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Following 'Story Pole' Controversy, Ritz Saunas Now Gifted With Tlingit Artist

Photo provided by Pattrick Price.

Three years ago, the creation of a so-called “story pole” at the Oregon Country Fair had critics calling it a case of cultural appropriation. Now an Indigenous artist is helping provide authenticity to the site, one brush stroke at a time.

The Story Pole incorporated Haida-style artwork, but no one on the carving crew at the Ritz Sauna and Showers was native. Weeks before installation, Native American scholars and activists complained, and it was instead put in storage.

Credit George Braddock / Ritz Sauna and Showers
Ritz Sauna and Showers
The Story Pole in storage.

A year later, Pattrick Price – a Tlingit native from Alaska - visited the fair, with a friend who explained the controversy.

“They were basically told that they weren’t allowed to represent Northwest Coast native art because there was a lot of opposition to cultural appropriation about the pole," said Price.   "And he hadn’t seen anybody step up in the native community to be able to produce this art for all these wonderful fairgoers.

"So he gave me a ticket to the fair to go introduce myself to the Ritz, to be able to represent the native community with my art.”

Price says the Ritz staff were excited to meet him, and were upfront and "very thorough" on the explanation about the Story Pole controversy. 

"I wanted to step in, but not on toes," said Price, on getting involved.  The mediums he works with as an artist are canvas, murals, and storytelling.  Price said one of his most memorable pieces so far is a billboard-style piece featuring two orcas.

Credit Photo provided by Pattrick Price.
Tlingit-style artwork by Pattrick Price.

Price says he feels respected and supported in his work.  He’s now done several commissioned Tlingit-pieces for the Ritz Sauna, and hopes to do more once the pandemic is over.

Credit Photo provided by Pattrick Price.
Tlingit artist and Alaska native, Pattrick Price.

Meanwhile, Ed Black says the conversation around the incident was eye-opening, and gave them much to reflect on.  Black is president of Ritz Arts, which launched in 2015.  The non-profit arts spinoff from the Ritz Sauna is persevering through the pandemic.

Black said they’ve three to four dozen volunteers who do visual and performing arts for the fair, and are waiting to see what comes of the event after it was only held virtually this year.

“We’re in it for the long haul. Even if for some reason the Fair doesn’t start up again, Ritz Arts is going to continue," Black told KLCC.  

"We have some ideas, for doing some fundraising.  We’re interested in supporting the arts, and building community.”

As to the fate of the beleaguered Story Pole, Black says it remains in a warehouse - and limbo - for the indefinite future.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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