New Perspectives for Visitors

“Creations of Spirit” artist Jefferson Greene (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs) and family at exhibit opening. Photo by Heather Duchow.

Spring at the Museum is always a vibrant time. With school groups returning, new exhibitions to explore and more in-person programs, this spring is particularly one of renewal.

A compelling reminder of this is our new exhibition, Creations of Spirit. Thanks to seven Indigenous artists and their works of art, our largest gallery has come alive with stories and objects. What is particularly noticeable in the gallery is that these artists are telling their stories in their words. Often in museums, stories of art and objects are told and described in a museum voice. More and more, museums are turning to the makers, creators and members of communities to tell their stories in their voice and words. When this happens, the gallery becomes more active and engaging. It’s so exciting to see.

Creations of Spirit is also the result of yearslong partnerships. True partnerships, where the benefits flow both ways, take time and resources and commitment. The gifts in return are priceless.

In 2018, we began a deep partnership with The Museum at Warm Springs with a commitment to learn together and from each other. One of the key learnings for us was about art and objects. In the Indigenous worldviews of the region, artwork and objects are imbued with the spirit of their maker—they are alive. Therefore, museums that are caring for these objects should do so with that in mind. This means traveling objects to communities, ensuring that they hear songs and feel the passage of time.

Creations of Spirit is a step forward in bringing this perspective to our members and visitors. The art and objects in the gallery have spent time in their communities—floating on a lake, receiving roots dug outside of Omak, Washington on the Colville Reservation, spending time with the granddaughters of dressmaker Roberta Kirk, and playing the flute in community.

Visitors view basket made by Natalie Kirk (Warm Springs). Photo by Todd Cary.

One of the things we like to do at the Museum is push ourselves to think differently and experience a perspective that is new—partnerships and learning from communities is one way we can do that. Bringing that spark of wonder and curiosity to the galleries for our visitors helps share that learning. We hope you love how partnerships can enhance humanity as much as we do when you experience the stories of Creations of Spirit.

Learn more about the individual cultural items and how you may have the opportunity to borrow one after the exhibition closes.

Creations of Spirit will be on display through October 1, 2023.



Imbued with Spirit


“The flute is an expression of one’s essence toward the world. This expression can be joyful. It can be prayerful. It can be life giving. It is a recognition that I am a human being making a connection to the greater world.”  — Phillip Cash Cash, Ph.D., Weyíiletpuu (Cayuse) and Niimíipuu (Nez Perce) tribes


Items made by Indigenous Plateau artists hold the spirit of their maker. Creating and using these items strengthens connections between generations of the people and landscapes of the Columbia Plateau region. At the High Desert Museum, we are changing how we care for and interpret cultural items to honor these connections through ongoing collaborations with Plateau knowledge holders.

Our new exhibition Creations of Spirit, grew from these collaborations. For the exhibition, Indigenous Plateau artists created works of art that will be used outside of the Museum. Joe Feddersen (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation) made a root bag that was used this past spring to gather roots. H’Klumaiyat Roberta Kirk (Wasco, Warm Springs, Diné) created regalia for young women to wear during traditional ceremonies. Natalie Kirk (Warm Springs, Wasco, Seminole, Creek, Creole) wove two baskets and Kelli Palmer (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs) made a putlapa (basket hat) to be used for educational purposes. Jefferson Greene (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs) constructed a tule reed canoe and paddle to be used by Native youth, and Phillip Cash Cash (Nez Perce, Cayuse) created a flute. By going out into community, these items will help continue cultural traditions for future generations. While at the Museum, they will share stories of this use to increase awareness of contemporary Plateau communities.

In the exhibition, immersive videos, photographs and quotes will convey the stories of this artwork through the voices of Plateau artists. An interactive installation by RYAN! Feddersen (Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation) will offer a chance to create your own design on a large Plateau basket. Alongside these works, the exhibition will feature cultural items from the collection at the High Desert Museum. We are also working with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Indian to bring Plateau cultural items from Washington, D.C. to the Museum for the exhibition.

Ultimately, Creations of Spirit is a celebration of the Plateau people who have always been here and are still here, still creating and still caring for this place for future generations. It invites all of us to consider our responsibility to the world around us and to serve as witnesses to and support contemporary Native communities.

