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
Museums are places of reflection and respite as well as places to learn and work through challenging ideas and painful experiences that are not shared equally in an unjust society. In this video interview, multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Unangaẋ) speaks about the historical divisions between “contemporary” or “American” art and “Native” art that the reinstallation deconstructs, his goals for audience engagement with his participatory installation, and the layered meanings of the words and symbols he uses in the work.
“‘Every single piece of art within this place has its own story,’ Leingang said. ‘And the best part about my team is they are the gateway to those stories. They are taking their own personal experiences of what resonates with them within this museum and sharing that with every person that walks in.’”
Say hi to Chelsea and the rest of the SAM crew at Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth, an exhibition exploring over 100 dazzling textiles opening to the public this Thursday, March 9.
In their latest print edition, Seattle Met shouts out all three SAM locations in a graphic “tourist trap matrix.” Online, they share “Where to Take Tourists in Seattle” according to their editors, including a day at Volunteer Park and the Asian Art Museum.
“[Director Roya] Sadat also recognizes, however, that inequality and deprivation of fundamental human rights are not unique to Afghanistan, but are issues that reverberate across the globe. ‘I want this opera to stand as a reminder of their strength in the face of violence. This opera is a narrative of women’s resilience.’”
“Smith’s curatorial turn comes at a moment of long-overdue institutional recognition for the artist, whose incisive and wide-ranging practice rooted in painting and collage is the subject of a major retrospective opening at the Whitney Museum of American Art next month, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map.”
“Historically, when we say the word ‘American,’ it typically denotes white people. But the actual story of what has happened on this continent over the past half millennium is so much more complex.”
– Inye Wokoma
When deciding what artworks to include in their reinstallation of SAM’s American art galleries, SAM curator Theresa Papanikolas and co-curator Barbara Brotherton weren’t interested in including conventionally beautiful or visually engaging artworks that are typically thought of as examples of American art. Instead, they thoroughly examined every American-made artwork in SAM’s collection and its relationship to the history and evolution of the United States. To ensure the two-year project incorporated as many viewpoints as possible, the curators invited visual artist and Wa Na Wari co-founder Inye Wokoma to guest curate a gallery that captures his personal interpretation of what American art is.
In the interview above—filmed before the renovation of the galleries—Inye discusses the need to reverse society’s existing exclusionary interpretation of American art, being invited to curate a gallery at SAM, and the inspiration he found in some of the galleries’ original artworks.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to walk through an American collection and see Native women and youth presented in the way I hope to do with this new work.”
– Wendy Red Star
Now on view at SAM is American Art: The Stories We Carry, a dramatic reinstallation of the museum’s American art galleries that explores a more expansive look at the American experience. It’s the result of an extensive collaboration among SAM curators, staff, artists, community advisors. In this video, Apsáalooke artist Wendy Red Star describes her experience collaborating with SAM and offers insights into her process as she was in the midst of creating a commissioned artwork for the project. She also describes the significance of including Native women’s voices when redefining American art.
Red Star’s striking artwork, Áakiiwilaxpaake (People Of The Earth) (2022), is now the first thing visitors see when they approach the American art galleries. The lightbox installation is a compelling hybrid of iconic American art genres: the portrait and the landscape. To create this large-scale work, Red Star invited Seattle photographer Holli Margell to create portraits of local Native women and children in a session held at the museum. Red Star then set these cutout portraits within her vision of the Seattle skyline, including Japanese artist Yoshida Hiroshi’s (1876–1950) woodblock print of Tahoma (also known as Mount Rainier) from SAM’s collection. By recalling the history of the region’s original inhabitants, Red Star celebrates the vibrant present and future of Natives in their home territories as well as urban Natives.
This isn’t the first time the museum has collaborated with Red Star. In 2016, she was the winner of SAM’s Betty Bowen Award, an annual award for Northwest artists that includes a solo show at SAM. The museum also acquired for its collection four prints from her photographic Four Seasons series, which was on view in the 2019 installation YOU ARE ON INDIGENOUS LAND: places/displaces.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
For Crosscut’s weekly ArtSEA dispatch, Brangien Davis is inspired by “fresh attention to art arrangement” at both the Frye Art Museum and at SAM in American Art: The Stories We Carry.
“…a striking section…includes a huge portrait by Kehinde Wiley, a tintype photo of a Lummi violinist by Will Wilson and a turn-of-the-century cast-bronze sculpture of an ‘Indian Warrior’ by Alexander Phimister Proctor. Each holds a long straight object: a rod, a violin bow, and a spear. Each prompts thoughts about who is portrayed in art and how.”
“‘This landscape that was dominated by a big, honking, gray, rumbling freeway will now be a massive public park for the people,’ says Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, whose district includes the waterfront. At the center of it all will be the Seattle Aquarium’s new Ocean Pavilion: a 50,000-square-foot exhibit space featuring sharks, rays, and other animals and ecosystems from the tropical Pacific.”
“‘I took it as a huge responsibility,’ Thomas told Artnet News, noting that she had heard about the controversy surrounding the broken window, but never dreamed that she would become part of the story. ‘I feel quite emotional about it. This was a moment for me to be part of something far bigger than me.’”
“As SAM looks ahead at the future of its newly redone galleries, Papanikolas said she hopes this will slow patrons down as they go through, taking in the historical works alongside the contemporary and finding new personal meaning in the art. Both Papanikolas and Brotherton said they know there are still moments in history that haven’t been highlighted in this particular version of the installation, and artists who aren’t yet in their collection, but they’re excited about the flexibility and nimbleness of these galleries and their ability to respond to an evolving definition of ‘American art.’”
“What is America? Who is American? These are the questions that SAM strives to answer by including Asian, Latinx, Black, and Indigenous works in what was previously a series of rooms dominated by white male artists.” Kai Curry for Northwest Asian Weekly on the revamped American art galleries at SAM.
“But, as [Panda Labs owner Jessica] Fleenor and others proclaim under Instagram and TikTok posts featuring analog photography: #FilmIsNotDead. ‘Film is still very much alive,’ Fleenor says. And perhaps surprisingly, the comeback is in large part driven by a generation of ‘digital natives’ who developed a love for film photography and classic film cameras during the pandemic.”
“‘This painting is definitely by Artemisia,’ Davide Gasparotto, the Getty Museum’s senior curator of paintings, who arranged for the work’s restoration and loan, told the New York Times. ‘It’s a very powerful, convincing painting—one of her most ambitious in terms of size and the complexity of the figures.’”
