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Review Jaune Quick-to-see Smith

"Memory Map," 2000, Jaune Quick-to-see Smith. Photo courtesy Seattle Art Museum

Mother-daughter Review: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith exhibit

A 'tremendous' retrospective now on view at SAM

If you cringe at the idea of a family museum visit, or if you’ve never taken the plunge, this show is worth the effort. 

On a blustery Saturday, my family headed downtown for Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map at the Seattle Art Museum. In addition to Cora and myself, our crew included my 84-year-old mother-in-law, my husband, and my five-year-old son. Despite the expected hiccups of a big family outing, each of us had moments with the art—and with each other—that made it all worth it. 

The retrospective covers almost fifty years of Smith’s work in an astonishing array of forms and media. Originally organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the show traveled to Seattle at Smith’s request. She is part Salish and spent some of her early years in the Puget Sound region. 

Later, Cora asked me what I thought Smith’s studio looked like.

“It must be huge,” she said, and then, looking around at eight-foot-tall canvases, “I wonder how long she wanted to be an artist?”

Here’s what Smith said. 

“Always! Even before I knew the word ‘artist,’ so as far back as I can remember. At three or four, I was making things with my hands out of mud or sticks, rocks, ferns, or newspaper if I was lucky enough to find some. I didn’t have crayons or tempera paint until I went to Meridian Grade School near Kent, Washington. That sealed it: when I could draw or paint, I was happy.” 

Family Guide

The visit was enhanced by an excellent family guide, written in simple lay terms and filled with clever activities to complement Smith’s work. It provided stimulation and redirection opportunities for kids who may not have the attention span for a monumental retrospective. 

One activity asks children to draw a “Map of Me,” by drawing a self-portrait surrounded by little bubbles where they can write or draw elements of their lives that shape their identity. Some of my kids’ responses: Hawaii, my brother, Clyde and Olive (our dogs), the beach, bugs, books, Legos.

Each page of the guide offers families a way to discuss Smith’s art in ways even my youngest could understand. The first activity asks children to write a “Gratitude Poem” in the style of Salish celebration songs, listing important people and traditions. A few days later, my son came home from preschool clutching a piece of folded construction paper. On the inside: “Thank you Dad. For building the Lego set with me. Love Henry.” 

Coyote and Other Friends

Cora and Henry enjoyed identifying and discussing the rich family of wildlife in Smith’s Memory Map. These animal characters serve various roles. Some speak to you (The Speaker, 2015), some stare at you (Trade Canoe: False Gods, 2015), and some go right along with their business as though you aren’t even there, like the ants in Which Comes First? (The Insects or the Humans), 2004. 

“Do you think the ants are eating the person or helping them?” Cora asked. 

In Herding (1985), another piece that caught our eye, birds, horses, and other animals run against a frantic, colorful background. “The background looks very energetic with so many lines and colors. Even though the animals are stick figures, it makes them seem alive,” said Cora.

review Jaune Quick-to-see Smith

“Going Forward/Looking Back,” 1996, Jaune Quick-to-see Smith. Photo courtesy Seattle Art Museum.

Map for Art Education

As a parent educating her children about art, Memory Map was a rich source of didactic material. Smith nods to various art movements—abstract expressionism, pop art, and surrealism, to name a few—but makes them her own.

After we sent half the family home, Cora and I spent the last half-hour before the museum closed wandering the contemporary art exhibitions. I showed her some of the styles we saw in Smith’s work. When discussing abstract expressionism, she made the parallel herself, recalling Smith’s brushstrokes: “I remember you could see the lines from the brush in the paint.”

Necessary Straight Talk 

Some of Smith’s works are haunting. I stood in front of Sunlit (C.S. 1854), (1989) and thought about how to talk to kids about something as heavy as the genocide of Native Americans in the U.S. Times have changed somewhat since Smith persevered through a hostile art world. Cora is already learning a different history of the United States than I did. We read Smith’s short biography at the entrance to the show and discussed some of the concepts—reservations and violent land grabs, for example—and Cora decided to ask Smith some of her hopes for the future.  

“I hope that we, Native peoples, and our history on this continent will be included in public school curriculums and that Native peoples will be included in and can participate in our major institutions in this country rather than be on the margins,” she responded.  

review Jaune Quick-to-ee Smith

“Indian Map,” 1992, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Photo courtesy Seattle Art Museum

Plan Your Visit

Now is a great time to bring your whole family to SAM. Two massive retrospectives, Smith and Alexander Calder, have a unique appeal to children. With the family guide, properly timed snack and bathroom breaks, and a lot of resolve, both you and your children can have a joyful experience. Smith’s retrospective even includes a reading nook with a soft bench and a plethora of board books.

The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission for adults without a membership is $30. Children under 14 are free. Note that family membership is $129 and also covers admission to the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Update on parking: We were pleasantly surprised to find some downtown lots that cost just $10 on the weekend. Weekdays are considerably more expensive, but there are more bus options, and the light rail will drop you off at University Street Station on 2nd Ave, one block east of SAM’s entrances. 

Read more mother-daughter reviews:

Mother-Daughter Review: Wa Na Wari Shines

Visiting the Calder Exhibit at Seattle Art Museum with Kids

Mother-daughter review: Raúl de Nieves at the Henry

About the Author

Elizabeth Hunter