Visit the Sara Little Turnbull Center for Design Institute in Seattle


Hundreds of body coverings and accessories, kitchen utensils, textiles, artwork and folk art are on display at the Sara Little Turnbull Center for Design Institute.

SEATTLE, Wash. – Along bustling 4th Avenue in downtown Seattle is a one-of-a-kind collection tied to many inventions and the evolution of many consumer products. Just look up to find it, 19 floors up.

the Sara Little Turnbull Center for Design Institute now welcomes tour groups.

A world traveler, Little first landed in the Pacific Northwest in 1971 in Tacoma.

Little established the Sara Little Center for Design Research at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington to archive and display her collection of more than 3,500 artifacts collected during her travels.

Currently, the collection along with a replicated work and living space is on display in downtown Seattle.

The collection includes body coverings and accessories, preparation and catering utensils, textiles, fine and folk art, much of which influenced his design concepts for household products.

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“We had a lot of visitors from all over the world. Some scholars are just shocked to finally see his collection that they’ve heard about throughout their careers,” said Paula Rees, president of the Center for Design Institute.

Little’s colleagues often commented on how her name could be used to describe her. She stood just 4ft 11in tall, but her presence was anything but minimal.

Working alongside Little in the 1970s as a former assistant curator at the Tacoma Art Museum was Lori Tsugawa Whaley, who said Little’s presence was huge.

“Just working with Sara changed my life,” Whaley said. “Now all of my choices, she influenced the way I think and what I have around me.”

Because of Little’s love of world travel, Whaley said his friend and mentor always encouraged him to learn more about his Japanese heritage.

The inspiration worked. Thanks to Little, Whaley finally visited Japan and even published a book inspired by his new knowledge of his heritage, “Let the samurai be your guide.”

“She always wanted to know and take it to the next level,” Whaley said of Little, who took that advice.

Whaley is not only a published author, but she is also a life coach, speaker, and artist.

Little’s inspiring way of thinking beyond the surface should turn heads, according to Paula Rees, president of the Center for Design Institute.

Rees said people might be surprised to learn how much of an influence she has on the products we all use, including the one that has become part of our daily lives during the pandemic.

“One of the stories I remember her talking about was the mask,” Rees said. “She saw the shape she was working on in the bra and realized that this molded shape would work great with a metal clip and then an elastic band and it would be a better mask in the flap masks. “

Finding beauty and function in everything was what inspired Little’s collection.

His understanding of design is celebrated in a new children’s book by the Center for Design Books. He launched a series of children’s books titled Sara Little Trouble Maker, based on Little and her design work. The first book, Lettuce is in troubleis available May 17. Book pre-orders are available now.


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