporary artistic exchange between Choucair in Beirut and Léger in Paris.  Adrian Searle of The Guardian compares this painting to her former instructor Fernand Léger’s Le Grand Dé jeuner, writing, “The differences are telling, not least because the women don’t seem bothered by our gaze.  Instead, they look at art books, one of which has the title Les Peintres Célèbres (The Famous Painters), which also gives the title of these small studies.  Where Léger’s bodies are polished and overblown, these are wonkier, offhand and much more human.  Choucair’s little paintings depict women among women, oblivious to whoever stares at them.”  Finally, her painting Two=one, which Tate Modern chose to include in its exhibition, contextualizes Choucair within the time and place of Lebanon in the late twentieth century.  Riddled with glass shards, chipping paint, and a large gaping hole in its center, this painting was damaged by a bomb blast during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).  Though no longer in the state it was intended, this piece highlights the reality of Choucair’s life in Beirut.  As Kevin Jones of ArtAsiaPacific writes, “Already in her 60s, with decades of study and practice behind her, when conflict broke out in Lebanon, Choucair simply had no artistic language to admit the war into her practice: her work was entirely rational, scientific, engineered almost to the exclusion of the human and the social.  The incursion of the war literally into the flesh of her practice with Two=one illustrates the potentially destructive force of forgetting: occluded memory, as much as the war itself, was Choucair’s nemesis.”[4]

For me, reading about and researching Choucair and her art was both inspiring and incredibly humbling.  The vast amount of work that she produced over her extensive life, with little to no recognition beyond her local art scene, is really profound.  This exercise in acquisition research highlighted for me the power and significance of displaying and curating art.   The power of her work lies not only in the art itself, but in the fact that it is now able to be seen and appreciated, showing not only her artistic achievements, but also her own life history.

 

-Sholeh Hajmiragha, Curatorial Intern, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Maymanah Farahat, “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Reinventing Abstraction”, Saloua Raouda Choucair, ed. Jessica Morgan (London: Tate Publishing, 2013), http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/14828/saloua-raouda-choucair_reinventing-abstraction-.

[2] Samir Sayigh, trans. Anna Swank, “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Distinctiveness of Style and Individuality of Vision”, ArteEast (2008), <http://www.arteeast.org/2012/03/04/saloua-raouda-choucair-distinctiveness-of-style-and-individuality-of-vision/>.

[3] Quoted in Mulhaq al-Nahar, 23 September 1995, p. 10, as recorded in Tate Modern summary of Poem (1963-5): <http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/choucair-poem-t13278/text-summary>.

[4] Kevin Jones, “Memory, Corrected: Saloua Raouda Choucair”, ArtAsiaPacific, Issue 88, May/June 2014, <http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/88/MemoryCorrected>.

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

 

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
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