As I write this, the first wave of visitors have finally experienced American Art: The Stories We Carry. This major reinstallation of our American art galleries has been two years (at least!) in the making and is the product of the work of a mighty team of collaborators, funded by generous grants from the Mellon Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
The multiple crises of recent years, together with the museum’s commitment to equity, inclusion, and diversity have made it essential that we question and dismantle the biases and myths that have historically driven—whether intentionally or not—our understanding and presentation of American art at the museum. As a curator of American art with a degree in European art history and a career in museums from Houston to Honolulu, I know well that the art of the United States does not begin and end with the oceans that define its coastal borders. Indeed, American art is as multilayered as America itself. More a collective of regions than a homogenous whole, the geopolitical expanse now known as North America is home to numerous clearly identifiable, yet often intersecting, communities, each of which is mirrored in equally layered artistic traditions and cultural practices.
To reflect and respond to the many-sidedness of American art, when embarking on this project we knew we needed to set aside art historical chronology and instead consider constellations of artworks from many different time periods and traditions. We immersed ourselves in the museum’s storage vaults, unearthing works that had not been exhibited in years—or, in some cases, ever—and contemplating the counterpoints they offered to the better known, classically canonical examples ordinarily on view in the museum’s American art galleries. These works speak volumes about the history of art at SAM and in this region, and they shed light on the communities that have been historically excluded in traditional narratives of American art.
My use of the word “we” is intentional: Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art, has been with me on this project every step of the way as a powerful ally in determining what American art can and should be at SAM. Over her 20 years at the museum, she has always been aware that Native American art is American art. Together, Barbara and I sought points of intersection between these two branches of the museum’s collection and for the first time envisioned a space in which they would intersect. Our work has been bolstered by a host of individuals—three artists, four interns, 11 advisors, and just about every museum department—all of whom brought knowledge that not only greatly enriched the project, but also established a collaborative model that will continue to shape exhibition planning at SAM.
All of us are delighted to share The Stories We Carry with you! In our new galleries, you will see old favorites alongside new and unexpected surprises that show how ideas persist across time and space and how history resonates in the present. And you will find curatorial interpretation (labels and wall texts) together with video clips from artists and experts—“living labels”—whose wisdom and perspective adds nuance to the objects on view. I’m also thrilled by the in-depth exhibition website, which brings you into the process with a project timeline, quotes, photos, and inspiring videos featuring our collaborators sharing their perspectives.
The Stories We Carry has definitely been a rich and rewarding journey. We invite you to now make it your story.
– Theresa Papanikolas, SAM Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art
This week, SAM will enthusiastically reopen its American art galleries, revealing new perspectives on our collection, commissioned work from celebrated Northwest artists, and paintings restored by our conservation team. But the purpose of this update is much more significant than simply presenting a new array of must-see art.
This project, funded primarily by the Mellon Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art, has been an energizing, collaborative, and thoughtful exploration of what American art is today. To execute this examination, we assembled a paid advisory circle of 11 community leaders and artists to provide valuable feedback as we reinterpret our collection to meet the present moment and acknowledge the evolving definition of American art.
“With inclusivity as one of our values, we felt the urgency to take the collection and hold it accountable to that mission,” says Theresa Papanikolas, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art.
The new galleries, titled American Art: The Stories We Carry, will present the collection thematically and across time periods and feature works by nationally renowned local and national artists long overdue for closer examination within the American context. This includes moving objects from SAM’s Native American art collection into the American art galleries—previously dominated by the work of white artists—for the first time.
“We acknowledge that we must change all aspects of our practice as an institution of privilege and one that cares for the belongings of others,” says Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art.
Also on view will be newly commissioned works by Native artists Wendy Red Star (Apsáalooke) and Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Unangax̂), a themed gallery curated by Seattle artist Inye Wokoma, and a dedicated gallery for rotating series of temporary installations exploring fresh perspectives on American art. The first of these installations will feature 15 prints from Jacob Lawrence’s series The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture.
Visit American Art: The Stories We Carry at SAM’s downtown location beginning October 20 and experience a more thorough representation of the past, present, and future of American art.
– Kat Bryant Flaherty, SAM Director of Marketing & Communications
This article first appeared in the July through September 2022 article of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks.
One sunny Saturday in June, the Seattle Art Museum’s Chase Open Studio, which has been mostly closed for the past two years due to COVID-19 safety precautions, sprung to life. Convivial sounds echoed in the hall, people greeted each other exuberantly, the marble staircase produced perfect clacking noises as tiny, shiny shoes jumped down them, and photographer Holli Margell made gentle coos to get the attention of little models and their family members.
The scene was a photoshoot celebrating Seattle-area tribal communities and urban Indian communities. More than 70 mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, grandmas, and children came from near and far to sit for a portrait. The models dressed in a variety of clothing from traditional regalia to a t-shirt and jeans. Some posed alone while others gathered in multi-generational groups of as many as 10.
These stunning portraits of Native women and youth will be integrated by Apsáalooke artist Wendy Red Star into a commissioned artwork for American Art: The Stories We Carry, SAM’s updated American art collection opening on October 20. The reinstallation expands the vision of how art depicts the American experience, with Wendy Red Star’s artwork serving as a welcome to visitors at the entrance of the American art galleries.
“At the core of Wendy Red Star’s artistic process is engagement and community,” says Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art. “She foregrounds the voices of others as a means of revealing the complexity of Native identity.”
This shoot, and the examination of the definition of American art, are examples of SAM’s equity goals in action. SAM relies on its collection, exhibitions, and artists to reflect its institutional values of fostering equity and inclusion throughout the museum and its local community.
“At Wendy’s photoshoot, the Seattle Art Museum came alive with people sharing their stories—where they come from, who their ancestors were, special things about what their families are involved with,” says Brotherton. “It felt like a moment of connecting and healing after the long, challenging time of the pandemic.”
– Kat Bryant Flaherty, SAM Director of Marketing & Communications
This article first appeared in the October 2022 through January 2023 article of SAM Magazine. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks.
“Both are artists of world renown who have meticulously told stories of Black people, Black history, and Black subjectivity in the United States since their careers began back in the 1970s. And, on top of it all, they are friends.”
ICYMI: The Seattle Times’ Vonnai Phair spotlighted Legendary Children, the celebration of queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities held this past Friday, September 23, for which SAM is a partner. And Alex Garland captured its beauty for South Seattle Emerald. It’s back to an annual event, so start planning your outfit for next year’s celebration now!
Seattle news from New Haven: Seattle-artist Barbara Earl Thomas recently unveiled stunning new stained glass windows she created for Yale University residential building Grace Hopper College. The story includes a link to an artists’ conversation about the project.
“‘I think it’s such a fascinating story,’ Martin said. He also appreciated collecting in an area where there wasn’t a huge amount of established scholarship. ‘It’s fun to have something to study, to try to understand, to apply your critical eye to without any outside pressure,’ he added. ‘There’s not a lot of promotion about [these] artists. You just have to find it out yourself.’”
