Curator Jeannie Kenmotsu on the Untold Stories of Women Printmakers in Postwar Japan

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics on Asian art and culture across time. On Saturday, March 9, Dr. Jeannie Kenmotsu, Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art at the Portland Art Museum, will share insight on the remarkable influence of women printmakers in postwar Japan. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Dr. Kenmotsu about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, the persistence of sexism in art history, and the significance of bringing the stories of these women printmakers to light.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

Dr. Jeannie Kenmotsu: In 2020, I organized the exhibition Joryū Hanga Kyōkai, 1956–1965: Japan’s Women Printmakers at the Portland Art Museum. This was the first close examination of the activities of this important group, Joryū Hanga Kyōkai, or the Women Printmakers Association. I was fascinated by this collective, which organized collaborative exhibitions together over the course of ten years and seemed to serve as a catalyst for a number of artists, yet had received so little scholarly attention. Of course, I am indebted to many colleagues who have also championed the work of women printmakers in Japan, through their writing, teaching, and exhibitions. But two things remain true: one, that women printmakers were overshadowed by their male counterparts in the twentieth century, a situation that persists today. And two, that there is much more primary documentation and excavation to do in this area, particularly in terms of exploring the depth and richness of individual artists’ stories.

My upcoming Saturday University lecture will provide a broader introduction to the topic of postwar women printmakers, so it is suitable for anyone with an interest in, but limited knowledge, of Asian art, of creative prints (sōsaku hanga), or even of printmaking more generally. I’m interested in the historical conditions that shaped their work, their contemporary reception, and how we do—or don’t—talk about them today. I’m equally interested in bringing to light both the commonalities and the diversity of their career trajectories. Therefore, my focus will be on bringing their stories into greater focus and celebrating their work.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

JK: In a funny way, my work in this area has been shaped by a lack of an ability to travel. In early 2020 I was making plans to pursue research in both Japan and North America for the Joryū Hanga Kyōkai exhibition. That quickly became impossible, but I was fortunate to have already received a trove of amazing archival materials related to that artist collective, which I could sort through once I was able to get back into the museum building. After that, it became very much “research by mail” — on the one hand, I was able to secure some fantastic loans for the exhibition that were critical to telling the story; on the other hand, secondary research was virtually impossible, as I had very limited library access. The exhibition opened September 2020. While one of my big regrets is that so few people were able to see it, it was one of the intellectual and personal bright spots for me during a difficult time in the world.

Yoshida Chizuko (Japanese, 1924–2017), Ao no fūkei (Landscape in Blue), 1972, color woodblock print with blind embossing on paper, image: 22 in x 16 1/2 in; sheet: 25 in x 18 3/8 in, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Asian Art Auction proceeds. Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, 2016.23.1.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

JK: Choose just one? Goodness, that’s hard. The Deer Scroll, with calligraphy by Hon’ami Kōetsu and decorated paper painted by Tawaraya Sōtatsu, makes my heart sing. Another favorite is Tsuji Kakō’s two-panel folding screen, Green Waves, from SAM’s excellent nihonga collection, for the artist’s deft handling of mineral pigments on silk to explore light on water. It’s stunning in person, and captures that mesmerizing sensation of watching the ocean.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

JK: My lecture will introduce some understudied but wonderfully creative artists. But of course my research is also driven by some deeper scholarly questions about discourse and reparative history, in this case through the lens of gender and art. I consider my work in the area of postwar printmaking to be just one contribution to a larger, ongoing conversation, and it is my hope that these projects will spark questions and critical engagement from other scholars, particularly the younger generation.

Iwami Reika (Japanese, 1927–2020), Mizu no fu 78-H (Song of Water 78-H), 1978, color woodblock print with embossing, gold leaf, and metallic pigments on paper, image: 16 1/8 in x 10 15/16 in; sheet: 20 3/16 in x 14 in, Gift of Marge Carter. Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, 2018.58.2.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

JK: Alas, to date there is limited English-language literature focused specifically on the women artists I will discuss in my talk, let alone on the collective conditions that shaped and attended their careers despite their highly individual practices. That said, they are widely collected and have been included in many group exhibitions, catalogues, essays, and academic monographs over the last few decades. But the point is that these artists have rarely been the focus, with a few notable exceptions, such as solo retrospectives (usually focused on artists who have lived abroad). Some broader publications on modern Japanese prints more generally that might be enjoyed by those new to the topic include Made in Japan by Alicia Volk or Hanga by Chiaki Ajioka, or the classics Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn by Oliver Statler and The Modern Japanese Print by James Michener. These last two are still widely available, and I’ll touch on them in my talk.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of Jeannie Kenmotsu.

