Masks in the Bullitt Library’s Collection

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

Masks Alone


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

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

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

Soundsuits in a Box


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

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

Rare Peruvian Book on View: Antigüedades Peruanas, 1851

In addition to the many amazing objects in SAM’s current exhibition, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon, in SAM’s special exhibition galleries, there is another important Peruvian object on view just one floor up. The two volume set Antigüedades Peruanas, or Peruvian Antiquities, is currently being displayed just outside the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library on the fifth floor in the South Building.

Antigüedades Peruanas was published in 1851 in Vienna and consists of a large folio edition of rich lithographic plates and a smaller quarto size volume of explanatory text. It was authored and illustrated by curator Mariano Eduardo de Rivero y Ustáriz (Peruvian, 1798–1857) and naturalist Johann Jakob von Tschudi (Swiss, 1818–1889). This work is a rare first edition, with less than sixty complete sets available in libraries throughout the world, notably including: the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the British Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

The chromolithography work, created by D. Leopold Müller (Austrian, 19th century), is significant. It includes an impressive title page, depicting portraits of Incas carved on a massive “puerta” with a view of the Peruvian landscape. Other large-scale images throughout the folio volume include those of mummies, ornaments, tapestries, monuments, weapons and objects similar to those on view in the Peru exhibition.*


Lamína V. Photograph by Phil Stoiber. From a private collection.


Lamína XXVI. Photograph by Phil Stoiber. From a private collection.


Come see why this work has been called “One of the most important and comprehensive works on Peruvian archaeology, virtually the earliest by a Peruvian, and the first of its kind.”

This work is on view during library hours, Wednesday through Friday 10am – 4pm. To learn more about the Bullitt Library, and the other libraries at SAM, please visit this link.

*PLEASE NOTE: Each week we will turn to a new page. Please return often to see another illustration from this exceptional work. Reproductions of the complete set of lithographs are also available for viewing.

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Top image: Frontispiece to Antigüedades Peruanas (1851). Photograph by Phil Stoiber. From a private collection.

Acknowledging the Katherine White Library

In 1981, the art collection of Katherine Coryton White (1929-1980) came to the Seattle Art Museum. Along with her important gifts of African, Native American, Oceanic, Meso and South American art, her book collection was given to what is now the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library at SAM Downtown.

Recently, Pam McClusky, Curator of Art of Africa and Oceania, gave a talk about White and her voracious desire to collect and understand all that she could about African art. That desire to understand reminded me that we had books from her personal library in our collection: I remembered seeing her distinctive bookplate, yet couldn’t readily identify those donated works in our online catalogue (OPAC). The library volunteers and I set out to properly acknowledge her gift by identifying those books and noting their provenance in the catalogue with a note stating “From the Library of Katherine White.”

The original idea was to go book by book through the collection and see if we could find a bookplate or handwritten inscription linking it to White. But something wonderful happened: a box of catalogue cards was discovered in an area of the library typically used for storage. It contained a complete list of the books from White’s library.

The incredible find: a box of cards listing White’s donated book collection
Library volunteers identified books in the collection and noted the former owner in the library catalogue (OPAC).
Such cards would have been used in the card catalogue (the hole at the bottom allowed the cards to slide along a track) which preceded our online catalogue. In this case, we were very happy to have such relics retained.

With this valuable list in hand, we identified more than 350 books, all research-level material, much of it rare, including several 19th century books. There are many interesting works, but some highlights include:

  • The Ancient Art of Veracruz, published by the Ethnic Arts Council of Los Angeles in 1971 is one of only four copies (the other three are in two California libraries and the British Museum).
  • New Guinea Art in the Collection of the Museum of Primitive Art, published by the museum in 1968 is one of only three copies (the others owned by a Canadian and a German library).
  • The Journal of a Residence in Ashantee was published in 1824 and is the oldest work from her collection.
  • The African Sketch-Book, a well-regarded two-volume set, was published in 1873, and is one of only 87 publically available copies in the world, is quite beautiful and is inscribed by the author, William Winwood Reade (1838-1875).
Cover of The African Sketch-Book, 1873.
Inscription by the author, William Winwood Reade in 1873.
Title page to the first volume of The African Sketch-Book.
Engraved frontispiece to The African Sketch-Book: “The more I looked, the more I was surprised. Here was a great wild elephant, who paid no more attention to us than a cow in a field to people looking over the hedge.”

To see a full list of her books given to the Seattle Art Museum, visit our OPAC and under Lists, choose Special Lists, then The Katherine White Library.

To learn more about Katherine White, see:

  • Pamela McClusky. Katherine White: Her Epic Quest to Collect a Continent (video) Seattle Art Museum, 2013. 60 minutes. VIDEO N 7398 M33 W3 2013. Available for viewing in the Bullitt Library.
  • “Taming Reality: Katherine White and the Seattle Art Museum” in Kathleen Bickford Berzock and Christa Clarke, eds. Representing Africa in American Art Museums: A Century of Collecting and Display. University of Washington Press, 2011. N 7380.5 R47. Available for consultation in the Bullitt Library.

Come see these and other works from the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt’s collections on the 5th floor, Seattle Art Museum (Venturi Building). Go to our website for hours and information:

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Top photo: Katherine White’s personal bookplate.