The Burke Museum presented the first comprehensive exhibition of contemporary Northwest Coast Native art from the Burke's own collections, In the Spirit of the Ancestors , from Mar. 3, 2007 – Sept. 3, 2007. Selected by two Burke Museum curators and two guest curators from more than 2,400 20th & 21st century pieces in the museum's ethnology collection, this was the first exhibition of the Burke's contemporary Northwest Coast collection that featured a broad mix of media, including sculpture, weaving, paintings, and prints, together in one major show.
Drawing from significant collections donated by Arthur B. Steinman, Simon Ottenberg, Margaret Blackman and Ed Hall among others, the exhibit features over 70 works made since 1985. The work of over 60 artists is exhibited, including Art Thompson, Hyacinth Joe David, Susan Point, Marvin Oliver, Manuel Salazar, Robert and Reg Davidson, Dorothy Grant, Isabel Rorick, Calvin Hunt, Beau Dick, Klatle-Bhi, Ken Mowatt and Clarissa Hudson. Several major new pieces were donated and acquired specifically for this exhibition, such as a six-panel wall sculpture donated by Susan Point.
In the Spirit of the Ancestors was curated by four key figures in Northwest Coast art scholarship and practice: Robin K. Wright, Bill Holm, Shaun Peterson (Qwalsius), and Susan Point. Wright is the Curator of Native American Art at the Burke Museum, and Director of the Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art. Bill Holm, Burke Curator Emeritus, is recognized as a world expert in the field of Northwest Coast art.
Long established as a leader among contemporary Coast Salish artists, Musqueam artist Susan Point, from Vancouver, B.C., is known for her large scale, three dimensional works in a variety of media that reinterpret traditional Coast Salish art forms. Point has created numerous public art installations in Canada and the United States. Shaun Peterson (Qwalsius), a Puyallup/Tulalip carver and printmaker, is a rising star among contemporary Coast Salish artists. His public installations in the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, as well as installations for tribal communities have helped to make contemporary Native art relevant to the lives of Pacific Northwesterners.
This major new exhibit was conceived as a sequel to Bill Holm's book, "Spirit and Ancestor: A Century of Northwest Coast Art at the Burke," in which he selected and commented on 100 pieces in the Burke's collection. In the Spirit of the Ancestors presents contemporary pieces, which have been made since Holm wrote his book in 1985. The exhibit served to increase understanding and appreciation of the vitality, artistry, and cultural significance of contemporary Northwest Coast art. This exhibit demonstrated the strength of the Burke Museum's role in contemporary Northwest Coast art.
The Burke Museum has a long history of commitment to the preservation, study, teaching, and display of Northwest Coast art and material cultures with its expansive archaeology and ethnology research collections. Dr. Wright, curator of Native American art at the Burke, comments that, “The curators of In the Spirit of the Ancestors recognize that works of great artistry and innovation are being created today by contemporary Native artists. In the Spirit of the Ancestors brings this living art to the public, engendering a greater awareness of the people, the artistry, and cultures, past and present, that it represents.”