Professor Christina Sunardi on the Spiritual Knowledge of East Javanese Performing Arts

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics on Asian art and culture across time. On Saturday, February 10, Christina Sunardi, Associate Professor in the School of Music at the University of Washington and Chair of the Department of Dance, will explore the spiritual knowledge, or ilmu, that performers imparted on her while conducting fieldwork on gamelan music and dance in Malang, east Java from 2005–2007. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Sunardi about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, her travels in Malang, and the raw, emotional power of the performing arts.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

CHRISTINA SUNARDI: I will present some of my research on ilmu (spiritual knowledge) that performers imparted and encouraged me to obtain while I conducted fieldwork on gamelan music and dance in Malang, east Java from 2005–2007 and subsequent visits. I intend to analyze the importance performers placed on ilmu as substantive, embodiable knowledge, often secret and esoteric, which can be physically transferred from one being to another, or from an object, and which provides the ability to do something remarkable or remarkably well, including performing music, dance, and theater. I will contend that through their ilmu-related beliefs, practices, and verbal discourse, Malang performers were maintaining and producing local systems of knowledge, transmission, and competence. I am also so excited to be partnering with master gamelan musician and puppeteer Ki Midiyanto as he demonstrates how one of the instruments from the gamelan ensemble is played throughout my presentation. We’ll also allow plenty of time for questions from the audience!

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

CS: Although it’s hard to choose just one, one experience that may be of interest is the ceremony that my first dance teacher in Malang facilitated to ensure that my studies of gamelan, dance, and the Javanese language would go smoothly. I now understand this ceremony as him preparing me to receive ilmu. I remember feeling a tingling sensation on the back of my neck during the ceremony. Maybe it was the smell of the burning incense cubes, or that I was moved by my teacher’s wish for me to succeed, or maybe it was both—I haven’t totally sorted all of that out yet.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

CS: Ooh! I really love this 19th-century Wayang Topeng Mask. I had the opportunity to study masked dance while in Malang and it is such a beautiful, entrancing form. I love how the individual dancer sort of disappears into the character and how the dancers can make their masks come to life. ilmu can certainly be involved with this, as I will speak about in my presentation!

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

CS: Thank you so much for inviting me and thank you so much to those who are interested in attending. It is always such an honor to be able to share my research and to share what I have learned from the artists I was fortunate enough to study with during my fieldwork.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

CS: I hope this is not too bold, but my book, Stunning Males and Powerful Females: Gender and Tradition in East Javanese Dance (University of Illinois Press, 2015), may be of interest.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Steve Corn & Christina Sunardi.

Curator Yayoi Shinoda on the Traditional Japanese Art of Mended Ceramics

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the Seattle Art Museum. On Saturday, January 13, Yayoi Shinoda, Assistant Curator of Japanese Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will offer a discussion on the Japanese tradition of mending damaged ceramics to bring them renewed life. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Shinoda about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, how her research on mended ceramics began, and the intimacy of this time-honored practice.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

YAYOI SHINODA: My presentation will focus on the practice of mending ceramics in Japan’s Edo period (1615–1868). The ceramics I highlight were used in tea practice and cherished by their owners, and their restored bodies embody the care they received. Some repairs were made visible intentionally—with some including gold embellishments—that bestowed a new a significance to the original ceramic work. Today, this practice of visible mending is fondly called kintsugi, and has garnered the attention of scholars from a variety of specialties, including psychologists.

