Shoalwater celebrations: Modern artists cherish, preserve tribal culture
Dakota Davis describes the photo of himself holding a shield, a blanket and wearing a cedar hat, as a prayer to his late grandfather, who owned the items. “I learn a lot about my family, about myself, who I am, where I’m from, by putting together these pieces and they become very powerful photos to me,” he says.
A month-long exhibit of art by members of northwest Pacific County’s Shoalwater Bay Tribe will open in Astoria next week.
Four living artists are being honored as part of a celebration of the life of Eugene Landry.
Landry, who died in 1988, painted images of the Shoalwaters during a key period in their history as they worked to retain their federal recognition. Landry’s story will be highlighted in the Nov. 9 edition of Coast Weekend.
The exhibit will be hosted by the Astoria Visual Arts gallery, 1000 Duane St., Astoria. It opens Nov. 11 and runs through Dec. 2. An all-day opening reception is planned noon to 8 p.m. Nov. 11 with a talk by curator Judith Altruda at 5 p.m. Conversations with the modern artists are planned 1 p.m. Dec. 2 at the AVA gallery.
Here are details of the four whose work will be featured with their artists’ statements accompanying the exhibit.
Altruda, who lives in Tokeland and Astoria, is a metal artist who has dedicated hours to promoting the work of Landry since discovering a cache of 70 of his paintings in a disused Grayland auto shop in 2019.
Her comments on each of the artists accompanies their submitted texts:
Earl Davis, a member of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe in Tokeland, Wash., is a tribal artist trained in the Coast Salish and Willapa Chinook art styles.
He works mostly in wood and metal and draws inspiration from historic pieces and traditional knowledge to create contemporary interpretations of ancient art of the region.
He was the Shoalwater Tribe’s culture director from 2006 to 2023 and served in the U.S. Marine Corps between 2000 and 2004.
Altruda noted that Davis is now a full-time artist who has public arts commissions. “He brings a body of art from this part of the coast,” she said, noting that coastal Southwest Washington tribal art differs from better-known Haida and other First Nations’ work from northern areas of the West Coast. “The coastal area has a different look,” she said. “He has taken that and put his own spin on it. He uses cutting-edge technology to create his art — he uses hand tools as well as laser cutters.”
“I’m Dakota Davis or Chutwin (Little Bear), son of Earl Davis and direct descendant of Bob Saliki. A lot of my photography is inspired by the stories of my ancestors, the nature around us, nostalgia, and whatever I’m really feeling at the time. I try to tie in myself as an object to the natural world around us.
For example the photo of me holding a brief case, dressed in an outfit that you would see someone wearing at a dinner table, represents a lost character with all these good stories, bad traumas, and experiences that he carries with him (the brief case) everywhere. Looking at the vast ocean, he doesn’t know where to journey to next.
I explore my cultural identity through photos of prayers. The photo of me holding the shield, with the blanket and cedar hat, all belong to my grandfather who passed away and I was sending a prayer to him. I learn a lot about my family, about myself, who I am, where I’m from, by putting together these pieces and they become very powerful photos to me.”
Altruda commended the vigor with which Dakota Davis embraces his heritage. “He is young and pursues his cultural identity through his photography,” she said. He can also be found working on boats, continuing the family tradition. “He fishes, and the Davises are a fishing family, so there’s some pride in that.”
“My name is Madison; I am a 24-year old artist from the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe. My family descends from the lower Chinook bands, the Chehalis and Nisqually. I work with multiple mediums from makeup, to ink on paper, digital art, and more recently, beadwork and sewing.
In late 2018, I fell into a kind of depression that I almost didn’t make it out of. One evening, I prayed for the first time in a long time. I sensed as if someone came to me to guide me and give me something to believe in.
This is when I started beading consistently every day. I started receiving dreams of my late Chitcha [grandma] Lorraine, she would show me glimpses of her work, asking favors of me, and so forth. I started journaling these dreams and asking my family members more about her, and our family lineage. She passed away when I was very young.
My Chitcha was a stellar beadwork artist. She would make these elaborate patterns in bracelets, earrings, hair pieces, belts, doll outfits, etc. I inherited a mini doll with a custom-beaded outfit when I was around six years old. I have yet to see all of the pieces that Chitcha left behind, but I know that they’re safely tucked away into the caring hands of my family members.
I feel as if it is my duty to continue asking my family about our lineage, to hunt down Chitcha’s beadwork pieces and find the pieces from my dreams, spend time with my family, and to carry on our traditions of making beautiful heirloom pieces.
Hiyas Masi. I thank you for providing me the opportunity to feel heard and seen.”
Altruda said she appreciates the way Madison’s modern work honors the memory of her creative grandmother, Lorraine Luwizi Anderson. “Madison uses herself as a canvas with her beading and make-up. The bead work comes from her grandmother, who inspired her. It is really cool to have that connection,” she said.
Sophia Anderson is a member of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe and grew up on the reservation on a rural coast of the Olympia Peninsula. Her work is fueled by her transition to life away from her roots after growing up on traditional land surrounded by her tribal community. She holds a bachelor’s in arts degree from the Evergreen State College and currently resides in Seattle.
She paints on found wood panels, salvaged from a beach adjacent to the reservation, where the coastline has eroded down almost two miles a result of dams built on the Columbia River.
She draws inspiration for her paintings from photo references of her ancestors ranging from tintypes taken by Edward Curtis to family photos. Her beading is a meditative, healing gesture created in response to the content of her paintings. Fundamental to her practice is researching the documented history of her tribe; specifically looking at at the writings of James Swan through a critical socio-political lens.
Her mission ultimately is to interpret the relationships between genealogical and geographical history and trauma.
Anderson is Altruda’s grown daughter. There’s pride in her voice as she describes Anderson’s approach to art, using pieces of wood for her base. “It comes from homes destroyed on Washaway Beach [North Cove, WA]. It’s weather-worn, and irregular,” Altruda said. “It’s continuing something we are emphasizing—that commitment to place. That’s the thread running through all of it.”
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