A select group of eight indigenous artists from around the Pacific Rim will gather at Clatsop Community College for an exhibit of neo-traditional artworks and a related series of events.
Invited artists include three Maori artists from New Zealand: Manos Nathan, Colleen Urlich and Gabrielle Belz; two Native Hawaiian artists: Maile Andrade and Chuck Souza; as well as three Native artists Lillian Pitt, Greg Robinson, and Northwest resident Gail Tremblay.
The exhibit, Pacific Rim Art – Emergence From Place: Neo-Traditional Indigenous Art, will be held in the Clatsop Community College (CCC) Art Center Gallery, 1699 Lexington Avenue, Astoria, from April 5th to May 11th with an opening reception on Thursday, April 5th at 6:00 pm. Chris Briden, a Viola de Gamba player from the Puyallup Tribe, will perform. Refreshments will be served. The community is invited to this free event. The CCC Art Center Gallery is open Monday-Friday, 9am to 5pm and weekends by appointment.
In addition there will be a welcoming of the guest artists and blessing ceremony led by Richard and Roberta Basch of the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes on Clatsop Beach, Thursday, April 5th at 1:00 pm, open to the public. Contact Richard Rowland at 503-338-2449 for specific location.
Related events hosted by CCC include a “Fishbowl Conversation” - an Artists conversation with students from all area High Schools and Tongue Point Job Corps Center on Thursday, April 5th from 10:00 am to noon. This event will be held in Columbia Hall, Room 219. Contact Larry Lockett at Astoria High School, 503-325-3911 for more information.
The participating artists will present a public lecture and slide show on Friday, April 6th at 7:00 pm at the CCC Performing Arts Center, 16th and Franklin Avenue in Astoria. Music will be performed by Native violinist Swil Kanim, a member of the Lummi Nation. Mr. Kanim is a world-class virtuoso violinist who acted and played music in Sherman Alexie’s acclaimed movie “The Business of Fancy Dancing” as well as others.
CCC Art Department invites students and community members to participate in a day-long series of art workshops on Saturday, April 7th from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with a luncheon served at noon. Each Artist will demonstrate their methods of working in their medium both in the Ceramic studio and the Printmaking studio. The cost will be $20.00 for CCC Students and $40.00 for the public. Contact CCC Student Services at 503-338-2411 or Richard Rowland, 503-338-2449 for registration and information. Space is limited.
“The contemporary cultural expressions brought to us by these artists are evidence of centuries of exploration, voyaging, and adventure around the “ring of fire” and lead us toward a changing world.” explains Richard Rowland, CCC Art Instructor. “This work will include ceramics, printmaking, weaving, woodcarving and mixed media. Their work celebrates innovation and development of neo-traditional works. This diverse grouping of work forms a new constellation that is connected through shared values and spirit-inspired by the deep-rooted historical relationships that comes from their love of the land and its community. Their work is always changing form but remain living organisms that can unify collective experience into creative mythologies. Much of the work attempts to reach into the deep space of memory to pull out voices from ancient culture. The work also provokes a sense of calling forward a process of responsibility and healing. In each stage of making their particular art, these artists are interpreting cultural layers of reverence and meaning that can lead to essential knowledge.” says Mr. Rowland. “Some of the work is intimately connected with ceremonial experiences. Native language also helps to provide meaning as for example; the Hawaiian word “mololani” expresses this idea of creating work that is - “carefully nursed”. The language is an important lens to view the world.”
Honored Artists include:
Gabrielle Belz a Maori Painter and Printmaker uses visual vocabulary and narrative derived from historic events, cultural practices and personal experience. She states, “My processes over 30 years, have developed from a low tech interest and a sense of play and experimentation. They include relief and intaglio work.” She quotes a common Maori Proverb: He toi whakairo, he mana tangata. “Where there is artistic excellence, there is human dignity.” Gabrielle, like all of the other artists, has completed a number of public commissions. She has exhibited in Spirit Wrestler Gallery in Vancouver, Canada and extensively in New Zealand. Her painting and printmaking are as diverse in subject matter as her interests. The abiding theme is her relationship to the natural world.
Two of the Maori artists represent Toi Maori Aotearoa-Maori Arts New Zealand, Manos Nathan and Colleen Urlich and are art elders. Manos Nathan says, “My works draw on strong visual culture and the narratives of our oral traditions as a source of inspiration for the creation of Maori clay works.” Manos is long considered one of New Zealand’s leading clay artists. He exhibits nationally and internationally and has traveled on a Fulbright Grant to America. “As a Maori clay worker I have a rich heritage of allegory and metaphor to draw on as a cultural template.” says Manos. Colleen’s career has focused on the promotion of contemporary Maori Art over a long career in education and academic studies. Colleen is a senior member of the National Body of Maori Clay workers. Her work is underpinned by her Masters research into the thousands year old Pacific Lapita clay culture, whose legendary decorative patterning can be found throughout the South Pacific and customary Maori clay knowledge. Her own work, through patterning on vessels, reflects links back to an ancient Pacific ceramic heritage of all Polynesians.