Indigenous Matrix: Northwest Women Printmakers, now on view through December 11 in SAM’s third floor galleries, was a year-long journey, the culmination of my thesis project for the University of Washington Museology masters program. Overseen by Barbara Brotherton, Curator of Native American Art at SAM, and Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse, Curator of Northwest Native Art at the Burke Museum, the curation process involved many hours of reflecting on and researching how Indigenous women artists are represented within museums. Western museological practices have on the whole lacked recognition of the importance of women within Indigenous communities, but women have always been a driving force of their creative practices and creations.
I came to this topic because I am Seneca, an Indigenous Nation located in Western New York. Growing up, I was immersed in the creative expressions of my people and was taught the importance of artistic freedoms and legacies. It was not until I graduated high school that I started putting together the pieces of how our artworks carry our stories and culture, aiding in the revitalization and celebration of who we are. Coming into the museological field, my goal is to highlight and promote Indigenous culture through the arts. With great thanks, that is what I was able to accomplish working with SAM over the past year to curate this exhibition.
For the exhibition, I selected works by Pitseolak Ashoona, Francis Dick, Myra Kukiiyuat, Jesse Oonark, Susan Point, and Angotigolu Teevee. Our women have continued to drive many aspects of life for Indigenous communities across the world, yet only in recent years have we seen museums and galleries approach working with a feminized view of Native arts. The purpose of this exhibition is to create a learning environment conducive to promoting woman-centered Indigenous narratives and to educate the public on histories and cultures that they may have yet to encounter. Bringing contemporary Indigenous art into an institutional setting helps reframe harmful historical narratives and highlights Native women’s current lived experiences through research that is informed by traditional knowledge and community revitalization efforts.
With this exhibition, I hope to impact the future of Indigenous peoples who work and exhibit within museums and more specifically, art institutions. This work breaks down some of the barriers that many Native peoples face when working with art institutions. As the first exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum to be curated by an Indigenous female-identifying student, Indigenous Matrix is a small—but significant—step in creating more institutional accessibility for emerging museum professionals and Indigenous curators.
– Kari Karsten, SAM Emerging Museum Professional Curatorial Intern
Introducing #SAMSnippets! We recently launched a new live series on our Instagram which gives followers an in-depth look at works from SAM’s permanent and semi-permanent installations virtually. Each month, we’ll choose a new gallery to walk viewers through, providing a taste of SAM from wherever you may be!
To kick off the series this November, we featured a diverse collection of artworks from “Native Art and Life Along the Northwest Coast” in celebration of National Native American Heritage Month. Watch the video now to get a peek at what’s on view at SAM now and read about the works shown in this video below. Visit SAM now to see all of the featured works and more in-person!
Masks of the Animal Kingdom Dance
As we enter the galleries on this short walkthrough you’ll see an installation of masks arranged on platform. Performances featuring masked dancers are birthright of particular families and derive from long-ago auspicious encounters between human ancestors and supernatural beings, in the guise of animals or unique spirits. The “Dance of the Animal Kingdom” represents a heroine ancestor’s adventures among the animal beings, who in turn bestow the dance and masks upon her for use by her family and subsequent generations.
According to Chief Bill Scow (1902–1984), the Animal Kingdom story took place at Shoal Harbor (Gilford Island, British Columbia) where in the distant past a girl went looking in the woods for her lost brother. She instead encountered a dance of animal beings inside a cave. The messenger of the animals, Mouse Woman, was sent to see if there was indeed an intruder. Because the girl was able to overcome the supernatural power present in the animal dance, she was allowed to witness it and to bring to her people the privilege of performing it. The masks shown here were carved by artist Sam Johnson (1930–2007) for the opening ceremonies of the Seamonster House at the Pacific Science Center in 1971.
As we pan across the arrangement, keep an eye out for Deer, the “curious one,” recognizable by its antlers. You’ll also see Owl, called the “Wise One” perhaps because its large eyes see deeply into the real and spirit worlds. Its distinctive markings, rotating head and binocular vision, put the owl in the pantheon of auspicious creatures. George Hunt (1854–1933), a knowledgeable First Nations consultant to anthropologist Franz Boas, recorded that some Kwakwaka’wakw believed that after death man becomes an owl.
According to Bill Scow, one of the heirs of the Animal Kingdom privilege, Wolf was the leader of the animals and would call them out one-by-one to pantomime the characteristics of each creature. After all the animals had danced in sequence, they would dance together as a group for the finale.
Raccoon, as keeper of the fire, would have been in charge of illuminating the sacred cave where the Animal Kingdom Dance first took place.
Because of her speed and sharp mind, Mouse Woman is sent out to make sure no one is watching the secret dance of the animals. In the story, she befriends the girl and tells the others that no one is watching. In time, the girl is allowed to observe and to take the supernatural treasure of the dance and masks back to her family.
Grizzly Bear is the “fierce one” and can be identified by his upright ears, large snout, and moveable jaw.
The presence of Bukwus in the Animal Kingdom Dance may be a reference to the lost brother that the girl was seeking. Bukwus are feared ghost-like creatures believed to represent humans who have become separated from their community and wander the woods. In the story, the brother loses his human identity and becomes a Bukwus.
Kingfisher is said to be the assistant to Wolf, the leader of the animals. In the wild, they are stocky birds with a shaggy blue crest who fly quickly over rivers and shorelines looking for fish. Their rattling cry and expert diving abilities make them special and mysterious creatures.
Now we turn to historic and contemporary works created by Native peoples across the Northwest Coast. The first work in this collection, Seated Human Figure Bowl, portrays a skeletal humanoid figure cradling a bowl in its lap, with its arms and legs encircling the bowl. Three distinct snake images are carved downward from the head, resembling a headdress with two footprints on top. Bowls such as these, carved from stone, wood, and horn, are often used by Coast Salish peoples in rituals of healing and protection.
Next to the bowl sits a Sxwaixwe Carving. The unusual being depicted in this carvingis used in Coast Salish communities to bless and protect people in life crisis events, such as sickness and death. Only the right person with the right to use the masks would know its deeper meanings. This small carving might have once been the finial of a rattle or the top of a staff.
Also in this collection, we see two Skull Rattles. The imagery of these two works reveals the death-and-rebirth aspect of initiation into the t’seka or Winter Ceremonial whereby acolytes are temporarily imbued with supernatural power then restored by attendants who shake rattles to tame the wild behavior of the initiate. The subdued initiate is reborn with greater status and connection to spiritual power.
Halibut—giant flatfish that can weigh one hundred pounds or more—were traditionally caught in Tlingit and Kaigani Haida communities from cedar canoes using special barbed hooks. Fishermen used imagery that referenced the help of a shaman. This Halibut Hook (Naxw) which is then panned to represents a human figure with animal-like feet biting an octopus tentacle. The octopus appears frequently on shaman charms and is considered to be a supernaturally powerful being.
