The Maryhill Museum of Art presents Native American photographs and works of art from Colombia in the exhibition “Beside the Big River”

Thomas Leander Moorhouse “Major Lee”, Log Canoe on the Columbia River, c. 1900, part of the exhibition “Beside the Big River” at the Maryhill Museum of Art.

GOLDENDALE, Washington –

can wait, but he does not stand still.

As construction ramps up on an ambitious $ 9.5 million addition slated to open in May 2012, this unlikely treasure house on a high bluff above the Columbia River Gorge is busier than ever, mixing new temporary exhibits with its bag of permanent attractions that range from sculptures by Auguste Rodin to Eastern Orthodox icons, 19th century realistic paintings, Native American art and an impressive collection of international chess sets.

The biggest attraction of the museum’s compact and attractive new temporary exhibit, “Beside the Great River: Images and Art of the Indians of Mid-Colombia”, is that it, too, refuses to stand still.

The act of living is at the heart of the show: through artifacts, but most importantly through a collection of vividly captured photographic scenes, she helps reinvigorate the sense of the rich culture that has flourished along the river. in the very near past.


Maryhill expansion project

GOLDENDALE, Washington – Standing in a hard hat in the large concrete crater that will become the Mary and Bruce Stevenson Wing of the Maryhill Museum of Art, you are dizzy between the river and the sky.

Far below the construction site, which at one point cantilevered 20 feet above a cliff in the Columbia River Gorge, is the Columbia River and what from there appears to be a bridge. mount leading from the Washington shore to Biggs Junction on the Oregon side. Above, to the north, the white towers of a wind farm stand out against the dazzling blue of a dominant sky.

Straight ahead is the towering and classically balanced mass of the original museum building, constructed in concrete in 1918 as the residence of visionary road builder and rail entrepreneur Sam Hill.

Construction projects start slowly – foundations take time – and speed up. This week the steel beams start to be trucked in and the big hole will suddenly take on a solid structure.

And once the museum is closed for the season on November 15, the real fun begins: the walls will be pierced through the original building, roughly behind the lower level corridor which contains memorabilia of the famous Folies-Bergere dancer Loïe. Fuller – one of the museum’s founders – and the old will be connected to the new.

The $ 9.5 million project – the museum still has $ 500,000 to raise, executive director Colleen Schafroth said – will add 25,000 square feet, much of it over a large plaza that will also serve as a roof over an indoor space. extended dug on the side of the hill. It will provide storage for much-needed collections, a new education center, an expanded café area (with stunning views from an adjoining patio), a small amphitheater, and open-air interpretive spaces.

The expansion will be constructed of steel, concrete and large sections of glass, and was designed by architect Gene W. Callan of GBD Architects of Portland to sweep flat from the base of the 1918 building so that it does not does not visually compete with the beautiful original art-style building or obstruct its sight lines. This will reduce clutter in the original building, provide new office space and even add display areas.

The grand opening took place on February 18, and since then trucks, cranes and bulldozers have only become part of the Maryhill experience, although it’s also a bit incidental: nothing has changed. inside the building, and the building action is mostly down the hill, largely out of sight.

The project will also provide some late modernization of the mechanical systems in the 1918 building. And the addition will be decidedly modern in its energy efficiency. The square will tilt slightly, like the deck of a ship, so that the water will flow on either side. Bioswales will recover much of the rainwater. Solar panels and heat exchangers will reduce energy consumption. The museum is pushing for a high LEED energy efficiency rating.

“Right now, we’re oscillating between silver and potentially gold,” said Paul Schommer of Schommer & Sons, the Portland-based construction company.

The museum had hoped construction would be complete by the opening of the 2012 season on March 15, but it was pushed back to mid-April.

“Basically, by March 15, they’ll be doing punch lists and finishing details,” Schafroth said.

The official opening celebration is scheduled for May 13 – Sam Hill’s birthday and the 72nd anniversary of the museum’s opening in 1940.

“Beside the Big River”, on view until November 15, when the museum is closed for the season until next March, gives a comprehensive overview of life in the first half of the 20th century for the natives of the middle part of the Columbia, approximately from the mouth of the Snake River near Kennewick, Washington, to the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks.

The show not only highlights the special occasions, where people were strutting

and other great events, but also daily chores such as picking blueberries along the slopes of the hills, smoking open-air fish or fishing with a net in the large shopping and spiritual center of

before the water from the Dalles dam flooded it in 1957 and radically changed a whole way of life.