Maile Andrade, a native of Makaha Oahu who has a Masters degree in Fine Arts from the University of Hawaii, will be exhibiting a selection of work. As a neo-traditional weaver, she weaves the “eternal threads that link the past, present and future.” She teaches at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she is working to create a Native Hawaiian visual culture program. She also travels internationally to work with indigenous peoples. “I think the big thing for me is exposure, exposure to as much art as possible, to as many native artists as possible, to the dialogue and talking to people, creating relationships with all these different indigenous artists.” says Maile. She explains that the western term “art” is different than a native person’s way of looking at craft or utility. She likes to refer to native art as a “visual culture when we think of art in terms of its function”. She exhibits her work locally, nationally and internationally including Germany, New Zealand, New Mexico and New York.
Chuck Souza, with a Masters Degree also from the University of Hawaii, another Native Hawaiian artist coming to Astoria, makes metaphorical and political work rooted in Hawaiian symbolism. “My visual work is a response to topics and issues that affect my world now, especially as it affects Hawai’i and Hawaiians. Clay has become not the ‘end’ but rather the means to a much greater ‘end’ that has allowed me to mix media to create layers of meaning. The issues I deal with and the strategies I use to engage the viewer are to me as important as materials and techniques, and often times more important,” says Chuck. He has exhibited in Washington, Alaska, New Mexico, New York, Germany and New Zealand. He is an illustrator for Hawaiian Language Immersion textbooks, a musician and a songwriter. He received the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture in the Arts fellowship. He is currently a lecturer in ceramics at Kapi’lani Community College in Honolulu.
Lillian Pitt, the co-curator of this exhibit and a Wasco, Yakama, and Warm Springs Native says, “Everything I do, regardless of the medium, is directly related to honoring my ancestors and giving voice to the people, the environment and the animals. It’s all about maintaining a link with tradition, and about honoring the many contributions my ancestors have made to this world.” Lillian has exhibited internationally and received many awards and distinctions. She received the Governor’s Award in 1990 for significant contributions to the growth and development of the cultural life of Oregon. Recently she worked with renowned architect Maya Lin on the Confluence Project along the Columbia River. Lillian has appeared on OPB Art Beat and has been featured in many publications on contemporary Indian Art. Lillian’s works are found in personal collections, art galleries and museums around the country. She is one of the most highly regarded Native American Artists in the Northwest. In 2007 she received the Earl A. Chiles Award for lifetime achievement.
Greg Robinson is member of the Chinook Indian Nation, located in Bay Center, Washington. Primarily self-taught, Robinson has been an artist since childhood. His past and current works in the traditional Chinookan art forms are a tribute to the Columbia River ancestors, who inspire future Chinookan artisans. Robinson produces a variety of work in the style of the Chinookan Peoples of the middle to lower Columbia River and Willapa Bay. Working primarily in wood, large stone, bone and hide, he draws inspiration and technical knowledge from the study of ancient works in various private museum collections, including the Portland Art Museum. Mr. Robinson teaches in Grande Ronde for the Confederated Tribes in their Life Ways Cultural Program. He was the construction manager and tribal liaison for the construction of a full scale traditional plank house at the archaeological site of Cathlapotle, a settlement of the Chinookan people, now located in the Ridgefield wildlife refuge. Like Lillian Pitt, his work is represented in Quintana Galleries in Portland. He will be showing some of his major carvings.
There is much metaphorical work being made by many of the artists, like Gail Tremblay’s basket weaving made from 16mm film. Gail, a descendant of Onondaga and Micmac ancestors, states, “…They reflect the way that materials taken from the earth and refined using technologies that can pollute the environment can be made shiny so that they become a metaphor for contemporary culture which glitters and destroys.” In these thoughtful works, Gail states that she “thinks about seven generations into the future” whenever making them. She is a professor at Evergreen State College, where she has mentored students in the fields of visual arts, writing, Native American and cultural studies. Her influence has been felt on the international level through many trips to China, Brazil, Mexico and Czech Republic. Her work is included in the Portland Art Museum, Hallie Ford National Museum of the American Indian and she currently shows in the Frolic Gallery in Portland. She has worked for over 30 years, engaged with other artists in the Native American community to assure that issues of gender and equality are addressed in the teaching of art. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon and has published many articles in art magazines and books. Gail received the Governors Art Award in the State of Washington in 2001.
We have an opportunity to see prominent and contemporary indigenous work at CCC. I would like to leave you with a quote by W. Richard West, Jr. founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian. “For all of my life I have been trying to understand what it means to create Native art. How do we measure its value and importance? The main difference between Indian and Non-Indian artist is that we are still community–driven…. Art is the cement that binds the Indian people together, uniting us with our ancestors and with generations yet to be born. Through art we can take a look at why language is important, why ritual is important, why land is important.” In another statement by Richard West, he quotes a Native basket maker from Northern California named Mrs. Matt, who says, “A basket is a song made visible.” Richard West continues to say, “This poetic remark suggests the interconnectedness of everything, the symbiosis of who we are and what we do, the nexus between the intangible and the tangible, the interdependence of the physical and the spiritual, embodies a whole philosophy of native life and culture that speaks volumes about the powerful and abiding relationship, against all odds and much of history, between the Native arts and our continuance as vital and living peoples and cultures into a future that the ancestors wanted- and fought and died for- on our behalf. Let us never cease honoring their gift.”
Clatsop Community College is an affirmative action, equal opportunity institution. ADA accessible: for other accommodations call 503-338-2474; TDD 503-338-2468 at least 24 hours in advance of the event.