Tacoma, WA – The Washington State History Museum’s annual exhibition of contemporary works by Native American artists makes a phenomenal return this summer. From July 15 through August 29, 2021, IN THE SPIRIT Contemporary Native Arts offers visitors a chance to see 37 works by 22 artists from the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Last year’s edition was limited to online viewing because the museum was closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Selected works for the 2021 exhibition include paintings, carvings, bead work, basketry, digital art, multimedia, and textiles. Each work is accompanied by the artist’s statement.
“All art created by Native artists is Native art. Themes, media, and technique can be shaped by multiple influences in the artist’s life,” explained Laura VerMeulen (Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska) in her juror’s statement. “Personal aesthetic, cultural responsibility, wise teachers, and family responsibility influence the works in this 2021 show. These are precious works of beauty, resilience, humor, and generations of Indigenous pride,” she added. In her work with the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at The Evergreen State College, VerMeulen was part of the team that initially conceptualized the IN THE SPIRIT exhibition and arts market as a celebration of the region’s diverse Native cultures.
The artist’s statements often share their inspirations. Ursala Hudson (Tlingit) described her flowing, wearable woven art, We Are the Ocean, as “. . . a testament to who the modern Indigenous Woman is in this world, made up of everything that came before. We are a culmination of specific climates, cultures, moments, commitments, and whims from millennia of memories passed onto us by ancestors. When we let a bit of ourselves seep out onto paper, canvas, panel, fiber — the vastness of our infinite selves finds a tangible form.”
Two paintings by Gilmore Scott (Diné (Navajo) Nation) vibrate with intense desert hues and repeating geometric shapes inspired by Diné rug weavers. “My use of colors, are strong and bold. Inspiration for my subjects are interpretations of how I view my culture, Diné (Navajo) heritage. Our high desert southwest landscapes, day and night skies, stories taught of our tradition,” his statement said.
A tiny, precisely woven hemp basket crafted in a traditional coiled technique is a vivid response to the historic challenges of the past year. Artist Carol Emarthle Douglas (Northern Arapaho/Seminole) shared in her statement, “The Healing Hands basket was created to reflect the year of 2020. The raised hands are a way of giving thanks and offering prayers or a way to ask for assistance. The color red symbolizes power, passion and strength.”
Each iteration of IN THE SPIRIT is comprised of works entered by artists for review in a blind-jury process (meaning the artist’s identities are not revealed as the works are presented for consideration). The jurors for the 2021 exhibition included Todd Clark (Wailaki), Philip H. Red Eagle (Dakota and Puget Sound Salish heritage), and Laura VerMeulen (Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska). As part of the exhibition, artists have the opportunity to receive awards. The 2021 IN THE SPIRIT Artist Awards will be presented in a free online program via the History Museum’s Facebook page at 6:00 PM on July 15.
Artists who are new to annual exhibition include Sonia Barry(Aleut), Jake DePoe(Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians), Ursala Hudson (Tlingit), Heather Johnson-Jock (Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe), Kathryn Miller (Spokane), Othniel A. Oomittuk Jr. (Inupiaq), Annette Pierre (Kalispel Tribe), Ayanna Proctor (Piscataway Conoy Tribe), Gilmore Scott (Diné (Navajo) Nation), Stephan Smith (Quinault), and Charcoal Wannassay (Cowlitz).
Returning IN THE SPIRIT artists include Peter Boome (Upper Skagit), P??ELWE?TEN (Charles W) Bloomfield (Pyramid Lake Paiute, W?SÁNE?, Lummi), Suzanne Lynn Cross (Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan), Carol Emarthle Douglas (Northern Arapaho/Seminole), Denise Emerson (Navajo and Enrolled Skokomish), Sean Gallagher (Inupiaq), Lily Hope (Tlingit), Cynthia Masterson (Comanche Nation of Oklahoma), Shaun Peterson (Puyallup), Robert Upham (Lake Traverse Sioux–Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate) and George Zantua (Tlingit and Haida).
“It is an honor to highlight these talented artists and bring their beautiful artworks to the Washington State History Museum for visitors to see,” said Molly Wilmoth, lead program manager at the Washington State Historical Society. “There is so much joy in being able to offer an uplifting, in-person, cultural experience this summer. It is an opportunity for artists and our communities to reconnect.”
In addition to working with the jurors, Wilmoth and museum staff also work with an advisory committee to shape the exhibition and the accompanying IN THE SPIRIT Arts Market & Northwest Native Festival. The free indoor/outdoor festival will be held on August 7 in collaboration with the Tacoma Art Museum and Museum of Glass, and includes an artist vendor market, cultural music and dance, art-making opportunities, and free access to museum exhibitions.
The Washington State History Museum will feature additional Indigenous art and culture beginning July 23 with the exhibition As Grandmother Taught, coming from the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane. Visitors can explore the work of three contemporary Columbia River Plateau women. The art of these cultures reflects traditional lifeways borne of and interdependent relationship with the natural world. See works by Leanne Campbell (Schi’tsu’umsh – Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians, NiMiiPuu – Nez Perce Tribe, Sinixt – Arrow Lakes, P’squosa – Wenatchee, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation); Bernadine Phillips (Spuqspálqs – Okanogan/Wenatchi, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation), and HollyAnna CougarTracks DeCoteau Littlebull (Yakama – Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, NiMíiPuu – Nez Perce Tribe, Cayuse -Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation).
Get all the details for IN THE SPIRIT Contemporary Native Arts at www.WashingtonHistory.org/inthespirit-2021.