Saturday, January 28, 2012

Artists of the First Nations

While my daughter and her boyfriend were visiting from Australia this week, we spent a few days in Vancouver, BC. One afternoon we went to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Containing more than 38,000 objects, the museum is more than a bit overwhelming, so I decided to focus on the First Nations collection, totaling just 6700 objects (!). First Nations are the indigenous peoples of North America who have lived here for about 10,000 years. In the Pacific Northwest much of their tradition and culture has managed to survive* in spite of the concerted and ongoing efforts of European settlers, arriving in the 18th century, to eradicate it. Over the last decade or so, First Nations culture has finally attained a degree of respect.

Upon entering the museum we found ourselves in a lofty vestibule full of First Nation objects ranging from totem poles to canoes to wooden cooking boxes, all carved from Pacific Coast Cedar. After several minutes of walking around in rapt appreciation, I realized my mouth was wide open. I closed it, but it soon opened again for yet another, "Wow!"

Liz inspecting interior house posts

Left - woven rug, back right - wall decoration, front right - funeral box for a  chief.

Carved poles were always painted, but most of them have long since lost their paint. This is a happy exception.

Ancestor figure.

Haisla canoe
Traditionally, First Nations people lived along the coast and next to waterways, as the inland forests were (and mostly still are) too dense for easy travel on foot. Their art and craft included no pottery, but rather relied on the wood and bark of the abundant cedar tree for nearly everything, even cooking pots and clothing. For weaving, they also used marsh grasses, in addition to bark.
Totem poles
Looking at this collection I was struck by the integration of art into the everyday things used by these people. Each item in the collection was beautifully formed, carved, and/or painted.

I finally tore myself away from the larger carvings and entered a series of smaller rooms filled with glass-enclosed shelves laden with myriad smaller, but equally artful, objects.

Cedar bark basket

I don't know what this carving might have been used for. Perhaps it was simply decorative.

This was worn about the neck, probably for ceremonial purposes.

Wouldn't this be a fabulous masquerade mask?

I can only try to imagine what these represented. Any ideas?

Beautifully carved ladles for trade.

Haida hat.
* The art of carving totem poles has been passed down and continues to this day. For examples, see John Joseph, Norman Tate, Harold Alfred, and Robert Davidson

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Robin's Sketchbook, Seattle Icons

There's a lot of interest among artists in sketch-booking these days. It's fun making sketches and people love looking at them, too. Robin Robins, a member of our watercolor meetup group, showed us her sketchbook the other day, and I enjoyed looking at it so much that I asked if I could share it with you, which she has generously agreed to allow.

I have a total of 30 photos of her sketches, which is far too many for a single post, so I'll divide them up and dribble out in smaller batches. For this post, I decided to share her Seattle icon sketches. Thanks, Robin!

Seattle Symphony playing in Benaroya Hall

Seattle Art Museum and the giant Hammering Man sculpture

Seattle Opera House

No eclectic collection of Seattle-abilia is complete without Pike Place Market 

King Street Station

Ivar's Salmon House

Walkway around Greenlake
Swimming and boating in Greenlake
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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gate C

A story - Sometimes patience pays off, and sometimes it doesn't.

When I got there, the Gate C exit area was deserted. Good. It would be easier to detect the beginning of the next wave of arrivals and start the process of judging where they’d come from.  A small group appeared from the gate area and proceeded through the large exit door. I examined them closely, looking for clues to their place of origin, but they could have come from anywhere, wearing or carrying jackets and coats appropriate for the Seattle winter, and having nondescript skin tones, with no evidence of recent sun exposure. The first group was followed by a succession of others just like them.

My attention began wandering, and without its discipline, my thoughts tumbled recklessly: “She’s almost here! I’ve missed her so much. She’s living her destiny that I somehow always expected. My intuition knew she’d live on a far away continent, and soon I’m going to see her again after more than a year.”

Teary eyes would not do for a greeting. I forced my attention back to watching the exit.

A man standing nearby shook his head and walked over to the escalator leading down to Baggage Claim. I fished out my cell phone and checked the time. It was a long walk from the gate to the exit, and barely 10 minutes had passed since the plane’s arrival. Even so, I felt compelled to ask the guard standing nearby if there was another way out from Gate C. No, he said. No other way.

I returned to my station and looked around the terminal, composing mental pictures of it to keep my mind occupied until the next wave of arrivals. A man and a woman walked over from the ticketing area and stood a few feet to my right. 

I lifted my left foot a couple of inches from the floor and rotated it, then shifted to my right foot and did the same.

Another group began trickling through the exit. A bright floral-print shirt caught my attention. Next came a face with a leathery tan followed by a Hawaiian shirt, and finally the clincher, a silver jacket and matching silver flip-flops. The plane from LA.

My heart beat faster, and I took a deep breath to slow it back down. Eyes started to water again, so I focused intently on faces. Time passed. A tall man towered over the crowd. Was that an Acubra on his head? No, it wasn't her partner, Jim. Back to faces. Their numbers dwindled. How curious. Under the weight of a sinking heart, my feet stopped shifting and felt rooted to the floor.

The couple to my right put their heads together in discussion. “What plane are you waiting for?” I asked.

“The plane from LA,” the woman replied. “I’m going down to baggage and see if we missed them.” She disappeared down the elevator. After a few minutes she was back. “They’re all down in baggage.”

Forgetting to thank her or even look back, I dashed to the escalator.

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