Sculpting Curiosity

Working at the High Desert Museum always brings the unexpected, from photographing a river otter to donning attire from 1904. Recently, I walked into a classroom and found a group of adults laser-focused on making scat.

Scat is a scientific term for wildlife droppings – poop. Each adult was hunched over a small pile of brown clay carefully molding and shaping it to replicate their chosen animal. For a touch of accuracy, there were also feathers, seeds and other food remnants to attach to the miniature sculpture.  

The task and its greater purpose was later explained to me by a coworker leading the activity, Sara Pelleteri, the Museum’s associate curator of STEM education.

But first, what exactly is STEM?

STEM education is focused on science, technology, engineering and math, and the High Desert Museum was a proud recipient in July 2021 of the National Science Foundation Sustaining STEM Grant. The $1.2 million grant goes to the Museum and three partners to co-lead a new education program bringing critical learning to rural students and their families. The other partners include the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, New York and Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in Alto, Texas.

One-quarter of U.S. students reside in rural communities, yet rural youth are 50 percent less likely to engage in out-of-school STEM experiences than their urban counterparts. The work done with educators through the Sustaining STEM Grant aims to shrink that gap. The two-day workshop on which I intruded was just a sliver of that work.

Returning to the scat-making klatch, the activity was meant to spark a new appreciation for wildlife and motivate people to slow down and observe their environments. The sculptors were educators from the High Desert Museum, Oregon Coast Aquarium and other STEM professionals. They were learning that the size, shape and marks around scat are all key to identifying the wildlife that left it. The participants were meant to take the activity and remake it for their region, focusing on the habitats that surround them.

Another activity included in the workshop was aimed at transforming a person’s negative perception of a particular animal in the wild. Different creatures were labeled by the group with emojis, followed by a discussion on the animal’s role in their ecosystem. Through limited exposure, someone may have a negative perception of a wolf, but after learning about their role in keeping a balanced habitat, that perception may change.  

When I asked Sara Pelleteri about the project, I mistakenly called the material “clay.” I was corrected, and for good reason. Pelleteri made the substance at home, from scratch like any good baker. It contained flour, salt (a lot of salt), cream of tartar, water and dye. And it took her three attempts to get it right, from the color to the consistency.  

To this group, it’s the little touches that make the program engaging. To say Pelleteri was proud of her “clay” is an understatement.

The future of the STEM grant work will include more idea-sparking workshops for educators, opening a wider world to rural students and families. Who knows what engaging activities I will walk in on next?

 

Black History Month

In celebration of Black History Month, we are looking back at recent programs exploring the Black experience in the High Desert.

 


The recent Hatfield Sustainable Resource Lecture featured Nikki Silvestri, one of The Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans. She has traveled the world speaking about the intersection of ecology, economy and social equity, and is the founder and CEO of Soil and Shadow. We were honored to host her talk at the High Desert Museum.


Before the Civil War, Western states and territories became a battleground over the westward expansion of slavery and the status of free and enslaved Black people. In Slavery and Black Exclusion in the American West, professor Stacey Smith, a historian at Oregon State University, explores the enslavement of Black people in the West and African American resistance to slavery, as well as how both issues intertwined with anti-Black exclusion laws in Oregon and California.


Gwen Trice, the executive director of Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center in Joseph, Oregon, uncovers a previously hidden history in Maxville Today: Connecting our Past, Present and Future. Trice shares stories of African Americans during the Great Migration; Greek, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Hawaiian and Guamanian immigrants; and Native people against the backdrop of the timber and railroad industries. Join us on a journey and pack your bags for contemplation and conversation.

 

PARTNER PROGRAMS – Our partners are also offering thought-provoking programs this month. 


 

The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Quintet pays tribute to duke Ellington’s “Cotton Tail” during this video release on Tuesday, February 1 from 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm.
Art AfterWords: A Book Discussion from the National Portrait Gallery and DC Public Library will discuss the portrait of Ella Fitzgerald and discuss the related book “Seven Days in June” by Tia Williams, Tuesday, February 8 from 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm. 
History Film Forum from the National Museum of American History is a video release of the new documentary Muhammad Ali: Documenting a Legend, Wednesday, February 9 from 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm. 

