Ikanum exhibit displays Tribal artisans' work

08.13.2015 Brent Merrill Culture, Events, Tribal Employees

If you go

What: Tribal Artisan Day

Where: Chehalem Cultural Center, 415 E. Sheridan St., Newberg

When:9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29

More info: 503-487-6883 or visit on the Internet.


By Brent Merrill

NEWBERG -- Grand Ronde Tribal artisans have joined other artists from throughout Oregon who are being featured as part of the Ikanum art exhibit at the Chehalem Cultural Center, 415 E. Sheridan St., Newberg.

Ikanum features contemporary artwork from the Columbia River and Willamette Valley. Ikanum are traditional stories that are often told through markings on a wall, the pattern in a weave, the shadows cast in a piece of wood or stone, and the deliberate forms in nature that exist all around. These art forms existed long before human beings.

The current art exhibit, which opened July 17, is a follow-up to the year-long cultural exhibit that is part of a collaboration between the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde’s Chachalu Tribal Museum & Cultural Center and Chehalem Cultural Center.

The Chehalem Cultural Center galleries – Parrish, Central, Lobby and Community – are home to a diverse range of exhibitions that include art in all mediums.

Featured Ikanum artists are Grand Ronde Tribal members Greg Archuleta, Connie Graves, Jon A. George, David Harrelson, Brian Krehbiel, Bobby Mercier, Jordan Mercier and Travis Stewart. The works of Crystal Szczepanski (Doyon/Colville), Shirod Younker (Coquille/Miluk Coos) and Adam McIsaac, a non-Native master carver who is considered an expert in Columbia River art, also are featured in the exhibit.

“We met last year with Rob Dailey (Chehalem Cultural Center’s executive director) to discuss a potential collaboration,” said Tribal Lands Manager Jan Looking Wolf Reibach. “We started discussing the idea of the Tribe doing an exhibit there and it just kept growing and then it went to the Tribe being the focus culture group for 2015. It’s a huge deal. They had over 5,000 visitors at our first event this year alone. It’s just a huge program.”

According to Reibach, beginning on May 1 the Tribe was part of a large exhibit at Chehalem Cultural Center called “We Are Grand Ronde” that started off this year’s events.

“It was the biggest exhibit we’ve ever done,” said Reibach. “It was great and it was quite an honor. The experience was amazing and it was the launching of the focus culture activities. It was really breathtaking. To be part of that team is something that I will cherish and that I will never forget.”

“Since opening day we’ve had more than 8,000 visitors to Chehalem Cultural Center,” said Dailey. “This includes more than 1,000 children on field trips specifically to see the exhibits. This partnership demonstrates the power of cultural institutions to make our communities better places to live by sharing our stories.”

Dailey said he believes the positive nature of the partnership with Grand Ronde through Chachalu can and has brought communities together and that there is a “healing” aspect to the collaboration.

Focus culture activities included public events, performances, demonstrations, field trips, hosted conversations, outreach and workshops. The hosted conversations featured Tribal members Kathy Cole and David Harrelson and Tribal employee Michael Karnosh.

Harrelson, who is the Tribal Historic Preservation Program officer, spoke about the understanding of place and ethnobotany. Cole, who is the Cultural Education and Outreach Program manager, talked about Tribal language and Karnosh, who is the Ceded Lands Program manager, spoke about the Tribe’s ceded lands.

“I did an education piece about language,” said Cole. “I met with the education people at Chehalem and not only did I teach them how to talk about the different things that were in the exhibit, but I taught them some language. We met so many times that it became like they (Chehalem staff members) were friends of ours. So we have a really good relationship with everyone there.”

Reibach said the second exhibit in the year-long program is focused on Tribal artisans.

“It’s a great partnership and I thought it would be interesting to do something on the contemporary art,” said Tribal Artisan Travis Stewart. “I think it’s great. I think it’s a great partnership. They get a lot more eyes and a lot more foot traffic through there than places we have collaborated with in the past. That’s been the whole idea from the beginning just to get that art form a little more exposure. We wanted people to realize there is a unique art form to western Oregon.”

Stewart has three pieces featured in the exhibit. His carvings include two masks and a wood panel with two grasshoppers facing each other.

“The panel is something I did a long time ago and I was able to get it on loan from the person that has it now,” said Stewart.  

The panel is titled “Grasshopper Bunk Rail” and it is made of western red cedar.

One of the masks Stewart created was specifically for this exhibit and is based on a local legend and is titled “Winter is Coming.”

“I wanted to bring out something that no one had really seen before,” said Stewart.

Stewart said he has become part of a collective of artists over the years and that he felt that when the opportunity to display Tribal member art in Chehalem Cultural Center’s current art exhibit that he wanted to include other artists from beyond Grand Ronde.

“We encompass a large group of people so we made that exhibit a little more encompassing,” said Stewart.

Cole agreed with Stewart when the idea was first discussed.

“We met with our artisan team and they wanted to have an all-Native art exhibit that included people other than just Grand Ronde,” said Cole.

One of artists the Grand Ronde team wanted to work with is Shirod Younker, who is an enrolled member of the Coquille Indian Tribe and grew up in Coos Bay.

“I have known him (Younker) for a long time,” said Stewart. “I could just see where his work fit in. We all kind of feed off of each other and have since the beginning. We look at each other’s stuff and grow from it.”

“I feel honored to be included in the show even though I’m not enrolled Grand Ronde,” said Younker. “I think being included in the show is a nice gesture by Travis to recognize Grand Ronde’s ancestral kinship ties with other western Oregon coast Tribes.”

Younker’s submissions include a “Chinook”-style canoe model and southern Oregon coast-style canoe paddle that would have been used by both the Umpqua and Coos people.

Younker also included a print titled “The Memory of Grandmother’s Hands” that is based on basket hat and cooking basket designs from southern Oregon and northern California baskets.

“It’s a reference to our shared grandmothers who were basket weavers and protectors of cultural knowledge that has been passed on to us today,” said Younker. “Because of our shared Tribal art forms I think that my pieces blend well with other Tribal artists’ work. Travis did an excellent job curating the exhibit and I raise my hands up to him.” 

There will be a Tribal Artisan Day on Saturday, Aug. 29, at Chehalem Cultural Center where people can meet the artists. Cole said there will be an opportunity for Tribal vendors to showcase their art as well.

“I have nothing but positive things to say about our partnership with Chachalu and the Tribes,” said Dailey. “It has been a true privilege to work with the Chachalu team - they are more than professionals, they are passionate ambassadors for their people. While our missions certainly overlap, I see the work the Chachalu team is doing to be absolutely critical to the survival of diverse and rich cultures.

“It has been an honor to be able to carry the story of this work a little farther. I can certainly say that our institutions have developed friendships that will long outlast this project.”

The Grand Ronde Tribe will be part of a permanent display at the center. The permanent exhibit panel will recognize and honor the indigenous people who once occupied Yamhill County and who still live here today.