Art Collector: Chiyo Ishikawa

SAM's deputy director for art and curator of European painting and sculpture takes art personally
SAM’s deputy director for art and curator of European painting and sculpture takes art personally

Given her role as Seattle Art Museum’s Deputy Director for Art and curator of European painting and sculpture, Chiyo Ishikawa has trouble considering herself an art collector. In the course of seeking acquisitions for the museum, she regularly visits the homes of veteran art collectors. “Their collections are really curated—a conscious exercise,” she says. “Mine doesn’t reflect my professional perspective. It’s organic and sentimental.” But of course that’s exactly why wandering the art-filled rooms of her Fremont bungalow is such a rich experience.

“You don’t plan for these things, but you end up with a family.” She rarely buys art, but Ishikawa displays an engaging mix of works from her parents’ house (her father was a college museum director), gifts from artist friends and a few purchased pieces, all of which work together. A 1950s Old Testament tempera painting by Stanley Hess that she grew up with, elephant sculptures made for her second wedding by her friend Jeffry Mitchell, a Seattle artist, and a realistic oil painting of a rainy Seattle stoop by local artist Rachel Maxi (a purchase) all sit in comfortable conversation in the living room.

“Art is a good solace.” Several of Ishikawa’s pieces arrived in the wake of extremely difficult events. When her favorite uncle died, she used a small inheritance to buy “Regalis,” a cement sculpture of a baby by local artist Mark Calderon (who, years later, she married). A framed etching by Mitchell is backed by a personal letter the artist sent Ishikawa during her divorce from her first husband. Also from Mitchell is a sweet drawing of tearful creatures gathered around a hospital room, with the inscription “We are near you,” to mark the sudden death of her son last summer.

Love the ones you’re with. Ishikawa’s collection is all about personal connections: a parade of small animal figurines from her children’s youth; a portrait given to her by Belgian artist Pierre Alechinsky, a founding member of the Cobra art movement, on which she wrote her senior thesis; small pieces by her husband; and gifts from special events at SAM, including a sculpture by Nicola Vruwink, commissioned for the museum’s 70th anniversary: a white, double-layer cake with tiny hands reaching out of it.


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