Indigenous art in motion

Much of the historic Native American art complicates the museum’s ordinary exhibit because it was never intended to be shown in a museum setting: the essentially static nature of the museum world is at odds with the way that Native communities used their art.

Much of what has come down to us is both utilitarian and kinetic – it’s meant to move. The intricately beaded clothing and badges were what is trending these days as “wearable art,” and they literally came to life as people donned them and moved around – sometimes on horseback. , sometimes in dances, always in motion.

Bags and baskets, knives, mortars and pestles were tools, but they were tools in the sense of a life lived in design: beautiful, useful things.

Any of these objects can be beautiful in a museum. But they miss their vital context: a keener sense of the people and cultures that have used them.

Photographic representation

Maryhill curator Steven Grafe took on this challenge head-on by building “Beside the Big River” on the solid foundation of documentary footage from three excellent photographers:

Lee moorhouse

(1850-1926) by Pendleton; Thomas H. Rutter (1837-1925), an Englishman who came to the United States from Australia, fought as a Union soldier in the Civil War and eventually landed in Yakima; and John W. Thompson (1890-1978), who was born in Missouri, graduated from high school in Clatskanie, taught for years in Seattle, and spent much of the 1950s documenting the lives of Indians of eastern Washington and the Columbia River.

While “Beside the Big River” includes some fine examples of Indigenous art, mostly taken from the museum’s collections, the heart and soul of the exhibit are the photographs themselves.

Several beautiful objects are on display: horn bowls and finely carved spoons; sumptuously beaded vests and dresses; “Sally” woven berry bags and baskets; a beautiful petroglyph from before the 19th century. But the objects blend into the background as the context comes to life.

Postcard style

Neither Rutter nor Moorhouse were as well known as Edward S. Curtis, whose often fictionalized ethnographic images of Indians across the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries became national sensations.

But they crossed much of the same territory, albeit more locally, and specialized in the same type of iconic imagery, recording often elaborate images of Indigenous people dressed in traditional clothing and naturalistic settings.

Many images have a sort of formal postcard quality, and many are striking for their craftsmanship: Moorhouse’s “Log Canoe in the Columbia River”, for example, a timeless image of a man and a woman. woman on the misty river. by canoe; or Rutter’s “Spadis, Columbia River Indian,” a formally posited study that could almost have been done by a traveling American portrait painter from the Catskills or rural Pennsylvania.

Moorhouse’s portrait, “Ed Chapman in Pendleton Woolen Mills Showroom,” which poses its subject in front of rows and rows of blankets, almost resembles an advertising image and suggests the complex and intimate relationship Pendleton and Native Americans have enjoyed for over 100 years. The three photos date from around 1900.

While Rutter and Moorhouse’s photos tend to isolate their subjects as somehow alien, or at least very different from white culture, Thompson’s photos suggest similarities. Dating back to the 1950s, they have a warm, empathetic and relaxed sense of their subjects, emphasizing how individuals fit into a community.

Capture personalities

It is clear that he loves the people he photographs, and they seem comfortable around him. He might as well have been documenting life in a small town around the same time.

Thompson honors his subjects by carefully naming them as he records them going about their daily rituals, as in the charming “Louise Weaseltail, Sally Dick and Rosalie Harry Picking Huckleberries Near Mt. Adams”, taken circa 1955. These women are not icons. These are just Louise, Sally and Rosalie, sunk in the bushes on a cloudy day, captured at the rate of their task.

A photograph of a woman digging a bitter root looks a bit like one of Jan-Francois Millet’s French paintings of agricultural work from the 19th century. Photos of rodeo princesses and others dressed in their finery suggest the good mood of any kind of carnival or community gathering. In several, the horses are as dressed as their riders, and the scenes resemble cousins ​​being kissed during a medieval joust.

Several of Thompson’s photos also celebrate the hard work and excitement of fishing in Celilo Falls. The photographer captures the wonderful array of personalities of these people by simply letting them be.

In a photo of Celilo Falls shortly before its flood, a young boy named Ed Edmo smiles happily, easily identifiable as the well-known storyteller he has become in the decades since – the storyteller, in a sense, to the source of the story.

The future meets the past. Like the river itself, time flies.


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