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SAM I Am

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Ladies and Gentlemen, please allow me to introduce SAM. SAM is a rather handsome octogenarian that has three homes in the Seattle area: a lovely 1933 Art Moderne building in Volunteer Park, a somewhat industrial looking complex on the western edge of Downtown, and an airy waterfront space in Olympic Sculpture Park. He counts Robert Venturi and Carl F. Gould as his favorite architects, and while his particular interests include Asian, African, and Native American art, he always loves when his interesting American and European friends pay him a visit. His favorite restaurant, TASTE, features a revolving seasonal menu with a focus on sustainability and fresh-from-the-market ingredients. Also, SAM is the proud owner of an impressive research library. If you’re in the area, you should pay SAM a visit – he loves new and old visitors alike – all he asks is a suggested donation.

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By now, I am sure that you know that SAM is actually the Seattle Art Museum. In 1931, Dr. Richard E. Fuller, a member of the Seattle Fine Arts Society brokered a partnership with the city of Seattle: if the city promised to maintain the facility, Fuller would donate the funds and a substantial portion of his Japanese and Chinese art collection in order to create the Seattle Art Museum. Two years later, the museum, designed by architect Carl F. Gould (that Art Moderne building we mentioned above), opened to the public. Fuller would go on to serve as director of SAM until 1973, never once collecting a salary.

In 1986, the museum put forth $35 million, which joined a $29.6 million levy agreed to by the city’s taxpayers, toward the construction of a new 150,000 square foot facility. The new building, designed by the firm Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, was completed in 1991. Described as “seriously whimsical,” Venturi claimed, “We want [the museum] to be pretty…and appeal to children.” Now, whether it is pretty or appealing to children is a matter of opinion, but one thing that catches every Downtown visitor’s eye is the iconic “Hammering Man” sculpture in front of the museum. With its opening, SAM played a significant part in revitalizing Seattle’s downtown.

As the Downtown location opened, the old location in Volunteer Park closed for renovations. It re-opened in 1994 as the Seattle Asian Art Museum. As the name would suggest, SAAM is home to the museum’s extensive Asian art collection, including Japanese screen prints, Chinese marble sculptures, and beautiful ceramics. SAAM also houses the McCaw Foundation Asian Art Library and the Ann P. Wyckoff Teacher Resource Center.

The Olympic Sculpture Park, SAM’s third location, opened in 2007. The nine-acre park, which is enough to qualify as Seattle’s largest green space, occupies the northernmost portion of the city’s seawall and boasts magnificent views of the waterfront. Significant sculptures like Alexander Calder’s Eagle and Richard Serra’s Wake reside here.

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Here are some noteworthy numbers and events in SAM’s history…

  • 300,000 people visited in the museum’s first 6 months in 1933.
  • 1940: SAM’s first “blockbuster,” Japanese works from the collection of Manson F. Backus, draws 73,000 visitors.
  • During World War II, 650 of the museum’s most precious works were transported to Denver for safekeeping.
  • 1944: First large-scale traveling exhibition, “India: It’s Acheivements of the Past and of the Present.”
  • 1959: An exhibit of paintings and drawings by Vincent Van Gogh sees 126, 110 visitors.
  • 1978: “The Treasures of Tutankhamen” charts 1.3 million visitors.
  • 1997: “Leonardo Lives” brings in 236,000 visitors.
  • SAM opened with 1926 items in its collection. As of 2008, the collection was totaled at 25,000 items.

Some exhibits you should definitely not miss…

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