The importance of shamans, called halait, as powerful spirits which aid in combatting sickness and soul loss in Native communities along the Northwest is reiterated in the next work featured in the video, Soul Catcher (Am’halait). This special amulet of bone, abalone shell, and buckskin is a container that was manipulated while the shaman was in a trance, in order to locate and retrieve the wandering or bewitched soul of a person, thus restoring their health.
Small carved shaman figures such as the one which is next panned to, represent spirit helpers and were part of the myriad curing paraphernalia employed to purge ill persons of evil spirits. Objects such as these would protect the shaman against supernatural enemies while completing his healing duties.
To the right of this shaman figure, we see a venerable ceremonial garment. Xoots Kudás displays a bear on one side and a stylized design of bull kelp on the other, both crests of the Tlingit clan. The crests are held communally and symbolize ancestral encounters with supernatural beings. Such regalia is considered to be at.óow (“an owned or purchased object acquired through an ancestor”), one of many traditional art works brought out on ceremonial occasions to signify the connection between the ancestors and the living.
Leaving the glass case of Northwest Native works, we pan to two pedestals with works highlighting the importance of Raven in Tlingit communities. The first, Raven at the Headwaters of Nass Hat (Naas shagi Yeil S’aaxw) was used in Alaska to comfort those in mourning. Clan hats are the ultimate expression of complex shared histories and are featured prominently in potlatches. When the song associated with the hat was sung, the host family and guests—ritually dressed in headgear and robes—would dance in remembrance of their loved ones.
The second work is a stunning combination of maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, paint, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather, and Flicker feathers. According to myth, the distinguished natural features of Tlingit homelands can be attributed to Raven. Lkaayaak Yeil S’aaxw (Box of Daylight Raven Hat) depicts the wily Raven in the act of releasing the sun, moon, and stars from his grandfather’s box, which the legendary bird clutches in his human-like hands.
Behind these pedestals, we see Keet Shagoon (Killer Whale) by Tlingit artist Preston Singletary. Growing up in west coast cities and trained in European glass techniques and practice, Singletary began incorporating Native Iconography into his work in 1987, explaining: “I found a source of strength and power [in Tlingit designs] that brought me back to my family, society, and cultural roots.” In this, his first monumental work, the artist studied the house screen in this gallery, fusing his clan Killer Whale crest into sixteen panels, thus recharging an ancient tradition and bringing the past forward. Learn more about this artwork featured in SAM’s Object of the Week series.
The tour concludes with Robert Davidson’s Canoe Breaker: Southeast Wind’s Brother. According to Haida oral traditions, Canoe Breaker is one of ten brothers of Southeast Wind, who is responsible for the turbulent weather on Haida Gwaii. You can learn more about the story behind Canoe Breaker in this highlight as SAM’s Object of the Week.
“Southeast Wind is in the form of a killer whale. The [white] ovoid actually separates the lower teeth from the upper teeth in the mouth. And the top shape would be the tail and this U-shape could be the pectoral fin and dorsal fin. When you see the killer whale in their world we see them as killer whales but when…they go into their dwelling [below the sea] they will take off their skins and hang it near the door..so that’s why…human attributes [are] mixed in with what a killer whale looks like.”
– Robert Davidson
– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator
Video Artworks: Deer Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, antler, paint, cloth, 14 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 9 3/4 in. (36.83 x 24.13 x 24.77 cm), Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.7. Owl Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Wood with enamel paint, 12 x 9 1/2 x 10 in. (30.48 x 24.13 x 25.4 cm), Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.5. Wolf Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, enamel paint, and cloth, 8 x 8 1/8 in. (20.32 x 20.64 cm) L.: 20 3/4 in., Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.10. Bukwus Mask (Wild Man of the Woods), Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, paint, cloth, Overall: 12 x 11 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (30.5 x 29.2 x 21.6cm), Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.12. Raccoon Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, enamel paint, and cotton cloth, 12 1/2 x 9 x 9 13/16 in. (31.75 x 22.86 x 24.96 cm), Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.9. Cod Fish Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, paint, cloth, 12 3/4 x 9 1/8 x 9 1/2 in. (32.39 x 23.18 x 24.13 cm), Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.1. Mouse Woman Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, enamel paint, cotton cloth, and leather, 11 x 9 1/2 x 9 in. (27.94 x 24.13 x 22.86 cm), Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.8. Grizzly Bear Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, paint, cloth, 9 1/8 x 8 in. (23.18 x 20.32 cm) L.: 15 3/4 in., Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.6. Bukwus Mask (Wild Man of the Woods), Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, paint, cloth, 12 x 9 1/4 in. (30.48 x 23.5 cm) , Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.2. Kingfisher Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, paint, 8 1/4 x 9 in. (20.96 x 22.86 cm) L.: 11 in., Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.4. Porcupine Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, paint, cloth, 11 1/4 x 9 11/16 x 10 in. (28.58 x 24.57 x 25.4 cm), Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.3. Otter Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Red cedar, paint, cloth, Overall: 6 1/2 x 8in. (16.5 x 20.3cm) Length: 16in. (40.6cm), Gift of the Pacific Science Center, SC2006.11. Seated Human Figure Bowl, pre-1800, Coast Salish, Soapstone, 14 3/4 x 4 5/16 x 7 5/16 in. (37.5 x 11 x 18.5 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 83.223. Stone Mortar, pre-1800, Salish, Granite, 10 x 5 3/4 x 4 3/4 in. (25.4 x 14.61 x 12.07 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.136. Eagle and Salmon, Manuel Salazar, 2007, Canadian, Cowichan, born 1966, Deer hide, acrylic paint, Diam.: 20in. (50.8cm), Gift of Doug and Thelma McTavish, 2008.49. Sxwaixwe Carving, ca. 1880, Coast Salish, Wood, Mountain goat horn, mountain sheep horn, cow horn, copper, 5 1/2 x 2 in. (13.97 x 5.08 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.140. Drum with Skull Painting, Susan Point, 1991, Musqueam, Canadian, Born 1951, Animal hide, acrylic, wood, bone, 17 x 3 in. (43.2 x 7.6 cm), Gift of Simon Ottenberg, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, SC2005.13. Halibut Hook (Naxw), ca. 1890, Tlingit or Kaigani Haida, Yew wood, yellow cedar, iron, cedar bark twine, and commercial cotton twine, 4 5/8 x 1 3/8 in. (11.75 x 3.49 cm) L.: 9 1/2 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.105. Soul Catcher (Am’halait), ca. 1860, Tsimshian, Bone, abalone shell, and buckskin, 1 5/8 x 1 1/8 in. (4.13 x 2.86 cm) L.: 7 3/4 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.83. Shaman Figure, ca. 1860, Tlingit, collected in Sitka in 1869, Yellow cedar wood, human hair, and paint, 14 5/8 x 4 x 3 in. (37.15 x 10.16 x 7.62 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.119. Xoots Kudás (Bear Shirt), ca. 1890, Tlingit, Tekweidí clan, Commercial wool cloth, cotton cloth, imported mother-of-pearl buttons, applique, synthetic indigo dye, 41.5 x 57 in. (101.6 x 144.78 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.80. Raven at the Headwaters of Nass Hat (Naas shagi Yeil S’aaxw), ca. 1810, Tlingit, Taku village, Alaska, Gaanax.