Indian artists eschew sugarcoated history
- Paul Duchene
- Portland Tribune - Features
Gallery show offers other perspectives on Lewis and Clark expedition
Behind the approaching gusts of reverential fervor surrounding the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, an astute observer might suspect another story lurks.
After all, who discovered whom?
Putting the Corps of Discovery expedition in perspective, Canada refers to its Indian tribes as First Nations, reflecting their presence on the continent for several thousand years before being 'discovered' by civil servants on an adventure.
Bonnie Kahn's Wild West Gallery examines the other side of the Lewis and Clark story in a show that runs Thursday through Sunday.
Kahn has studied Western art for 20 years and manages Robert Pamplin Jr.'s collection, but this show is her own personal perspective.
'I just realized I was getting a sugarcoated version of Lewis and Clark, constantly hearing one view. I felt it was time for other people to be able to voice their perspective,' she says.
For her four-day show, Kahn will have eight American Indian artists on hand to show and discuss their work. All will be present at her gallery on Thursday.
Ojibwa Indian artist John Potter explains another view of the expedition Ñ not without humor:
'Imagine hungry guests coming to your house. You feed them, give them a place to sleep, and when they leave they take your furniture, interesting items they see around your home and ask if they can borrow your car.'
Potter will have a series of four paintings (and prints of same) on display about the expedition, including 'The Shoshone Discover Lewis and Clark,' which is reminiscent of a Charles Russell painting of mounted warriors overlooking a valley as Lewis and Clark's column crawls along below.
'I think the Native perspective is that Indians are tired of hearing about this. Native people crisscrossed this country for millennia,' Potter says.
President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and co-leader William Clark to explore the West and search for a passage to the Pacific Ocean. They left St. Louis on May 14, 1804, and returned on Sept. 23, 1806. They were, and still are, hailed as American heroes.
Potter will be accompanied by American Indian ledger artist Frank Salcido; Brad Yazzolino, showing posters of York, the black man who accompanied Lewis and Clark; mask maker Bill Rutherford; storyteller Michael Two Feathers Ray; flutist Isaac Trimble; bronze sculptor Gary Cooley; Cayuse-Nez Perce goldsmith Maynard White Owl Lavadour; and goldsmith Laurent Worme.
'As far as my Shoshone friends are concerned, Lewis and Clark walk on water, but that's because Indian people honor Sacagawea,' Potter says. 'A lot of Native people think what she did was good, despite the subsequent devastation of the Indian economy, advent of smallpox and other diseases.'
While Potter observes that history is written by the winners, he can understand the nation's fixation with Lewis and Clark.
'It doesn't do a lot for me,' he says, 'but as the dominant society it was a big deal for them.'
Kahn says Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery is significant as the beginning of tremendous cultural change.
'It affected everyone, and there was a lot of wrongdoing to cultures and people for land and gold at such a manic pace,' she says. 'There were tremendous repercussions on the environment, many of which continue to this day. I see this as time to acknowledge the past and learn from it.'