A collection of different types of barbed wire on display at Fort Rock, Oregon.
A collection of different types of barbed wire on display at Fort Rock, Oregon.
Sunflowers & stagecoaches? You may be wondering how those two things go together.
Last August we explored the Steens Mountain area by car. Did you know you can drive all the way around this 50-mile long mountain and to its 9,700-foot peak at certain times of the year? The views from up there are breathtaking!
The following pictures are from the dirt road on the east side of Steens Mountain. Common sunflowers, Helianthus annus L., were in full bloom along the road.
As their name implies, common sunflowers are common throughout the conterminous United States and in parts of Canada and Mexico. Sunflowers have been introduced in other parts of North America and throughout the world. They occur in a wide variety of habitats including prairies, roadsides, near railroad right-of-ways, savannas, and forest edges.
These leggy plants grow 1.5 to 8+ feet tall and bloom from July through October. Their iconic flowers actually have two kinds of flowers. The yellow “ray” flowers look like petals but each is an individual flower. The “disc” flowers, at the center of the brown head, are usually small. If you magnified your view of the center of the flower, you would see that each of these disc flowers had five petals. The alternate leaves, and the main stem are covered in coarse hair.
Sunflowers are valuable to both wildlife and people. The seeds are sought out by many species of birds. Do you have sunflower seeds from the cultivated variety of sunflower in your bird feeder? If you do, you know how much birds and other wildlife enjoy eating them.
Now on to how this plant is used by humans. Wow! Where do I start?
You have probably munched on sunflower seeds, but did you know the yellow flowers are also edible? They make a colorful addition to a salad.
In July of 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled along the Missouri River in Montana and recorded these observations on sunflowers.
The sunflower is in bloom [NB: Copy for Dr. Barton ] and abundant in the river bottoms. The Indians of the Missouri particularly those who do not cultivate maze make great uce of the seed of this plant for bread, or use it in thickening their soope. they most commonly first parch the seed and then pound them between two smooth stones untill they reduce it to a fine meal. to this they sometimes mearly add a portion of water and drink it in that state, or add a sufficient quantity of marrow grease to reduce it to the consistency of common dough and eate it in that manner. the last composition I think much best and have eat it in that state heartily and think it a pallateable dish.
There are many medicinal uses of this annual plant. Flowers were used for heart problems and in treating burns. Roots were used in treating blisters and snakebites. Native Americans made a leaf tea to treat lung ailments and high fevers. A poultice was applied to snake and spider bites. Seeds were used as diuretics and to help heal coughing.
In addition to the historical usages, sunflowers are used in creating dyes, soap, cattle and chicken feed, and a fine silky fiber, similar to hemp. Sunflower oil is widely consumed in both North America and Europe.
Fun Fact: Some Native Americans believed sunflowers were a symbol of courage. Warriors would carry sunflowers cakes with them into battle. Hunters would sprinkle themselves with sunflower powder to keep their spirits up.
So now you know more about sunflowers, but why is this post called Sunflowers & Stagecoaches? While taking pictures of the sunflowers, I remembered to look for an old stagecoach stop I had seen on a Circling Steens Mountain birding field trip. Ah ha! Found it. See the dark spots in the middle of this photo? Those are the remnants of a stagecoach stop.
Here’s a closer look. The crumbling rock walls are all that’s left of this stop.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, stagecoach routes crisscrossed the West. On the more heavily traveled routes there were stops every 25 miles or so. Why that distance? That’s about how far a team of horses pulling wagons full of goods and passengers could travel. Their progress was slow due to difficult terrain and weather that could quickly change from scorching heat to bone-chilling cold.
Some of these stations were just for changing horse teams while others had accommodations available for travelers. The stops in Fields and Frenchglen offered more options for weary travelers. One stop near the one pictured above charged 25 cents for overnight lodging and meals. The charge for the care of each horse was an additional 25 cents.
