Collecting call

Turning one person's hoard into another's art exhibit.


Curated by Graham Graham Rainier Room

GRAHAM GRAHAM is a dapper man with close-cropped hair and severe glasses, one of those people who seems to have always been in the right place at the right time. He knows just about everybody. We meet at a coffeehouse where Graham's obviously a regular; our morning chat is punctuated by a steady parade of familiar salutations from fellow caffeine-seekers. As an artist, he's worked with Dale Chihuly and William Morris during the early days of the Great Northwest Glass Movement. He's also been a quiet, behind-the-scenes mover and shaker in other arenas, co-founding the Crocodile Caf鬠among other endeavors.

Asked to curate a show for Bumbershoot, Graham chose to focus on a common trait among artists that had long intrigued him: the urge to collect, the obsessive impulse found in many creative people to accumulate objects, to shamelessly hoard things. His resulting exhibition, "Obsession," reveals the most lovingly held collections of local artists and other "accumulators."

Ginny Ruffner proffers her electric mixers. Richard Marquis presents his rickety English ladders and granite wear. Tom Robbins calls his installation of fruit cans "Can Fruit Have Buddha Nature, Master?" Tim Conder's two meticulously replicated 1963 dragsters represent true obsession. Ultimately, he intends to use the cars to pit God against Satan in an apocalyptic drag race. Other collections include 80 oil paintings made for Harlequin romance covers, a slew of mermaids, and more crocheted bottle-cap pot holders than you can imagine.

Graham describes the project to me and attempts to explain "this magical potato thing that happened." He thought that Bill Wiginton (Bill the Junkman—a Fremont institution) had a collection of over 4,000 potato mashers. But when asked to contribute to the show, Wiginton informed Graham that he'd given all the mashers away one night at a bar. To Graham's disbelief, Wiginton shrugged and responded, "Well, I was there for quite a while." Determined, Graham began to accumulate mashers on his own and amassed a bunch of these metal devices for the show.

A SPUD THEME was embraced, and Graham decided that potatoes would be mashed en masse at Bumbershoot's visual arts gala on Aug. 28 (6-8 p.m.), that mashed potato sculpture contests would be held, and that they'd serve daring potato hors d'oeuvres. That's when the potato magic began. Paying homage to his friend and mentor Italo Scanga, Dale Chihuly submitted a number of Scanga works from his private collection. When Scanga, who had been delighted and honored by this prospect, died suddenly, it seemed even more imperative to Graham and Chihuly to show his work. One of the major Scanga pieces to be included was a Virgin Mary and wooden crucifix with nails sticking out of it from top to bottom. With awe in his voice, Graham continues, "No one knew it before, but when we read about the crucifix piece we realized that Scanga's intention had been to stick potatoes on all the nails. We couldn't believe it."

A self-diagnosed garage sale junkie, Graham vaguely referred to a hairball collection documenting his own receding hairline when asked if he would be making any personal contributions to the exhibit. As we parted he declared, "Throbbing loins, fast cars, and kitchen appliances! What more could you want?" It occurred to me then that the real collection on display here is Graham's accumulation of characters. He's fascinated by people, revels in their quirks. "Obsession" presents intimate portraits of the eccentrics, the recluse celebrities, the compulsive geniuses, the friends, and the oddballs that Graham has collected along the way.

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