#SAMSnippets: Native Art and Life Along the Northwest Coast

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 Right to Left: Deer Mask, Owl Mask, Wolf Mask, Bukwus Mask (Wild Man of the Woods), Raccoon Mask, Cod Fish Mask, Mouse Woman Mask, Grizzly Bear Mask, Bukwus Mask (Wild Man of the Woods), Kingfisher Mask, Porcupine Mask, Otter Mask, Sam Johnson, ca. 1970, Kwakwaka’wakw, Musgama, Dzawada’enuxw Nation, 1930–2007, Gifts of the Pacific Science Center. Photo: Natali Wiseman.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 carving is 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.

Skull Rattles (Xawikw Yadan), ca. 1890, Kwakwaka’wakw, Alder wood, red cedar bark, paint, Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.86.1.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Imogen Cunningham: Morris Graves In His Leek Garden

From close friends to strangers, and even the artist herself, photographer Imogen Cunningham found inspiration in capturing the human form in various settings. Taking portraits of those around her, Cunningham aimed to find the “beauty of the inner self.”

Listen to this audio interview to hear Japanese and Chinese Canadian photographer Kayla Isomura discuss the lessons she has learned from Cunningham’s extensive body of work. Paying particular attention to the artist’s 1973 portrait, Morris Graves In His Leek Garden, Isomura highlights the intentional melancholy of the image and shares admiration for Cunningham’s keen ability to capture her subjects in their natural state.

This audio recording is part of a free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospectivenow on view at the Seattle Art Museum. Tune in to this and twelve other recordings when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

Morris Graves In His Leek Garden, 1973

Narrator: Like Imogen Cunningham, photographer Kayla Isomura is known for her portraits.

Kayla Isomura: I am a fourth-generation Japanese and Chinese Canadian, with a background as well in journalism, all of which have influenced my interest in multimedia storytelling.

Narrator: Kayla identifies with Cunningham’s goal of finding the “beauty of the inner self” in her portraits. Here, Kayla notes Cunningham’s deft touch with her subject, the painter Morris Graves.

Kayla Isomura: For me, I really like capturing people kind of as they are. Even taking a photo on the spot. Sometimes people will feel self-conscious about that. But more often than not I’m taking a photo of them because there is something about them that is photogenic even if it might not be in the sort of what society might expect. It’s very important that anybody can feel comfortable in front of the camera, or anybody can feel like they’re able to see themself in a photograph.

Narrator: Twenty-three years after Cunningham first photographed her friend Graves, she received a somewhat concerning letter from him. In addition to asking if she would once again take his portrait, Graves wrote, “Like us all, I am undergoing changes that are beyond my comprehension. I am tired of life, and I understand less and less.” Soon after, Cunningham visited Graves at his retreat, a 380-acre property in Loleta, California, where she took this photo.

Kayla Isomura: Something that really stood out to me is how authentic I guess in a way that I feel like this image was captured. Looking at how the photo was taken through the leeks and the contemplative expression on his face, it made me feel like there was more to this too. Like I didn’t know if there’s a sense of even mourning or even loss or maybe he’s just kind of lost in thought in his garden.

Narrator: After developing her photographs, Cunningham sent them to Graves along with her own letter, complimenting his “aura of beauty” and hoping that her portrait would inspire him to paint again.

 Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Morris Graves in His Leek Garden, Imogen Cunningham, 1973. Gelatin silver print, 8 ¼ x 11 3/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg, 79.72.

Muse/News: Camera as a Blade, Hockey in Seattle, and Architects’ Ideas

SAM News

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective is now on view at SAM! Ann Guo for the Seattle Times explored why Seattle’s Imogen Cunningham is one of the leading photographers of her time.”

“The photographer wielded the camera as one would a blade — precise and controlled, yet with delicate grace.”

And here’s an appreciation of the photographer’s body of work in Airmail, focusing particularly on her work with nudes.

“It is perhaps this quality of reflective quiet that epitomizes Cunningham’s art across time. In all of her photos we sense not only her concentration, but the vibrancy of being in subjects animate and inanimate.”

Also on view at SAM: Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection featuring Abstract Expressionist and post-war art. Here’s Renee Diaz for UW Daily on the exhibition.

Local News

From the Seattle Times: Why arts critic Moira Macdonald picks Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’ as the soundtrack of her holiday season.”

“Ghost mall goes indie: Pacific Place gets a new lease on life”: Margo Vansynghel on how the downtown shopping center is filling its spaces with local art.

Lucas Kaplan for Seattle Met on Hockey: Faster Than Ever, now on view at the Pacific Science Center.

“It’s not all a bird’s-eye view of hockey either…PacSci’s exhibit emphasizes the importance of broadening the reach of the sport, beyond the predominantly white and male scope. The Kraken have been outspoken in this regard, and some members of its historically diverse staff, as well as its investments in youth programs, are highlighted here.”

Inter/National News

“We Are Angry, We Are Tired”: Artnet’s Kate Brown on the impact of the new travel ban on South African art dealers headed to Art Basel Miami.

ARTnews: A story about PBS, a Maltese priest/art historian, and a stolen Caravaggio.

Why Shouldn’t Housing for the Homeless Be Beautiful?” Thomas Rogers for the New York Times on an exhibition exploring architects’ ideas for solving homelessness.

“Because of climate change and pandemics and robotization, we will have more refugees in the future, more poverty,” [architect Alexander Hagner] said. Young architects realized that “we have learned a profession in which we can perhaps not save the world.” But, he added, they could “contribute to making it a better place.”

And Finally

Thank you, Stephen Sondheim. Let’s wallow in the archives.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Installation view of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at Seattle Art Museum, 2021, photo: Natali Wiseman.

See Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective for Free!

December 2 is Free First Thursday at Seattle Art Museum and that means free entry into the newly opened Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective. Get tickets to this free day while you can to attend a free community celebration in the galleries—our first in-person community celebration since reopening!

Get excited for your visit by watching this quick overview about the exhibition with Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Hosted on November 8 as a talk for SAM Members, we’re excited to share this recording of the overview with everyone and offer some context on the important contributions of Imogen Cunningham to photography as an art form over the course of her seven-decade career.

And remember, every First Thursday is free at Seattle Art Museum. Find out more about discounted admission opportunities!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: “Dancer, Mills College,” 1929, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 8 9/16 × 7 3/8 in., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2006.25.6, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Object of the Week: Feast Dish

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

Image: Lukwalil (feast dish), 1994, Calvin Hunt (Tlasutiwalis), Wood, paint, opercula shells, Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, 94.63 © Calvin Hunt.

Object of the Week: Night Watch

Night Watch (1960) by Abstract Expressionist artist Lee Krasner is part of a body of work often referred to as her “Night Journeys.” Grieving the loss of her husband, Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), and her mother, Anna Weiss Krassner (d. 1959), Krasner found herself in a challenging and painful emotional space. Suffering from intense insomnia, she painted almost exclusively at night during this period. In her words, “I painted a great many [paintings] because I couldn’t sleep nights. I got tired of fighting insomnia and tried to paint instead. And I realized that if I was going to work at night I would have to knock out color altogether, because I couldn’t deal with color except in daylight.”1

Though previously known for her dramatic use of color, Night Watch, along with other works made in the early 1960s, uses a reduced palette of black, ochre, and creamy white, with gray accents. The title alludes to one of Rembrandt’s celebrated 17th-century paintings of a militia company and, with punctuating eyes as a recurring motif, alludes simultaneously to the militia’s duty of keeping watch as well as a self-referential proclamation. Painting, for Krasner, was always autobiographical, and she maintained that “Painting is not separate from life. It is one.”2

Despite their reduced palette and somber origins, Krasner’s Night Journeys were an exciting artistic development. In a 1981 review of the exhibition The Abstract Expressionists and their Precursors at the Nassau County Museum in Roslyn, New York Times critic John Russell writes that Night Watch proves “Lee Krasner was able to go on turning the screw of her art at a moment in time when most of her colleagues were . . . beginning to lose momentum.”3 Indeed, Night Watch—with its swirling brushwork and rhythmic composition—mines a deeply personal moment in the name of self-expression.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate


1 Richard Howard, “A conversation with Lee Krasner,” in Lee Krasner Paintings 1959–1962 (New York: Pace Gallery 1979), p. 3.

