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Apolonia Susan Santos' painting 'The Wish Upon A Falling Star' is part of the gallery exhibit.The Museum at Warm Springs marked its 20th anniversary with the opening of a spectacular art exhibit featuring the works of tribal artist the late Apolonia Susana Santos.

Santos’ sister Irene Jiminez spoke, noting Santos passed away seven years ago from cancer at the age of 52.

“She was a budding artist at age 6, was a writer and an activist. Her gift was words and she captured it on paper through her art,” Jiminez said, adding, “She was a very traditional and powerful woman.

Santos worked at the Museum at Warm Springs as the art curator, and encouraged other tribal artists, especially youth. She was an activist for artists, women, and the preservation of indigenous ways.

The artist’s mother Lena Tewee Santos cut a ribbon to officially open the exhibit. Several other members of the Santos family were in attendance, including her siblings and their spouses Juanita and Gary Villa, Reuben and Paula Santos, Irene and Dave Felver, Rick and Sue Santos, Albert and Brenda Santos and Teresa Howe.

A stunning, two paneled mural, “Great Spirit of Being” greets visitors to the museum gallery. Done using only a palette knife and toothpick, the mural depicts a long row of tribal women in many styles of traditional dress. It was the last thing she ever painted.

The artist’s explanation said it was painted to honor indigenous women as the “foremothers” of tribal ancestors. It honors the past and present through figures of women from Eastern, Plains and Pacific Northwest tribes, who sought to protect their culture during hundreds of years of colonization. The mural is also “a call for the protection of Native women and children,” the artist said.

Inside the gallery, Santos’ contemporary paintings combine elements of wind, water, sun, moon, and tribal beliefs into breathtaking cosmic visions. The show, “Indigenous Elements: The Life and Art of Apolonia Susana Santos” will be at the gallery over the next two months.

After the gallery opening, guests enjoyed tribal dances by a youth dance group, with drumming and singing provided by tribal elders Adeline Miller and Geraldine and Wilfred Smith.

The event ended with a salmon dinner for all, with fish cooked on planks around coals in an open fire pit.

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