ádi clan, Maple, paint, shell, hair, baleen, 8 1/2 x 7 x 12 in. (21.59 x 17.78 x 30.48 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.125. Lkaayaak Yeil S’aaxw (Box of Daylight Raven Hat), ca. 1850, Tlingit, Taku village, Alaska, Gaanax.ádi clan, Maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, paint, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather, Flicker feathers, 11 7/8 x 7 3/4 x 12 1/4 in. (30.2 x 19.7 x 31.1 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.124. Keet Shagoon (Killer Whale), Preston Singletary, ca. 2003, American, Tlingit, born 1963, Fused and sand carved glass, 72 x 92 x 3/8 in. (182.9 x 233.7 x 1cm), Purchased in honor of John H. Hauberg with funds from the Mark Tobey Estate Fund, John and Joyce Price, the Native American Art Support Fund, Don W. Axworthy, Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Marshall Hatch, C. Calvert Knudsen, Christine and Assen Nicolov, Charles and Gayle Pancerzewski, Sam and Gladys Rubinstein, SAM Docents, SAMS Supporters, Frederick and Susan Titcomb, and Virginia and Bagley Wright, 2003.12. Canoe Breaker: Southeast Wind’s Brother, Robert Davidson, ca. 2010, Canadian, Haida, Masset Village, born 1946, Acrylic on canvas, 60 × 40 in. (152.4 × 101.6cm), Gift of The MacRae Foundation, the Native Arts of the Americas and Oceania Council, and Ancient and Native American Art Acquisition Fund, 2013.35.
Crafted out of wood, paint, and opercula shells, Calvin Hunt’s monster Feast Dish, is a testament to the importance of food, community, and potlatch culture to the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples of British Columbia. Born in 1956, Calvin Hunt is known for his monumental sculptures and is a well-respected artist from the Kwagu’l band located in Fort Rupert. Hunt’s feast dish provides a remarkable contrast to the typical Kwakwaka’wakw dishes.
As many partake in Thanksgiving celebrations, it is pertinent to recognize the cultural significance of the potlatch for the First Nations, along with the impact of the Canadian potlatch ban that restricted Indigenous peoples from practicing their traditions for over sixty years, only officially ending in 1951. The word potlatch, in Kwak’wala means “to give.” Potlatching for the Kwakwaka’wakw continues to this day and has been practiced for as long as spoken and written history can remember.
Feast bowls are carefully carved and ornamented by their creators, specifically designed for their use at potlatches that will hold delicious foods such as eulachon fish oil, seal meat, cranberries, and cinquefoil roots. Hunt’s bowl, however, was crafted specifically for SAM to coincide with the Chiefly Feasts exhibition in 1994. The feast bowl is modeled after Sisiutl, a three-headed sea serpent from Kwakwaka’wakw mythology, who can change between human and animal, along with morphing into a self-propelling canoe whose owner must feed with seals. Operculum shells encircle the mouth of the bowl. In nature, these shells protect marine gastropods (snails) from predators along with preventing the gastropod from drying up if they are exposed to air. With these operculum shells adorning the mouth of Hunt’s bowl where feast food is placed, along with this piece having been created shortly after the potlatch ban was lifted, it can be inferred that these shells are protecting the sacred tradition of potlatching from predatory laws.
Today, and every day, is an occasion to give thanks to Indigenous communities.
Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.
– Kari Karsten, SAM Emerging Museum Professional Curatorial Intern
“Cunningham’s headstrong nature would come to define her long career as a fine arts photographer: She never hesitated to experiment, even if it meant sailing against the wind as a female photographer in a male-dominated industry.”
“I want everybody to be a little bit off their rocker, a little bit shocked, a little bit dazzled, a little bit held. That’s what I get to do.” – Barbara Earl Thomas
“Why they give.” In the spirit of holiday giving, 425 Business checks in with local philanthropists about their charity practice. The Banks family is featured; Dr. Cherry A. Banks is a SAM trustee.
For Thanksgiving, Crosscut once again highlights the bounty of Native art on view in the area, including Duane Linklater: mymothersside at the Frye Art Museum, new public art at Climate Pledge Arena, film screenings, holiday markets, and much more.
“You think you’re looking at something that’s very blasé and very familiar and comforting and then it’s something that really jolts you once you actually understand what you’re looking at,” said Lane Eagles, associate curator at the museum. “I think the idea is to sort of lull you into this sense of comfort so that you’re sort of disarmed and that that’s when the reality that every single plate is a dead person hits you.”
Every blanket tells a story. From their weaving structure, hems, threads, and wear, one can uncover the many unspoken stories of both the blanket and its owners, past and present.
Marie Watt is an Indigenous artist from the Seneca Nation whose practice deliberates the intricacies of history, community, and storytelling. For Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations, Watt collected blankets through an open call to the public, with some blankets coming from donations from her community. Some of the blankets have visible tags that state the owner’s name and story. These blankets hold the memories and stories of those who donated them, while simultaneously sharing personal connections, community history, and Iroquois creation stories. In the words of the artist:
“As I fold and stack blankets, they begin to form columns that, to me, hold many references: linen closets, architectural braces, memorials (e.g. the Trajan Column), sculpture (e.g. Brancusi), the great totem poles of the Northwest, and the giant conifers among which I grew up. In Native communities, blankets are given away to honor people for witnessing important life events, births, and comings-of-age, graduations and marriages, namings, and honorings. Among Native people it is as much of a privilege to give a blanket away as to receive one.”
– Marie Watt
Raised by her Seneca mother in the Pacific Northwest, Watt was taught the importance of the continuation and celebration of Indigenous culture. In Blanket Stories, she credits the Iroquois story of The Three Sisters, as one of the many sources of inspiration for this piece. The Three Sisters discusses the themes of home, community, and sharing. The three sisters, Corn, Beans, and Squash, spent their days in a field when, one day, they were visited by a young native boy. Curious about the boy, the sisters followed him home, one after the other. Discovering the warmth and comfort of the boy’s home—and because it was getting colder by the day—the sisters decided to stay and keep the dinner pot full for the boy and his family. The stack of blankets represents how the sisters rely on each other throughout the season to feed our people, highlighting the importance of food, family, and oral history within Indigenous heritage.
