Art of Seattle: All the Art I Crammed into My 4-Day Trip

Recently I went on a trip to Seattle for a friend’s wedding. You might have seen my travel blog post on it. Whenever I’m in a new place, and I have the time and willing travel companions, I check out local art.

At best, I come away powerfully inspired, with a new favorite artist or two, and spend the rest of the day in a haze of excitement. At the other end of the spectrum, I feel nothing and have just spent a few hours wandering around a cool building (referring to both temperature and usually architecture). So with little to lose, it’s always worth a shot.

This trip was primarily a solo one, so with no art-adverse acquaintances in tow, I visited quite a few museums. To the point where I’m left wondering if I should have spent more time on other sights.

In four days I visited:

  • University of Washington Burke Museum
  • University of Washington Henry Art Gallery
  • Seattle Art Museum
  • Tacoma Museum of Glass

I guess that’s only a museum per day.


Day 1: Wedding Near the UW

The reason for my trip was a wedding on Saturday. Since it was near the University of Washington campus, I decided to hang around there the morning of the wedding day.

With the help of the one hour time difference, I was wide awake by 6:30 am and out the door of my Airbnb by 8. After killing quite a bit of time with coffee, a nice homeless man, and wandering the neighborhood, the campus museums were open. I started with the Burke Museum.

This museum isn’t actually an art museum; their official title is the Burke Museum History and Culture.


What made Burke interesting for me was that the history and culture are different from Colorado’s. Imagine that! But seriously, I forget that the US is so vast that individual regions have completely different histories. The histories and cultures of the Pacific Northwest are beautifully diverse, and the imagery that surrounded me were rare and new.

Totem poles and Pacific Native American art in particular captured my interest.

art of seattle Totem outside of Burke

The fluid geometric shapes combined to create whales, bears, and eagles held a beautiful appeal. I found myself wanting to incorporate these styles into my own artwork. And then wondering about appropriation.

On a loosely related note, I had to take a picture of this Vietnamese display, featuring a distinctly Korean table. I know because my family has this exact same table at home.

art of seattle korean table in vietnam

But who knows, maybe they use similar tables in Vietnam…?


After Burke, I rushed to the Henry Art Gallery so I could make it before the wedding with enough time to grab lunch. Although I sped through this museum, a few pieces caught my eye.

Jacob Lawrence’s Eight Studies for the Book of Genesis was the first exhibit I wandered into, with bold silkscreen prints of a pastor mid-sermon. With only blocks of color and abstract faces and forms, Lawrence captures the energy of sermons he attended at a Baptist church in Harlem.

Several MFA Thesis exhibitions followed, one with dreaded chairs that you want to sit on, but aren’t sure if they’re meant to be chairs or art. In this case, they were both; the artist invited viewers to sit and experience the piece, entitled Waiting Room. A surprise on the plastic leaves of the waiting room plants keeps you engaged while you rest your feet. Needless to say, I liked this one.


Another exhibit addressed police brutality with a more research-like approach. Components of this activist art included surveys, pillows, and protest photos.


But the standout piece was a massive installation entitled Fun. No Fun.

By artist Kraft Duntz featuring Dawn Cerny, Fun. No Fun. was composed of two massive rooms. The first, Fun, featured giant wooden scaffolding with stairs and ramps to walk down. At the bottom, brightly colored objects like toys, books, and cushions were scattered about the floor but carefully arranged.

art of seattle henry art gallery fun no fun

An empty, boring hallway led to the No Fun. part –  a massive empty room with white walls. But on the right, the room hosts a circular staircase, which leads you to an attic-like room that’s warm and humid. The temperature was so different that I walked around and marveled for a bit at an art installation that manipulated the atmosphere itself.

But with nothing interesting to photograph and no time to reflect for too long, I soon made my careful way down the stairs, through the wooden scaffolding of Fun, and out of the museum.

I actually missed seeing the Chuck Close and James Turrell pieces, which are only like, the most famous artists in the Henry right now. Kicking myself for not looking more closely at the map.


