New Chinook Art Piece Welcomes Visitors to the Burke Museum

Photo: Sven Haakanson (Alutiiq)/Burke Museum
Photo: Sven Haakanson (Alutiiq)/Burke Museum
October 12, 2020 | Andrea Godinez

Officially one year after the opening of the new Burke Museum and in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, the Burke Museum, University of Washington, and the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) are honored to announce a new outdoor installation called Guests of the Great River that greets guests as you arrive at the museum’s east entrance. Created by Chinook Indian Nation Chairman and artist Tony A. (naschio) Johnson and artist Adam McIsaac, the piece consists of 11 large-scale bronze paddles representing the arrival of a Chinookan canoe carrying cultural heroes of the Columbia River region, and with them the knowledge they embody. 

Guests from the Great River

Video Caption: An interview with artists Tony A. (naschio) Johnson and Adam McIsaac about the Guests from the Great River piece.

Made possible thanks to funding from the Washington State Arts Commission in partnership with the University of Washington, these larger-than-life bronze paddles were hand carved in wood by Johnson and McIsaac, then 3-D scanned and enlarged in scale up to 11 feet, leaving the viewer in awe. The paddles are carved in a variety of Chinook styles and sizes—some of which are hundreds of years old—that are still made and used by communities today. The notch on the top is distinct to the Columbia River and was used to grab hold of cottonwood roots along the river banks.

Guests from the Great River is installed in the shape of a canoe, representing the cultural protocol of canoe families landing on neighbors’ shores. The paddles are lifted in a traditional form of peaceful greeting and respect to the museum and its guests. Different stories and figures are portrayed on each paddle. These heroes have come to celebrate and enhance the educational opportunities that the Burke brings to the Pacific Northwest and the world. 

“People that live here on this land without any knowledge of this information are really missing a big part of what makes this place itself,” Johnson said. “My interest in sharing these stories and teachings is that people will treat the place differently, these aboriginal lands of ours—and the aboriginal lands of our neighbors—if people were to really understand these stories.”

“This is a magnificent artwork that honors the original peoples of this land,” Karen Hanan, ArtsWA Executive Director, said. “We’re very pleased to include Guests from the Great River as part of Washington’s State Art Collection. 

Each day the paddles’ shadows take one stroke across the entry plaza of the museum, perpetually in motion. “Every five minutes it’s changing from the way the sun’s hitting it. While I’m really excited to see it here today, I’m really excited to see it change over seasons and years,” Johnson said.

“All of the art on the Northwest Coast is about bringing people together, sharing, and inspiring,” McIsaac said. “That’s what I have gotten from my relationship with Tony and his people. And that is as much to be celebrated as the art is.”

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About the Burke Museum

The Burke Museum is open! Exhibits are open and you can view the inner workings of the museum through visible workrooms, collections, and labs. We’re the same (new!) museum you know and love, with some important updates that put your safety first. Welcome Back Guidelines are on our website at

Our new operating hours are 10 am - 5 pm, Tuesday-Sunday (closed Mondays), and 10 am - 8 pm on the first Thursday of each month. 

The Burke is the Washington State Museum of Natural History and Culture. The Burke is an active research museum that cares for 16 million geology, biology and cultural objects from Washington state and around the world, preserving natural and cultural history and generating new discoveries. Located on the University of Washington campus at 4300 15th AVE NE, Seattle, WA 98105. Admission: $22 general, $20 senior, $14 student/ youth. Admission is free to children three and under, Burke members, UW students, faculty, and staff. Admission is free to the public on the first Thursday of each month.

Founded in 1885 and designated the State Museum in 1899, the Burke Museum is the oldest public museum in Washington and is a part of the University of Washington. The Burke Museum is an American Alliance of Museums-accredited museum and a Smithsonian Affiliate. General contact info:, 206.543.7907. 

About ArtsWA

ArtsWA is the Washington State Arts Commission, a state agency, formed by the Washington State Legislature in 1961. Its mission is to nurture and support the role of the arts in the lives of all Washingtonians. ArtsWA’s Art in Public Places program (AIPP) purchases and cares for artworks in state buildings, colleges, universities, and schools throughout Washington. The State Art Collection includes nearly 5,000 artworks, located where people study, work, and live.