2 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Night Creatures, 1965, Lee Krasner, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/486683.

3 John Russell, “Gallery View; Delights, Surprises—and Gaps,” New York Times, March 8, 1981, https://www.nytimes.com/1981/03/08/arts/gallery-view-delights-surprises-and-gaps.html.

Image: Night Watch, 1960, Lee Krasner, Oil on canvas, 70 × 99 1/4 in. (177.8 × 252.1 cm), Gift of the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis, 2020.14.4 © ©️2021 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Muse/News: Seeing at SAM, Homes for Artists, and an Afrofuturist Room

SAM News

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective opens at SAM this Thursday! Peter Saenger of the Wall Street Journal previews the exhibition of the endlessly innovative photographer who “championed new ways of seeing.”

“In a 1952 portrait, the sculptor Ruth Asawa holds one of her celebrated wire sculptures in front of her head, forming a rough square. The Seattle show will include a video of a Graham performance and a number of Asawa sculptures. Cunningham formed a close friendship with Asawa that lasted decades, and Carrie Dedon, who curated the exhibition for Seattle’s presentation, notes her ability to connect with fellow artists.”

Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection is also on view at SAM. Seattle Magazine highlights it in their arts scene overview in their October edition. And Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel wrote about the show in their “things to do in Seattle in November” round-up.

“It’s no exaggeration to say the Langs assembled a world-class collection with a keen eye, particularly for artists who have only recently been getting their due, including Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell and Philip Guston.”

Local News

“An arts critic and a hockey fan go to a Kraken game.” The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald and Trevor Lenzmeier, along with the Kraken, make for a journalistic hat trick.

Crosscut Talks podcast talks with the owners of Seattle fine dining institution Canlis about the creative ways they rethought their business during the first year of the pandemic. Also in Crosscut Land: They have a new executive editor! Welcome, M. David Lee III!

Sarah Anne Lloyd for Seattle Met speaks with musician/realtor Pearl Nelson, who wants to help artists find nice places to live.

“Artists move where it’s affordable. So finding places that are affordable so you can live in Seattle eventually again, whether it’s through programs where it’s a multigenerational household or friendships that can acquire property and hopefully build equity, it might be the way…. I really want to see the artists and musicians and creatives find places here. That’s it. I hope we can have places to be.

Inter/National News

The American South is the theme of Art in America’s November/December issue; explore essays and interviews on “trauma, joy, and the arc of America’s national story.”

Nicolas Rapold on a new documentary about another American photographer: Gordon Parks. A Choice of Weapons traces his journey from a Kansas family farm to his photo essays on Black life to making history as the first Black artist to produce and direct a major Hollywood film.

Darla Migan for Artnet on Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room, now open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“To root the exhibition in the reality of specific historical erasure, the curators created a space that embraces the memory of Seneca Village, a thriving 19th-century New York City community of predominantly Black property owners and tenants. It was situated not too far from the Met, on what is now the western perimeter of Central Park, or what remains the unseated lands of indigenous Lenape peoples, potentially representing multiple displacements and migrations.”

And Finally

“I like the vulgarity of it.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Magnolia Blossom, negative 1925; print 1930, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 9 5/16 × 11 5/8 in., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, 54042, Photo: Randy Dodson, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Object of the Week: Focal Point

This week’s object is from the SAM Libraries’ collections. The Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library and McCaw Foundation Library collect book arts such as photobooks, artists’ books, zines, and broadsides. A broadside is a large sheet of paper printed on only one side. Historically, they were ephemeral works plastered onto walls or folded into pamphlets and distributed. Typical broadsides include public decrees and proclamations, event posters, commentaries, or advertisements. Today, broadsides are an important artistic form created via various printmaking and hand-drawn processes which are held by libraries and museums worldwide.

Focal Point [Imogen Cunningham] is a broadside from the Bullitt Library’s collection created by Tacoma artists, Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring. The work is part of their limited-edition broadside series entitled Dead Feminists. Originating in 2008, they have released 31 broadsides focused on historical feminists: political figures, activists, environmentalists, scientists, artists, and more. Each broadside is letterpress-printed on a Vandercook Universal One press from hand-drawn lettering and illustrations and includes a quote as well as biographical information about the subject(s).

If you’re familiar with the series, you might notice that unlike the other works printed on white paper, Focal Point [Imogen Cunningham] is one of only two printed on black paper. This decision helped the artists “pull the focus” onto Cunningham’s quote: “The seeing eye is the important thing.” O’Leary and Spring thought it “provided a beautiful backdrop for a tribute to someone who spent her life creating black-and-white images.”1 Lettering was done with a metallic ink (a recipe that Spring developed) that includes real gold powder. This broadside was printed in an edition of 164 as a nod towards Cunningham being a founding member of Group f/64, a group of photographers devoted to exhibiting and promoting a new direction in photography. F/64 refers to the small aperture setting on the large format camera used by the group’s members.

When asked what drew the artists to Cunningham, Spring said, “The print was made in 2014, and we were definitely feeling the pull of social media, a world full of distractions, and a desire to focus back on our work as artists. As makers ourselves, we recognize the power of observation and the artist’s eye.”2 And observe, they did. Every aspect of this work was carefully considered, from the choice of metallic silver filigree that mimics the traditional silver-gelatin photographic process to the pastiche of images drawn from Cunningham’s photographic subjects. If you look closely, you might recognize several images from Cunningham’s work in SAM’s collection—Magnolia Blossom (Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels) (1925, 89.67) and Frida Kahlo, Painter 3 (1931, 89.28).3 Look for these and other images when you visit Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective, on view at SAM from November 18 through February 6, 2022.

In addition to this single broadside, the Bullitt Library also holds O’Leary and Spring’s book, Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color (Sasquatch Books, 2016), which details the entire series in brilliant color and a set of reproduction postcards. Currently, the SAM Libraries are still closed to visitors, but we encourage you to see these items in person when we reopen. In the meantime, the book and the reproduction postcards are available in the SAM Shop during the run of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective. The entire Dead Feminists series is also currently on view at the University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections in an exhibition titled, And Then She Said: Voices of Feminists Past and Present.

– Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

Image: Focal Point [Imogen Cunningham], 2014, Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring, Broadside print, 46 x 26 cm, Image courtesy of the artists. Magnolia Blossom (Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels), 1925, Imogen Cunningham, Gelatin silver print, Img/sht: 11 1/4 x 8 1/4 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.67 © Imogen Cunningham Trust.

1 O’Leary, Chandler and Jessica Spring. “Focal Point.” Dead Feminists blog, March 18, 2014. http://www.deadfeminists.com/focal-point/.

2 Email interview with Jessica Spring and Chandler O’Leary, November 2, 2021.

3 Frida Kahlo became the subject of O’Leary and Spring’s 26th Dead Feminist broadside, Estados Divididos, in 2017.

Behind the Scenes with SAM’s Conservation Team

Every painting, drawing, and sculpture at Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and Olympic Sculpture Park is thoroughly inspected and cleaned by our conservation department before being put on view. These supremely talented individuals are dedicated to maintaining the aesthetic and structural health of SAM’s vast and, in some cases priceless, collections.

Watch this video from Seattle Channel’s Art Zone to get to know the leader behind this department, Jane Lang Davis Chief Conservator, Nicholas Dorman. Nick discusses his upbringing, explains how he ended up at SAM, and walks viewers through how he and his team care for every work of art at all three locations. All the works featured in this video can be seen on view in Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection at SAM through November 27, 2022.

In honor of National Ask a Conservator Day on November 4, we reached out to our Instagram community to see what questions they had for SAM’s conservation team. Nick, along with Senior Objects Conservator Liz Brown and Associate Conservator Geneva Griswold, took the time to answer them and give a bit more insight on their favorite memories at SAM—read their responses below!

