By John Larson
The annual “In The Spirit” art exhibit at Washington State History Museum is always an interesting look into the creativity of Native American artists in the Northwest. These individuals draw inspiration from their heritage, while sometimes using modern materials and techniques. Now in its 14th year, the current exhibit has 28 works by 24 artists working in mediums ranging from basket weaving to glass blowing. Some of the pieces offer social commentary on everything from gay rights to environmental concerns.
“Generations 2” is digitally created art from Denise Emerson, Skokomish/Navajo. It has a background of turquoise, a shade of blue often associated with the Native art of the Southwest. It depicts four women with their backs turned, their infants strapped to their backs on baby boards.
Suzanne Cross, of Saginaw/Chippewa heritage, raises attention about discrimination faced by gays and lesbians in “Respect and Equality.” The red fabric is adorned with fringe at the bottom and horizontal ribbons in the colors of the rainbow. Beadwork depicts peace symbols and hearts with butterflies or the word love.
“Our Stories Are Mixed” is from Cynthia Masterson, Comanche Nation. Her artist statement recalls the disappointment her mother experience when grandmother’s beloved butter churn disappeared. Masterson found one in the giveaway box at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle. She adorned the butter churn with beads on its moving parts.
In his artist statement, Ryan C. Burnett, Chehalis, describes his love of baseball. “Salish” is a baseball glove with designs drawn in black ink on the fingers.
Another Chehalis artist, William Thoms, has two interesting creations. “Whorl” is a blown glass piece, while “Moon Vessel” is 3D printed gypsum coated with resin.
Carol Emarthle Douglas, Northern Arapaho, has a background as a basket weaver. She has now delved into painting, with her work inspired by basket designs of the Plains Indians. “Gathering of Nations” is a work of acrylic paint, paint pens and tape. It depicts 10 Native people.
One of her baskets, “The Little People,” won the Honoring Tradition Award. Make of hemp core and Irish waxed linen thread, it has outlines of the human form on the outside and inside. It is in a case with two other baskets. “You and Me” by Carly Feddersen, _Colville, has a snake motif inspired by rock singer Alice Cooper. “Cedar Star Basket” by Dan Friday, Lummi, is a blown glass piece in the shape of a basket, with a band of purple crosses on it.
Friday took home the Spirit of the Northwest Award for “Full Circle Totem.” This impressive glass sculpture was inspired by his grandfather Joseph Hillaire, who carved totem poles. His work was featured at the World’s Fair in Seattle in 1962. It depicts a bear holding a fish, upon which stands a tree.
The Honoring Innovation award went to Earl Davis, Shoalwater Bay, for “Coastal Mjolnir.” This intriguing piece consists of a wooden circle around a coastal Salish motif that glows in various colors.
Best in Show went to Robin Lovelace, Tlingit, for “Predator Cannibal.” The inspiration for the piece came from research Lovelace did on tribal war helmets. Made of stainless steel with abalone detail, the menacing piece brings to mind the creature in the “Predator” movie series. “In The Spirit” is an intriguing look into modern Native experience. The curators are to be commended for assembling such a wide range of artwork into a cohesive exhibit.
A gallery talk with artists will take place on July 18 from 6-7 p.m. The museum will offer free admission that day from 3-8 p.m. The annual In The Spirit Northwest Native Festival will be held on Aug. 10 from noon to 7 p.m. The museum will collaborate on the nearby Tacoma Art Museum and Museum on Glass on the day’s activities. All three will offer free admission that day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibit ends on Aug. 11.