David A. Boxley: Research spotlight

October 9, 2015
Bill Holm Center

In this Bill Holm Center research spotlight, Tsimshian artist David A. Boxley shares his engagement with a particular feast dish in the Burke Museum collection, his journey to replicate the historical piece for the Burke's Here & Now: Native Artists Inspired exhibit (closed spring 2015) and the importance of these historical objects for artists today.

What is one piece that you were drawn to in the Burke Collection and why?
Well, it’s a larger-than-normal feast or feast bowl. I think the original is made out of yellow cedar. It’s seen a lot of use. So it’s, I think, one of the most beautiful pieces in the Burke’s collection. For years, I’ve seen it when I’ve gone and looked in the collections for other reasons and just was amazed by it. I said, one of these days I’m going to make a replica of that or a copy of it. It’s always been kind of an inspirational thing for me… I’m a throwback kind of a guy, I guess.

(Left to Right) Feast Dish, Unknown artist, Tsimshian, 19th Cent. Burke Museum #2252. Purchased from George T. Emmons. Feast Bowl, David A. Boxley, Tsimshian, 2014. On loan from the artist.  Photo: Richard Brown Photography.

Do you remember when you first saw the piece?
Oh, years ago. I don’t remember exactly, but I’ve seen it a few times because I was looking at other things and happened to see it again, and I just marvel at it. 

How did this piece inform or inspire your art practice after your visit?
I want my work to look like that old guy who did that original feast bowl. Those are the guys I admire the most. There are very few, if any, artists living now, producing now, that I want my work to look like. Very few. And the good thing about that is it puts more pressure on artists to raise their own bar to produce quality work. Just because it’s Native art doesn’t mean it’s good art. And just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good.

What was your understanding of this particular object before you saw this piece in the collection?
Well, that pieces like this… although they are inspired by these old pieces, these are items that are still used all of the time for potlatch, for singing, for dancing, for display or rights and privileges, for theatrical presentations. Just as if they were done in the old days. And a great thing for me, for my soul, is that there’s a really sizable amount of young people that are jumping in with both feet, with excitement and pride, to do the things that we’ve been trying to bring back or hold on to for a long time. Historically, artists were the canoes by which the culture traveled, and so they carry that knowledge. They carry knowledge of many different tribal styles and ceremonies and things like that, that a lot of this art was originally made for.

David A. Boxley Researching Feast Dish in Ethnology Lab, August 2013.

David A. Boxley Researching Feast Dish in Ethnology Lab, August 2013.
Photo: Burke Museum

Detail of the design from a painted box. Private Collection.

Detail of the design from a painted box. Private Collection.
Illustration: David A. Boxley

Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Native Art

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