Native American arts center in Eastern Oregon welcomes new leader
For more than 30 years, Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts has operated inside a small, 19th-century stucco building that was once a Catholic mission on the Umatilla Reservation in Eastern Oregon. In October, Phinney Brown became the organization’s executive director and a big part of her job will be to lead a capital campaign to fund a new headquarters.
“Our building has a legacy that doesn’t serve us in the long run. Most of these residential schools were trying to teach native children to unlearn their traditions and language,” Brown said. “It’s very old and can’t always support everything we want it to do here. I think a new building will be a fresh start.”
Brown’s background is in the performing arts. She most recently worked for the Arts Center Task Force in Richland, Washington, which is leading a campaign to build a performing arts center in the Tri-Cities.
“I helped make the organization more visual. And helped lay the groundwork for the public side of funding for that project,” Brown said.
Just a few weeks into her new position, Brown is already starting to raise awareness about Crow’s Shadow in the wider Umatilla-Pendleton community. That’s important because Crow’s Shadow is better known in the wider fine arts world for its traditional Native arts workshops such as dressmaking, basket weaving and beadwork.
“I want to make Crow’s Shadow feel more like a part of the community — with community pride. I’ve met with the Rotary Club. I’m getting involved in Chamber of Commerce events, having meetings with other people invested in the community and posting flyers about us around town so people know that anyone can come here. Crow’s Shadow is not just for purchasing fine art prints,” Brown says. “But a place to go and widen our circle.”
“Art is what is left behind of cultures,” says Wendy Red Star (Crow), while reflecting on her work inside Crow’s Shadow.
Last May, the Portland-based visual artist completed her fourth contemporary printmaking residency at Crow’s Shadow.
Located on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts is home to the country’s only professional printmaking studio on a Native American reservation. Since its opening in 1992 by Indigenous painter and printmaker James Lavadour (Walla Walla), Crow’s Shadow was founded as a place to not only nurture Native artists, but also to teach people how to market their art for economic development.
Despite the studio’s remote location in the quiet hills of northeastern Oregon, some of the world’s foremost public and private art collectors purchase and exhibit prints created at Crow’s Shadow.
One collection is on view now at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, an academic museum that features works by Pacific Northwest and Native American artists as well as traditional European, American, Asian art and historical artifacts. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Hallie Ford Museum exhibits Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts prints on a biennial basis. The current exhibition featuring Wendy Red Star’s 2020 residency work runs through Dec. 2.
“I’m a big believer in collaborative relationships and it seemed to me that Crow’s Shadow and Hallie Ford were a natural fit,” says Rebecca Dobkins, curator of Native American art at Hallie Ford Museum. Dobkins was part of the original team in the early 2000s that forged the relationship between Crow’s Shadow and Hallie Ford.
“In the beginning, Crow’s Shadow didn’t have as wide an audience, so the biennial provides a wonderful mechanism to collaborate, to present the work, to incorporate the work,” she said. ”I think Crow’s Shadow is one of the most phenomenal arts institutions in North America.”
After this year, the next chance to see a Crow’s Shadow biennial exhibition will be in the fall of 2025, but Dobkins says Hallie Ford always has about 5-8 prints from Crow’s Shadow on view because it is a repository. The museum stewards Crow’s Shadow prints, but does not own them.
“They remain the property of Crow’s Shadow. It’s their capital asset,” Dobkins said. “And at the end of the biennial, we welcome the prints into their home; into our repository.”
Hallie Ford Museum of Art is at 700 State St. in Salem. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The museum also offers a virtual tour which can be accessed on the museum’s website.
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