This series, “Indigenous Resilience in Oregon,” focuses on different aspects of Oregon’s contemporary Tribal culture and explores how traditional ways of life have continued forward throughout colonization and settlement of Oregon. This collection of writings and interviews showcases the history and resiliency of Oregon’s First Peoples. The first installment of the series, “Steph Littlebird: ‘Am I honoring those who have come before me?’,” is here.
This story is about Crow’s Shadow Institute of Arts (CSIA) and its unique relationship with Willamette University’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art (HFMA). The institutions’ collaborative dynamic provides a blueprint for other organizations that are interested in developing relationships with Indigenous institutions like Crow’s Shadow. In this article you’ll meet Hallie Ford’s curator of Native American Art Rebecca Dobkins and learn about the museum’s approach to supporting Indigenous artists. You’ll also get to know Lehuauakea (they/them), a māhū, mixed-Native Hawaiian and recent Crow’s Shadow artist in residence, and learn about their experience as an emerging Indigenous creative.
Crow’s Shadow is located about four hours east of Portland, on the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Reservation near Pendleton. Established in 1992 by Native artists James Lavadour and Phillip Cash Cash, the institute is located in the Saint Andrew’s Mission historic school house. It is the only center of its kind on a reservation anywhere in the United States. In creating a 501c non-profit, the artists wanted to offer services to local youth and workshops that explored many art forms. In 2001, Crow’s Shadow decided to focus its resources on fine-art printmaking, creating a space where emerging artists could develop their skill sets and expand their portfolios.
INDIGENOUS RESILIENCE IN OREGON: An ArtsWatch Series
Over the years, Crow’s Shadow has established itself as a center for fine-art Indigenous printmaking. The coveted Artists-in-Residence program is by invitation only, and former participants include some of the most influential Indigenous makers in contemporary art (Wendy Redstar, and Kay Walking Stick have both been residents). Crow’s Shadow artists spend about two weeks in the studio creating editioned prints, assisted by a Master Printer. Many of Crow’s Shadows artists are not printmakers, but this program enables them to work with a highly specialized team to take their imagery into a new realm. By creating a limited-edition set of prints the artist not only learns a new skill set but also gains the opportunity to sell the multiples in the future.
Crow’s Shadow began to focus its programming on printmaking in the early 2000s. Around the same time, the newly established Hallie Ford Museum, at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, was beginning to cultivate relationships with regional Indigenous communities. Rebecca Dobkins is the Hallie Ford curator of Native American Arts, and a professor of anthropology at Willamette University. She came to Oregon in 1996 to help launch the Museum.
When Hallie Ford opened, it received initial funding from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to build the Museum’s collection, “we were given a quarter million dollar endowment from the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, our gallery that focuses on Native arts is called the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Gallery. Since then, we’ve used the proceeds from it to buy more Native art, and create programming year after year.”
Dobkins has been instrumental in developing a relationship between the Hallie Ford Museum of Art and Crow’s Shadow. She saw the opportunity to connect the two institutions in the early 2000s, when Crow’s Shadow began to focus its program on printmaking. Dobkins recalls: “I knew about Jim Lavadour’s work and wanted to do a show with him. So I just went out to meet folks at Crow’s Shadow and we started a relationship and I started learning about what they were doing and thinking about showing their work.”
As Dobkins remembers, “around 2007 or 2008 we began acting as the repository for the Crow’s Shadow archives. But, we don’t own those prints; we are the caretakers. And that is a practice that I feel really strongly about. We were not asking Crow’s Shadow to donate their prints to us. We can use them, and put them on display, but we take care of them, take good photos and make the images available on our website. Then we do these exhibits every two years.”
In 2017, Crow’s Shadow and Hallie Ford celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Crow’s Shadow Institute with an exhibition and published the book Crow’s Shadow Institute of Arts at 25, featuring the works of Indigenous artists from two and a half decades. “The big 25th anniversary show in 2017 traveled a bit, and we were able to get some broader representation. There was an article in The New York Times and the show was a First American Art Magazine candidate for the 10 most important art events of the year.” Just a year later, in 2018, Crow’s Shadow was awarded a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Crow’s Shadows presence in the region has grown and continues to establish itself in the Pacific Northwest as a significant art institution, but it also grows through validation from other institutions, like Hallie Ford recognizing the importance of the work coming from the institute. These relationships are important for the future viability of CISA – the recognition and affirmation that the program produces noteworthy and significant works, while supporting the careers of emerging artists.