What are some of the most time-intensive projects for SAM conservators to tackle?

Liz Brown (LB): Conservation treatments are time-intensive by nature! Small artworks treated in the studio take hundreds of hours to clean, treat, and document. Large, outdoor works such as those at the Olympic Sculpture Park get cleaned once a week, and then receive in-depth treatments, like a refreshed coating, each summer.

SAM Conservator Liz Brown cleans Echo at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

What background, formal education, and training is required to become an art conservator?

Geneva Griswold (GG): Paths into the conservation field can be circuitous, but many of us studied art history, chemistry, or are artists ourselves—conservation combines all of these interests! Formal entry into the field often includes the completion of a three-year graduate degree in art conservation with a specialty in objects, paintings, paper, textiles, books, or works on paper. Additional experience is gained through internships and fellowships.

What is your most cherished memory of working on SAM’s conservation team?

GG: One of my favorite memories is installing Yves St. Laurent: The Perfection of Style because it required teamwork from everyone in the department, plus local conservators who work in private practice, and conservators from France who travelled with exhibition. These collaborations are always the most fun because I learn a lot from my colleagues!

What has been your favorite artwork to restore/preserve while working at SAM?

LB: My favorite object is frequently what I am working on in the moment as each new work presents an opportunity to explore. Right now, I’m investigating cold cathode lights with artist Claude Zervas to prepare his artwork Nooksack for an upcoming exhibition.

SAM Conservator Liz Brown stops to take a photo while investigating cold cathode lights for Claude Zervas’s work Nooksack.

How do you ensure you don’t change an artist’s intent when doing conservation?

Nick Dorman (ND): This important point is the subject of much concern and discussion. Treatments may be discussed with living artists directly, and conservators may collaborate with an artist’s foundation, community members, and others who are close to the work. We carefully research and document all work, and design every treatment to be reversible.

What aspect of conservation is misunderstood or overlooked?

LB: The title “conservation” can cause confusion it is often seen as rooted in a tradition of attempting to keep an object from changing. Sometimes this is a goal, but when considering treatment, we always consider the intangible aspects of the artwork. Thus, in conversations with stakeholders, we are looking to manage, change, and look to how that artwork lives best in a museum.

What is your favorite conservation tool?

LB: This is always changing, but one I come back to all the time is the very simple, yet versatile bamboo skewer. It’s wonderful in that it can be easily shaped to suit a variety of purposes. The wood box my father made for my small tools is also a favorite.

What’s the most interesting attempt you’ve seen a previous owner make to conserve an object? What did you have to do to correct/modify their attempt?

GG: I am currently working on a black lacquer wood sculpture. In areas where the black lacquer is missing, someone has colored the bare wood with a Sharpie marker to hide the unsightly loss. While well intentioned, this will be challenging to remove, if at all possible. Someone also used carpenter’s wood glue to reattach elements of the sculpture, however this type of adhesive has damaged the fragile lacquer. My treatment seeks to remove this adhesive and replace it with a more appropriate choice.

Any strange conservation stories to share?

ND: When I went to Italy in 2006 to research the original location of SAM’s Tiepolo ceiling fresco with former Chief Curator Chiyo Ishikawa, we found what seemed to be a very similar painting on the ceiling of the painting’s original home in Vicenza. The current custodian of the home said, “We have the Tiepolo, I don’t know what you have.” Turns out, we both have the Tiepolo! The surface of the original painting had been removed from the underlying fresco layers and attached to a new canvas support, eventually traveling across the world to grace SAM’s Porcelain Room ceiling. The remaining under-paint was left in place and was eventually retouched by a prominent Italian restorer.

Former SAM conservation tech, Tim Marsden, admires the Tiepolo during conservation.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in art conservation?

GG: Review the American Institute For Conservation and the Emerging Conservator Professional Network for resources. Informational interviews with conservators and conservation students can give a window into what the job entails on a day to day basis. Our roles vary immensely from museum to museum, and from institutional settings to private practice. Find a mentor who can provide sustained guidance—SAM conservators are happy to connect with you, get in touch with us!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Courtesy of Seattle Channel.

See the Significant Collection of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis

Behind one of the most significant private collections of Abstract Expressionist and post-war art is a love story for the ages.

It started with a chance meeting between Jane Davis and Richard E. Lang at the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra. Within a year, the two were married and moved to Seattle. With a shared passion for the arts, Jane and Richard collected abstract works from artists across the United States which they showcased in their modest waterfront home.

Watch this video by the Friday Foundation to see how Jane and Richard’s extensive collection came together and how their legacy lives on in Seattle and its cultural community. Then, see 21 works from their personal collection in Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection at SAM, on view through November 27, 2022. These exceptional artworks now live at SAM thanks to a gift from the Friday Foundation in honor of these local collectors. The recent Lang Collection gift is comprised of 19 outstanding artworks that transform SAM’s holdings of postwar art, making it the most significant collection of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Night Watch, 1960, Lee Krasner, American, 1908–1984, oil on canvas, 70 x 99 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis, 2020.14.4 © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation. Photo: Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of the Friday Foundation.

Object of the Week: Nguzu Nguzu

News from Glasgow’s UN Climate Change conference is full of speeches, protests, and debate. Among all the words being spoken, dire predictions of rising sea levels and fresh water scarcity are two issues ringing bells at the museum as we prepare texts and concerns about an exhibition titled Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water to be featured next March. For those who want to augment the news, the exhibition aims to offer a multidimensional exploration based on selections from the museum’s permanent collection and other contemporary works that have been created to help us pause and consider how water is shaping our destiny on this planet. 

A face from the past is an example of art that leads to a haunting reality check. It’s a spirit who stares us down, with wide open eyes, while carefully holding a man’s head. Originally, this spirit was placed as the guardian of a canoe carrying up to 35 men into warfare, or on a quest to chase schools of bonito fish. The stare would have cut through the waves at the prow of the canoe and served to protect the canoe from enemies, difficult waters, or to help keep track of the silvery blue bonito who are known for their speed and unpredictability. Just as this face is adorned with exquisite patterns of shell inlay, so too was the entire canoe, which had towering prows and sterns. Moving into the 21st century, Solomon Islanders continue to create canoes that have guardian prows and vivid decoration that make for astonishing arrivals at festivals.  

However, another Solomon Island offers a tragic story, as seen in a recent BBC trip to the island of Kale. In it, we recognize how talk about the effects of rising sea levels is no longer abstract, but a lived reality.  Please stay tuned for more updates as we prepare our special exhibition for many diverse views of art devoted to water around the world.  

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

Image: Canoe prow figure (Nguzu Nguzu), 19th century, Melanesian, Wood, nautilus shell, 10 5/8 x 7 7/8 in., L: 5 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.1443.

Muse/News: Conserving Art, Au Revoir Kucera, and She Was Victory

SAM News

Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection is now on view at SAM. Take a peek behind the scenes into the conservation done to these works before installation! ArtZone features Nicholas Dorman, SAM’s Jane Lang Davis Chief Conservator, and other members of SAM’s conservation team, as they work across SAM’s three sites to protect and preserve art.

Local News

Sophie Grossman for Seattle Met, along with haunting photos by Chona Kasinger, on “Seattle’s most storied headstones.”

Marcie Silllman for Crosscut, speaking with Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers about returning to the stage while nearing the end of their careers.

“Greg Kucera, leading force in Seattle art world, leaves for his castle in France”: Here’s the Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley with a farewell to the beloved gallerist.

“I’ve always felt, whether he was praising me or offering advice or criticism, that he believed in my art and that part of what drove him was the desire to advance it, and to protect it from obstacles,” said photographer Chris Engman, who makes confounding, disorienting illusions. “This is what a collaboration between an artist and a gallerist should look like.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Taylor Defoe asks why so many recent horror flicks are set in the art world (hint: it’s a metaphor!).

Chantal Da Silva for NBC News on the possibilities—and ethical and legal challenges—of the use of artificial intelligence in uncovering “lost” art.