My research on this topic began several years ago when I wrote a term paper for a seminar I took at the University of Kansas. The course focused on the transcultural exchanges between Korea and Japan from ancient times to today. One of the areas I love to research is ceramics, so I decided to study a 16th-century Korean bowl that became a tea bowl in Japan. The large bowl is made of a porous, soft porcelain and features a dramatic repair of golden filling along its body. It is such a fascinating work and I knew I had to learn more about it. I had many questions: What is up with this dramatic change? Why and how did that happen? Are there more examples like this? When did this kind of mending begin? After that semester, I continued to study that bowl and others like it. Eventually, Dr. Halle O’Neal invited me to dive into the topic further. My presentation at this January’s Saturday University will be based on my scholarly article on mended ceramics that was published last year.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

YS: My research journey took place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I could not travel anywhere, not even locally. However, the Nelson-Atkins collection has some ceramics with visible mends, so I was able to study them. Also, thanks to the dedicated librarians, museum colleagues, and other professionals throughout the US and Japan, I was able to access resources remotely. I was fortunate to meet lacquer artists such as Naoko Fukumaru in Vancouver, BC and Gen Saratani in New York via Zoom. And I hope to visit them soon now that we are back to traveling more. Their insights were critical for me in thinking through the meanings of different repair methods and philosophies.    

In assessing the Nelson-Atkins’s collection of mended ceramics side-by-side, I found myself considering the intimate connection shared between the tea bowls and their owners, whose names may be known or unknown to us today. The works also display the owners’ taste and sensibility, which likely guided the mending technique and material choice. Another issue that emerged during my research was how little we know about the people who mended these works or when they underwent their bodily change. Although I intend to introduce a few examples of recovery stories in my lecture, many tea ceramics’ physical transformation processes are unrecorded. This is the focus of my ongoing research and may require me to travel in the coming months. Looking to the future, I would also love to learn more about how tea practitioners in the Edo period used the ceramics they had mended.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

YS: There are three objects in SAM’s collection that pique my interest. One is Tea Powder Container from the Edo period. The bags made of exquisite textiles speak to the immense significance the owner placed on the container, which is important in thinking about human-object relationships. The second example I love is this beautiful Tea Bowl (“Fuji”) by Ryōnyū (Raku IX; Japanese, 1756–1834). The area in which the glazed and unglazed segments meet creates a striking landscape that resembles Mount Fuji. The lens to see this kind of “accidental” effect as a landscape also applies to appreciating mended ceramics’ transformed bodies. Lastly, I want to spotlight Tea Cup, named “Red Plum in Winter,” by Dōnyū (Raku III; Japanese, 1599–1656) because of its charming and carefully mended embellishments made with gold powder. The fine golden lines gently transform the cup’s body, while also testifying to the care it received from its owner.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

YS: This is a tough question to answer because of the many informative resources that already exist. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of Yayoi Shinoda. Tea Bowl, Japan, late 16th to early 17th century. Glaze stoneware (Karatsu ware) with lacquer mending. Overall: 3 x 5 1/2 inches (7.6 x 14.0 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 32-62/6. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Tea Bowl, Japan, late 17th century. Stoneware with pinkish white crackle glaze (Gohonde ware) with lacquer mending. Overall: 3 1/2 x 5 5/8 inches (8.9 x 14.3 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 32-62/2. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

Professor Julie Nelson Davis on the Life and Career of Katsushika Ōi

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the Seattle Art Museum. This month, Julie Nelson Davis, Professor of Art History and the Department Chair at the University of Pennsylvania, will offer a discussion on the style, career, and legacy of renowned artist Katsushika Ōi on Saturday, December 9. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Nelson Davis about Ōi’s relationship to her famous father and her contributions to his studio, her favorite artwork in SAM’s collection, and more.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

JULIE NELSON DAVIS: I’m looking forward to sharing my research on Katsushika Ōi, the daughter of the famous ukiyo-e master, Katsushika Hokusai. Some people may be familiar with the Japanese animation, Miss Hokusai, that tells a fictionalized version of her life. I’ll talk about Ōi’s life and work, as we can reconstruct if from period evidence, and investigate possible ways that her contributions to Hokusai’s studio might be further revealed. Much of my previous work has been about women in early modern Japan and about collaboration between artistic producers; I’ve been thinking about Ōi as part of this larger investigation.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

JND: This research developed out of a project I was doing with the British Museum, and our group met a few times in Washington D.C., London, and Tokyo to discuss our work together, looking at paintings in storage, and viewing the British Museum exhibition on Hokusai in 2017. I also previously had the chance to travel with some colleagues to Obuse, a small town east of Nagano, to visit the Hokusai Museum and the Gansho-in Temple. Hokusai and Ōi traveled to Obuse in the 1840s on an invitation from an acquaintance, Takai Kozan. Kozan built a studio room for Hokusai and Ōi, and we were able to visit the house and see the studio. We also had the chance to look closely at a sketch in the museum’s collection that shows Hokusai’s plan for a painting he designed for Gansho-in, as well as to look at the two famous festival carts with paintings attributed to Hokusai. We then went to the temple to look at the ceiling painting of a magnificent phoenix. It was a beautiful, partly sunny, cold December day, and as we walked from the museum to the temple, we passed many traditional houses where people were drying bright orange persimmons; the rather monotone landscape and the coldness of the day helped me imagine what Hokusai and Ōi’s experience of working in Obuse might have been like. 

