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A Closer Look at Art of the American West

When you first walk into Art of the American West: Highlights of the Haub Family Collection from the Tacoma Art Museum at the Lightcatcher building, you’re met with a brilliant, colorful painting depicting a Native American man. Next, your gaze falls upon a portrait of another Native American man painted in 1851 by Paul Kane. If you look closer, something else may catch your gaze: two large medals affixed to the sash on the chief.

A patron looks at “Portrait of Maungwudaus,” c.1851 by Paul Kane (1810-1871). Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. Courtesy of the Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub.

Art of the American West

The man depicted in this painting is Maungwudaus, meaning great “hero” or “courageous,” (known by his English name, George Henry). He was born circa 1807 on the shore of Lake Ontario and was an Ojibwa interpreter, performer, and Methodist mission worker.

In 1844, he formed a traveling Native American dance troupe. The troupe included members of his family and several Walpole Island Ojibwa. They traveled to Britain, France and Eastern North America to perform. Maungwudaus had the chance to perform for royalty such as King Louis Philippe of France and the king and queen of Belgium.

During the troupe’s 1845 performance for King Louis Philippe I, Maungwudaus was given a gold medal. Five years later, he was awarded a silver medal from U.S. President Zachary Taylor.

More medals

But the portrait of Maungwudaus isn’t the only one of a Native American man with medals. A nearby portrait shows a Native American man in ceremonial dress. He is holding a feather-endowed pipe, with three peace medals hanging around his neck. The man in the portrait is Naw-Kaw, a Winnebago chief. The portrait is circa 1832 by artist Henry Inman.

Peace medals were awarded by the U.S. government throughout the early colonization of the Americas up until the late 1800s. The medals were awarded to Native American tribes or individuals after almost every formal interaction with the government. The medals served as a way of promising the prospects of peace and trade. For many tribes, being awarded a medal held great pride. These medals were sometimes passed down from generation to generation.

While the medals conveyed a sense of importance and respect, controversy surrounds their use in building relations between the U.S. and Native Americans. Some tribal leaders were critical of US peace medals and their effectiveness in negotiations.

The portraits are only one piece of Art of the American West exhibition. The exhibition gives you a vivid look into the diverse land of the American West.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Making Faces: Masks and Masquerading Around the World

Author Marty Rubin once said that “behind every mask there is a face, and behind that a story.” We invite you to join us as we explore making masks and the stories behind them.

Making Masks

Masks carved by Native American artists from the Northwest will be on display, presenting a modern take. At the event, you can learn how Pacific Northwest tribes used these facial coverings in their celebratory and religious ceremonies. Guests can try on several made in traditional Northwest Coast Native styles.

“Masks have played an important role in many tribal traditions throughout the world. They’re used for many things, from ceremonies to ensure a good harvest to curing illness. For some northernmost Native American tribes, masks hold sacred meaning and are used to convey ancient stories,” said Susanna Brooks, the Director of Learning Innovation at Whatcom Museum.

There will also be activities demonstrating traditional Japanese Noh Theater Masks. Japanese Noh Theater has been performed since the 14th century. Noh Theater Masks are used to enhance the emotions that a character is feeling.

“Masking your Feelings” will address mask-wearing as a coping mechanism for children experiencing anxiety in social situations. Children can explore and express a wide range of feelings in this activity.

Guests can learn how museums acquire their collections, what kinds of objects they accept (accessioned) into the collection, and more. If you’ve ever had any questions about how a museum operates, this is the presentation for you. With Halloween just around the corner, this is the perfect time to learn about the history and art form behind masks.

–Written by Colton Redtfeldt, Marketing Assistant

Program descriptions and schedule of events:

FIG

Noon-1pm: Children’s face painting inside the FIG Studio.

2-4pm: Masking your Feelings with Metaphorical Masks

LCB Art Studio

Noon-4pm: Ongoing mask demonstrations and workshops in the Lightcatcher Art Studio.

  • Noh Theater Masks of Japan
  • Transformation Masks

LCB Lobby

1:30-2pm: Interactive Theater for all ages

Noon-1pm and 2:30-3:30pm: Museum collections and exhibits 101—Get all these answers and more!  Experience handling a work of art, while you learn how a museum collection inspires its exhibitions.

Lightcatcher Galleries

1:30-2:30pm Docent-led gallery tour of Art of the American West: Highlights of the Haub Family Collection from the Tacoma Art Museum

2:30-3:30pm Docent-led gallery tour of People of the Sea and Cedar: A Journey Through the Tribal Cultures and History of the Northwest Coast

 

Helmi Juvonen Winter Dance Lithograph

Transcending Boundaries: Becoming Helmi

The Whatcom Museum recently uploaded a new virtual gallery that showcases a sampling of artwork by Helmi Juvonen (1903-1985). It can be viewed HERE. Scroll down to learn more about the life Helmi.

Helmi Juvonen, Vantage, circa 1975-1976; Gouache on rice paper. Gift of Dr. Ulrich & Stella Fritzsche.

Transcending Boundaries: Becoming Helmi

Helmi Dagmar Juvonen (1903-1985) was a Seattle-based artist who found success capturing the culture of Native American tribes across the Pacific Northwest.

She was a persistent artist who strived to create art in a time where being a female artist was tough. Even as she struggled with poverty and mental illness, Helmi continued to create art until her final days.

