by Matthew Kangas

The collections at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel at Sixth and Pike and the U.S. Bank Centre at Fifth and Pike, are almost entirely on view to the public and add an accessible, enjoyable dimension to visitors and locals alike. Both collections concentrate on local and national artists. Margery Aronson, former junior council administrator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and a Seattle resident since 1976, assembled the collections. They offer a fascinating contrast in corporate collecting philosophies united by quality and taste. The $96 million building had roughly 1% of its construction budget allocated for art that included the commissioning of, among other things, eighteen artists and photographers to create lithographs and photographs for the guest rooms. Thirteen years after the gala black tie opening , the Sheraton collection is still largely intact even though the lobby, rooms, and public spaces have all been renovated and redecorated.
The Larry Kirkland lobby ceiling fiber installation is gone but nearby, a Jeffrey Bishop painting, two Robert Sperry ceramic murals, a Paul Horiuchi collage, a folding screen by Norie Sato, and stone sculpture by James W. Washington, Jr. look better than ever. Upon entering the registration area off Sixth Avenue, visitors are greeted by one of Dale Chihuly's most stunning installations, Floral Forms (1986). A changing display of glass art from the Foster/White Gallery in Pioneer Square is also on view in a re-designed case. asks by Northwest Coast native artists are on view in the new Oyster Bar and, beyond that, in the hotel's four-star luxury restaurant, Fullers, prime examples by Northwest masters of the 1940s and 1950s are hung one per banquette booth. The theme of the restaurant is a tribute to the founder of the Seattle Art Museum, Richard E. Fuller (1897-1976), and the artists on view were all beneficiaries of his patronage. Among them are Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, and Guy Irving Anderson, the so-called Big Four or Northwest "mystics."
The restaurant's single banquet room provides a link between the Sheraton and its neighbor across the street, the U.S. Bank Centre: glass art. Aronson wanted to create a tribute to the Pilchuck Glass School of Stanwood, Washington and developer Anches wholeheartedly agreed. Thus, diners are joined by superb examples of work sought out by Aronson for the room-length illuminated display case. Seattle-area glass artists like Chihuly, William Morris, Benjamin Moore, Charles Parriott and Sonja Blomdahl supplement works by other American and European masters like Flo Perkins, Michael Glancy, Toots Zynsky, Bertil Vallien, Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova. With a darkened background and pinpoint state-of-the-art lighting, the effect is dramatic and impressive.
When Aronson was contacted in 1988 by the builders of U.S. Bank Centre, Prescott, she suggested that a glass collection be assembled for the three-story City Centre retail complex in the Callison-designed, 44-story structure. Not only did Prescott agree, they enthusiastically endorsed the idea. As Gary Bezer, vice president of LaSalle Partners, current building managers, says, "We are very proud to showcase this prestigious collection of Pilchuck glass at City Centre. This contemporary glass collection is widely accessible to the public not only a destination for Seattle residents but also for visitors from around the world."
In custom-designed and lit cases of mahogany and glass, the U.S. Bank Centre collection represents a stunning survey of international glass all made between 1986 and 1989. Thus, Pilchuck masters like Chihuly and William Morris are both represented by large installations while nearly 40 other artists are viewable in cases.
Particularly interesting is the number of prominent women glass artists selected. From the Southwest Indian pottery-inspired vase of Sonja Blomdahl's Peach/Violet Vessel and the Fruit and Vegetable Still Life of Flora Mace and Joey Kirkpatrick to the delightful Seeing Washington lampwork sculpture of Ginny Ruffner and enameled clear blown glass vessel, The Lion and the Well, by Catherine Thompson, women artists have left a substantial mark on the world glass scene. An American living in Europe, Toots Zynsky sent her unusual Tierra del Fuego made of pulled and cut glass threads. And Karla Trinkley revived an ancient Roman technique, cast "case" bowls, for her Blue Bowl II. After the triumph of the Pilchuck banquet room at the Sheraton, Aronson's global connections enabled her to get superb examples from Bertil Vallien as well as from Venetian master blower Lino Tagliapietra and the Libenskys of Prague.
The more one spends time at U.S. Bank Centre, the deeper one's appreciation of glass will be. With Pilchuck Glass School celebrating its 25th anniversary, local residents and visitors to Seattle may be assured that the only free and publicly accessible glass art collection in the city will remain for years to come.
Between these collections, and all the art and glass visible in local museums and galleries, an entire vacation could be planned around that purpose alone: soaking up our area's greatest cultural resource, the fine arts and decorative arts of the Pacific Northwest.
Matthew Kangas, nationally renowned art critic and curator, is a regular contributor to Art Guide Northwest

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