“The woman who was victory”: Eve M. Kahn for The Magazine ANTIQUES on Hettie Anderson, an early 20th-century Black model for artists.

“I visit Victory in midtown Manhattan often. I eavesdrop as people take selfies below her sandaled feet. Almost no one reads the nearby plaque, explaining the symbolism of Union triumph and identifying Anderson. How fierce she looks, with anti-pigeon spikes atop her head, wings, and fingertips. How few other models of her time maintained their privacy and independence, and how fewer still had the sand to protect their own image by copyright.”

And Finally

“Just watching people in a kitchen move around is really quite beautiful.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Courtesy of Seattle Channel.

Object of the Week: Dawn Shapes

Organized by artists in an empty storefront on East 9th Street, the now-iconic 1951 Ninth Street Show was “a boisterous call for attention by a new generation,” and marked a formal announcement of Abstract Expressionism.1 Despite initial discussion about whether the inclusion of women would negatively impact the exhibition’s reception, Helen Frankenthaler was one of eleven women (and sixty-one men) who participated in the watershed presentation. At 22 years old, she was also the youngest.

Considered the progenitor of Color Field painting, Frankenthaler’s process involved “diluting her paints to the fine consistency of watercolors, she applied the liquid to unprimed canvas, laid on the floor, so that it soaked through in broadly spreading stains, creating opalescent veils of color, bright yet soft, not quite like anything seen before.”2

This technique was acknowledged by many of her fellow artists and art critics as a revelation.

Painted in 1967, close to twenty years after the Ninth Street Show, Dawn Shapes is a large-scale exemplar of her pioneering soak stain technique. Currently on view in Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection, the painting is also given scholarly treatment by Elizabeth A. T. Smith in the accompanying catalogue:

Of foremost significance in Dawn Shapes is how Frankenthaler configured and manipulated the predominant area of ochre at the painting’s center. Here, she achieved a nuance range of yellow and more earthen hues—from dark mustard to dusky orange to peach—applied through a combination of pouring and brushwork to enhance the subtlety of the variations in density and tone. The resulting form, while emphatic, lacks clear definition, evoking various possible associations, from the mutable conditions of visibility at dawn to the gathering of storm clouds and the emergence of sunbeams peeking around and through them. This suggested condition of indistinctness gave rise to the title she ultimately chose for the work.3

As penned in a Museum of Modern Art press release for a 1989 retrospective of her paintings, “All of Frankenthaler’s works suggest a kind of place. Some call on the experiences of her travels within this country and in Europe; others of her living and working in New York City, Connecticut, and Cape Cod. Her titles evoke places of personal and artistic interest as well: natural, religious, mythological, and imaginary. For the artist, the physical painting in itself becomes a place, an environment into which we look.”4 Indeed, painted during a highly productive time in her career, Dawn Shapes exemplifies Frankenthaler’s achievement of spatial tension between pools of contrasting color and their relationship with areas of unprimed canvas. The result is an atmospheric painting whose complex shapes and subtle colors pull us in and ask us to stay a while.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate


[1] Claudia Roth Pierpont, “How New York’s Postwar Female Painters Battled for Recognition,” The New Yorker, Oct. 8, 2018, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/08/how-new-yorks-postwar-female-painters-battled-for-recognition.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Elizabeth A. T. Smith, “Helen Frankenthaler: Dawn Shapes, 1967,” in Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection (Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 2021): p. 154.

[4] “Helen Frankenthaler: A Paintings Retrospective, June 5 – August 20, 1989,” Press Release, Museum of Modern Art, assets.moma.org/documents/moma_press-release_327543.pdf?_ga=2.188142184.1750926861.1635457018-948855472.1630077759.

Image: Dawn Shapes, 1967, Helen Frankenthaler, Acrylic on canvas, 77 1/4 × 94 1/2 in., Gift of the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis, 2020.14.5 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

Celebrate Día de los Muertos with SAM

This year marks the 26th annual celebration of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) at the Seattle Art Museum and its partnership with local Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Lazo. Each year, Fulgencio and his wife, Erin Fanning, gather members of the community, young people, musicians, and other artists to mark this day celebrating the eternal cycle of life and invite all of Seattle to join in.

Kick off the festivities by getting to know the artist behind SAM’s annual tapete installation when you watch the interview above with Fulgencio filmed in his recent gallery show, Estrellas del Norte Al Sur at ArtXchange Gallery. In this body of work, Lazo addresses the universal migration of families from one place to another—with a special focus on children’s experiences. Using synthesized lines and symbols, Lazo aims to highlight the elements of a culture and reveal the essence of what migrants carry within when embarking on their journeys.

“These paintings, produced over the last fourteen months, focus on themes of transformation. My world, like all of humanity’s, has been upended by the global pandemic, humanitarian crises exacerbated by climate change, and massive movements for racial and social justice. This trifecta requires that we transform ourselves and our institutions. As an artist I must visually show what transformation looks like.”

– Fulgencio Lazo

Fulgencio Lazo is an internationally recognized artist whose vibrant abstract paintings and sculptures are an exploration of cultural identity and the power of community. Lazo once again designed and built a tapete (a floor covering made of sand, flowers, feathers, and other materials and illustrated with playful images of death) in our Brotman Forum. It will be available for viewing in the Forum until November 10 and is free to access.

As part of the celebration, La Banda Gozona’s quartet performed in front of the tapete for people on October 30. Check it out!

And no marking of Día de los Muertos would be complete without art making! Longtime local artist Jose Orantes has designed a mask project for you to take home that will be available to pick up for free in the Forum between October 30 and November 10. Show us what you make from the art activity by sharing it online with #YourSAMStories.

In the wake of COVID-19, this year’s celebration will be somewhat different—less about gathering together, dancing, and hanging out with friends and more focused on honoring the memories of those who have passed away. We will also focus on showing gratitude for the caregivers, friends, and families who have ensured that the rest of us have thrived in this difficult time. Take part through these in-person and online activities for everyone to enjoy between October 29 and November 10.

Jason Porter, SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement

Photo: Robert Wade

Major Sponsors

Generous Support

Muse/News: Tapete Wonder, Really Immersive, and a Hidden Gorky

SAM News

Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection is now on view at SAM! Before you head to the galleries, check out the tapete (sand painting) by local Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Lazo in the Brotman Forum. ParentMap includes it on their list of Día de los Muertos happenings around the region.

Local News

Erica Browne Grivas for the Seattle Times with photos and an itinerary for a mural walk starting at Pike Place Market and winding to Belltown.

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel on supply chain issues and their impacts on the local art world. Yep, it’s impacting SAM: we are waiting on the arrival of beautiful catalogues for Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence. Stay tuned for updates!

Also in Crosscut and also about Barbara Earl Thomas: Vansynghel wrote about great alternatives to certain heavily promoted “immersive” experiences, such as Thomas’s work, which is also on view at the Henry Art Gallery alongside the work of Derrick Adams.

“As music by Dionne Warwick, Prince and Anita Baker plays overhead, a rotating lantern in the heart of the gallery casts cut-paper images across the room’s bare, white walls. The technique recalls the earlier magic-lantern work of artists Auguste Edouart and Kara Walker. But here, there are no silhouetted people, only abstracted monochrome shapes of cut fabric patterns (Adams) and stained-glass-like cutouts of an Afro pick and a cinderella shoe surrounded by roses (Thomas).”

Inter/National News

Shanti Escalante-De Mattei for ARTnews on the National Gallery of Art’s first acquisition of a work by Faith Ringgold, a 1967 painting entitled The American People Series #18: The Flag is Bleeding.

Sarah Rose Sharp for Hyperallergic on the Ford Foundation’s announcement of a $50 million dollar investment in their Global Fellows program; among the 48 new fellows are seven artists and storytellers.

Gorkys on Gorkys: Ted Loos for the New York Times on the incredible discovery of a new Arshile Gorky painting hidden beneath one of the artist’s famous paintings.

