Artist Family Gifts Burke Museum with New Multimedia Artwork "Intertribal Potlatch"

Photo: Timothy Kenney/Burke Museum
Photo: Timothy Kenney/Burke Museum
November 4, 2021 | Bridget Johnson

In January 2020, the Núun ken’witnéewit (Our Way of Weaving) artist family concluded their year-long Bill Holm Center Artist Family Fellowship grant in Sauvie Island, Oregon. Celeste Whitewolf is an enrolled tribal member of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla (with Cayuse, Nez Perce, Karuk, Pitt River, Nisqually, and Hawaiian ancestry) and began her weaving journey after she retired from working as a lawyer. She brought the members of the artist family together around a shared goal to learn from each other how to gather and process natural materials for weaving, how to weave in different styles, and to teach others how to weave.

The Artist Family included  Beth Ann Gipson (Cow Creek), D’Ana Valenzuela (Xicana Indigenous), Brosnan-Dale Spencer (Confederated Tribes of Umatilla), and Angelina Sorrelhorse (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs). While their official grant project wrapped up two years ago, the pandemic delayed the final gifting ceremony from the Núun ken’witnéewit family to the Burke Museum. 

Finally in September 2021, members of the artist family presented Intertribal Potlatch, a multimedia collection of five woven cornhusk dolls that represent each member of the artist family. They had also handmade a model cedar bark canoe, a variety of miniature baskets, beaded bags,  drums, textiles, salmon, jewelry, traditional foods, a cradleboard, and more.

Celeste Whitewolf and D’Ana Valenzuela presented the elaborate new piece to the Burke and shared details from their artist family fellowship grant. While there was funding to purchase an artwork from the group, the Núun ken’witnéewit family decided they wanted to donate this final work as a gift of gratitude to the Burke. In return, the Burke Museum’s Tribal Liaison, Polly Olsen (Yakama) and the Bill Holm Center staff gifted the artist family members in appreciation of their work and our ongoing relationship.

See one, Make one, Teach one 

The Núun ken’witnéewit artist family were the first to receive the then new Artist Family Fellowship grant from the Bill Holm Center. This fellowship program was created in 2018 at a time when the Burke collections were closed to visiting researchers as we packed up and moved into our new building. ​​It supported travel to other cultural institutions in the Pacific Northwest and Plateau for a group of Native artists to study, create, and teach an artform of their choosing . We used the term “artist families” similarly to “canoe families,” where participants are not necessarily related by blood, but related through their shared goals and practices in their art forms. 

“​​The most impressive lesson learned during this trip was how well the Núun ken’witnéewit support each other,” Celeste Whitewolf said. “Family issues, physical limitations, financial concerns, nutritional needs, and health challenges were shared among the group.  It was quite evident that each person cared for the other members and are developing strong familial ties.”

The ‘Núun ken’witnéewit’ family met in various locations across Oregon to gather natural materials together, weave, and lead basketry workshops. Bringing a group together with these varying skill sets provided a platform for all participants to learn from each other. Each member was encouraged to bring what they knew to the group in their first meeting. 

As a group, they held retreats in regions across Oregon to reflect the diversity of Native artists participating in the fellowship. Throughout 2019 they visited and led workshops at the Favell Museum in Klamath Falls, gathered tulee and spruce root as a group, demonstrated weaving at the Tamaskslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, and worked on their individual projects in Bandon. 

While the focus was learning techniques and gathering materials to weave in their own tribal heritage styles, the group also spent time working on public speaking. Whitewolf  supported the group in the organizational and business elements of being an artist. This was also the first time Beth Ann Gipson, D’Ana Valenzuela, Angelina Sorrelhorse and Brosnan Spencer taught a class on their own.

The Burke and the Bill Holm Center are honored and grateful for this generous gifting of Intertribal Potlatch. The artwork will be on temporary display in the Contemporary Culture workroom next week for Burke visitors to see for themselves!