Living and working in the Northwest, Watt has stacked blankets so that they rise from floor to ceiling, reminiscent of the totems, or welcome figures, seen in this area of the United States. By visually and thematically connecting two vibrant Indigenous cultures from opposite coasts, Watt welcomes viewers and tells of how we are all connected through the stories that we share. Indigenous people look to the past for guidance from our ancestors, while also thinking towards future generations. These blanket stacks illustrate the histories that they hold, while also demonstrating the comfort and security that they have left to offer.
Every blanket has a story. What is yours?
– Kari Karsten, Emerging Museum Professional Curatorial Intern
Hear artist Preston Singletary talk about the imagery in his work and how he uses the medium of glass to reconnect and reinterpret traditional Tlingit art and culture.
In addition to being a visual artist, Preston Singletary is a musician and member of Khu.éex’, an Indigenous band. The band focuses on bringing awareness to social issues affecting Indigenous communities and keeping tribal culture and endangered ancient languages alive through music, storytelling, and art.
Listen to a Khu.éex’ song. As you listen, think about the story being told through the song and how this might be visually represented in Keet Shagoon.
Excerpt from”Khu.éex’: the Magic of Noise” by Heartstone Studios.
Watch this clip of Singletary describing how his glass art flows like music.
Singletary was inspired by YéilX’eenh (RavenScreen), which hangs in SAM’s galleries across from Keet Shagoon. YéilX’eenh (Raven Screen) is an interior house screen like those that can be found in the clan houses of the Tlingit tribal community. These screens separate the chief’s quarters from the rest of the clan house. The small hole in the middle of the screen acts as a portal that is used by the chief to make dramatic entrances when entertaining guests or at potlatches. The imagery on the screen depicts a family crest—in this case, it depicts Raven.
How are these artworks similar? How are they different? How are the materials the artists use different? What could these continuities and departures tell us?
Both Keet Shagoon and YéilX’eenh use formline design, a stylistic approach that serves as the foundation for designs by artists from central British Columbia to southeast Alaska. Objects like animals or people are depicted with one continuous outline, called a form line, and then filled with different shapes that represent anatomical details like eyes, wings and fins, thus creating positive and negative space within the delineated object.
Formline designs are typically made up of four basic shapes. See how many you can identify in both the contemporary artwork and the traditional artwork the next time you visit SAM.
I would like to acknowledge that the museum sits on the Indigenous land of the Coast Salish People in and around the city of dᶻidᶻəlalič (renamed Seattle for Chief siʔaɫ).
My work is a response to the ways in which photography has been used as a mechanism of colonization. Decolonizing photography for the use of American Indians has to occur through the articulation of a Native representational subjectivity. In the place of colonizing representation, I want to produce images and sensory experiences that convey representation of, by, and for American Indians.
– Will Wilson
Since 2012, Will Wilson has put cultural sovereignty at the root of image-making events he calls the Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX). The thousands of images created over the course of this project now comprise the largest Indigenous created archive of images of Native peoples. These photo sessions—in which Wilson uses an old wet-plate technology to produce tintypes—are held in tribal communities and at urban institutions such as museums. Wilson’s CIPX event at the Seattle Art Museum, which took place in November 2017, centered on capturing the rich complexity of Native peoples living in the environs of Seattle, members of local reservation-based tribes, and “urban Indians” who came to Seattle from other places. Wilson invites anyone who wants to be photographed to present themselves however they want—wearing what they choose, holding objects that are important to them, and posing to their liking. As part of the exchange, he gives the tintype to the sitter while asking for permission to digitize the image for use in large-scale prints, like the work in SAM’s collection, K’ómoks Imperial Stormtrooper (Andy Everson). It is an amazing process to witness and reminds us that, for those who take authority over the processes of representation, methodologies and interpersonal exchanges matter.1
The sitter in this portrait is K’ómoks First Nation’s artist Andy Everson. His recent work draws from his two passions: Indigenous art and Star Wars. He transformed the stormtrooper into a positive figure by doing away with the uniform’s whiteness and covering it with formline designs. Everson wanted to change the stormtrooper from someone who blindly follows instructions from his higher-ups to someone who is able to take action for himself and for his own people. And so began this idea of the West Coast warrior, a defender of the land.2
Chilkat weavers were the inspiration for Everson when he created the Northern Warrior (2015), with its distinctive yellow, blue, white, and black colors. He also replaced the stormtrooper’s helmet with a traditional conical hat, made out of maple wood that his ancestors in Alaska would have worn.3 Many of his ancestors were warriors, and when their territory was threatened they did not hesitate to defend themselves. When they entered battle, they wore slatted armor suits and hard wooden helmets carved with their crest, proudly representing their ancestral lineage. The hat on this helmet displays the Kwakwaka’wakw crest of the sisiyutł—the double-headed serpent. This symbol of the warrior reminds us of the dichotomies in life—good and evil, right and wrong—and puts a human face in the middle to teach us that we must choose where we stand.4
Everson’s stormtroopers tell a story to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples about the importance of a warrior spirit. The works speak to the histories of Indigenous resistance and defiance in opposition to colonizing forces, and the importance of remaining steadfast in the face of adaptation and change.5 Like Wilson’s CIPX series, Everson’s stormtroopers draw people in with its familiar figure and invite people to engage with an art form, perhaps unfamiliar to some, that ultimately fosters a new kind of cultural exchange.
Speaking of stormtroopers, don’t miss the premiere of The Mandalorian season two on October 30. Will we find out Baby Yoda’s origin? Are there more of them? I hope so, and I hope you all have a safe and happy Halloween!
“I would like to see the baby.” – The Client, The Mandalorian
– Tina Lee, SAM Exhibitions and Publications Manager
“The real magic of Carpe Fin is in the space between the object and the observer.”
– Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
Hear from the artist behind the 6 x 19–foot watercolor mural commissioned for SAM. Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas describes Carpe Fin as “Haida manga.” This unique approach developed by Yahgulanaas blends several artistic and cultural traditions, including Haida formline art, Japanese manga, Pop Art, and graphic novels.
Inspired by a traditional Haida oral story, the story is also linked to a 19th-century headdress in SAM’s collection carved by Yahgulanaas’s relative, Albert Edward Edenshaw. Carpe Fin calls attention to issues of environmental degradation and the rupture of the values that honor human-nature interdependence.
We asked SAM staff to reflect on the work and what stood out to them by answering which panel impacted them most. Have you seen the artwork at SAM or read the book? Read some reflections below and share your thoughts with us in the comments!
The very center panel—it’s more free form so it draws the eye. It’s the moment when Carpe realizes he’s been left behind on the island. His phases of expression and gesture really struck me.