(All times are Pacific Standard Time.)

 

The Father’s Group

Mission: To enhance the lives of children through education, leadership, and networking; while strengthening our community, eliminating barriers, and helping them reach their full potential.

Check out their February film series at Open Space Event Studios in Bend!

Friday, February 4 – I Am Not Your Negro
Sunday, February 13 – Hidden Figures
Friday, February 18 – Who’s Streets?
Friday, February 25 – Red Tails

 

Oregon Black Pioneers

Mission: To research, recognize, and commemorate the history and heritage of African Americans in Oregon.

Dive into the virtual exhibition Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Right’s Years. It illuminates the Civil Rights Movement in Oregon in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of cultural and social upheaval, conflict, and change. The era brought new militant voices into a clash with traditional organizations of power, both black and white.

 

Oregon Historical Society

Mission: To preserve our state’s history and make it accessible to everyone in ways that advance knowledge and inspire curiosity about all the people, places, and events that have shaped Oregon.

On Monday, February 7, the Oregon Historical Society and OPB will rebroadcast Oregon Experience: Oregon’s Black Pioneers. The program examines the earliest African-Americans who lived and worked in the region during the mid-1800s. They came as sailors, gold miners, farmers and slaves. Their numbers were small, by some estimates just 60 black residents in 1850, but they managed to create communities, and in some cases, take on racist laws — and win.

The Roots that Connect Us

Artist, professor and arts advocate Patricia Clark came to Central Oregon after retirement, seeking connection, community and purpose. After a celebrated career as chair of the art department at California State University, Long Beach, Clark brought her passion and advocacy to Bend. The master printmaker in 2007 founded Atelier 6000, or A6, a nonprofit center for printmaking and book arts. Clark quickly endeared herself to the arts community as she continued her work in uniting and building support for the community.

Her most recent project, Rooted, brings together more than 50 artists with a singular focus. Through 25 sessions over nine weeks, they gathered, a few at a time, to sit with Clark and draw a giant root that had been pulled from her front yard. The artists reflected on the meaning of connection. Roots inspire in strength and the ability to bring a community together to forge paths.

Pat Clark is beloved and now deeply missed. She passed away on November 16, 2021, days before Rooted went up on the gallery walls of the High Desert Museum. We are honored to share the work that shows how she was a centerpiece of creative life in Bend.

View the Rooted catalogue.

Participating artists:

Ana Aguirre
Sandy Anderson
Julie Anderson Bailey
Paul Alan Bennett
Janet Brockway
James Prentiss Brommer
Paula Bullwinkel
Sharon Campbell
Krayna Castelbaum
Patricia Clark
Glen Corbett
Nancy Dasen
Kathy Deggendorfer
Milly Dole
Janice Druian
Kris Elkin
Dawn Emerson
Nancy Floyd
Jane Gutting
Jean Harkin
Susan Luckey Higdon
Sondra Holtzman
Bill Hoppe
Barbara Kennedy
Gin Laughery
Helen Loeffler
A. C. M. Lorish
Ingrid Lustig
Mary Marquiss
PF Martin
Ken Marunowski
Lloyd McMullen
Ruby Mitchell
Cate O’Hagan
Susan T. Papanic
Adrienne Phillips
Carolyn Platt
Susan Porteous
Jane Quale
Elizabeth Quinn
Bishop James Radloff
Denise Rich
Ron Schultz
Adell Shetterly
Jeanette Small
Kit Stafford
Carol Sternkopf
Gayle Stone
Marie Thibeault
Abney Wallace
Jean Wells
Laurence T. Yun

 

X-rays of Fish Dazzle in Smithsonian Exhibition

Explore a world where art meets science and science gets turned inside out. A traveling exhibition opened Saturday, September 18 at the High Desert Museum. It shares an inside look—literally—into fish and their evolution.