“Slowly we were able to see the edges of ‘Virginia Summer,’” Mr. Masson said. “After numerous discussions with the owners, we started to go further and we realized that there was oil paint covering the whole canvas. It’s the first time we realized it’s not a sketch, it’s more.”

And Finally

A Muse/News Halloween tradition: The immortal Pumpkin Dance.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM’s Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Leaves

White flecks on a black background, over and over, could be an invitation to savor minimalism, or is it also something else? Viewers have guessed that it is fur, feathers, or seaweed floating in a tide pool.  Then the label gives it away with the title, Leaves, and suddenly you’re watching a maze of leaves fly in the air. An abundance of layered, swirling movement surrounds you. A closer look reveals how strategic the painter is. She places each stroke of paint so carefully that no two leaves merge, but barely touch each other. Something is being said when the crowd is composed of leaf after leaf, each made distinctive with infinitesimal difference.

In the fall season in the Northwest, leaves are letting loose everywhere.  We may notice them as masses, but often may not recognize their other properties. Gloria Petyarre, whose home is in the center of Australia near Alice Springs, is honoring leaves filled with medicine. She was taught by her mother to mix fat from kangaroos and echidnas with crushed leaves to make an ointment to apply to one’s face and hair. The ointment carries a powerful aroma and is a potent aid in helping fight off colds. Kurrajong, the source of the leaves, is also known as the perfect shade tree (Brachyohiton Populneus). It is a tree that only grows in the sun, has deep roots to survive droughts, is a host to butterflies, is fire resistant, and drops its leaves only in dry winters.

Petyarre’s family is famous for painting to enlighten outsiders about their knowledge of their homeland. Her shimmering waves of leaves—created by powerful ancestors—convey their value in her interactive world. Now is the ideal time to take a hint from her and appreciate leaves for the botanical wonder they offer.

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

Images: Leaves, 2002, Gloria Tamerr Petyarre, Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 70 7/8 x 157 1/2 in., Gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of Virginia and Bagley Wright, and in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2012.21 © Gloria Petyarre.

Muse/News: Gramming SAM, Dance Language, and Eco Immersion

SAM News

You love to ’gram it: Lindsay Major reports for Seattle PI that SAM is “one of the most Instagrammed museums in America.”

Seattle Met’s Allecia Vermillion joins the chorus welcoming MARKET Seattle, Chef Shubert Ho’s seafood cafe, to SAM.

And stay tuned for Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective, SAM’s special exhibition opening November 18. Seattle Met previews the show, which features over 200 genre-spanning examples from the pioneering modernist photographer.

“This show is worth seeing not only for the consensus masterworks, but also for the stunning versatility of Cunningham’s lens, from nudes to street shots to portraiture.”

Local News

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis devotes much of her weekly ArtSEA letter to the new show at the Henry Art Gallery, Packaged Black, a duo show for Derrick Adams and Barbara Earl Thomas, whose cut-paper portraits are also on view at SAM.

“Filastine Spent the Pandemic Sailing an Artsy Rustbucket Across the Pacific.” I don’t know what these words mean, either! Gregory Scruggs for the Stranger is here to elucidate.

Moira Macdonald of the Seattle Times: UW’s Chamber Dance Company celebrates 30 years of preserving and performing modern dance masterpieces.”

“[Mary Ann Santos] Newhall noted that just as languages can be lost from oral tradition, dances can likewise disappear. ‘It has to be passed on from body to body, or we lose our language.’ she said. ‘What Hannah [C. Wiley] is doing is preserving our language of dance.’”

Inter/National News

The New York Times’ Holland Cotter is “Looking Close at the Fragile Beauty of Chinese Painting,” on the occasion of 60 landscapes going on view at the Met.

Sarah Cascone for Artnet on Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe, now on view at the High Museum of Art, with national touring dates to be announced.

Louise Bury for Art in America on Sun & Sea (Marina), the Lithuanian opera about climate change that recently had its US debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

“The performance can be understood as artistic consciousness-raising, which has been one of two main historical rationales for eco-oriented art (the other being more direct environmental remediation). Yet it’s a quite particular kind of consciousness-raising, one that offers sensory immersion rather than abstract information.”

And Finally

“The Curious Case of the British Telephone Booth in Madison Park.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM’s Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Installation view of Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence at Seattle Art Museum, 2020, © Seattle Art Museum, Nina Dubinsky.

Object of the Week: Blanket Stories

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

Image: Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations, 2007, Marie Watt, Wool blankets, satin binding, with salvaged industrial yellow cedar timber base, 150 x 40 x 40 in., General Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.41 © Marie Watt.

Muse/News: History at SAM, Overheard at the Frye, and Sculptures with the Blues

SAM News

“SAM picks new board chair, making national history.” That’s the Seattle Times headline announcing that Dr. Constance W. Rice is the museum’s new board Chair. She is believed to be the first Black woman to assume the role at a major US art museum. ARTnews, Artdaily, The Seattle Medium and others also shared the news.

“She says she wants to ‘keep doors wide open’ in the museum to communities that might not see the museum as a place they belong, in the way she felt comfortable roaming the halls of MoMA when she was younger. ‘For me, every citizen of Seattle owns the art museum,’ Rice says. ‘I want them, when they walk in, to feel like I felt years ago as a kid: welcome.’”

The Seattle Times’ Tan Vinh reports on restaurant openings, including MARKET SEATTLE, SAM’s new restaurant partner.

“Arguably the most popular seafood spot in the North End…expands to downtown Seattle with a 60-seat restaurant inside the Seattle Art Museum. All of its greatest hits are here: lobster rolls, fried soft-shell crab, seafood chowder and fish and chips.”

Local News

All aboard: Brangien Davis of Crosscut on the new public art debuting along with the expanded light rail. Also mentioned: The Frye Art Museum’s new exhibition of recent acquisitions, including a work by SAM’s 2021 Betty Bowen Award-winner, Anthony White.

The Stranger’s Jas Keimig on Alden Mason: Fly Your Own Thing, now on view at the Bellevue Arts Museum through October 10.

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley has their “A&E Pick of the Week”: Duane Linklater’s new exhibition at the Frye Art Museum. Kiley dives deep with five of the works on view.

“There are stories and ideas in “mymothersside,” currently occupying several rooms at Frye Art Museum, but we only catch fragments and echoes, like we’re overhearing something — or being permitted to overhear little bits of something that isn’t ours to fully comprehend.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Melissa Smith has the first major interview with Naomi Beckwith since she became chief curator and deputy director of the Guggenheim; Beckwith talks about why she’s exactly where she needs to be.

The MacArthur Foundation named its 25 new fellows (yep, “geniuses”), including visionaries from the art world such as painter Jordan Casteel, art historian/curator Nicole Fleetwood, and sculptor/painter Daniel Lind-Ramos.

“Woody de Othello’s ceramic sculptures give Funk art a musical twist.” That’s Glenn Adamson for Art in America on the artist’s “heartbreaking” sculptures that have roots in face jugs, the blues, and the Funk art movement.

“Pathos is very much the point, but the effect is anything but delusional: one object, one figure at a time, Othello is making a world that’s almost too true to bear.”

And Finally

White lines.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM’s Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Courtesy of MARKET Seattle.

Object of the Week: Soundsuit

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, and to celebrate, we are featuring a work created by queer artist Nick Cave, now on view at SAM. SAM’s collection includes many queer artists: from Marsden Hartley, Mickalene Thomas, and Francis Bacon to Paul Cadmus, Nan Goldin, and Catherine Opie. It is important to SAM that we acknowledge and discuss all artists’ identities as part of the conversations we have about their work. While not all of the queer artists in our collection were out during their careers, and not all created works biographically address queerness, sexuality or gender identity, the visibility of queer artists is an important counter to decades of erasure and exclusion, especially for BIPOC LGBTQIA+ artists. Being seen and being yourself is what coming out day is all about, and Nick Cave’s work represents this beautifully.