Travel along these stagecoach routes was not fast. For example, the east-west route from Ontario, Oregon to Burns, Oregon took approximately 40 hours. Today that 130-mile route takes 2 hours 12 minutes. But imagine all the sights those early travelers must have seen on those slow journeys…
This teepee made from tules is a re-creation of what Native Americans of Central Oregon once used as a home.
Tule bulrushes (pictured below at Hosmer Lake) grow along the shores of lakes, ponds, and waterways.
This plant was used to make teepees, baskets, mats, bedding, footwear, and clothing. Tules were also used medicinally, as a source of food, and in making boats.
In a black & white world, everything is laid bare for all to see.
A lack of color
Highlights drama in the skies
In brilliant detail
A lack of color
Gives expression to patterns
A lack of color
Reminds us of distant times
Dimming yet dazzling
A lack of color
Brings fading autumn blossoms
Back to vivid life
In a black & white world, the loss of color can often lead to seeing things in a new light.
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge (LAPC) – Monotone
This interesting collection of framed arrowhead art is on display at the Fort Rock Homestead Village Museum. The obsidian used to make much of this art exists throughout parts of Central Oregon. It is abundant at Glass Buttes . Big Obsidian Flow, (shown here) at Newberry National Volcanic Monument, contains 380 million cubic yards of obsidian. Native peoples had a lot of material to work with close by.
This is a scene from a museum in Baker City, Oregon. I thought the rustic details came out much more clearly in black and white.
Camp Hart Mountain was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and operated from 1937 to 1941. Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge , established in December of 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, helped protect pronghorn antelope.
The CCC crew stationed at Camp Hart Mountain helped with many projects such as building roads, stringing telephone lines, and building new structures. After their work was completed, most of the buildings at the camp were taken down. The building in the distance was the infirmary and it’s the only historical building remaining at this site. There is currently an RV campground located here.
By the way, I worked at Hart Mountain years ago and saw pronghorn regularly. Here’s a story of one such encounter.
Magic in the wind
Pushes whirling windmill blades
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Magical
Sensationalized accounts of the “Promised Land” caused the single largest voluntary migration in America. Artists such as Albert Bierstadt presented glamorized versions of the journey along the Trail.
Catlow Cave artifacts, including sagebrush bark sandals, grass & bark baskets, and arrowheads & spearpoints, are displayed at the Harney County Historical Society Museum in Burns, Oregon. There are a couple pointed sticks that may be “knitting needles”, used to knit the sagebrush bark together.
These cave artifacts are between 9,000 to 10,000 years old. The Northern Paiute people lived in this region. There are several caves in the Catlow Valley cliffs. Petroglyphs adorn some of the rock faces.
Do you want to learn more about the native peoples who lived in this area thousands of years ago? Consider taking a guided tour to the Fort Rock Cave hosted by Oregon Parks and Recreation. Be sure to visit the nearby Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Museum. This small museum has more examples of cave artifacts from this region. The woven items were practical but also works of art with distinctive patterns.
We stumbled upon the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in northern Oregon one autumn day . The Center opened in 1997 but we had never been there.
Wouldn’t you like to have a river winding across your floor like this one in the entry hall?
How about a cedar dugout canoe? Some were up to 50 feet in length.
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum is in The Dalles along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Built in the 1900s, this road was the first scenic highway in the U.S. The highway winds through areas with forests, rocky cliffs, and dramatic waterfalls. We were planning to visit Multnomah Falls that day, but it was inaccessible due to a fire.
So we ended up here and a Columbian mammoth trumpeted with joy when he saw us. We stayed out of the way of his 16-foot long tusks. We found another interesting critter close by.
Did you know that there were once dire wolves in Oregon? Me neither. They were the largest canid to have lived, weighing as much as 150 pounds. Sometimes creatures portrayed in stories, such as Game of Thrones, actually existed.
Next we walked into a gallery of Native American artifacts. This center features artifacts from Wasco, Northern Paiute, and Warm Springs tribes.
Beadwork and basketry always impresses me. It would take so much patience to create something like that, something I don’t always have.