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

JND: Who can choose just one thing! If I must, I’ll say the Poem Scroll with Deer by Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu, the beauty and rhythm of the painting and calligraphy is stunning. I still remember seeing it in storage when I was a grad student, seeing it unroll and glisten under the light. It was gorgeous.

SAM: What is one fact or story related to your lecture topic that the public would be surprised to learn?

JND: Perhaps that it was rare for women to work as professional artists in early modern Japan. Ōi was one of the exceptional cases. Many women worked in the period, but most worked for their family businesses, in shops, or in other roles. Few women had the opportunity to pursue careers as painters, and those that did were typically able to do so only because their husbands or fathers were also painters. (This was also often the case for women in other parts of the world at the same time.) Ōi had the opportunity to learn to sketch and paint in her father’s studio when she was young, becoming quite proficient. She left Hokusai’s studio for a few years to marry another painter, but after their marriage ended, she returned to work alongside her father for the last twenty-two years of his life. 

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

JND: There isn’t one yet! But to learn more about Hokusai, I’d recommend reading Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave (British Museum, 2017) or, of course, seeing the exhibition at the Bowers Museum through January 7, 2024! I wrote a small book as an introduction, Picturing the Floating World: Ukiyo-e in Context (University of Hawai’i Press, 2021) for people curious about the Japanese prints, paintings, and illustrated books in the ukiyo-e genre that might also be of interest.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

JND: I hope that they have a wonderful experience seeing Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence at SAM.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of Julie Nelson Davis. Night Scene in the Yoshiwara, 1850, Katsushika Ōi, ink and paper drawing, Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo. Poem Scroll with Deer, 1610, Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu, ink, gold and silver on paper, 13 7/16 × 366 3/16 in. (34.1 × 930.1 cm) Overall: 13 1/2 x 410 3/16 in. (34.3 x 1041.9 cm), Gift of Mrs. Donald E. Frederick, 51.127, photo: Seiji Shirono, National Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo.

Dr. Saloni Mathur on the Life and Legacy of Amrita Sher-Gil

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. This month, Dr. Saloni Mathur, Professor and Chair of the Department of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles, will offer a discussion on the paintings of revolutionary 20th-century South Asian artist Amrita Sher-Gil on Saturday, November 11. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Mathur about her reaction to seeing Amrita Sher-Gil’s Self-Portrait as Tahitian for the first time, its similarities with Native contemporary artist Wendy Red Star’s Four Seasons series, and more.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

SALONI MATHUR: I will be speaking about Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941), the part-Indian, part-Hungarian painter who stands at the cosmopolitan helm of modern Indian art. She was the first Indian to receive artistic training in Paris, attending the École des Beaux-Arts from 1929 to 1932. The biracial, bicultural, and bisexual artist was described recently by Time Magazine as “shockingly modern.” My talk will focus on her extraordinary painting, Self-Portrait as Tahitian (1934), in which she was supposedly responding to Gauguin’s stylization of the female nude.

I remember experiencing a sense of vertigo after first encountering this painting in response to the dizzying set of questions it raised. What were the conditions that made possible such an account of Gauguin by a non-western woman in 1934? What precisely was meant by Sher-Gil’s self-conscious placement into the body of a Tahitian nude? And how could art history have missed this painting, so deliberately a citation of art historical precedent? 