Cave began making his Soundsuits after seeing the video of Rodney King, a Black man, brutally beaten by police in 1991. He started by collecting sticks in a local park and stitched them together to create a suit that, when worn, allowed him to completely disappear. Once inside, the suit hid his Blackness, his gender, and other facets of his identity to give way to other modes of being that protected him from the outside world and, in many ways, gave him the freedom to move about and perform.

The Soundsuit by Cave in SAM’s collection represents many elements inherent to the process of realizing one’s sexuality, gender identity, and coming out: artifice, performance, and reinvention.

Let’s tackle these elements one at a time.

Artifice: Cave’s Soundsuits are works of art, but they also draw comparisons to costumes. The wearer/performer disappears in them, and, when worn, they create a completely different appearance from that of the person inside. Queer people have always created identities and personas—for adapting to the restrictions of straight spaces, expressing creativity, or for survival in an otherwise intolerant world. Aiding in the wearer’s transformation and disappearance from view, Cave’s Soundsuits are the ultimate type of protective artifice.

Performance: We queer people just cannot stop performing. Be it on Broadway, Drag Race, in Folk music, ballet or video games, there are queer people everywhere in the arts. We love to disappear into worlds of fantasy, to be the centers of attention, to express our ideas about the world, and to do it loudly and without reservation. The Soundsuits are performance objects that demand attention—they are colorful, loud (literally and figuratively), visually arresting, and they tower over and expand well beyond the average size of a person. When worn, they take up space with their presence and are unabashedly on display.

Reinvention: Cave takes ordinary objects—his studio space is basically a flea market of toys, shells, fake fur, and whatever else he finds out in the world—and turns them into Soundsuits that are part sculpture, part percussion instrument, and part costume. This idea of reinvention is a key component of the coming out experience that many queer people experience. The newness of coming into one’s own identity provides an opportunity to take the essence of oneself and re-introduce it to the world in a brand new, inherently strong, and freer form—much like the Soundsuits, whose raffia strands, knitted sleeves, and beads are reborn as a moving and living work of art.

It is for these reasons that I thought Cave’s work was a sound choice (see what I did there?) for SAM’s Object of the Week. But I also chose it because it is an artwork—like each of the dozens of Soundsuits that Cave has made—that evokes joy, much like that of LGBTQIA+ culture. Cave’s suits are alive with celebration, especially when they’re worn by dancers and you experience the full effect of their materials, colors, movement, and the ways they evoke wonder. I hope for anyone coming out, that ultimately it is a process that not only transforms your life but also brings you joy. 

Jason Porter, Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement

Image: Soundsuit, 2006, Nick Cave, Human hair, fabricated fencing mask, sweaters, beads, metal wire, Height: approximately 6 ft., on mannequin, Gift of Vascovitz Family, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.70 © Nick Cave.

“Libraries and Museums Liberated Me”: An Interview with SAM Board Chair Dr. Constance Rice

During their September 21 meeting, SAM’s Board of Trustees elected Dr. Constance W. Rice as their new Chair. A celebrated leader and activist in Seattle, Dr. Rice has been a member of the museum’s board since 1995 and previously served on the board’s Executive, Governance, and Education & Community Engagement Committees, serving as co-chair of the latter since 2010.

To celebrate her new role at SAM, we spoke with Dr. Rice about her proudest accomplishments on the board, how the pandemic affected its functions, her favorite memories at the museum, and what it means to be the first Black chair in SAM’s history.

SAM: Can you talk a bit about the role of SAM’s Board of Trustees at the museum and its purpose?

Dr. Constance Rice: The board of trustees is the governing body of SAM. I think one of our biggest responsibilities is being ambassadors for the museum. We work to make sure the public knows that Seattle Art Museum is a community resource and that we uphold the museum’s mission to “connect art to life.” To make that happen, we try to bring in people from a variety of different backgrounds and career fields to serve on the board so that we are get input from as many different communities—corporate and non-corporate—as possible. Our official duty is to manage the Executive director and CEO of the museum. There is also a fiduciary element: making sure the museum has an operating budget and is accurately tracking expenditures. We are the activists of the institution, and it takes money, time, commitment, and a love of the overall mission of the museum to make sure it functions properly.

SAM: Compared to work you’ve done on SAM’s board in the past, what are some important parts of your news role as SAM’s Board Chair?

CR: This role is a bit more outward facing than my previous roles on the board. As the board’s primary spokesperson, I’m responsible for talking with various community members and institutions to support the museum. Like many other art institutions right now, Seattle Art Museum is looking for better funding stability. To get that stability, I work with opinion leaders at the state legislature—both elected and non-elected officials—to develop a broad constituency of support not just for SAM, but for all art institutions in our area: Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Seattle Theatre Group, and Northwest African American Museum, among others. The other main responsibility of my role is relationship building. The chair is responsible for ensuring the cohesiveness of the board and making sure every member knows their role. I am there to support every member and to make clear that we all are there to support one another and the institution.

SAM: You’ve served on the board since 1995, in many roles, most recently as vice chair. What are some accomplishments you are most proud of?

CR: My level of activism has varied throughout my many years on the board. But I think my most proud accomplishments are working with Sandra Jackson-Dumont, former SAM Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs, and co-chairing what is now the Education and Community Engagement Committee (ECEC). Sandra has been an inspiration for me throughout my life and I feel honored that I was able to work so closely with her before she moved on from SAM. As co-chair of the ECEC, I was able to focus on community building and had the opportunity to work with several more wonderful people. My first co-chair, Herman McKinney, was very much an activist. He helped found The Breakfast Club, chaired the Martin Luther King Memorial Committee, and served as the first director of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s Urban Enterprise Center. Eventually, José Gaitán took over Herman’s role and José was very interested in ensuring the museum understood Seattle’s Latinx population and was actively reaching out to them. After José, I co-led the committee with Sandra Madrid. Sandra really got the museum interested in developing partnerships with non-profits like Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Atlantic Street Center. Co-chairing this committee has been a great joy for me in terms of watching it expand and engage with local communities over time.

SAM: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the way you approach leadership roles?

CR: Professionally, I’m extroverted, but personally, I’m introverted so the professional side of me has really had to adjust since we began holding our meetings virtually due to the pandemic. My leadership style is very focused on establishing relationships, and it’s been harder to do that remotely the last two years. In interviewing for this position, I had the opportunity to meet with board members mask-to-mask since the museum is open to the public and it made me realize just how much I value person-to-person interactions. Going forward, I intend to meet every single one of the board members in person at some point throughout the next year. That’s the only definite plan I have right now.

SAM: What are some of the top priorities you’re looking to address within the museum?

CR: The COVID-19 pandemic made me a lot more introspective and gave me an opportunity to read a lot more. As a kid, I was pretty much a loner. No, I was totally a loner. I’m from Brooklyn, New York, and in junior high school I would go into Manhattan on the weekdays to the 53rd Street Library to do my homework. After I finished, I would go across the street to The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) because it was free to all students at the time. The library and MOMA opened a whole new world for me—it was liberating. Libraries and museums liberated me.

Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as a kid—I couldn’t imagine it. Being in the position that I am in right now, I want to focus on creating more opportunities for children and their communities to access the arts. Because without art, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Whether it’s through singing, painting, dancing, dreaming, or reading SAM offers a space for every kid to be creative and that’s what I want to emphasize as I take on this new role.

SAM: You are the first Black person appointed as SAM’s Board Chair. What does that mean to you? And why is it important for a museum board to be diverse?

CR: One of the things I asked myself when I was first approached about becoming chair was, what’s wrong with this picture? Well, I’m not male, and I’m not rich. One of the challenges of the board is the diversity within it—age, gender, ethnicity, etcetera. And while we are the ambassadors of connecting art to life, we still have work to do in terms of bringing more life into the art world. And that means really considering what work we’re putting on our walls and who we are hiring to shape and guide the museum.

SAM: The summer of 2020 was a difficult time for many people across the nation. It was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world was grappling with the murder of George Floyd. Many institutions, including museums, were called upon to reevaluate how they interact with the communities around them. How did you see this materialize within SAM?