In another part of the center, the practice of fishing the Columbia River off of wooden platforms is highlighted. Native Americans fished this river for thousands of years but the runs of salmon have decreased dramatically due to dams and warming water temperatures.
Several displays referred to the explorations of Lewis and Clark.
They passed through the Gorge traveling west in October of 1805 and on their way back home in April of 1806.
Members of the Lewis and Clark party traded with the natives for needed supplies and information on routes. See those strings of beads hanging from the display? Beads had great value as an item to trade at the time.
Naturalists were eager to explore this new land and this display shows some of the winged wonders they encountered. That’s a lot of butterflies!
As the United States expanded its territories in the 1840s and 1850s, more settlers moved toward the West. Lt. John C. Frémont explored the Oregon Trail, camping at The Dalles in 1843. The Army helped map potential wagon routes through Oregon.
Thousands of settlers soon made their way to Oregon and towns sprung up to support them.
Businesses catering to the settler’s needs prospered. Those are some nice saddles!
The railroad expanded into Oregon. Chinese immigrants helped construct railways and worked in the gold mines. They brought elements of their culture with them.
Though some of their customs and products, such as fireworks, were appreciated by the largely European American residents, Chinese often encountered prejudice.
This exhibit detailed archaeological work on the Chinatown site that once existed in The Dalles. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, it was more difficult for them to stay in the United States. Most moved away from The Dalles by the late 1920s.
For some history about Chinese in John Day, Oregon, about 200 miles to the south, read Kam Wah Chung: A Step Back in Time.
Excavations at Chinatown have uncovered many artifacts and evidence of past floods and fires. In 2013, this site was listed among Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places.
There were a couple things we didn’t see on this visit.
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center was a nice place for an unplanned stop. Lots to see and do there. We were there in October and there weren’t many other visitors. The fall leaves outside the building greeted us in bright shades of gold.
There’s a great fountain just outside the front door. I leave you with the calming sounds of its waters.
Old bits & spurs from days gone by live on in this collage.
Old wagon wheels of time at Fort Rock Homestead Village Museum, Oregon.
Have you ever stepped inside a time capsule and discovered a place frozen in time? You have the opportunity to visit such a place if you stop at the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site in John Day, Oregon. The small building, located two blocks north of Highway 26, was, at one time, bustling with activity. Kam Wah Chung, which translates to the “Golden Flower of Prosperity,” served as a dry goods store, herbalist shop, import business, house of worship, and boarding house. It also housed an informal library and post office.
As you step into the dimly lit interior of the building, you get a feel for what life was like decades ago.
Boxes and tins of everyday products line the shelves. Merchandise stocked at Kam Wah Chung appealed to both Chinese and American customers.
In the backroom, larger boxes of supplies fill the room.
The apothecary is amazing! Stacks of small neatly labeled boxes reach to the ceiling.
They used many herbs in the practice of Chinese medicine, but also more exotic things like lizard feet, bat wings, and bear parts. A small room across from the apothecary served as a place to treat patients.
You step through a low doorway to get into the kitchen. The table and wood stove look ready to serve a hot meal.
An early version of a refrigerator cabinet sits in a corner.
Religion was an important part of everyday life and small altars, with dried oranges and incense stick offerings, are tucked into various nooks.
Two sets of bunk beds are in the same room as the kitchen. Advertisements line the walls and undersides of the bunks, in case you might need to purchase a suit while staying there.
As you pass through another door, you’ll enter a private bedroom. You can’t go upstairs, but additional boarding and living quarters are located there.
The building was constructed in the 1860s as a trading post, and it was put under lease to the Kam Wah Chung Company in 1878. Ing Hay and Lung On, both originally from the Guangdong Province of China, formed a partnership and purchased the business in 1887. It served as a gathering place for Chinese immigrants who traveled to Oregon to work on railroad lines and in gold mines. In 1862, prospectors discovered gold in Canyon City, two miles south of John Day. In 1880, John Day was home to over 2,000 Chinese, the second largest Chinese community in Oregon and one of the largest in the U.S.
