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Celebrating the Long House

"Sgwigwial?txw at 20" at The Evergreen State College Gallery

“Heyoka,” mixed-media painting by Ka’ukia Farrell-Smith. Photo courtesy The Evergreen State College

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The Evergreen State College is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Long House with an exhibition called “Swigwial?txw at 20: Building upon the Past, Visioning into the Future”, featuring works by more than 70 Native artists in paint, print, sculpture, glass, basketry and other crafts. Each of the artists have in some way been connected with the Long House, having either taught workshops, exhibited, or done residencies there.

It is a crowded show with much more than I can possibly write about in this column. I'll mention a few pieces that caught my attention in one way or another and then encourage the reader to make the trip out to Evergreen to see the rest.

Just inside the front of the gallery is a large sculptural piece by Sean Gallagher and Teressa White from the King Island Inupiat and Yup'ik tribes respectively. Standing taller than an adult person, the piece consists of three wood and mixed-media sculptures that look like dream catchers. There are three large, stacked pieces with bent wood circles with masks suspended in the middle; the two outer pieces are shaped like fat canoes. One of the masks is a fierce looking hawk or owl (it's hard to tell which), and the others look more human. It is a powerful and mystical piece.

"120," an encaustic painting by Melanie Yazzie (Diné), is an abstract painting with multiple amoeba-like shapes floating in a field of milky green. The colors are muted in a marvelous manner. The subject, which is understandable only upon reading the artist's statement, is living with diabetes. The number representing the artist's blood glucose level. I enjoyed this painting for its purely abstract qualities.

As with many of the other pieces in this show, I would not have understood that Ivy Maile Andrade's glass and mixed-media "Cap Soul" represents a native Hawaiian worldview of people's relationship with land. All I could see was that it was a set of attractive, semi-transparent glass squares with concave circles and a subtle dot-and-weave pattern that was very attractive.

One of the strangest and possibly most comical pieces in the show, although I suspect the comic aspect was not intentional, is Richard Rowland's "Coyote Meets the Queen/ Kookaburra/Recalescense," a ceramic and mixed-media sculpture of a baldheaded man with a bird's beak for a mouth and nose and a big black umbrella growing out of his head. The umbrella is festooned with many little animal bones (ceramic, I presume, or perhaps bird bones).

One of the most attractive works in the show is a fused glass work by Lillian Pitt of the Warm Springs/Wasco/Yakima tribe. It is a translucent green arc that rests on an edge and is decorated with iconic symbols in light and dark blue that changes color depending on which side you're seeing it from. The colors are eerie and lovely.

Ka'ukia Farrell-Smith of the Klamath/Modoc tribe has two impressive paintings in the show. The smaller of the two, "HEYÓKA: Young Nation," is an expressive and colorful painting of an Indian in a white robe with an American flag and a cross printed on it. The wall text explains that it has to do with the dominant culture's attempts to erase Native culture. His other painting, "Heyoka," is similar. It is an Indian in full-feathered headdress and on his shirt is written "REEL NDAN." His face is painted black around his eyes like a raccoon. Both of these are strong paintings, but look perhaps a bit too illustrational.

There's also a great little lithograph of a cow skull with strong black-white contrasts and subtle green and yellow washes by Rick Bartow that is stylistically similar to Farrell-Smith's paintings but even stronger, though it is much smaller.

The Evergreen State College Gallery,  10a.m. to 5 p.m. through May 11, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW, Library 1st floor, Olympia, 360.867.5125, www.evergreen.edu/gallery/home.htm

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