Friday, May 31, 2013

Salmon Cycle Marker

Salmon Cycle Marker The latest installment in Art Near PSU takes us to Salmon Cycle Marker, the tall decorated pole next to the university's Native American Student & Community Center on SW Jackson St. The Smithsonian Art Inventory page about it describes it:
A tall pole constructed from three trees killed by the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980-1981, depicts the journey of salmon in the Columbia Gorge from their birth to their arrival in the sea where they spawn. At the bottom of the pole there are images of salmon eggs created by Lillian Pitt and Ken MacKintosh; in the middle there is an image of "She Who Watches" by Lillian Pitt; and at the top there is an image of two salmon mating by Ken MacKintosh and an abstract image of a salmon looking up toward the sky.
Salmon Cycle Marker

Longtime reader(s) might remember me getting snarky more than once about Portland's fixation on salmon art, usually Heroic Salmon Swimming Upstream. I like this one, though, and I'm going to make an exception here. I note that Salmon Cycle Marker was co-created by a Native artist, whose website describes the project:

As with many of the large public projects I've worked on, I worked in collaboration with several other artists on this project.

It took a while to come up with the idea for what we were going to do, but we finally decided to have a giant marker. And then, once that idea came to us, it was like a powerful vision that kept driving us to completion.

The pole itself ... a 50 foot pole ... is a log from Mt. St. Helens that we found floating in the water. It must have been there since the time of the eruption. We thought that by using it we would not be destroying any living thing, and at the same time, we would be honoring all of the creatures and plant life that once lived on that mountain.

We put giant Salmon at the top of the pole because they were, and still are, so important to the lifeways of so many Native peoples throughout the Pacific Northwest. The salmon are huge ... 12 feet long ... but they don't look that big because they're so high up.

And we put Salmon eggs at the bottom of the pole ... and a number of other symbols going up the pole important to the Native peoples of this region.

It's nice that this isn't our usual Portland thing, where smug Subaru-driving white people babble on about magic salmon so they can look all twee and spiritual-ish. You may have seen me roll my eyes at that before, and I'm doing it again now.

Salmon Cycle Marker

Another work by Pitt and MacKintosh, titled The Salmon Offering, is a bronze cast of a traditional salmon drying rack. The City of Seattle described it, when it was exhibited there in 2001:

The Salmon Offering builds on the form of a traditional wooden salmon drying rack, which the artists adorned with their carvings. They dried fish on it, then dismantled the work and cast the parts in bronze. The bronze pieces will be reassembled on the site of the current salmon smoking area of the Native Center at Discovery Park. The artists will hand out salmon recipes at the annual PowWow of the United Tribes for All Indians.
Sculpture.org had this to say about it:
While all of the artists explored interconnections between our own survival and that of the salmon, Lillian Pitt, the only Native American artist, together with Ken Macintosh, went to the heart of the history of salmon in the culture of the Northwest. Salmon Offering, a bronze cast of an actual salmon drying rack, is installed near the salmon cooking area of the Daybreak Star Arts Center, owned by the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation. The artists have donated the permanent work to United Indians in honor of Bernie Whitebear, the Native American leader who, with other native leaders, won land rights from the American government. The rack is the soul of a fish camp, where families come together to smoke and dry fish for the winter. It is also a focal point for telling myths and legends, sharing prayers, and trading with other tribes. As Pitt stated. “Salmon sustain more than the body—they feed the soul and spirit of a community.”

Salmon Cycle Marker

A quick note on terminology, you may have noticed that descriptions of Salmon Cycle Marker don't refer to it as a totem pole. The carving of totem poles was traditionally done by tribes in northern Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska, and the practice didn't extend south to tribes in the Willamette Valley or along the Columbia River.

Salmon Cycle Marker Salmon Cycle Marker Salmon Cycle Marker

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