Ing Hay, also known as “Doc Hay,” practiced herbal medicine and pulsology. Doc Hay lost his sight, but he claimed he could use his sensitive hands to identify ailments based on a patient’s pulse. Western medicine was in its infancy at that time and anyone could claim to be a doctor. Nearly half of patients treated by “quack” doctors died from infection. Ing Hay served both Chinese and non-Chinese patients and was a well-respected healer throughout the region. He was considered a “municipal treasure” after he used his herbal remedies to prevent the spread of illness during the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.
Lung On, also known as “Leon,” was a well-educated man fluent in both English and Chinese. He used his charisma and many skills in his work as a merchant, labor contractor, mediator, and translator. After the gold rush, he turned to other endeavors. Lung On started a mail-order clothing company and also had one of the first car dealerships and service stations east of the Cascades. He also dabbled in real estate and horse racing. Lung On was a successful businessman and he willed his $90,000 estate to Ing Hay. Both men continued living in the Kam Wah Chung building for nearly 60 years and were considered valued members of the community.
Though both had family in China, they never returned to their native country. One reason for this was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Increasing tensions between Chinese and resident laborers in a struggling economy led to a series of laws. The Act stated that Chinese could not become U.S. citizens or own land. Teachers, students, diplomats, and merchants were given limited rights, but weren’t always allowed back into the U.S. if they left the country. In John Day, Chinese could only live in a small neighborhood near Kam Wah Chung and it served as a refuge for them. More moved to John Day in 1885 when the Chinese neighborhood in Canyon City burned to the ground and they were not allowed to rebuild. It was a challenging environment for people of Chinese heritage and they felt safer living near each other.
Chinese could not own guns in Grant County so Ing Hay and Lung Ho kept meat cleavers at the ready to defend themselves. You can see evidence of how they were harassed by observing bullet holes in their metal-clad front door. The thin layer of metal didn’t stop any bullets, but it prevented fire from destroying the building.
Lung On passed away in 1940 and Ing Hay moved to a Portland nursing home in 1948. He passed away in 1952 and his nephew sold the building to the city of John Day. Ing Hay wanted the building to serve as a Chinese history museum, but that request was forgotten. The Kam Wah Chung building remained locked until 1967. When the doors were opened, everything inside was largely intact. Over 30,000 artifacts have been cataloged. The apothecary contained hundreds of herbs, some of which no longer exist in the wild. One of Doc Hay’s medical books may have been compiled 300-500 years ago by one of the founders of Chinese medicine. If the book is an original, it would be one of the few copies known to still exist.
Kam Wah Chung was deeded to Oregon State Parks and Recreation in 1975 and leased to the city of John Day. It opened to the public in 1977. The state took over management of the site in 2004. The Friends of Kam Wah Chung help manage a small visitor center and store housed in a separate building.
Oregon State Parks and Recreation offers free 45-minute tours of the Kam Wah Chung site from May 1 to October 31. A guide must accompany visitors. The guides offer visitors a wealth of information and they obviously enjoy sharing their knowledge. Their talks are enhanced by informative recordings. The tours fill up fast so this year they are experimenting with making reservations in advance.
There are several exciting updates related to Kam Wah Chung. Plans are in the works for a larger visitor center that may include a “virtual reality” room that would simulate the interior of the building. Recent archaeological research at the site has revealed where the temple and other buildings may have once stood. In July, students can participate in an archaeology field school on the site as part of the Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project. Malheur National Forest, Southern Oregon Laboratory of Anthropology, and Kam Wah Chung are among those working on this project. The Discovery Channel is working on a documentary about Chinese traditional medicine and they have shot footage at Kam Wah Chung and several other locations. The program is expected to air in North America in the fall of 2019.
This site is an important destination for those interested in history. It is the best known example of an historical Chinese mercantile and herb store in the United States. Chinese scholars have expressed great interest in Kam Wah Chung and they visit the site regularly. As news stories related to discoveries at the site have spread throughout China, it has become a destination for Chinese tourists. People from all over the world visit Kam Wah Chung.
