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Object of the Week: Hester Diamond Tribute

What lasts

This abstract composition is pieced together from fragments of ordinary things—corrugated cardboard, painted fabric, and wrinkled burlap. The surface is pierced, stained, and gouged, painfully reminiscent of scarred skin. It comes from a series called Sacchi (sacks), which use humble materials to create compositions that hover between painting and sculpture. Alberto Burri, who had been a doctor in the Italian army during World War II, started making art when he was a prisoner of war in Texas in 1943. As much as anything, the Sacchi seem to be about the temporary nature of materials, experiences, life—for many viewers in the 1950s, they seemed to express the suffering and darkness of the war years.

Burri created Sacco in 1955 when he was staying in New York. He had become friends with Harold and Hester Diamond, a young New York couple with an interest in art (Harold, a schoolteacher, would go on to become a prominent art dealer). Harold’s brother owned the Upper West Side building where Mark Rothko had his studio, and the Diamonds, who lived upstairs, arranged for Burri to use the studio. He included the sleeve of one of Harold Diamond’s discarded shirts in the lower right of this work, and presented the work to the Diamonds at the end of his stay.

Decades later in 1995, Hester Diamond gave Sacco to the Seattle Art Museum in memory of the artist, who had died that same year. Harold Diamond had passed away in 1982, and Hester, with her second husband Ralph Kaminsky, had become a friend of SAM and a supporter of the Seattle Opera, whose Ring cycle brought her to Seattle numerous times. Over the years she gave three more works to SAM, all very different from the Burri.  

One of them is this wonderfully strange family portrait of Leda, Jupiter in the form of a swan, and their three children, hatched from eggs—a work by the mid-16th century Flemish painter Vincent Sellaer. The combination of appealing and unsettling visual qualities is typical of Mannerism, a style which attracted Hester’s interest beginning in the early 1990s. Previously devoted to 20th-century art, she fell in love with the refined technique, inventiveness, and beauty of 15th- and 16th-century European painting and sculpture and shifted her collecting focus.

Hester Diamond was an enthusiastic and generous friend to international art institutions, artists, curators, scholars, and gallerists. The seriousness of her commitment to art was matched by her sense of humor and love of adventure as she explored new fields. A lifelong New Yorker, Hester had a close relationship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and made significant gifts to her hometown museum over the decades. SAM is fortunate that she also recognized how works from her collection could make a difference here in Seattle.

Hester’s collecting interests could encompass a post-war collage roughly fashioned out of the ephemeral everyday, as well as a painting superbly crafted to last forever. Both are now valued works in our collection which future generations will be able to enjoy thanks to her generosity. Sadly, they outlast Hester herself, who died on January 23, 2020 at the age of 91. She will be greatly missed.

Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture

Images: Sacco (Sack), 1955, Alberto Burri, burlap, cardboard, muslin, and paint, 35 1/2 x 28 1/4 in., Gift of Hester Diamond in memory of Alberto Burri, 95.134 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Leda and the Swan and Her Children, ca. 1540, Vincent Sellaer, oil on wood panel, 43 1/2 x 35 1/16 in., Gift of Hester Diamond in honor of Chiyo Ishikawa on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2004.31. Photograph ©️ Carla van de Puttelaer, 2019.

Volunteer Spotlight: Kimber Bang

SAM runs on the love and dedication of our talented volunteers. With varied interests and backgrounds, each volunteer brings their unique perspective to the art at SAM and to the community that grows out of it! Kimber Bang is a tennis enthusiast with an interest in Greek mythology, specifically depictions of Leda and the Swan. Our Manager of Volunteers asked Kimber some questions so you can get to know her and give her a smile the next time you have an appointment at the Bullitt Library!
SAM: What is your current role?
Kimber Bang: SAMbassador/library volunteer/SAMVA executive committee chair.
How long have you been volunteering at Seattle Art Museum?
Five years this fall.
Why is SAM important to you?
Art is for everyone! SAM does an amazing job with its variety of exhibitions. I started coming to SAM in the early 80’s when I moved here. Being able to contribute to its mission of connecting art to life and engaging the community is a privilege and a real pleasure. I also enjoy all the volunteers and employees I have met here!
What is one of your favorite artworks in SAM’s collection, and why?
I have two. Leda and the Swan by John Cobert. The simplicity and angles are a joy. I can’t help but also look at the small pencil flower drawing in the bottom right corner that I was told was done by his young daughter. If it is on display I try to get visitors to go to the 4th floor to see the same subject in Leda and The Swan and Her Children by Vincent Sellaer from 1540.
I also love The Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal, Venice by Luca Carlevariis. It could be Venice today if you changed the outfits! The best part is how the perspective/size of the palace and view changes as you walk side to side in front of the art work.
When not at SAM, what do you do for fun?
I am an avid tennis player—particularly mixed doubles with my husband. I play golf, ski, run, hike, and travel. We are headed to the Amalfi Coast this fall. I also do Ikebana.
What is something that most people might not immediately know about you?
I am a retired ER/research nurse. I moved to Seattle in 1981 so I could work at Harborview in the trauma center.
What is a simple hack, trick, or advice that you’ve used over time to help you better fulfill your role?
A smile is never wasted! As a SAMbassador you may encounter visitors that may not want to interact but they always enjoy and appreciate a smile as they get off the escalator or cross paths in the galleries.
I find that knowing an obscure or special fact about an artwork helps to start a conversation while someone is viewing or is just finishing viewing a piece. If I share something interesting it can lead to further conversation or even the visitor teaching me something. I have learned so much about other museums and artists by listening to guests. Everyone likes to be heard! I have gotten many tips about places and things to see when I travel which only helps with my positions here.
– Danie Allinice, Manager of Volunteer Programs