On Friday May 23rd, 2014 the “Freeing the River” art exhibit opened to the public at the Lower Elwha S’Klallam Tribe Heritage Center (located at: 401 E. 1st Street in Port Angeles, WA). This art show featured three Lower Elwha tribal artists who displayed art works based on the removal of the Elwha dam. Artists included Darrell Charles, Roger Fernandes, and Linda Wiechman.
During the show, artists were invited to share statements on their art pieces and how they reflect the connection between the health of the river with that of the land and community. To view photos from the event, visit this University of Washington Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health blog entry.
Below are participating artist’s statements:
I was taught that the salmon is the source of life for all beings, animals, plants, and the earth itself. The spirit of the salmon and the Salmon People allow us to live a life of abundance and gratitude. The art I have included in this show all focus on the salmon and the return of the salmon with the removal of the dams.
I was taught that the Elwha River was dammed against the wishes of the Lower Elwha S’Klallam people and that they have been fighting for the removal of the dams for several decades. Because the dams had no fish ladders they were designed to essentially destroy the wild salmon run. Because of the work of many of our ancestors and elders we have seen the dams removed and the salmon’s return. Life is in order again.
Darrell W Charles Jr
The salmon is a major contributor to who we are as Klallam people and has sustained use as a community for countless generations. Of all the resources and food available, the salmon was key to our survival and stability, creating a more permanent living environment. Salmon could be dried and stored and traveled with better than other sources of meat. The design on the drum is of a human and a bear on his forehead with salmon circling them. I chose a less uniform setting for the salmon.
In nature you so rarely see the fish in a straight line. I placed them overlapping one another. The single salmon paddle I chose that type of green mostly because it’s the color of the river at the peak of the salmon run. The brown paddle is how I imagine the salmon returning the first year they come back to the river. The salmon has been and is still a huge contributor to the Klallam community, and a large influence on my artwork. A big part of my family upbringing has been fishing for salmon from the sea, up the rivers, and into the lakes, which I have had the pleasure of witnessing, the next generation of fishermen (and women).
The painting the” Changer” is about the creator pouring life into the Elwha Canyon. The next painting is “Nature Beings”—Not everyone sees what lives along the rivers and in this painting you can see an invisible Chee Chi EE Uk (other words Sasquatch) in the background. The Hummingbird painting is birds’ life along the river.
It is all about the nature beings that survive off the river and her abundance.