Catching up with Shawn Brigman: From canoes to buffalo horn spoons

Photo: Shawn Brigman
Photo: Shawn Brigman
June 26, 2019 | Todd Clark

After receiving a Visiting Researcher grant from the Bill Holm Center (BHC) in 2016, Spokane Tribal artist Shawn Brigman spent his time in the Burke collections viewing the Shuswap bark sturgeon nose canoe model (7230).

As a Shuswap descendant with family ties to Kamloops, British Columbia, he plans to someday make a full-scale version of a Shuswap bark sturgeon nose canoe using spruce bark. In addition, as part of his grant funded research, Shawn traveled with BHC Collections Outreach Coordinator Justin McCarthy to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia to study the full-size canvas sturgeon nosed canoe in their collection.

As an artist, designer and developer of his contemporary Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe design methodology since 2012, this 2016 research grant was invaluable for Shawn to continue developing his understanding between the different styles and materiality of historical sturgeon nose canoes across the interior Plateau. Furthermore, in April of 2018 the BHC outreach team (Haliehana Stepetin and Justin McCarthy) attended Shawn’s grant funded workshop skinning a signature Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe for the Salish School of Spokane.

Since 2012, Shawn has made three traditional bark sturgeon nose canoes and over 28 of his contemporary line of Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoes. His Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoes have made the annual canoe journey to Kettle Falls in honor of salmon recovery on the upper Columbia River, and they successfully brushed the water of the Missouri River during the 2016 Prayer Journey to Standing Rock, ND with gathered canoes from the Pacific Northwest.

I recently caught up with Shawn during his June 2019 residency at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA.

Shawn was, as I had anticipated, creating beautiful scale model glass canoes that were based on all of his previous canoe work and research, but to my surprise he was also creating a series of very intriguing glass buffalo horn spoons.

A man holds a glass buffalo horn spoon he made in the hot shop
Photo: Todd Clark/Burke Museum
Photo: Todd Clark/Burke Museum

Shawn Brigman holds a glass buffalo horn spoon he made in the Museum of Glass hot shop.

Several completed glass objects lay on a light table
Photo: Todd Clark/Burke Museum
Photo: Todd Clark/Burke Museum

Completed glass buffalo horn spoon.

When I asked Shawn about these spoons he told me that the inspiration came from a Spokane buffalo horn spoon (2-298) that he had seen online in the Burke collections.

Based on the Burke spoon, Shawn first created an all-natural buffalo horn spoon at an April 2019 artist residency at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM, then in June 2019 he brought recreated the spoon in glass at the Museum of Glass.

It was great to hear that even after his BHC Visiting Researcher grant that Shawn is still looking to the Burke for ideas and inspiration.

You never know where a visit to the Burke collections will lead, but we guarantee it will be inspiring. The Bill Holm Center will keep up with Shawn and other BHC grantees and keep you posted on their latest achievements.


Todd Clark (Wailaki) is the Regional Outreach Coordinator for the Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Native Art at the Burke Museum.