The works shown in this exhibit are all drawn from the Burke Museum's permanent collection. In addition to its impressive collection of historical Northwest Coast Native art objects, the Burke Museum is home to one of the world's largest collections of contemporary Northwest Coast graphic art. Over the years, this collection has been developed through the generous donations of private collectors and scholars such Bill Holm, among others, as well as through the purchase of the Blackman/Hall collection described below. The Coast Salish portion of this print collection has been built through annual gifts from Dr. Simon Ottenberg, which began in 1986 and total nearly 300 prints to date.
Dr. Simon Ottenberg, professor emeritus in the Anthropology department at the University of Washington, began collecting prints in the early 1980s with the intention of creating a comprehensive collection of Coast Salish graphic arts. His specific focus on the Coast Salish stemmed from an interest in native peoples of the region, and his awareness of the lack of attention Coast Salish art has historically received. In donating his collection to Burke Museum over the years, Dr. Ottenberg has created one of the most comprehensive collections of contemporary Coast Salish prints that is available to scholars. In addition to his collecting practices, Dr. Ottenberg researched and wrote about contemporary Coast Salish artists, although he has not published his writings as of yet. After his retirement in 1991, Dr. Ottenberg's focus on Northwest Coast native art shifted away from Coast Salish prints. As an anthropologist, Dr. Ottenberg has focused much of his research on the Igbo of Nigeria. Between 1991 and 1995, Dr. Ottenberg took six short trips to Nigeria, during which he developed an interest in a particular school of Igbo artists, known as the Nsukka group. The content of the art produced by members of this group deals directly with the contemporary political and social atmosphere of Nigeria. Reflecting on these themes, Dr. Ottenberg began to seek out examples of Northwest Coast contemporary native art that deal with issues and themes other than those traditionally addressed in Northwest Coast native art. He continues this collecting focus to the present.
In 1998, the Burke Museum purchased the Blackman/Hall collection of 1,166 prints, the largest private collection of Northwest Coast prints in the world. Dr. Margaret B. Blackman and Dr. Edwin S. Hall, Jr., both professors of Anthropology at the State University of New York, collected Northwest Coast prints for over twenty years between the 1970s and the 1990s. Their collection of 1,166 prints represents the work of more than 126 artists. In addition to collecting prints, the two conducted interviews with the artists, the print makers, and the dealers of the prints they collected, which they transcribed into five volumes. Their scholarly interest in Northwest Coast prints led the two to co-author a book on the subject with Vincent Rickard, as well as publish several subsequent articles. Their book, entitled Northwest Coast Indian Graphics: An Introduction to Silk Screen Prints, (University of Washington Press, 1981), still stands as the most comprehensive source of information on the topic of Northwest Coast graphic arts.