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

SM: Self-Portrait as Tahitian was housed with her descendants in a private collection for a long time. I traveled to Europe to study the painting on two occasions when it was displayed as part of larger exhibitions. The first time was for the exhibition Companionable Silences curated by Shanay Jhaveri in Paris, France in 2013, and the second was for Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany in 2017.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

SM: I’ve always been a fan of contemporary Native American artist Wendy Red Star’s Four Seasons (2006) print series in SAM’s collection. Here, Red Star parodies and undercuts exotic stereotypes of the Indigenous woman by repeatedly stepping into the photographic frame herself. The way she challenges the conventions of looking with her own physical presence resonates a great deal with Amrita Sher-Gil’s own gesture of subversion in Self-Portrait as Tahitian, painted some ninety years ago. In both cases, the young non-white, female artist rejects the terms of her own objectification, and steps into the canvas or photographic frame to assume a new command of their situation.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

SM: The Delhi-based contemporary artist, Vivan Sundaram (1943–2023), a major figure in Indian art who sadly passed away earlier this year, was also the nephew of Amrita Sher-Gil. A significant corpus of his work dealt with the legacy of his famous aunt. His Re-take of Amrita series of black and white digital photomontages based on archival photographs from the family archive are especially powerful. Using digital technologies, Sundaram reconfigures these photographs in highly creative ways, and recasts the family in new roles, retelling his family history.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

SM: Amrita Sher-Gil: An Indian Artist Family of the Twentieth Century. Schirmer/Mosel, 2007. This catalogue—created as part of an exhibition previously held at the Tate Modern in London—includes many of Sher-Gil’s paintings alongside Sundaram’s Re-takes series.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement

Photos: Courtesy of Saloni Mathur. Self-Portrait as Tahitian, 1934, Amrita Sher-Gil. Oil on canvas. Four Seasons series: Indian Summer, 2006, printed 2016, Wendy Red Star, Archival pigment print on Sunset Fiber rag, Sheet: 23 × 26 in. (58.4 × 66 cm), Image: 21 x 24 in., Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2016.13.4. Bourgeois Family: Mirror Frieze, Vivan Sundaram, digital photomontage of archival print, from the Re-take of Amrita series, 2001–02.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on Her New Book, Touching the Art

SAM is thrilled to host the official launch for queer icon and activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s latest book, Touching the Art. At this free event on Sunday, October 15 in the museum’s Brotman Forum, Sycamore will read from her book, answer audience questions, and sign books. You’ll also be able to purchase your own copy of the book weeks before its official publication date by Soft Skull Press on November 7.

A mixture of memoir, biography, criticism, and social history, Touching the Art is Sycamore’s interrogation of the possibilities of artistic striving, the limits of the middle-class mindset, the legacy of familial abandonment, and what art can and cannot do. Manager of Public Engagement Jesse Jimenez spoke with Sycamore in advance of her appearance at SAM.


JESSE JIMENEZ (JJ): This new book has so many layers. How did you approach weaving together the different themes in this book?

MATTILDA BERNSTEIN SYCAMORE (MBS): Touching the Art centers around my relationship with my late grandmother, Gladys Goldstein, an abstract painter from Baltimore, so I started by literally touching her art, to see what would come through. In this sense I began abstractly, on the terms of the art. But at the same time, what could be more concrete than touch? So it was the felt sense that guided me. 

I started with her handmade paperworks, taking them out one at a time and feeling all the layers, looking at them under the light, trying to figure out how she made these complex works that feel so sensual in their shifting geometries, the patterns that emerge and then disappear, the rips in the paper and everything that’s embedded inside, how these works can look so delicate but actually feel so strong, the way touch is always present in handmade paper too.

And then everything that came through—about watching her make the art when I was a child, about going up into her studio where I could imagine a creative life because I was living it. But also about the ruptures in our relationship, the trauma of growing up with my father—who was her son—who sexually abused me. And then I went from touching her art to the letters we wrote to one another, which mark our falling out when I was 19, 20, 21. My work became vulgar to her once it became unapologetically queer. “Why are you wasting your talent,” she would say to me, over and over, and so in the book I circle around this abandonment.

Then I moved to Baltimore for 8 months, to see what would come through there. It’s the surprises that guided me. And then after that I immersed myself in research about the artists of her generation, loosely the women of Abstract Expressionism, and then books about Baltimore, about Jewish assimilation and white flight, redlining and disinvestment. It all comes together through experience, I think. The felt sense of the work, and the felt sense of the world. We’re always told that we cannot touch the art, but what happens when we do?

JJ: I love that Gladys had strong opinions about art and creative practice. What do you think she would say about SAM’s modern and contemporary galleries? Are there any works that you’re particularly drawn to or call into question?

MBS: That’s a great question—Gladys was a loyal abstractionist who had no time for anything she saw as derivative, she always saw herself as a contemporary painter. So she wanted to experience art that was unfamiliar. Except maybe when it came to me.