Learn more about the individual cultural items and how you may have the opportunity to borrow one after the exhibition closes.

Creations of Spirit will be on display through October 1, 2023.



A Symbol of the West

Two junior rodeo champions at the 2018 BPIR, Harold Williams Jr. (in chaps) and Lindon Demery.

Few symbols of the American West are as iconic as the cowboy. Synonymous with the virtues of strength, self-reliance and determination, the cowboy is romanticized in popular culture and Western history. Often omitted from these dominant narratives, Black cowboys were an integral part of the American West.

Today, Black riding and roping culture is still thriving in rodeos across the country. A new High Desert Museum exhibition celebrating that culture opens Saturday, November 19. In the Arena: Photographs from America’s Only Touring Black Rodeo showcases the work of photographer Gabriela Hasbun, who for years chronicled the exhilarating atmosphere of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, which is now in its 38th year.

Historians estimate by the latter half of the 19th century one in four cowboys were Black. While their riding, roping and horsemanship skills were in high demand, Black cowboys faced discrimination in towns and businesses.

The onset of the 20th century saw a decline in the demand for the working cowboy. As Wild West shows emerged, and rodeos grew in popularity so did the American fascination with cowboy culture. However, Black cowboys were once again excluded, either not allowed in the arena or made to wait until after the crowd went home to display their roping and riding skills.

The cowboys at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in Castro Valley, California.

Founded in 1984, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is an annual, highly anticipated event celebrating the skills and talents of Black rodeo stars and their contributions to the West. The Rodeo tours all over the United States from California to Georgia, bringing together families to embrace cowboy culture and celebrate the rich heritage of Black cowboys and cowgirls.

In the Arena photographer Gabriela Hasbun, (B. El Salvador 1976) is a San Francisco Bay area editorial photographer with a passion for portraiture. Growing up amid a civil war in the 1980s, she found inspiration during a time of conflict. Hasbun’s work focuses on the humanity that thrives in unexplored communities and the power of storytelling.

Hasbun’s work has appeared in publications ranging from The New York Times to Rolling Stone to Sunset and has illuminated topics from rodeos to activism to fashion to food. She can often be found exploring the streets of her neighborhood, camera in hand, meeting new people and hearing their stories.

Hasbun’s images from the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo capture competitors in the arena and behind the scenes. Sometimes they’re candid, sometimes in the pause of excitement just outside of view. The photographs reveal generational shifts of the Rodeo as young competitors bring with them new perspectives and fashion, including Gucci sunglasses and Louis Vuitton saddles. As the classic and contemporary merge, new generations of kids from urban areas are inspired to ride, rope and wrangle.

In the Arena: Photographs from America’s Only Touring Black Rodeo will be on display through June 25, 2023.



A Second Chance

In late September, a new otter pup joined the two adult male otters in the Autzen Otter Habitat at the High Desert Museum!

The male, yet-to-be-named North American river otter pup now delights and educates Museum visitors along with Brook and Pitch. He’s come a long way since he was brought to Museum wildlife staff in May.

The pup was found the week before Memorial Day weekend on a golf course near Sunriver. The otter, which was emaciated and severely dehydrated, was brought to the Museum temporarily for care while multiple wildlife professionals attempted to locate his mother. That search failed. State wildlife officials then determined the otter should remain in the care of the Museum.

Staff took on bottle-feeding and teaching the otter to swim, starting with a kid’s pool and the Museum’s stream. He was just under 3 pounds upon arrival and grew rapidly, and by late September, after successfully acquainting him with Brook and Pitch and growing to a healthy 15 pounds, he was deemed ready to move into the otter habitat full time.

We are happy to report that he is thriving and loves his new home. He is full of energy and often active throughout the day, even when his older playmates need to take a nap!

You can visit the otters at the Autzen Otter Exhibit—the daily Otter Encounter talk is at 1:00 pm—learn from Museum volunteers about his care, and discover how we can all work together to conserve habitat for wild otters in the High Desert.



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?


A Growing Art Collection


Joe Feddersen, Palouse Series, 2003, monoprint on paper.

Behind the scenes at the Museum, we care for an amazing collection of more than 30,000 objects. These objects range from art and rare books to an original Smokey Bear costume.