CR: I live nearby the museum, so I was very pleased when I first saw Kimisha Turner painting the plywood on the windows that summer. As I watched her progress, I noticed that she brought her son with her and sat him down on a chair outside every day while she worked. One day I stopped by to ask about him being there, and she said, “I create better when he’s with me.”

I marched a lot that summer and the museum was on the route for many demonstrations. I am very aware that the marches, and what was going on nationally with George Floyd, bolted me to this new position on the board. I am deserving of this position, but I am also aware that my colleagues looked around and said, “we’re not going to do business as usual.” That’s what I believe I represent. It’s also why I really admire and respect my peers on the board. They looked around at what was going on in the world and decided it was time for change.

SAM: Can you share any favorite memories of being at SAM?

CR: I have so, so many wonderful memories of being at SAM. I knew Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Knight well. Jacob was from Harlem and the only living creature that could make me smile when he called me Connie because I hate being called Connie. But I was fortunate enough to attend one of their gallery talks in the old auditorium in the basement of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. It was there that I got to know Pam McClusky, SAM Curator of African and Oceanic Art, and I immediately became a fan.

Being at SAM, I have also been able to meet so many wonderful artists, like Brenna Youngblood and Theaster Gates, two former winners of the Gwendolyn Knight & Jacob Lawrence Prize. I met Theaster when he lived in Seattle and was doing The Listening Room at SAM. He had a satellite office set up in Pioneer Square and asked members of the community to bring in their albums to add to the exhibition. When I was looking through the donated albums one day, I saw a Nina Simone album with a cover that I loved. I asked Theaster what he was planning to do with albums when the exhibition was over, and he said, “I’m going to give it to you.” I nagged him and nagged him throughout the exhibition, but I never got the album. But, you know, one of the things I hope for as chair is that I have more of these special moments and memories with artists at the museum.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Courtesy of University of Washington.

Object of the Week: Form 19-3

“The act of kneading clay and creating shapes connects me to the thoughts and memories deep in my heart.”1

– Fujino Sachiko

Form 19-3, a new acquisition, is now on view in Folding Into Shape: Japanese Design and Crafts. It is a recent work by the Japanese artist Fujino Sachiko (born 1950), who began her art practice in textiles and fashion design, and later studied ceramics under the pioneering artist Tsuboi Asuka (born 1932). Inspired by the abstract ceramic works of avant-garde artists such as Yagi Kazuo (1918–1979), Suzuki Osamu (1926–2001), and Yamada Hikaru (1924–2001), Fujino ventured into ceramics, finding that the medium allowed her to express her artistic ideas most freely.2  

Drawing on her background in fashion design, Fujino manipulates clay as if folding and shaping fabric. This sculpture’s intricate form is built up from geometric shapes, and balanced with irregular folds in gradations of grey. The folds create beautiful silhouettes like those of a dress, such as the one by Issey Miyake also on view in Folding Into Shape. The elegant texture of the surface was created by the application of matte slip through an airbrush.

Image: Xiaojin Wu.

Fujino creates her clay sculptures through the laborious process of coil-building and hand-sculpting without the use of maquettes. With an aim to create works that have a dynamic appearance from different angles, she shapes the clay intuitively and does not know the final form of the work until it is complete. Many of her recent ceramic artworks began with geometric forms but turned into more organic forms in the process. While the biomorphic sculpture takes on a floral form, it also invites the viewer to think beyond petals and blossoms. The artist has remarked: “My interest in the mystery of plants has been deeply rooted since my childhood, even though my work is not a direct image of flowers.” Indeed, seen from above, the sculpture evokes a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe.

– Xiaojin Wu, Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation Curator of Japanese and Korean Art


1 Online exhibition catalogue, Forming a Voice, www.mirviss.com/exhibitions/forming-a-voice, p. 3.

2 Interview with the artist produced by Joan B Mirviss LTD in April 2021: https://vimeo.com/551679336.

Image: Form 19-3, 2019, Fujino Sachiko, Stoneware with matte glaze in white and gradations of grey, 19 1/2 x 18 1/8 x 17 3/4 in., Purchased with funds from Gordon Brodfuehrer in honor of the Monsen Family, 2021.19 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

Lessons from the Institute of Empathy

Empathy—the ability to understand the experience and feelings of others—is a skill that many in the modern world struggle to accurately express. This increasingly common deficiency is known as Empathy Deficit Disorder (EDD).

Enter Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. This immersive exhibition occupying the fourth floor of Seattle Art Museum functions to help visitors awaken their own empathy. Anchored by contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk’s ChimaTek: Virtual Chimeric Space, the exhibition invites you to step outside your normal, routine self and practice your ability to understand others by observing empathic works from our African art collection.

To better understand how Lessons from the Institute of Empathy encourages viewers to practice empathy, hear from Aurelia Wallace, a representative from the Institute. In her 10-minute talk, Wallace walks viewers through the lessons of each work on view. From Jacolby Satterwhite’s colorful animations honoring his late mother and Nick Cave’s avant-garde garments created in response to the murder of Rodney King to gold rings inspired by proverbs from the Ashanti Kingdom and the activism in skirts worn by Ndebele women in South Africa, this video offers the first step in elevating your own empathic capabilities.

Practice exercising empathy by visiting Lessons from the Institute of Empathy at Seattle Art Museum and see the artworks discussed in this video.

Photo: Nathaniel Willson

Monet’s Letters: Fishing Boats (Bateaux De Pêche)

During his time in Étretat, as well as many other periods in his life, Claude Monet’s greatest enemy was himself. Despite the physical challenges presented by the cold winter weather in the seaside village on the Normandy Coast, the plein-air painter’s most difficult challenge to overcome was his persistent fear of a lackluster career and overall artistic failure.

In a letter written to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, while on his first sojourn in Étretat in 1883, Monet describes a series of sleepless nights when thoughts of hopelessness seemed to never end. But the discovery of a new painting location in the annex of his hotel which captures the picturesque cliffs and fishing boats lining the shore brings Monet renewed creative inspiration.

This audio recording is paired with Monet’s painting, Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), on the free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat at the Seattle Art Museum through October 17. Tune in when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), 1883

“… I am so worried that I can’t sleep anymore; tonight too, consumed with thinking about this damned exhibition, I listened to the lashing rain and felt hopeless. However, I didn’t waste my day. I was able to install myself in an annex of the hotel from which you have a superb view of the cliff and the boats. So I worked all morning from this window, regretting I hadn’t done it sooner because I would have been able to quietly create some superb things. Anyway, there are always calamities.” February 10, 1883.

– Claude Monet

Image: Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), 1883, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 × 36 1/2 in., Denver Art Museum: Frederic C. Hamilton Collection, 2020.568, image courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.

Monet’s Letters: Boats on the Beach at Étretat

Claude Monet traveled to the small fishing village of Étretat twice to paint the setting’s spectacular natural landscape. Both voyages—one in 1883 and another in 1885—took place in the winter season. Despite consistently cold weather and an unpredictable sea, Monet found these months of uninterrupted solitude and pure engagement with nature to be the most fruitful in his artistic endeavors.

Listen to excerpts of three letters Claude Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, while in Étretat in 1885. Written across five days, these letters express a combination of artistic inspiration and frustration. An unexpected period of good weather and the sight of local fisherman lining the shore each morning left Monet feeling both grateful for the beauty that surrounded him and raging at his inability to capture it all on his easels. With his time in Étretat soon coming to a close, Monet wondered whether he would ever be satisfied with his work.

This audio recording is part of a free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat and accompanies the painting Boats on the Beach at Étretat, on view at the Seattle Art Museum through October 17. Take the tour when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

Boats on the Beach at Étretat, 1885

“. . . Etretat is becoming more and more amazing; it’s at its best now, the beach with all these fine boats, it’s superb and I rage at my inability to express it all better. You’d need to use both hands and cover hundreds of canvases.” October 20, 1885.

“For three days it’s been superb weather and I’m taking advantage of it, I can tell you; the boats are getting ready for the herring, the beach is transformed—very animated, so interesting.” October 21, 1885.

