Installed just last week (9/4/2015) at the Ike [Box] is a new exhibit I collaborated on with the Friday Artists group from Salem. This exhibit is the first part of a larger project to bring more representations of Native people to Salem, the Capitol of Oregon. I hope to continue working with the group in this larger project.
In 1998, I took a term abroad to Aotearoa (New Zealand) and spent a month visiting various Maori tribes. While there, I saw much public indigenous art, not only in galleries but out in the open, beside main streets, in financial districts and incorporated into the normal public decorations that are seen in every city in the world today.
Upon my return to Oregon, I saw nothing of the native people of this land displayed anywhere in public. It seemed almost like Oregon was washed of all things Native. Yet I knew we were still here, and thought that in the future I would work to inspire efforts to bring Native-themed art back into the public spaces. Since then I have consulted on the public art projects on the new I-5 bridge in Eugene, Whilamut Passage Crossing; curated exhibits at the Willamette Heritage Center, and narrated interpretive signs about the original Tribes of this land, now installed in various cities in western Oregon. Most recently I helped name the Tilikum Crossing Bridge in Portland.
This project was initiated through a ongoing series of discussions with Brian Jeanseau who helps organize the Friday Artists group and just completed a Masters in Religious Studies. Their name to me is really related to the fact that they meet on Fridays to undertake projects and challenges brought to the group. They had completed some 7 or 8 exhibits previously. Brian invited me to make a proposal before the group so some months ago I met on Friday in their studio and discussed with them local tribal history and my visions for bringing Native themes back to Salem. The initial proposal was that with the context I have given them and the use of 19th century images of Native peoples and culture, how would they reinterpret those images and culture in contemporary art forms? The group was eager and willing to take on the task with Brian and I taking care of the logistics.
Perhaps the most important discussion was about agency in the creation of the art. the artists were concerned that since they were not native (mostly) that they would be taking that agency from the Native people. I was initially concerned about that but in thinking about how the original artwork from the 19th century was all drawn by non-native people, it would then be an interesting experience to see what developed once people had a little more grasp of the social justice issues and the history of the tribes. Most native artists I know are working on art all the time, and so there are no significant agency issues here. And in fact since I was consulting with them I was advising them as to the appropriate history of the tribes.
“What was it like to be her living among her people before whiteman? What was it like to grieve the loss of family through devastating plagues? How did she withstand the move to a reservation of land not her own? What was her sustaining spiritual life like? Who would she be today?” All of this in the context of the valley we live in.” – Loie Sannes
Satisfied with the project the artists got to work and drafted some sketches of their ideas. We met again and the level of commitment was high, and the ideas coming from the artists were progressing well. I shared with them many images from the 19th century and we communicated a bit over Facebook. In a few months I began to see photos of art appear on their site.
Brian and I organized early on that we would display at the Ike [Box], and that I would be writing the ethnographic descriptions of the original images and offer responsive commentaries to the new art. Everything began coming together in August and I began receiving images of new art to respond to.
As late as two days before the installation I received more new images and plunked out commentaries based on only the images. On the final day (Friday) the group briefly met at the artists’ studio and I saw several new images that were just added to the project.
That evening, our opening night, about 40 people came through and saw the exhibit. We were in competition with the OS Fair so we could not expect much. The next day the title lettering of the exhibit was installed by one of the artists.
The art project went in surprising directions, to Science Fiction
To a very interesting arrangement of ethnographic information and art in these multimedia pieces.
To traditional painting in this amazing piece.
Joan English’s large original Pencil sketch, really a highlight of the exhibit,
and a new graphic representation of the original Indian Madonna
inspired by Paul Kane’s original
Incorporation of rustic wood with great detail and expression.
Inspired by Eugene De Girardin’s original.
Speaking with some folks that were in the meeting room space we used, the anonymous group stated they met in that room every week and loved the exhibit.
And Brian, who did not characterize himself as an artist even submitted a few artistic pieces.
The exhibit is in three sections spaced throughout the Ike [Box}, so come visit and take a look around. You might notice that I have not included the text panels. These are next to most pieces and include some commentary by both myself and the artist. The exhibit will be up for about two months and then we may have it travel elsewhere.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.