Reef triggerfish (Rhinecanthus rectangulus)

X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out, an exhibition from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), showcases dramatic x-ray prints, exposing the inner workings of the fish in an intersection of science and art.

Fish are vertebrates—animals with backbones—and have bodies supported by a bony skeleton. X-rays document variations in the skeleton, such as the number of vertebrae or the position of fins. The Smithsonian’s National Collection of Fishes X-rays represent more than 70 percent of the world’s fish specimens. It’s the largest and most diverse collection of its kind in the world. Research drove the X-rays featured in the national collection. Yet the strikingly elegant images demonstrate the natural union of science and art. They are a visual retelling of the evolution of fish.

The exhibition features 40 black-and-white digital prints of different species of fish. Arranged in evolutionary sequence, these X-rays give a tour through the long stream of fish evolution. The X-rays have allowed Smithsonian and other scientists to study the skeleton of a fish without altering the specimen. It makes it easier for scientists to build a comprehensive picture of fish diversity.

Shiho’s seahorse (Hippocampus sindonis)

The curators of the exhibition, Lynne Parenti and Sandra Raredon, have worked in the Division of Fishes at the National Museum of Natural History collecting thousands of X-rays of fish specimens to help ichthyologists understand and document the diversity of fishes. X-rays may also reveal other details of natural history: undigested food or prey in the gut might reveal to an ichthyologist what a fish had for its last meal. The exhibit includes fish that live today in the High Desert.

X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out was inspired by the book Ichthyo: The Architecture of Fish (Chronicle Books in association with the Smithsonian Institution, 2008) by Stephanie Comer and Deborah Klochko.

Preserving Folklife

The High Desert region has rich and varied cultural and artistic traditions. These artforms range from music, silversmithing and storytelling to Indigenous basketmaking and beadwork, Mexican charro roping and quilting. In academic circles, these traditional artforms are called folklife.

Folklife is everyday knowledge, traditional art and lore passed down within communities through imitation, conversation and practice. Since the spring of 2020, Riki Saltzman, former executive director of the Oregon Folklife Network at the University of Oregon, has been working with the High Desert Museum as the folklorist to record and preserve those traditions — ones rooted in the cultural life of a community whose members share a common language, ethnic heritage, religion, occupation or geographic region.

Saltzman, in collaboration with the Oregon Folklife Network, conducts fieldwork and pours through existing records to document our region’s culture keepers, including creating listening sessions with artists to preserve their stories and collect insights into the fine points of their artform. She collaborates with artists and arts and culture organizations in Central and Eastern Oregon.

The work supports a growing knowledge of folklife across the state. It also furthers the Museum’s continued commitment to gathering and documenting the diverse stories of people throughout the High Desert region.

Riki Saltzman, High Desert Museum folklorist

Since 1982, Saltzman has worked at private nonprofit and state agencies in nine states where she directed a range of public programs, organized conferences and curated exhibits. Saltzman earned her Ph.D. in anthropology and folklore from the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of A Lark for the Sake of Their Country: The 1926 General Strike Volunteers in Folklore and Memory (2012, Manchester University Press) and edited the new book Pussy Hats, Politics, and Public Protest (University Press of Mississippi), which looks at the historical and cultural legacy of the 2017 Women’s March.

The folklorist position is supported by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Saltzman’s appointment helps fulfill the NEA’s vision of vibrant traditional art programs throughout the country.

“Our job as folklorists is to tell the stories of the culture keepers,” Saltzman said. “We listen and then help them to share their traditional arts with others.”

Culture keepers, often referred to as folk or traditional artists, have strong cultural ties to their art forms, which they actively practice and work to preserve and pass on through presentations, demonstrations and performances. Culture keepers also work to pass down their artforms to younger generations to ensure their preservation.

Saltzman’s work with culture keepers will have a strong impact programs, exhibitions and collections at the High Desert Museum.