I know that I’m really drawn to the Joan Mitchell painting that’s on display, The Sink. Every time I go to the museum I visit that painting first. There’s so much motion and emotion, and you can stare at any part and it looks like its own painting. Gladys’s paintings are like that too, not so much in style but in refusing a central form, and I wonder if she would have recognized a kinship. But she was a product of her generation, and she almost never mentioned female artists because only the men were important. There’s some story about how some critic said, “Gladys Goldstein painted like a man,” or something like that, and all of the women of that generation have that story because it meant they mattered.

I know that Gladys must have been aware of Joan Mitchell’s work because Mitchell is interviewed in the same issue of ARTNews where Gladys’s 1957 show in New York was reviewed. And Joan Mitchell is brilliant in that interview, she’s incisive about art and form and context. Wouldn’t Gladys have appreciated that? In Touching the Art, one of the things I wonder about is what the lives of these women artists could have been like if the men didn’t exist at all, or at least if they didn’t have to exist in their shadow.

JJ: The book touches on the effects of gentrification in Baltimore. I’m interested to know if you see any of these same issues reflected in Seattle?

MBS: One thing I noticed when I was in Baltimore was how artists were brandished so blatantly as tools of gentrification in neighborhoods that have been destroyed by decades of disinvestment. This happens everywhere, of course, but it felt more extreme in Baltimore because so much of the city is still in collapse, and in so many Black neighborhoods in particular you can go for block after block and literally half of the buildings have burned down or are boarded up. So the gentrification starts from the top, like the branding of a neighborhood as an Arts District and then boom, the real estate vultures swoop in, but still these are neighborhoods mostly in collapse. It’s a different scale, in terms of the extremity.

In Baltimore there is a kind of desperation to make a neighborhood alive again, and so people are drawn to the lure of any kind of investment. Seattle is so gentrified already, almost across the board. Here we have developers and government partnering to destroy amazing success stories, like Yesler Terrace, the first integrated housing project in the country, where hundreds of multigenerational families were living until it got sold off to the developers—gentrification is always violence, it just takes so many forms.

JJ: Queerness plays a pivotal role in your relationship with Gladys. How does the tension between family and identity inform your creative practice?

MBS: When I was a kid, Gladys nourished everything that made me queer, so a central paradox in the book is why did she reject everything that she had nurtured in me, once I fully came into myself. I saw her as an alternative to the path of upward mobility that everyone else in my family was obsessed with—upward mobility at any cost. Family as a way to camouflage violence. I thought she believed in something else, but I was wrong. She was the one person in my birth family who could have engaged with me as an artist, and she refused to. But still, looking at her art, I feel a sense of spaciousness, joy, an openness to the world. And this is something she gave me. 

JJ: I like the deep investment in artistic and personal truth throughout the book. How do you think this book teaches people how to engage with art?

MBS: One place where Gladys and I totally agree is in never telling anyone how to engage with art. It should always be on your own terms, I think. That’s what abstraction can offer us, right, a way into possibility or openness. But in the book I want to look at all the layers beneath this, I want to expose the silences, the silencing. I know I write on my own terms, and I think this is the best way to connect with the world, or I hope so. I want to look at the personal, the intimate, the familial, the historical, the structural, all of this at once. Maybe this is what it means to touch the art.

– Jesse Jimenez (they/them), SAM Manager of Public Engagement

Photos: Courtesy Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Installation view of The Sink at the Seattle Art Museum by Jo Cosme.

Shawna Bliss Celebrates 24 Years of Service at SAM

Earlier this year, volunteers across all the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and Olympic Sculpture Park came together to celebrate another incredible year of service at SAM. Hosted by the Seattle Art Museum Volunteers Association Advisory Committee (SAMVA-AC), the 2023 Volunteer Soirée honored the landmark accomplishments of some of SAM’s longest-serving volunteers.

Of the many awards handed out that evening, none were as significant and surprise-filled as the Dorothy C. Malone Award. Established by the SAM Board of Trustees in 1989, the award is given to an exceptional volunteer who exemplifies the highest standard of dedication and service to the museum.

Dorothy “Dottie” C. Malone is a significant part of SAM’s history, having invested 63 years in the museum as a staff member and volunteer. She treated the museum as her family, taking a warm and personal interest in the staff, volunteers, and operations of the museum. She cared deeply and held the museum to a high standard of excellence. Her concern for volunteers, which she called “the backbone of the museum,” combined with her own dedication and commitment, inspired the Board of Trustees to establish this award in her name.