There has been a significant increase in the number of visitors from the Netherlands. Locations near Kam Wah Chung were featured in the highly popular Dutch reality program “Wie is de Mol?” which translates as “Who is the Mole?”
I am fortunate that this site is only about two hours away from Bend, Oregon, where I live. It’s a trip well worth taking.
Here are a few interesting facts about Kam Wah Chung:
To view a 2015 Emmy nominated documentary about Kam Wah Chung produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting, see Oregon Experience – Kam Wah Chung. The personal stories recounted by people who knew Ing Hay and Lung On helps to bring the history of this remarkable place to life.
This is a reprint of a June 2019 article in High Desert Voices, a newsletter by and for volunteers and staff at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. To see more issues of the newsletter, go here.
The Daily Spur – Tour
I saw this old switchboard at the Harney County Historical Museum in Burns, Oregon. I could imagine Ernestine sitting in front of it saying, “One ringy dingy…two ringy dingy. Is this the party to whom I am speaking?” Making calls is a little easier today.
This interesting Double O Ranch sign is on part of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. At one time this 17,000 acre ranch was privately owned by Bill Hanley. The U.S. Government purchased most of it in 1941 and added it to the refuge. The ranch was originally owned by Amos W. Riley and James A. Hardin. It was established in 1875 and was one of the first permanent pioneer settlements in Harney County.
The River Ranch Barn at Summer Lake Wildlife Area in eastern Oregon is weathered to perfection. Here are a few pictures of its exterior from a distance and close up. Winter Ridge rises majestically behind the barn.
The shakes of its roof line up in irregular and interesting patterns.
Here are a couple pictures of an outbuilding next to the barn. The weathered barn wood has a variety of warm tones and a distinct personality all its own.
This pale knotty eye watches the wildlife visiting this oasis in the desert with a look of approval.
Lens Artists Photo Challenge – Worn & Weathered
I’ve featured several outdoor photos taken in and around Fort Rock, but now you’ll get glimpses indoors at the Fort Rock Valley Homestead Museum. Many of these historical buildings were moved here from nearby. The homes and businesses are furnished as they would have been in the early 1900s. This is a place where history truly comes alive.
A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.Marcus Garvey
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – History
Last weekend we attended an Asian New Year Celebration, and the performances we watched were spectacular! This event brought together performances of music, Tai Chi, Parkour, aerial silks, and lion dancing. A local restaurant provided samples of Asian cuisine. There was also a silent auction.
The Chinese New Year started on February 5th and it’s the Year of the Earth Pig. In other years the Pig is associated with Wood, Fire, Metal, or Water. The Pig occupies the last position of the Chinese Zodiac. It symbolizes “carefree fun, good fortune, and wealth” according to Your Chinese Astrology.
The celebration featured the lion dance at the beginning and end of this event. The two lions of White Lotus Dragon and Lion Dancers danced to the pounding rhythms. Kids in the audience at this event loved when they got to follow the lions out of the auditorium at the end of the celebration. Be sure to watch the video at the end of this post for an up close look at a lion dancing in the audience.
Lion dances are a traditional dance in China and other Asian countries. They have been around for millennia. In the past, the dance was used to scare away evil spirits. But lion dances were also performed to bring joy, prosperity, and good fortune to events such as celebrating a new year. Dancers emulate the movements of lions in colorful costumes.
Oregon Tai Chi Wushu gave performances in large and small groups. They balanced the calm and graceful movements of the larger groups with the fast-paced action of smaller groups. One performance had a modern twist with dueling electric guitars. Watch that video below, near the end of this post. The local group includes participants of all ages, even those as young as four years old.
In the past, martial arts were essential for protection in times of war in China. As that need decreased, they recognized the lasting health benefits of this training. Tai Chi is referred to as “meditation in motion.”
Members of Abstract in Motion did a lighter-than-air performance of Parkour. Merriam-Webster defines Parkour as “the sport of traversing environmental obstacles by running, climbing, or leaping rapidly and efficiently.” This activity was developed in France in the 1980s. It’s kind of like the moves seen in The Matrix movies without the use of special effects. The performers leaped and flipped and moved in ways that made me wonder if they were mere mortals.
