ArtSEA: Pioneer Square picks from Shrinky Dinks to glass squids

Plus, cultural things to do during these dark and stormy Seattle days.

In her new show at SOIL Gallery, Seattle artist Ellen Ziegler repurposes a childhood toy as a pandemic metaphor. Seen here: two new takes on Shrinky Dinks. (Ellen Ziegler)

It’s time for First Thursday Art Walk again (Nov. 4), the return of which is starting to feel more normal than novel. After the long pandemic pause, local arts are returning in full force this season. And as we get further away from those frightening days of 2020, we start to lose touch with how it felt to live through them. That’s where the artists come in.

This week an email about a new show in Pioneer Square caught my attention with the line, “Did you ever make Shrinky Dinks when you were little?” Yes, I did. 

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Crosscut’s weekly arts & culture newsletter.

If you were a kid in the 1970s or early ’80s, you probably did, too. This odd innovation in “toys” involved little plastic sheets outlined with cartoon characters. You colored them in, then baked them in the oven (with mom’s supervision) and watched them shrink to about a third of their original size into colorful plastic cookies.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why this was thrilling (look, it’s smaller!). But with her new show Recent Future (at SOIL Gallery, Nov. 4-27) longtime Seattle artist Ellen Ziegler is making Shrinky Dinks relevant again as a timely metaphor. “Whether we lived in a house, a hospital room, or a tent, our lives have shrunk in the last two years,” Ziegler writes in her artist statement. “These miniatures (1.75 x 2.25 inches) are cameos, portraits of our time and experience.”

Ziegler wisely ditched the cartoons and started by making 4 x 5-inch abstract paintings on Shrinky Dink plastic, which morph into tiny, textured tokens. En masse (she has nearly 200), the collection looks like a tidy framing of pandemic tumult — swirls, shifts and sudden splats of emotion and uncertainty — that we must lean in toward, squinting a bit, to see clearly.

Northwest glass artist Raven Skyriver pays homage to endangered undersea life. (Sezayi Erken/Stonington Gallery)

Also on view in Pioneer Square is an exhibit that offers a glimpse of our region’s bounty of Indigenous art — including the many Native artworks popping up in public spaces.

Just in time for Native American Heritage Month, Luminosity: Northwest Native Glass Art (through Nov. 27) showcases new work by three local superstars of the form: Preston Singletary (Tlingit), whose recently unveiled Pacific giant octopus sculpture is one of several new artworks at Climate Pledge Arena; Dan Friday (Lummi), whose striking solo show Future Artifacts has been extended at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner through Jan. 2, 2022; and Raven Skyriver (Tlingit), who grew up on Lopez Island and whose work focuses on the undersea creatures threatened by pollution and overfishing.

Traditional Northwest coast formline designs translate beautifully into contemporary glass, as seen in Singletary’s glowing totems, animal figures and Tlingit baskets. Friday creates glass baskets, too, but with an entirely different pattern. Instead of precise geometry, his lines bend like the woven grasses they are meant to emulate. Similarly, his minimalist bears come alive with wavy threads of color.

Skyriver’s glass menagerie includes fantastically fluid whales and salmon (some of which he created with Singletary), several squids, a realistic seal head and a spectacular chambered nautilus (a collaboration with fellow Northwest glass artist Kelly O’Dell).

And speaking of luminous Native art: Novelist Louise Erdrich joins Seattle Arts & Lectures for a virtual reading next week (Nov. 10, 6 p.m.). I’m currently reading her 2021 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Night Watchman, inspired by her grandfather — a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa who in the 1950s fought against House Concurrent Resolution 108, which sought to terminate tribal affiliations and sovereignty.

I agree with the Pulitzer judges — the book is terrific. And the author already has another title coming out this month: The Sentence, which on the surface is about a ghost haunting a bookstore (Erdrich owns one in Minneapolis). But it’s also about how historic violence and exploitation have a way of reaching out from the past and grabbing hold of the present.

Abriel Johnny and Larry Lancaster — two of the many performers in the virtual Reflections Dance Festival. (Reflections Dance Festival)

There’s a lot more worth getting out and experiencing during this wet weekend, including two events commemorating local Black history:

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s only visit to Seattle, when he spoke at Garfield High School and the University of Washington (and tried out an early draft of his “I have a dream” speech). The Northwest African American Museum is marking the occasion with “MLK60” (Nov. 6-8), three days of festivities that include in-person appearances by Martin Luther King III and music by NAAM’s new gospel choir, the African American Cultural Ensemble.

Past, Present, Future — A Tribute (at Columbia City Gallery through Nov. 7) is a contemporary quilt show by the Association of Pacific Northwest African American Quilters, a skilled group of fabric storytellers who in this show honor past members by completing quilts that founding members were unable to finish. Also on view: quilts that commemorate the Underground Railroad and respond to the Black Lives Matter movement. (Hear quilters LueRachelle Brim-Atkins, Vera Patterson and Wadiyah Nelson talk about their creative work and share a video walkthrough here.)

But if the dreary weather has you wanting to get your culture fix from the comfort of home, consider the Reflections Dance Festival (streaming online starting Nov. 4, 6-8 p.m., and available afterward). Recorded live over a couple of sunny days in September (remember those?), this series of performances takes place on the newly revamped Pier 62. Developed in the spirit of cross-cultural exchange and connection between communities hardest hit by COVID-19, the showcase was brought together by Davida Ingram at the Seattle Public Library and Jordan Remington at Friends of Waterfront Seattle.

Included in the vibrant mix of regionally based performers are Abriel Johnny (Cowichan and Tlingit), with a mesmerizing jingle-dress dance and live drummers; Larry Lancaster, an impressive 18-year-old dancer from the Pacific Northwest Ballet School, accompanied by Lummi violinist Swil Kanim; a Congolese dance by Makeda Ebube, Lungusu Malonga, Maxie Jamal, DeContee Wea and Masiah, with drummer Yaw Amponsah; the Pasifika Wayfinders dance group, which, in addition to sharing graceful movement, has gone door to door to get their community vaccinated; and Tloke Nahuake, a family performing traditional Aztec dance and prayer in stunning regalia.

“Our culture is our medicine,” Abriel Johnny says in a press release for the show. “When we practice our medicine, it restores balance to all physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.”

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