 

Repairing the Tipi

In 1999, the permanent exhibition By Hand Through Memory opened to the public, and greeting visitors outside the entrance stood a towering, tule mat tipi. For generations, Native people of the Columbia River Plateau built and continue to build such tipis using natural materials including tule and cattail — tule is a large bulrush that is abundant in marshy areas. Cattail is a tall, reed-like marsh plant with a dark brown, velvety cylindrical head of numerous tiny flowers.

The tipi at the Museum was made by James Selam and fellow Yakama family members Delsie Selam, Loretta White, Susan Brown, Howard Selam and Ernie Selam. It immediately became a treasured, iconic part of the Museum.

Over its nearly 20 years at the Museum, thousands of visitors have taken in its beauty. Yet two decades later, it needed attention. The creation and care for the tule mat tipi are deeply spiritual acts. Over three days in early May 2019, the tipi was thoughtfully dismantled and methodically cleaned and rebuilt by Clarice Paul of the Wanapum and Warm Springs Nations, her husband Lightening of the Yakama Nation and their son Little Lightening.

In tule tipi repair, Clarice removes the mats from the tipi, rolls them flat, sprays them with hot water and gently washes the mats with water and a washcloth. They are then dried upright with fans.

While the mats are drying, three tipi poles are left in place and secured as the others are taken down for cleaning and repair. The circumference of the tipi is reduced to strengthen the framework and fit it securely to the base of the exhibit. Clarice ties willow branches on the inside of the tipi in three places, adding more points to secure the mats. Starting at the bottom, the mats are then sewn back on. If new doors are needed, as was the case with the tule tipi at the Museum, peeled down cattail reeds are woven together to make a door.

Some interesting details about this and other tule mat tipis –

– The interior of the reed expands when the air is cold, tightening them together when it’s needed most to keep the tipi’s interior warm. In warmer months the interior of the reed contracts making more space between the reeds so air can flow more easily.

– The door traditionally is placed facing east to welcome the sun.

– Previously the bottom row had two layers of tule mats, depicting a winter tipi. Now there is only one layer of mats to depict a summer home.

– Tule tipis are used as a shelter and gathering place for meals.

We are forever grateful to Clarice, Lightening and Little Lightening Paul for repairing the tule mat tipi. The knowledge, thoughtfulness and care brought to this project means that the tipi will continue to stand tall and teach thousands more visitors about the Indigenous people of the Columbia River Plateau.

More about the Paul family –

Lightening and Clarice have been together for 24 years with two sons (ages 21 and 10) and one grandson. Lightening is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation. Clarice is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and grew up as a Wanapum member from Priest Rapids, Washington. Clarice is a master weaver teacher specializing in tule mat weaving at the Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association.

 

A special thank you goes out to High Desert Museum volunteer photographer Heather Duchow who captured a delicate and important process!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Conversation with Artist April Coppini

The High Desert Museum exhibit The Beauty of Wild Things: Charcoal Drawings by April Coppini is open through June 23, 2019. Coppini’s deep love and respect for the natural world is evident in her large, lifelike drawings of wildlife, from mule deer and foxes to butterflies and bumble bees. The artist hails from a wooded suburb in Rochester, New York but has called Portland home for almost 25 years. Coppini joined us at the Museum in March not long after her exhibit’s opening to speak about her art, life and inspiration. The conversation continues here.

In your new exhibit at the High Desert Museum, your gestural charcoal drawings almost appear to move on paper. Is that an intended element of your artwork?

Only in that I’m trying to capture or convey something of the life of the subject as I draw. So it’s not foremost in my mind as I draw but more of a result of the process, thinking about movement and the life of an animal. And I’m always excited when I step back and the drawing has that feeling of moving, and always slightly disappointed if it appears lifeless and still to me! It’s like a surprise.

Mule Deer Fawn

Living and creating in a city such as Portland, do you ever feel disconnected from the wildlife which you draw? Where do you go to escape the growing city?