One of the most memorable performances for me at the Asian New Year Celebration was the Taiko drumming of the Portland Taiko group. This group “blends the tradition of Japanese taiko drumming with a sense of Asian American identity, creativity, and empowerment.” Watch the videos to see the sense of joy this group emulates.
Taiko percussion instruments were in use in Japan 2,000 years ago. It’s thought taiko drums were used in communication or religious rituals. They resemble instruments found in China and Korea and may have come to Japanese culture from as far away as India. The idea to play together in Kumi-daiko (a taiko ensemble) was created in the 1950s. Drums range in size from small snare drum-sized up to as large as a wine barrel.
Outside the auditorium, Silks Rising gave an aerial silks demonstration. A long piece of silky fabric hung from an open pyramid-shaped structure. A young girl climbed, spun, and dropped on the long piece of fabric in a kind of aerial ballet. I can see why these performances are called “aerial contortion.” Cirque du Soleil invented this art form in 1995.
This celebration packed a lot into two hours. Some performances were slow, quiet, and graceful; others were fast, loud, and full of raw emotion. There was something for everyone here. It’s the 12th year of the Asian New Year Celebration—a fundraiser for Bend Senior High School’s Life Skills Program.
Hope you enjoy watching the videos!
FOWC – Watch
I’m sharing the March issue of the High Desert Voices newsletter. It’s a newsletter for volunteers and staff at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. I help out with the newsletter and I’m particularly proud of this issue.
This issue of the High Desert Voices newsletter includes a History event – 19th Century Making & Mending; Art – a new exhibit by Native American artist, Rick Bartow; Nature – a fact sheet on white sturgeon; People – a profile of our Communication Director; and Recreation – a trail through the colorful Blue Basin. There’s a little more related to updates for the different areas of the Museum and kudos, for work well done.
Enjoy the newsletter! To see more, go to Volunteer Newsletters.
It’s always hard to pick favorite photos at the end of the year. Here are several representing nature, history, and culture. Enjoy and have a great New Year!
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Photographic review of 2018
Last month, The Darkness of Hills, The Lightness of Wings came to visit me for 25 days. Yes, that was a long visit. She spoke a little bit to me each day until she was 50,129 words long.
I started her as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge. That’s short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month. It’s a commitment I wasn’t sure I could make, but I did it.
I knew I wanted the story to take place in the late 1800s and I wanted to include a Chinese girl who moves to Oregon to work with her grandfather. He’s a doctor and she knows how to make herbal cures. That’s all I knew when I started writing.
I found my inspirations to build a story from several sources.
To help create my main character, we visited the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site in John Day, Oregon. This amazing place was an apothecary in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s like a time capsule from the time period I wanted to focus on.
One of the medicines the main character uses is called Tiger Balm. This pain reliever, invented in China, has been around since 1870 and its scent is calming yet spicy. I have a jar of it and used it when I got in a terrible bicycle accident years ago. Its unique scent reminds me of healing.
If it’s a story written by me, of course it includes animals. I thought back to a ring-billed gull I nursed back to health at Malheur NWR. I was there for four weeks as part of a 12-week immersive ornithology class. The seagull in my story is the narrator; a first person secondary character narrator. Am I crazy? Here’s an excerpt:
“So who am I watching from above? I have wings but I’m no angel. In fact, I’m a seagull and what happened that day changed my life. Here is the story of dark hills and light wings. Yes, my wings are a part of this tale, but on that day they weren’t so light. This tale starts with me but it has been passed down beak by beak.”
There’s also a magpie character in my story and I thought I’d write about a magpie and another animal. I considered using a badger since they live near magpies in my high desert home. I did a little research and found out I had made the right choice.