The central panels—frames break down, creative topsy-turvy!
The third panel (upper center) for the transition from the human to the underwater world. The contrast of thick, thin, and detailed brushwork make it come alive.
The middle panels stand out because of the dynamic between the sea lions and humans. There’s a chaotic structure that reminds me of the circle of life, but it also shows an imbalance.
The central panel and how it just seems to come alive and break out of the typical comic book boxes/outlines; the overall image captivates your attention and makes you want to keep looking at the intricate, smaller details.
I was most impacted by the panel in which Carpe swims back wearing sewed-up seal skin. There is something about embodying the animal that he had been killing. I wonder how much the message of “you’re killing our women” would have sunk in without this physical experience or if he would have heard it in a different way?
I’m most impacted by the panel where the young boys kill a flicker. This senseless, purposeless killing of a living thing in a microcosm of the imbalance and lack of respect for the environment that has created dire circumstances for this community and communities across the globe. The energy that youth are bringing to climate activism lies in contrast to this detail and gives hope for the future. We all need to take responsibility and enact laws and regulations that will ensure the survival of future generations.
“I think many people may not know all of the stories behind these objects. They’re not just an image, they’re an object and they’re an object that’s been in use.”
– Jeffrey Gibson
Artist Jeffrey Gibson discusses the sculptural and metaphorical interest of this human-form neck ring used as a piece of dance regalia in Hamat’sa ceremony. Made from cedar and bark, this sculpture is installed hanging as it would be worn around the neck of a dancer. Consider the sound that it would make when activated by movement and the ceremony that it is part of the next time you visit SAM’s Native Art of the Americas galleries.
Artwork: “Bagwikala (Human Being Neck Ring)”, ca. 1910, Mungo Martin (Nakapankam), Kwakwaka’wakw, Kwagu’l, Fort Rupert, British Columbia, ca. 1884–1962, red cedar bark, yellow cedar, paint, human hair, 68 x 12 x 6 in. (172.72 x 30.48 x 15.24 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 83.241. Music: Natali Wiseman.
Your next chance to experience the Olympic Sculpture Park through the Indigenous lens of SAM’s winter resident is tonight, February 27 from 7 to 9 pm! Architectural designer and artist Kimberly Deriana (Mandan/Hidatsa) has spent the last two months working in the park researching, offering workshops, and constructing a temporary installation. Deriana has used her residency as a space for sharing Indigenous knowledge surrounding the many uses of cattail materials. The temporary cattail and cedar structure she has created is a space where everyone is invited to gather and experience cultural celebration. The event will include performances by Aiyanna Jade Stitt and Hailey Tayathy, and storytelling and song by Kayla Guyett and Paige Pettibon.
Kimberly Deriana specializes in sustainable, environmental Indigenous architecture, housing, and planning. Deriana’s methodologies focus on incorporating Indigenous lifestyle practices in relation to past, present, and future, designing for the 7 generations. We sat down with her to learn a little more about her experience as SAM’s artist in residence and to learn more about her creative process.
SAM: What goals do you have for your residency at the Olympic Sculpture Park?
KIMBERLY DERIANA: I want to activate the park through an Indigenous lens. As an architect designer and somebody who loves urban design, I’ve been drawn to this park since I first moved here. Part of creating visibility is bringing other people along in the process and giving them opportunities, too. I really try to include people and families who have been doing this work for years while giving new urban Native people outlets in every project on which I work.
This residency is a learning opportunity for me; the way I enjoy learning is to involve others. It’s about the way we learn as a community, the way we make as a community, and the way we approach being in the world and sustainability. When you’re gathering cattails, there’s an appropriate time to gather and there are appropriate places to gather. Learning all of that protocol has been really eye-opening. Because I grew up as an urban Native and wasn’t always shown those protocols, I try to make a conscious effort to create space and time for the protocol knowledge as an adult.
Tell us about the workshops and youth that you
worked with to include Indigenous communities.
I’ve always done art and design but being in
the art scene is a new space for me; I wanted to explore the co-creation
process. Sharing resources is an important component of the process, I believe.
This space has a very educational, institutional vibe and it lends itself to
the scope needed for community workshops. The scale of the work required to
enliven the space needs many hands. The piece itself is practice and healing work.
The collaborators and I were here most
weekends in January and February. Since we are on Suquamish and Duwamish
traditional lands, one weekend we had Indigenous teachers from Suquamish. These
amazing women who are educators for and from their community—Tina, Jackson, and
Kippy Joe— and the amount of information and knowledge that they share in four hours is just indescribable. You
can’t get that on YouTube or from a professor. You have to experience their
oral teachings to begin to understand the richness and depth of the knowledge.
We had three Indigenous youth that day, and then we had a couple visitors just stop by who were interested in what we were doing. We had time to teach them and they got to learn. Every weekend I’ve had at least one Indigenous teen come in and help work with us through a partnership with yəhaw̓.
What are some of the historical uses of cattail mats?
In this region, mats were traditionally used as sheathing for summer structures. Mats are used all over the world, globally and indigenously for different surfaces. In the Plateau, Plains, Woodlands, and Southeast regions, mats are used for protection and warmth on their architectural structures.
Cattails have a multitude of uses. They protect us. When they’re just in the ground they clean the water and remove toxins. They can be food; they can be shelter; they can be water. When gathering cattails in the right spots, their uses extend beyond those listed so that one can understand the sustainability that the plant provides. Plant knowledge leads to understanding sustainability; sustainability leads to healing; healing leads to understanding their sacredness. I want everyone to know this.
I’m trying to make paper with cattails because
I think that’s a more respectful use of them since they were gathered in the
late fall season. I am super excited to do more scientific research on the
sustainability of cattails, learning more traditional knowledge about them, and
weaving. I realize you can approach a project and commit to working with a
material, but then all these other sacred teachings come up, such as how to work with other materials and plants.
It’s not homogenous when we’re learning about our plant relatives.
Why have some of the cattails been cut and
others left long and uneven?
As I started the process of creating this temporary installation with cattails some teachers said it was okay to gather now. When we made some mats, I knew they were not ideal materials and then, in the middle of the month, I learned that you should gather cattails at the end of summer for making mats. For this reason, some of the mats are trimmed and others are raggedy, in order to reveal the imperfection of the process. I like to break things apart until they become abstract, so that even though I’m using really traditional materials, the way I use them means you can’t necessarily tell what it is. For example, maybe your eye reads it as hair or as a bone or antlers. The raggedy mats—having them be more than one thing–helped convey that abstract concept. I think that process was kind of successful.