This year’s recipient of the Dorothy C. Malone Lifetime Achievement Volunteer Award is Shawna Bliss. A volunteer for over 24 years, Shawna currently volunteers in our docent program and has consistently contributed to the development of gallery learning across all three SAM locations. Born and raised in West Seattle, Shawna is the oldest of five siblings and discovered a passion for education at a young age. She received her bachelor’s degree in education and psychology from the University of Washington and completed her master’s in education at the University of Utah.

The following years saw Shawna traveling with her husband, Don, throughout the United States and Australia before settling into a long term home in Bremerton to raise their family. For many years, Shawna commuted from Bremerton to Seattle to volunteer at SAM, becoming one of the museum’s most prominent supporters. Family gifts often included museum memberships, invitations to view exhibitions and programs, and one-of-a-kind items from SAM Shop. She encouraged her siblings and children to visit SAM and often brought her parents downtown to explore the museum’s galleries.

Following our celebration of Shawna and her continued contributions to SAM, we asked her about her time at SAM and any advice she’d offer prospective volunteers. Read below to see what she had to say!


SAM: How did you learn about the opportunity of becoming a SAM volunteer? What was the process like for you to join?

Shawna Bliss (SB): I learned about the opportunity of becoming a SAM volunteer at an education job fair held in Seattle before the start of the 1999 school year. A SAM representative was promoting SAM’s education programs and volunteer opportunities. I completed a volunteer application, had an interview with SAM’s Manager of Volunteer Programs, and was hired to assist a SAM educator in the Art Studio.

SAM: What is your favorite memory of being a SAM volunteer?

SB: I have so many favorite memories of being a SAM volunteer! What keeps me at SAM year after year are the opportunities to work with, and learn from, other volunteers, SAM staff, and museum visitors.

SAM: Were you surprised to receive the Dorothy C. Malone Award? What was your reaction?

SB: I was totally surprised! 2019 was the last year SAM held its Volunteer Soirée, so I came to this year’s soirée expecting to celebrate “our” return to SAM. I was not expecting any of us to be personally recognized!

SAM: Why should people consider becoming a SAM volunteer? 

SB: Do you like making new friends? There are many volunteer opportunities at SAM, all of which give volunteers occasions to meet and engage with like-minded people, including other volunteers, SAM staff, and visitors. 

Do you like learning about art, artists, and connecting art to the lives of visitors? If so, there is always much to see, read, and think about at SAM.

Do you like SAM and support its mission, vision, and values? SAM volunteers do! Young or old, just getting started or having volunteered for decades, all of us take pride in representing SAM as we serve in our volunteer roles. 

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Inside the World of Ikat: An Interview with SAM Curator Pam McClusky

“This exhibition comes out of my own frustration that textiles are undervalued, as an art form that we use every day, on our bodies, in our homes, everywhere.”

– Pam McClusky, SAM Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb Curator of African and Oceanic Art

We’re more than halfway through the limited run of Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth at SAM. Get the inside scoop on what objects from SAM’s global collection and local loans from the collection of David and Marita Paly you’ll see on view in this textile-focused exhibition and hear how it all came together from SAM curator Pam McClusky. Watch our interview with Pam now to discover the influence of this time-honored dyeing technique and recognize the power of slow fashion in our world.

Get your tickets to see this incredible exhibition for yourself before it closes for good on Monday, May 29!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: L. Fried.

Lessons of the Past: Kari Karsten on Curating SAM’s American Art Galleries

Artworks of the past never cease to offer new lessons, insights, and interpretations.

In this video created as part of the two-year reinstallation of SAM’s American art galleries, SAM Emerging Museum Professional of American Art and member of the Seneca nation Kari Karsten discusses her research into Spokane-born artist Kenneth Callahan’s The Accident, and the enduring questions artworks such as these can raise, even over 75 years after their creation.

Read more about Kari’s contributions to SAM while serving as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern in this reflection she wrote after completing her year-long thesis for the University of Washington Museology masters program and opening Indigenous Matrix: Northwest Women Printmakers last fall.

Visit SAM today to experience all American Art: The Stories We Carry has to offer and see Callahan’s painting for yourself.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: L. Fried.

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