Huān 獾 is the Chinese word for badger. It sounds just like huān 欢, The Chinese word for ‘joyous, happy, pleased’ according to Chinasage. Magpies in flight are often portrayed with badgers and this represents happiness both in heaven and on earth. A picture of a perched magpie represents a wish for future happiness. This was a happy coincidence for me that I tried to weave into the story.
We visited the Painted Hills, near John Day, for further inspiration. That setting added a touch of magic to my tale. The hills have a way of communicating with the main character in my story that only she can understand.
I used a little of this and that to build this story. The first draft is complete but the hard work of editing and rewriting has just begun. Lots of hours to go.
I signed up to read from my book for five minutes at an event in Bend, Oregon in January. Yesterday I worked on editing four pages to present to the public. How long could that take? Much longer than you might think! I’ll let you know how it goes in January. Stay tuned…
Ragtag Daily Prompt – Build
This exhibition features portraits of Native women by photographer Edward S. Curtis from the collection of Christopher G. Cardozo. Curtis took the featured photographs over a 30-year period as part of a project to document Native American’s lifestyle and culture in a time of change. Curtis traveled across North America from 1900 to 1930 photographing over 80 tribes.
Edward S. Curtis worked out of a studio in Seattle, Washington and received financial support from J. P. Morgan. Curtis collected information about the lives of each tribe through photographs, writings, and audio recordings. With the help of Native translators, he assembled a 20-volume set titled The North American Indian. Curtis intended to publish 500 copies but due to a series of financial and personal setbacks, only about 272 were printed. Ninety percent of the original sets are owned by institutions, including the High Desert Museum.
The portraits in this exhibit have a beautiful yet haunting quality to them. The labor-intensive photogravure process Curtis used allowed him to create subtle variations in tone and focus. Curtis insisted on using only the highest quality materials and he experimented with a variety of techniques. In 2015 there was a city-wide celebration of Curtis’ work in Bend. Dawn Boone, of the A6 studio, gave a lecture on the photographs. She made an observation that one of the women portrayed seemed to be “softening back into the earth right before our eyes.”
Native American author Louise Erdrich has an interesting perspective on the women represented in Edward S. Curtis’ photographs. She said, “Women’s work is celebrated in Curtis’ photographs–women grind corn, bake bread, make clay vessels, doctor each other, pick berries, haul wood and water, gather reeds, dig clams. These images of women working are among my favorites, for they are more practical then elegiac, yet entirely harmonious, and they are often the most sensual of Curtis’ works.”
While Curtis’ ambitious project documented the tribes, it was not without controversy. He often staged portraits. Sometimes he mixed up artifacts and traditions between tribes. He referred to Native Americans as a “vanishing race.” Native peoples were losing their rights and their lands but many did successfully adapt to Western society.
There was a revival of interest in Curtis’ work beginning in the 1970s. He was an exceptional photographer, and he documented many facets of Native American life that no longer exist. Museums across the country feature major exhibitions of his work. Original printings of The North American Indian bring extraordinary prices at auction.
This new exhibit also includes basketry, beadwork, and leatherwork created by Native Americans of the Columbia Plateau. Intricate beadwork adorns bags, a cradleboard, and clothing. There are examples of different styles of basketry in this exhibit. Featured contemporary Native artists include Pat Courtney Gold, Roberta Kirk, and Kelli Palmer. Kelli Palmer often designs baskets based on photographs from the past—including those of Edward S. Curtis.
Native American cultures passed techniques for creating basketry and beadwork down through generations. Many items were utilitarian, but the makers included symbols and patterns in artistic ways. Contemporary artists may include materials such as commercial string and yarn in traditional and newly created patterns.
In the early 20th century, Native people were forced to live on reservations. Many lost their language, ways of life, and skills such as basket making. Children were sent to boarding schools and weren’t allowed to learn things associated with their cultural identity. Columbia Plateau people have been working to bring back the knowledge of cultural traditions. As new generations learn the traditions and art forms of their ancestors, they will ensure the culture portrayed in Curtis’ photographs survives. Pat Courtney Gold notes that basket making is not only artistic; it is an expression of and central to the revitalization of her culture.