My architectural background makes me interested in exploring this building and wall system and I started to research and dissect like I normally do for a project. In architecture, you’re always researching and then drawing your theory. In art, you’re fabricating your theory. That’s when all this new information appeared to me. When you start to source your material and put it together, like, “This is why you have to harvest at a certain time and why you have to know where to gather and to get the reeds that are a certain height.” There are just all these little steps that make the process more efficient and that our ancestors knew and had good engineering minds for. I’m still doing it by trial and error and trying to find mentors.
The description of the temporary installation
mentions that the structure is a portal for healing. How is this present in the
work that is in the PACCAR Pavilion?
The sculpture forms a circular arbor and basket-like space. It incorporates some of the knowledge of the medicine wheel into the directions of the space and the layout. The teachings of the medicine wheel helps to orient our bodies with the land, plants and animals, nature and natural forces. In Plains tribes, you enter from the East like the sunrise. Here, in the West, a lot of structures face the water. All of the weavings that we made with Tina and Kippy are on that side and create filtered views to the water as much as possible since the water is so special. The North can reference the future, moving on, and death in some ways, too. The northern, open view gives people the opportunity to see that beautiful view of the park. The cattail threshold symbolizes a doorway into the future. A sustainable future holds the promise of healing.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM’s Content Strategist & Social Media Manager
Last week, SAM announced that Amada Cruz has been chosen as the
museum’s new Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, succeeding Kimerly
Rorschach who is retiring in September. Brendan Kiley of the Seattle
Times had the exclusive. Brangien Davis of Crosscut
and Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger
also both interviewed Amada.
“The publishing history of ‘No-No Boy’ is as important as the book
itself,” he said, remembering how he would sell copies of the original CARP
edition out of the trunk of his old Mustang in the 1970s. “To publish the book
without acknowledging that publishing history is publishing a very incomplete
Curated by RYAN! Feddersen and featuring art by Asia Tail and Fox Spears, we just had to stop by for more creative output from these artists who have also been involved with SAM during Double Exposure. The collection of art on view offers a range of styles from contemporary Native artists in a variety of mediums by artists hailing from tribes across the extended Pacific Northwest and beyond. Feddersen is the mastermind behind the Post Human Archive, the social media activity that was installed at SAM.
Asia Tail, also a curator (we can’t wait to see yəhaw̓ at the King Street Station opening in January 2019) is the hand behind the words on the Double Exposure website but we hadn’t seen her art previously! Fox Spears is one of the teaching artists offering free Drop-In Studio workshops at SAM (there’s one more workshop on Sunday led by Sondra Segundo before the exhibition closes) and it was so nice to see this work after learning so much about his process!
The lens we look through changes everything. In Native Portraiture, Tacoma Art Museum asks the question: What is communicated when an outsider portrays someone from another culture?
In the galleries you will have the chance to see contemporary Native artists representing Indigenous cultures for themselves. These works are interspersed by a few examples of depictions by non-Native artists that romanticize, stereotype, or appropriate Native people and cultures. We recommend spending at least an hour or two in this gallery to fully absorb the impact of this contrast.
Do yourself a favor and enjoy the ferry and short drive that it takes to get to Suquamish Museum. Well designed and chock-full of information, the permanent installation tells a detailed and important story through movement, textures, the forest environment and the symbolic movement of the tide. The objects on view, many never before exhibited, are a combination of works owned by the Suquamish Museum and on loan from Suquamish families and other museums. The way these objects are arranged creates an environment where you will want to spend some time. The museum describes their goal as an attempt to “displace the modern way of historical contextual understanding. Culture is more than historical events strung together. The passing of knowledge and values, generation to generation, is the core of Suquamish culture.” Based on our visit, the Suquamish achieves their goal, and then some!
Where your day trips take you, SAM recommends you make the time to visit the wealth of museums in Washington featuring work by Native artists!
“I think the value of Sonny Assu’s piece, Breakfast Series in SAM’s permanent collection, has a lot to do with righting the wrongs of history.” – C. Davida Ingram
Consider the value of contemporary Native art through the perspective of Seattle-based artist, curator, educator, and writer, C. Davida Ingram. Visit SAM’s Native Arts of the Americas galleries and the Art and Life Along the Northwest Coast installation to contextualize Sonny Assu’s Native formline design elements in his representation of Tony the Tiger or the “12 essential lies and deceptions” in his box of Lucky Beads. How does your perspective on food and access to land change as you consider the serious history behind this seemingly lighthearted artwork?
Eyes gravitate toward Brian Jungen’s work. On the surface, unexpected combinations make us wonder at the artist’s creativity. Looking more deeply, we find Jungen exploring identity in a way that resonates and challenges.
Jungen’s sculptural work The Mom Call acts like a stage where the forces of artistic choice and influence collide. The artist’s choices are unique. They also make very clear references to the life experiences that have shaped him. A combination of family and artistic heritage helped to bring about these choices, and in Jungen’s work, we see the artist physically molding a multi-faceted identity for himself.
In The Mom Call, Jungen has appropriated a chair produced for a notable 1940 design competition. By sampling the winning chair, he brings into his work the exclusive, European, bourgeois connotations linked to high-end design. The chair, though, is swallowed up in American elk hide, which is drawn taut by tarred twine according to traditional Native methods, forming a funny-looking—but functional—drum. Jungen was born in Fort St. John, British Columbia, to a Swiss-Canadian father and a Native mother of the Dane-zaa Nation. That dual heritage plays out in fascinating ways in Jungen’s work, where we can see him navigating his ancestries and finding a place among them.
A defining characteristic to his work is the clever re-use of objects. The creative vision Jungen displays when transforming Nike Air Jordans into Native-inspired masks, or when constructing whale skeleton replicas from petroleum-based plastics, is the meat and potatoes of his artistry, and he traces that habit of re-appropriating back to his mom. As a child, he would watch his mother and her family use objects outside of their original purposes to get stuff done. This “improvisatory recycling,” as Jungen calls it, was driven by necessity, but it also reflected a habit of looking at things for their potential, rather than their intention. Jungen learned from his mother how to be resourceful, how to deconstruct a known thing and create a new meaning for it.
Back to The Mom Call: The clean lines and the industrial, artificial quality of a modern piece of designer furniture give way to a sloping, organic form. The elk hide covers the chair, hiding its details but revealing its form, and changing its use, but not in a one-to-one transition. When we look at The Mom Call, we’re several steps removed from the item’s original function—chair as chair becomes chair as art object becomes chair-drum as functional art object (and museum exhibit, and so on). Influences, uses, interpretations, contexts, and perspectives all come into play. In this piece, Jungen displays original thinking about forms and how they communicate to us.
Tragically, Jungen lost both his parents in a fire when he was just seven. Through his art, the legacy of both his folks, but especially that of his mom—a woman who he says was “always trying to extend the life of things” 1—remains.
P.S. Brian Jungen’s mom made a difference—as moms do! Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and all our SAM Blog-reading moms!