Post-War Growth: 1950-59
Reports in the 1950s
The 1950s were a decade of reflection on and celebration of SAM’s accomplishments since its inception and following the end of World War II. Reports reflect a palpable sense of pride in the collection, the community, and its growth in the past decades, marked by numerous acquisitions and celebratory events as the museum hit several important milestones. Dr. Fuller proudly shared a comment from a prominent visiting art historian:
When the great scholar, Dr. Osvald Siren, visited Seattle last summer for the second time it was most gratifying to have him state: 'Your Seattle Art Museum is a remarkable institution. It has made the most notable advance since 1939, especially in Chinese and Japanese collections, of any museum in the United States...During the last decade your art museum has utilized opportunities which others have not. (1951)
Indeed, perhaps thanks to the strength of the collections, in 1953 SAM was "invited to participate in one of the great international exhibitions," the Official Japanese Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, along with four other prominent American institutions (1953). This was a noteworthy event for not only the size and cost of the exhibition, which "required almost our entire exhibition space during the month of July" and "the acceptance of a great financial responsibility," but also for the significance of the cultural collaboration between Japan and the United States less than a decade after the conclusion of World War II. There was a substantial effort to promote the exhibition through local television, newspaper, and radio, which resulted in "a remarkable success and attained a paid attendance of over 57,000 and a total attendance including children of over 73,000. This exceeded the attendance of any of the other museums charging admissions" (1953).
SAM celebrated its twenty-year anniversary in 1952. Around this time, it became apparent that physical space to accommodate the rapidly-expanding collection was a pressing issue. Dr. Fuller, always concerned with providing maximum utility to the public, notes:
Each year we become more aware of the fact that nearly all of our facilities require additional space. The growth and the enrichment of the collection during the past twenty years make it a great potential asset to the community. The word potential is used advisedly, for it cannot achieve its full purpose if the material has to be confined to storage sometimes for years at a time. At the most, some of the cream of the collection is exhibited only during the summer months when the schools are closed. (1953)
This was no doubt due in part to the 1952 receipt of the Samuel H. Kress Collection, for which the Board of Trustees approved the construction of two additional galleries (1953). However, the Kress galleries would not open until October 15, 1954, and the objects themselves would not be accessioned until 1961. Other concerns about space were alleviated temporarily with the 1956 opening of the Gould Gallery - complete with three moveable walls - to provide even further flexibility with available exhibition space.
During this period, the narrative in the reports shifts from Dr. Fuller's reflections on the museum's activities to an explicit use of statistics:
During the course of twenty-one years the activities of the Seattle Art Museum have become so multitudinous that it is now desirable to present the greater number of them statistically. This report will therefore stress only the more salient features of the year's activities. (1953)
Admittedly, not all activities were accurately represented in those statistics, and later in the decade, Dr. Fuller notes that “statistical review...might give the erroneous impression that the efforts of the staff had been partially suspended during this period” (1958). Perusing the reports show that, clearly, efforts of the staff were anything but suspended. The publications began to include photographs from SAM's many events, classes, and galas. Perhaps these images capture the year's activities that had eluded statistical review.
In 1958, SAM observed its Silver Anniversary with a banquet, a birthday party, and many celebrated accessions, made possible by the Anniversary Fund:
The extensive accessions for the past year attained an exceptionally high standard due to the happy coincidence of funds and rare opportunities at prices within our means. The Anniversary Fund was of course a very important factor and to a large extent has been expended. (1958)
The decade wasn’t entirely celebratory, however, as SAM mourned the loss of Mrs. Eugene Fuller, co-founder and Life Trustee of the museum and mother to Dr. Richard Fuller, in 1953. Nonetheless, there was much to proud of by the end of the 1950s, and much to look forward to in the upcoming years.