Indigo and Gold

This past weekend I was fortunate to visit my friends and family in Seattle. While in town, I was determined to visit one of my favorite museums: The Seattle Asian Art Museum. 

 SAM Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park

SAM Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park

I love this museum on so many levels. First, it's set in Volunteer Park, which is absolutely gorgeous in the spring. Second, the art-deco building is so picturesque and wonderfully maintained. And third, they consistently wow me with their exhibitions. The curatorial team here takes a thoughtful approach to the culture and art it represents.


/ˈindəˌɡō/ noun - a tropical plant of the pea family, which was formerly widely cultivated as a source of dark blue dye.

Mood Indigo was a fantastic voyage through time and space, following the history of this popular dye. While on display in the Asian Art Museum, the objects on display are representative of cultures all around the world. I particularly enjoyed the play between historical objects and modern art installation. It helped to bridge the gap between indigo as an empire builder and the use of dye in the modern world. 

There were three tapestries in particular that sparked a conversation between me and my companions. Created by Jacob van der Borcht in the 17th century, these Flemish tapestries portray Asia, Africa, and America personified by women wearing blue. The final tapestry, Europe, was removed from the collection before it was donated to the museum. My companions and I were struck by the detail and technique used to create these massive pieces, but more importantly we noticed the Anglicization of the central figures.

Of note, each woman is given more western facial features. They also exist in various levels of undress, Africa being the most exposed. Our discussion explored the possibility of these stylistic choices being influenced by classical Grecian and Roman imagery and also racial bigotry. We ultimately left wishing we'd been able to compare these to the "Europe" tapestry. I love that this exhibit was able to illicit a complex discussion of race, history, and class through the lens of fabric dye. 

As we were leaving the exhibition, we passed through an installation of indigo plants and dyed cloth panels by Rowland Ricketts. There were sensors around the room, set to play various audio clips based on the viewers position in the space. I found it very soothing. Here is a short video of my experience:

For more information about this exhibit, check out the SAM interview with the artist Rowland Ricketts.


/ɡōld/ noun - a yellow precious metal, the chemical element of atomic number 79, valued especially for use in jewelry and decoration, and to guarantee the value of currencies.

This exhibit, while small, was breathtaking. Gold is a luxurious material, so it doesn't take much to make the space positively shine. The pieces selected for this exhibit varied greatly: cloth, paper, sculpture, and wood. You get to see gold in all its many forms.

I especially loved the wood and lacquer kimono racks used to display these lovely pieces. It's just another detail that SAAM considers in their exhibit design. Not only are the racks beautiful in their own right, but they add some context for the clothing. 

If you're looking for a great afternoon in Seattle, I highly recommend a trip to Volunteer Park. Stop by the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Conservatory, and pack a picnic lunch because you'll never want to leave.