Art in the Museum’s collection consists of over 1,000 items, including a number of well-known historical artists. Recent acquisitions have focused on contemporary artwork by Native artists. It is in this area—contemporary artwork representative of the diverse perspectives in the High Desert—that the Museum has prioritized growth to achieve our vision for a dynamic collection.

For instance, this winter the Museum was excited to accession into its collection a compelling, relevant piece of contemporary art by Joe Feddersen (Confederated Tribes of Colville). The work is a 23” x 26” monoprint, a version of Feddersen’s most well-known medium of printmaking. “Palouse Series” shows Feddersen’s ubiquitous overlapping style of geometric shapes drawn from his landscape and culture. Bold yellow lines run vertically on the paper, zigzagging their way across the page, accented by red ink. Behind the yellow bars, a fainter grey grid fills the top half of the page. The shapes are reminiscent of imagery seen in other traditional Indigenous Plateau work.

Feddersen has had a very successful career, with no signs of stopping. After finishing his Master’s of Fine Arts, Feddersen taught at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where he was a professor for 20 years. He was awarded the prestigious Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art in 2001 and exhibited a retrospective of his work in 2008 at the Froelick Gallery. In addition, he has exhibited countless times in galleries and museums, worked as an artist-in-residence, received awards and recognitions, and guest-curated across the country.

Importantly, we’ve been excited to add works to the collection in recent years by other Indigenous artists, including Pat Courtney Gold (Wasco), Lillian Pitt (Wasco, Yakama, Warm Springs), James Lavadour (Walla Walla), Rick Bartow (Wiyot), and Marie Watt (Seneca).

We’re eager for the opportunity to exhibit all these pieces at the Museum.


All 30,000-plus objects in our collection have gone through a specific process to legally accept objects to be held in the public trust called accessioning. Potential objects can be submitted for consideration via our online donation form. It is essential to include as much historical and provenance background as possible for our decision-making process. The object’s condition and mission relevance will be assessed and, if found appropriate, will move on to our Collections Committee. The Collections Committee will review the objects and associated information and have an in-depth conversation about the relevance to the collection. Some of the topics discussed in consideration for accession include mission, ongoing care, storage, and future use. If the object meets our requirements, it will then be passed on to the Board of Trustees for approval. Then, it can finally be officially accessioned into our collection!

Learn more.

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.

Great Reads on High Desert Wildlife

How do volunteer wildlife interpreters stay up to date in order to engage visitors? One way is through a volunteer book club. Each month we select a new title to read and discuss that relates to the daily talks we offer. Reading together helps improve our knowledge and enables us to better engage with visitors and respond to questions, not to mention that learning new things is interesting and fun! If you’d like to get in on what the Wildlife Team has been reading, here are a few titles we’ve looked at recently.

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. A must-read for anyone who loves wildlife and seeks to understand the history and current state of wildlife management in the United States. The seminal work of the “father of wildlife ecology,” this book is a collection of short essays where the author speaks of a land ethic and our moral responsibility to the natural world—a community to which we belong. Leopold’s sentiments have informed the work of the wildlife field and have much in common with how we hope to create connections to wildlife with our visitors.


Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion by Jim Williams. If you live in the High Desert you are living with large carnivores, and mountain lions make the news on a regular basis. With our daily Carnivore Talk in full swing, interpreters regularly get questions about these “big cats.” Williams goes into detail about the natural history of the mountain lion, why they are important to the landscapes we all share and their conservation in our region and beyond. After reading this one, interpreters are ready to chat about cats with museumgoers.


Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle by Douglas J. Emlen. Some of the more frequent questions we get about deer and elk are from visitors fascinated by their amazing antlers. The author of this book outlines his perspective as an evolutionary biologist working to understand the factors that can lead to an animal arms race, where species such as deer and elk may compromise their own health to grow out-sized and seemingly unnecessarily large weapons. Read it on your own or ask a volunteer to fill you in after the daily High Desert Hooves talk.


And a few more on the list –

  • The Fish in the Forest: Salmon and the Web of Life by Dale Stokes
  • Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: The Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change by Thor Hanson
  • Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon by Tucker Malarkey
  • Fur, Fortune and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America by Eric Jay Dolin
  • Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country by Aimee Lyn Eaton
  • Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence by Marc Bekoff
  • The Predator Paradox: Ending the War with Wolves, Bears, Cougars, and Coyotes by John Shivik
  • Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller
  • Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy


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.