Finding Her Love and Audience

Born in Butte Montana in 1903, Helmi found her love of art at a young age from her father. A Finnish immigrant, her father made pencil sketches and watercolor paintings for her and her sister. When she was 15, her family moved to Seattle. During her time at Queen Anne High School, Helmi sold handmade rag dolls and greeting cards at a local department store.

After graduating, she worked as a seamstress and took on small side jobs to pay her way through Seattle Art School. Those side jobs helped her establish a line of connections that included affluent citizens and successful artists.

In 1929, through one of these connections, Helmi got a scholarship to attended Cornish School (now Cornish College of the Arts). It was there she studied puppetry and lithography. The next year, she was hospitalized with manic-depressive illness (now known as bipolar disorder). She spent three years at Northern State Hospital.

After being released, Helmi lived on the edge of poverty as she struggled to make a living. Helmi continued to take on art-related jobs and create drawings that she sold for 50 cents each. Her talents were well-recognized and her works were purchased by many important Seattle collectors. During this time, Helmi made connections with Chief Shelton of the Lummi Tribe, Chief Colowash of the Yakama tribe, and White Eagle of the Chippewa.

Capturing the Spirit of Native Americans

Over the course of two decades Helmi continued to build a rapport with tribes across the Pacific Northwest. She got the chance to participate in religious ceremonies across the state. Helmi later illustrated many of these ceremonies and captured the emotions that surrounded them. Examples of tribes she interacted with include the Lummi, Swinomish, Yakima, and Makah.

In 1953, she attended the “Treaty Day” ceremonial dances in La Conner. She also produced hundreds of drawings of Native American artifacts in the Washington State Museum.

Helmi Juvonen; Untitled (Eskimo Adam & Eve), Tempera; 13″ x 10″. Gift of Ron Kellen.

Trying Times

During the 1950s, a period of suppression and conformity, a woman living alone as an artist proved difficult. Helmi’s eccentricities, including living with dozens of cats, alarmed neighbors and family. For a time, the artist’s obsession with Mark Tobey, the most renowned of the Pacific Northwest mystic painters, embarrassed Tobey.

Helmi was mistakenly diagnosed with schizophrenia (now recognized as manic-depression). As a result, she was committed against her will to Oakhurst Convalescent Home in Elma, Washington. She lived there for the final 26 years of her life. While there, she continued to make art and welcome artists and supporters. These supporters organized exhibitions, including her 1985 retrospective at the Whatcom Museum.

The Whatcom Museum’s collection of her work, which numbers 250 objects, includes some of her finest pieces. Some of those include paintings of petroglyphs from Central Washington, watercolors of Lummi masked dancers, and more. This virtual gallery gives a small sampling of the complexity of Helmi’s vision.

Helmi’s life is one of great trials. Even in the face of mental illness and poverty, Helmi continued to produce art until her final days. Through her tireless work, she forged a unique style that merged aboriginal Northwest culture with modern art.

Sources:

http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv25660

https://www.whatcommuseum.org/v/vex22/index.htm


NEW EXHIBIT AT THE LIGHTCATCHER SHARES THE HISTORY AND ART OF THE NORTHWEST COAST TRIBES

Photo by Kiser Photo Co., Whatcom Museum #1946.24.27

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Bellingham, WA, July 5, 2017 — A newly redesigned gallery in the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher building shares the art, history, and culture of the Northwest Coast people, blending both historical and contemporary perspectives. The exhibit, People of the Sea and Cedar: A Journey through the Tribal Cultures and History of the Northwest Coast, opens Saturday, July 15, noon-5pm in the second floor gallery of the Lightcatcher.

Featuring artifacts from the Museum’s collection, such as Coast Salish artwork and carvings, woven blankets, hand-made tools, clothing, baskets, and cedar hats, the exhibit will show some of the traditional crafts created by the Northwest Coast people. Visitors will have opportunities to learn about the traditions, languages, and stories of these tribes.

“The Whatcom Museum hasn’t had a permanent presence of Coast Salish culture and history, past and present,” said Patricia Leach, Executive Director of the Whatcom Museum. “Now that our state legislature has mandated the teaching of native cultures in our schools, the timing on the creation of this new gallery space couldn’t be better. The Museum is excited to be enhancing the education of our local school children with the ‘People of the Sea and Cedar’ school program, which will actually take place in the new gallery.”

The Whatcom Museum has been offering its popular “People of the Sea and Cedar” program to Bellingham and Whatcom County students for more than 20 years. The new exhibit enhances the school program, which is being redesigned by the Museum education staff and will be in place this fall.

With input provided by tribal representatives, researchers, and educators, the Museum presents an experiential exhibit. People of the Sea and Cedar provides hands-on learning experiences, a Lummi and Nooksack language interactive, and videos showcasing Lummi and Nooksack weavers and carvers. Themes of cultural knowledge, art and symbolism, lifestyles, and community will present the Northwest Coast tribes as vibrant, living cultures who honor their past while building cultural and economic futures for their people.

People of the Sea and Cedar: A Journey through the Tribal Cultures and History of the Northwest Coast will be a permanent exhibit, which will be continually developed with rotating art and artifacts in the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher building, 250 Flora Street. Through its Smithsonian Affiliation, the Museum plans to borrow artifacts from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in future years.

Members are invited to a members-only preview on Fri., July 14, 5-7pm in the Lightcatcher. The public opening on Sat., July 15, noon-5pm will include storytelling by Nooksack storyteller Tamara Cooper-Woodrich from 1-1:30pm in the Lightcatcher.