One such artist who has had the opportunity to further their career at Crow’s Shadow is Lehuauakea, a traditional maker who graduated from Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art and is currently featured in the Portland Art Museum’s exhibition Mesh, curated by Kathleen Ash-Milby. Much of Lehua’s work is based in the production of traditional Hawaiian bark cloth kapa, a laborious, time-consuming method that produces a beautiful and durable textile. Once the cloth is created, Lehua embellishes it with hand-carved stamps, creating a myriad of traditional geometric patterns. And while their work is deeply rooted in ancestral practice, it has contemporary presence.
When Lehua found out they were selected for the Crow’s Shadow residency, they hadn’t taken a formal printmaking course: As one of the youngest artists ever selected for the residency, they were honored to be amongst notable Indigenous artists such as Ka’ila Ferrell-Smith, and Joe Fedderson. “When I went to PNCA I took a bunch of classes in various media,” Lehua says. “But, I had actually never taken a printmaking class. So all of the printmaking experience I’ve had in the past, it was traditional Hawaiian, old-school bamboo carving that I used for my kapa making. So it was a huge learning curve for me, figuring out how layers interact with each other, how colors print on top of each other.”
During their residency, Lehua got a crash course in fine-art printmaking and got to work with master printers to fine-tune the process, “I was there for two weeks, so about nine full working days, and we did three litho prints; one was a series of monoprints and then two were photo litho print.”
Getting the opportunity to have your work reproduced by master printers is a chance most artists just don’t readily have access to. Most methods of fine-art printing, like lithography, require an extensive list of supplies and access to a printing press. Printmaking as an art form is arcane, and those who are masters of it are few and far between. So the experience that Crow’s Shadow offers to artists is quite unique, because they gain access to tools and facilities that are often difficult to access unless you work in a commercial printing operation or have access to an academic print studio. Not to mention, limited edition fine-art prints command higher prices and place an artist’s imagery into what is considered an “elite” medium.
As Lehua explains it, residencies like Crow’s Shadow give their work a sense of authority that is not often afforded to emerging artists. “To put it really simply, the biggest thing that makes Crow’s Shadow stand out from a lot of other institutions is their unwavering desire to support Native artists without conditions. Artists aren’t looked at as a means of production. Like, yes, the prints are sold and to an extent, the money goes back to supporting the organization. But at the same time—the artist has full control over what is made, what they create, and they split the proceeds of their sales. So it’s not like all the money is just going back to them, it’s continuing to fuel the artist’s practice with something that is relevant to the path that they are already on.”
As more organizations seek to engage with Indigenious creatives, it’s important to recognize that marginalized people may require different resources than other artists or communities. I asked Lehua how they think institutions can engage with Indigenous artists more intentionally. “I know for a lot of artists, especially those artists of color who would want to say yes to an opportunity like this, if it’s not paid or, or funded in some way, it can be an access barrier,” they replied. “I think that’s something that more institutions should consider going forward, to just pay us well for our time and our energy and what we’re bringing to the table.”
Besides access barriers, there are cultural differences that require reframing how organizations approach these relationships. Lehua thinks it’s “something that a lot of non-artists overlook. If you’re not doing this work every day, you’re more likely to look at it as a task-based profession where the artist has a certain quota to fulfill. Especially for Native artists whose work may not revolve around a nine to five. It can be difficult to be invited and succeed in spaces that were just not built for that kind of level of creativity and productivity. A lot of people don’t understand that my work is seasonal—I cannot go out and make kapa in winter weather. I literally have to flow with cycles that are beyond the Gregorian time clocks and look at how my practice fits into that. And of course, we know the world that we live in right now is not accustomed to people who work like that. So, I think it’s, it’s just really nice that Crow’s Shadow allows the artist to kind of flow at their own pace.”
Along with the creative freedom that Crow’s Shadow offers resident artists, it also provides another unique resource, which is supported by their relationship with the Hallie Ford in Salem. For an artist, having your work in a museum collection and featured in a biennial is a massive achievement and gives the work an authority it might otherwise not have. Particularly for Indigenous artists, our work has been historically excluded from fine art institutions and relegated to natural history museums. Our work is often dismissed as “primitive” or strictly “utilitarian.” By offering Native artists this opportunity and positioning their work squarely in the fine art realm directly upends a bias that still pervades the broader fine art institution.
This validation is important, because Natives can shout at the top of our lungs about how we’ve been excluded from these institutions, but until the people who are at the helm of these privileged museums get in on that conversation, it’s more difficult to make headway. That’s why the work that Crow’s Shadow and Hallie Ford are doing to promote, document, and archive contemporary Indigenous art is transformative. More institutions need to identify how their resources can legitimately enrich the lives of communities that have been typically excluded from their spaces, to make intentional progress toward decentering whiteness in the fine arts.