Day 2: No Museums, but Public Art

That’s right. I didn’t visit any museums on day 2. What a waste. But I visited Pike Market and the international district with an old friend, which was pretty great.

The public art in Seattle was awesome. I’m sure there’s plenty of fun public art in Colorado Springs too, but being from here, it just becomes part of the landscape.

But with my fresh tourist traveler eye, I snapped photos of several amusing arts. A squid bike rack, for example.

art of seattle squid bike rack at pike

Or a horse on a wall.

art of seattle horse on a building



Day 3: Solo = More Museums

Monday was my day to explore Seattle completely on my own, with no obligations. Except, well, the touristy ones. I headed to the Space Needle just because I felt I should. There, I was among my own kind — noisy, chattering, confused, photo-snapping tourists. I could let loose and wander around in circles as many times as I liked without anybody questioning me.

After some Space Needle photos just to say I’d been there, I stopped by the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. There was a long line and expensive tickets, so I decided on the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) instead, where I could see multiple artists for a more reasonable price. No regrets here – I saw plenty of Chihuly later anyway.

Since we’d missed it the previous day, I swung by the infamous gum wall on my way to the SAM.

art of seattle gum wall covered

To quote my newly wedded friend Mimi out of context, “Is this art?” I don’t know. But it was gross and weird and fascinating at the same time. Anything that stirs up that many conflicting emotions seems worthwhile to me.

art of seattle gum wall straight on

art of seattle gum wall window bars

Finally, I arrived at my museum of the day. The Seattle Art Museum looked impressive but was actually just plotting to disappoint me.

art of Seattle art museum exterior

All around the museum were large fliers and banners advertising a Yayoi Kusama exhibit…that would begin two weeks later.

art of seattle seattle art museum lobby

After I swallowed my disappointment, I opened to museum brochure to find that both of their special exhibits had already ended: The Migration Series by the same Jacob Lawrence from the Henry Gallery, and a Seeing Nature collection that included Monets, Manets, O’Keefes, and Klimts.

SAM…how could you?

Still, I entertained myself by finding a Nick Cave soundsuit, more Pacific Native American masks, and being more interested than I’d expected in their porcelain room.

art of seattle nick cave soundsuit at seattle museum of art

art of seattle masks at the Seattle Art Museum


art of seattle porcelain room at Seattle Art Museum


Day 4: Tacoma Glass Art

On the final night + day of my trip, I went down to Tacoma and stayed with another Fulbright Korea alum. We had a great time catching up, but normal people have to work on Tuesdays, so after breakfast, I set out on my final adventure.

Like most days I killed time with coffee until places other than cafes were open. And one of my final visits was to the Tacoma Museum of Glass.

The Washington State History Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum were nearby too, but I held myself back. And since I missed out on Chihuly, the Museum of Glass seemed like a good choice.

Lo and behold, I started my visit by crossing the Chihuly Bridge of Glass.

art of seattle Chihuly bridge of glass

Then it was on to the main building. A major highlight of Tacoma’s Museum of Glass is their “hot shop,” which lets you watch artists spin and blow glass right there in the studio. The hot shop is clearly visible from a distance – it’s the giant metal cone below.

tacoma art of seattle museum of glass hot shop

That’s not to say the actual exhibits weren’t interesting. The first exhibit featured ocean art. But these were nothing like seascape paintings.

art of seattle tacoma museum of glass squid

Glass captures ocean life in a remarkable way. And of course, the ocean is a novelty for this Coloradan, so I loved these pieces.

art of seattle tacoma museum of glass ocean life

While there were stunning glass works throughout the museum, my favorite was actually getting to see the artists at work.

art of seattle hot shop in tacoma museum of glass

art of seattle hot shop in tacoma museum of glass close up

I’ll leave you with one more piece of ocean art, a fish that startled me when I stepped on it — one of my first steps into the Seattle-Tacoma airport.

art of seattle fish art i sea tac airport