Artist Shawn Brigman sculpts bark sturgeon-nose canoe for museum collections

Photo: Timothy Kenney/Burke Museum
Photo: Timothy Kenney/Burke Museum
June 14, 2022 | Burke Museum

Shawn Brigman, PhD is an enrolled member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians and descendant of the sńʕaýckstx (sinixt), qlispeʔ (kalispel), and tk’emlúps te secwepemc (shuswap), all of whom are historically documented as employing bark sturgeon-nose canoes. In 2019 Shawn was selected as the inaugural 2-week artist-in-residence grant through the Bill Holm Center to sculpt a bark sturgeon-nose canoe in the artist studio in April 2020.

However, with the Covid-19 pandemic beginning March of 2020, all in person events and engagements were canceled. The Bill Holm Center supported Shawn with funding to continue with the process of harvesting, processing and assembling the bark sturgeon-nose canoe frame in Spokane, WA during the 2020-2021 pandemic, with the intention of acquiring the canoe upon completion and delivery on May 26, 2022.

Since 2012, Shawn has sculpted five bark sturgeon-nose canoes harvested from ancestral forests. His hands on recovery knowledge of the diverse styles of this bark canoe includes the materiality used in construction, the aesthetic considerations in sculptural form, as well as the historical patterns of how the canoe type was employed by ancestors. Because of the scarcity of canoe quality bark, Shawn developed a contemporary canoe interpretation in 2013 with a unique frame assemblage and fabric skin attachment method known as a Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe, with over 30 in circulation across the northern Plateau culture region.

For the recently acquired Burke Museum canoe, Shawn was inspired by a Shuswap ethnography report by James Teit. The report stated that smaller canoes were covered with a full sheet of birch bark, although large western white pine and spruce trees were plentiful in that territory for covering larger canoes. To honor his Shuswap (tk’emlúps te secwepemc) ancestry, Shawn covered the canoe with a full sheet of birch bark for the Burke Museum Artist-In-Residence opportunity. To honor his Kalispel Indian ancestry from Cusick, WA, Shawn employed the bitter cherry bark-lashing pattern unique to the Kalispel.

Currently, Shawn is working on his publishing aspirations with a book chapter invite, various feature opportunities, as well as the development of a book proposal as a personal legacy project specific to his canoe recovery work. To learn more about Shawn’s work visit the following links:

Shawn Brigman's Website

Carving a Canoe from a Single Cedar Tree (Burke Museum)

Northwest Profiles: The Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe

Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoes, est. 2013