This exhibit will be on display at the High Desert Museum through January 20, 2019. For more about Edward S. Curtis, see a series of articles I wrote here.
Close ups of images are from this source:
Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis’s “The North American Indian,” 2003.
This is a reprint of a November 2018 article in High Desert Voices, a newsletter by and for volunteers and staff at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. To see more issues of the newsletter, go here.
These images from Fort Rock, Oregon focus on looking up. In this photo you see what a town from the early 1900’s may have looked like. Buildings were moved to this site to create the Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Village Museum. Each building is decorated with artifacts so it’s easy to imagine yourself stepping back in time.
Pioneers were promised rich and fertile land. That was not the reality in this arid high desert. Many settlers moved away after unsuccessfully trying to cultivate the land.
Yet some stayed and learned to love the land. In this photo a sage thrasher perches on a shovel next to a re-created pioneer garden. Listen to the thrasher’s beautiful song here.
Fort Rock is a prominent land feature that settlers looked forward to seeing. Some pioneers who settled there cannot imagine living anywhere else. The ever-changing skies make even those of us there for a short visit look up in wonder.
Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Look Up
Sometimes you may have looked up at rock climbers on Smith Rock (near Terrebonne , Oregon) and wondered what drives them in their quest to reach the top. This new exhibit helps answer that question. Ascent: Climbing Explored, looks at the history, evolution, and culture of climbing and mountaineering in the West. What began as scientific exploration, grew into an activity people take part in for sheer joy of the experience.
One of the first things you see in the exhibit is a journal entry from John Muir. Muir taught people about conserving wild places through his eloquent writings. In another section of the exhibit, the artwork of Thomas Moran is featured. The paintings he created of Yellowstone in 1871 helped to establish the world’s first national park. The artwork and writings of early explorers were the “social media” of their day. Artist Sarah Uhl, also featured in this exhibit, presents landscape art that is a continuation of themes first presented by 19th century artists. James Lavadour, of the Walla Walla tribe, did the bold bright paintings of mountains near the exhibit entrance. His paintings, and the clean lines of the exhibit, bring a modern look to the displays.
Many of the objects displayed in Ascent are on loan from the Mazamas. The Mazamas climbing club was founded in 1894 in Portland. William Gladstone Steel was one of the driving forces of the organization. From the start, they have played an active role in conservation. The Mazamas club was also ahead of the times in allowing women to enroll as full members. As Steel said, “No climb is complete without them.”
One item featured in the exhibit belongs to the company founded by rock climber Yvon Chouinard. In 1970, Chouinard purchased pre-made Rugby shirts and affixed his brand name onto them. You can see one of these shirts near the van scene. He later had great success with Patagonia, the company he created.
There are two large display cases that show historical and current gear used in mountain climbing. Some equipment has changed little, while other items, such as footwear and climbing rope, have changed radically. One of the most significant changes was in the materials used in shoes. Since the 1980s, they have become significantly lighter.
Climbers and mountaineers are always looking for new ways to see the mountains. In the 1920s, methods to reach the summit included using metal spikes, known as pitons, into the rock. One of the hands-on displays shows protective gear climbers use to anchor themselves to the rocks. While pitons and other equipment help make the sport safer, some prefer to “clean climb” without hammering things into the surface they climb over. The bolts cause damage to the rock from repeated placement and removal.
In the 1970s, climbers lives revolved around climbing. They preferred to free climb, using only their hands and feet. We called these athletic climbers “rock jocks” when I was in college. Climbers were often referred to as “dirtbags”. Dirtbags often lived in vans, such as the one in the exhibit, and some experimented with drugs.
Climbers are driven to reach summits despite the risks. As one climber quoted in the exhibit said, “It breathes life into me.” Climbers climb for many reasons. The physical and mental challenges are just a part of the experience.
Certain locations, such as Yosemite and Smith Rock, are particularly challenging and draw in climbers from all over the world. The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) rates the difficulty level on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest level. By the 1950s, this scale was further refined with the addition of decimal points and letters.