I do feel disconnected at times, but I’m lucky enough to rent a house with about a quarter acre which, of course, is overgrown and unkempt from a busy life with kids. So wild things are attracted to the yard. We have chickens, so raccoons like us and coyotes run down our street. A couple of weeks ago a hawk swooped down in the yard about 15 feet from me, grabbed one of our hens (Fern) and dropped her a few seconds later, probably because she was too heavy!

We also live really close to Whitaker Ponds and that’s a favorite place for us. But I miss deer and rabbits and quiet, dark nights where you can see so many stars. So, we go to Astoria or Seaside or Pacific City every few months. We also hike in the Gorge or take the dog to the Sandy or Columbia. We’ve taken family trips to Bend, Cove Palisades and the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. One day I hope to get a little cabin somewhere.

Do you ever draw subjects other than wildlife?

Plants! Flowers, people (in my sketchbook), domestic animals, motorcycles for my son.

In your Instagram feed, you shared the honor that comes from displaying your work at the Museum at the same time that we were hosting Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain. What kind of inspiration does the renowned Native artist bring to your work?

Rick’s work speaks to me on a spirit level, like the lines between humans and animals and species blur, and there is spirit, story. And it’s his story but all of our story, too. So, I’m filled with awe and wonder when I visit his work. The colors have an indescribable emotional impact. I feel forces beyond us. So those are things I hope for in my own work, that it might reach people in such a deep way, although differently. His work is also a reminder to play, to enjoy working. I sometimes get too intense and tight, and I’d love to work in color more!

When you spoke with visitors at the Museum in March, you shared that during your art school years, it was all about abstract art. Representational art was frowned upon. Did you work with abstract art at that time or have you always held firm to representational art? How did you buck that trend, so to speak?

The work that was favored at that time was conceptual, so more installations and concept/process over making work that fit into outsider’s view of what is “good” and saleable and fits on your living room wall above the couch. Although that time was challenging for me, I did work in video and installation, and somewhat abstractly even though I always went back to representational work, kind of like it’s my language. Ultimately, that experience made me think bigger, and more universally, and when I began to work when I was out of school I think it helped me experiment and think about the bigger, wider possible impacts of my work on the world. But I always fall back to figurative work because I am enthralled with living things. That’s how I want to spend my time. That’s what I’m curious about.

Arctic Bumble Bee

You have a love and respect for pollinators, specifically the bumble bee. How has your reverence for the many species of bumble bees evolved?

Originally, it was my late partner, Andy, who shortly after we met, told me about honeybees dying and colony collapse disorder. That sparked a series of drawings of bees, and as I started to search for reference photos, I began to see how many different bee species there were. It blew me away. I began to see them more out in the yard and I’d try to wrap my brain around the job they do and how some bees have a buzz that is the specific frequency to release the pollen of a particular flower or it won’t release otherwise. I got to know which bumble bees were native to the Pacific Northwest and also back East where I grew up and which ones were red-listed and declining, which ones haven’t been seen in years. I connected with the people at Xerces Society (which happens to be in Portland), an international invertebrate conservation organization. Now I follow their work and donate a portion of my sales from bee drawings to them. I also upload photos of the bumble bees I see to Bumble Bee Watch and iNaturalist to help their research. Entomologist E.O.Wilson says we all need to become amateur naturalists to stop the rapid extinction of species that is happening now, and I feel this is true.

Have you ever found any subject too difficult or elusive to draw?

I was commissioned once to draw New Zealand’s extinct Huia birds. Even though I printed out a ton of references, I just couldn’t get a feel for them. The last confirmed sighting was in 1907, so there aren’t good photos of them alive. I also have this gut feeling that the life force of a creature is out there, and I can feel it, drum it up when I’m drawing. Sounds kind of silly maybe, but who knows, right?!

How do you know a drawing is finished?

Pretty much when I feel like I’m about to ruin it! I’ve definitely overdrawn some things! And sometimes a drawing just clicks at a certain point and you know.

Find April online at aprilcoppini.com.