“I’ve begun quite a few things here, repetitions, in the hope of being able to work every day, but it doesn’t go quickly. It is true that with several good sessions the canvases can quickly take shape; I have returned to some canvases and I don’t really know how I will get it all.” October 24, 1885.

– Claude Monet

Image: Boats on the Beach at Étretat, 1885, oil on canvas, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, 26 × 32 7/16 in., Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1947.95, photo: The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY

Monet’s Letters: The Cliffs at Étretat

While looking for inspiration in Étretat, Claude Monet faced numerous mental and physical challenges. From the gloomy weather of the winter season to constant bouts of self-doubt, Monet struggled to keep his artistic spirit alive. Amidst all these hurdles, however, the plein-air painter also found days where everything seemed to go right.

In a November 1885 letter Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, the artist describes a productive workday. With the sun shining above and the tide exactly right, the artist was able to make progress on several paintings. Yet Monet knew these ideal working conditions would not last long. The start of a new moon signified another impending change in the environment of the small fishing village on the Normandy Coast.

Accompanying the painting The Cliffs at Étretat, this recording is available on the free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretatnow on view at the Seattle Art Museum. Listen to this and four other letters Monet wrote to Hoschedé while in Étretat, when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

The Cliffs at Étretat, 1885

“Finally a good day, a superb sun . . . I was able to work without stopping, because the tide is in this moment exactly what I need for several motifs. This helped me catch up—and if I had had the chance that this weather would continue for several days, I would get a lot of work done. It’s new moon today and the barometer is going up a lot, even quickly.” November 6, 1885.

– Claude Monet

Image: The Cliffs at Étretat, 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 × 32 in., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1995.528, image courtesy Clark Institute.

Monet’s Letters: Waves at the Manneport

Two years after he first made the journey to the small fishing village of Étretat on the Normandy Coast, Claude Monet returned in the winter of 1885 to find renewed artistic inspiration. After one rainy morning, the plein-air painter set out to capture the landscape’s defining natural arch, the Manneport, from the beaches below but found himself victim to the sea’s raging tides. Too entranced by his own work to notice the turbulent waves ahead, Monet was thrown against a cliff and dragged into the sea along with his art materials, destroying the painting he was working on.

Listen to an audio recording of a November 1885 letter Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, recounting the accident. In his own words, the artist describes his struggle to emerge from the freezing waters, his fragile state after getting soaked, and the anger he felt toward the “old hag” he calls the sea. Despite the loss of his painting, Monet returned to the beach the next day with a new easel to once again paint Étretat’s breathtaking cliffs.

This audio recording is part of a free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretatnow on view at the Seattle Art Museum. Tune in to this and other letters Monet wrote while in Étretat, when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

Waves at the Manneport, 1885

“After another rainy morning I was glad to find the weather slightly improved: despite a high wind blowing and a rough sea, or rather because of it, I hoped for a fruitful session at the Manneport; however, an accident befell me. Don’t alarm yourself now, I am safe and sound since I’m writing to you, although you nearly had no news and I would never have seen you again. I was hard at work beneath the cliff, well sheltered from the wind, in the spot which you visited with me; convinced that the tide was drawing out I took no notice of the waves which came and fell a few feet away from me. In short, absorbed as I was, I didn’t see a huge wave coming; it threw me against the cliff and I was tossed about in its wake along with all my materials!

My immediate thought was that I was done for, as the water dragged me down, but in the end I managed to clamber out on all fours, but Lord, what a state I was in! My boots, my thick stockings and my coat were soaked through; the palette which I had kept a grip on had been knocked over my face and my beard was covered in blue, yellow etc. But anyway, now the excitement is passed and no harm’s done, the worst of it was that I lost my painting which was very soon broken up, along with my easel, bag etc. Impossible to fish anything out. Besides, everything was torn to shreds by the sea, that ‘old hag’ as your sister calls her.

Anyway, I was lucky to escape, but how I raged when I found once I’d changed that I couldn’t work, and when it dawned on me that the painting which I had been counting on was done for, I was furious. Immediately I set about telegraphing Troisgros to send me what’s missing and an easel will be ready for tomorrow . . . I send you all my love and hug all the children for me, remember me to Marthe. To think I might never have seen you again.” November 27, 1885.

– Claude Monet

Image: Waves at the Manneporte, ca. 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, oil on canvas, 29 × 36 ½ in., North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Gift of Ann and Jim Goodnight, 2016.8.5, image courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art

Conservation & Color: Monet’s Fishing Boats at Étretat

Take a close look at Monet’s 1885 painting Fishing Boats at Étretat with Nicholas Dorman, SAM’s Jane Lang Davis Chief Conservator. Dorman shares about the canvas, the colors, and the layers of revisions that makes SAM’s single Monet painting sing. As the inspiration for the current Monet at Étretat exhibition at Seattle Art Museum, Fishing Boats at Étretat was closely examined and conserved, revealing much about the context of Monet’s artistic development at this pivotal moment in his career. Learn all about advances in paint and the cumbersome process of plein air painting in 19th-century France in this video.

One of the Monet at Étretat galleries is dedicated to Monet’s process and features an easel similar to one Monet would have used, as well as the backs of two paintings. This demonstrates the physically demanding process Monet embarked on in painting outside, and the materials available to work with at the time. The exhibition features 10 paintings created by Monet and 12 works by other artists of his era, as well as other materials addressing the artist’s engagement with the fishing village of Étretat on the Normandy Coast of France in the mid-1880s. Get your tickets today to see Monet at Étretat on view at Seattle Art Museum through October 17.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM’s Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Muse/News: Jacob’s Story, New Models, and a Will to Equity

SAM News

The Seattle Art Museum is open, with limited capacity and timed tickets released online every Thursday. Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger reviews Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, now on view at SAM.

“America’s persistence as a country and a project was not foretold. Rather, it was violently taken and sketched out, marked by slavery, genocide, war, and immense struggle experienced by those seeking their own freedom and those looking to impose their will on others. It’s a point hammered out in the rest of the series.”

KING’s Evening Magazine toured the exhibition, interviewing SAM curator Theresa Papanikolas. Thrillist recommends the show, and Artdaily also shares the news

The University of Washington’s Daily on the “revolution and inclusion” on view in the exhibition; they also shared details of a Lawrence seminar this spring. And they reported on the museum’s recent gift of Lang Collection artworks.

And with this nice weather, don’t forget to visit the Olympic Sculpture Park; The Expedition includes it on this list of “best sculpture gardens for families.”

Local News

First Hill’s Museum of Museums will finally open, reports Capitol Hill Seattle Blog. 

And the Wing Luke Museum reopened recently; Sean Harding for South Seattle Emerald checked in on how things are going. 

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel dives deep with a survey of local arts and culture organizations and how they’re faring, one year into the pandemic; she finds dramatic losses and tentative hope for new models. 

“The arts and culture industry has relied on old models and underpaid, overworked people for decades. Those models weren’t cutting it even pre-pandemic, says LANGSTON’s [Tim] Lennon. ‘The old ways were not that great for a lot of small organizations, artists and culture workers, especially those from BIPOC communities,’ he wrote.”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic’s Sarah Rose Sharp shares the news that United States Artists (USA) president and CEO Deana Haggag will be stepping down for a position at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

PBS NewHour interviews Peabody Essex Museum curator Lydia Gordon about the two recovered panels of the Struggle series, both of which are now on view at SAM.

Tessa Soloman of ARTnews on how executive roles in equity and belonging are on the rise at museums; she interviews Rosa Rodriguez-Williams at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Craig Bigelow at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and others. The article references SAM’s appointment of Priya Frank to Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in August 2020. 

“Not all of this work requires funding—it’s about changes in procedure and process,” [Bigelow] said. “Too often there’s a default to slowing the work or stopping the work because there’s a perceived lack of funding. But this isn’t entirely about funding—it’s about will.”

And Finally

Oscar nominations have been announced; get going on your watch list!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at Seattle Art Museum, 2021, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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