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Art camp links ages, culture and tradition

Eighth grader Stephen Ganders, far right, and other art camp students use wood burners to sear designs into cedar bluebird houses during an art camp funded by the Gifts from Our Ancestors grant called “Celilo Falls; A Crossing of Paths.” Contributed photos

Eighth grader Stephen Ganders, far right, and other art camp students use wood burners to sear designs into cedar bluebird houses during an art camp funded by the Gifts from Our Ancestors grant called “Celilo Falls; A Crossing of Paths.” Contributed photos


Bailey LeBreton, a soon to be 8th grader at Mosier Community School, etches a Coast Salish design into scratchboard.

A week of art camp, funded through a Confluence Project’s Gifts from Our Ancestors grant and hosted by The Dalles Middle School, wrapped up June 27 for 22 middle school students.

The project draws on the region’s history, including Native American traditional stories and entries from the Lewis and Clark Expedition journals. Gifts from Our Ancestors is a collaborative program between school classrooms, indigenous artists and tradition keepers, and the community.

The art camp, entitled Celilo Falls: A Crossing of Paths, was designed for incoming sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students who wanted to use a week of their summer vacation to pursue the arts. The camp explored the confluence of history, culture and ecology of Celilo Falls and the surrounding area, using different art mediums. Students also worked with three Native American traditional artists during the week.

On Monday, they explored a number of Indian legends from the Pacific Northwest with Ed Edmo, a Sho-shone-Bannock poet, playwright, performer and traditional storyteller from Portland. To follow up on their learning, they began working on five small mural boards, depicting stories from the Wasco, Klickitat, Yakama, Klamath, and Nez Perce tribes. The boards will be installed at The Dalles Middle School.

They also learned about the history of Celilo Falls and its extensive trading network, with trade goods coming from as far away as the Great Plains, the Southwest and Alaska. The students reflected on the different types of containers used by Native Americans, and tried their hands at traditional pottery, using red clay to create coiled vases and pinch pots.

On Tuesday, students took a look at stone artifacts, such as mortars, pestles and fishing weights. They also learned about the petroglyphs and pictographs at Columbia Hills State Park. Then they went to work carving on their own “stones,” using a product called Oregon Stone.

Also Tuesday, fisherwoman, anthropologist and Warm Springs tribal member Brigette Scott shared with the students her family’s fishing culture and examples of traditional beadwork. The students then worked on their own bead projects, creating uniquely designed wrist wraps using the peyote stitch, an off-loom bead weaving technique used in historic and contemporary Native American beadwork.

On Wednesday the students explored Native American basketry and then undertook a weaving project, using the coiling method to create a small basket or coaster of their own design. The coiling method is one of four basket weaving techniques used by Native Americans across North America. In the afternoon, the students discovered the different uses of cedar by Native Americans living in the Pacific Northwest. They then crafted cedar bluebird houses while learning about the bluebird migration through the area.

On Thursday, the students turned their focus to 2-D art forms. In the morning, they studied Coast Salish design elements. The Coast Salish peoples are indigenous to Vancouver Island, lower British Columbia, and Northern Washington. Afterward, they transferred and etched the designs into scratchboard, which is coated with a thin layer of white China clay and coated with black India ink. In the afternoon, they took a look at Nez Perce history, including the development of the Nez Perce Horse. They then created abstract horses using charcoal and oil pastels.

On Friday, the students reviewed the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and looked at one of their herbariums and examples of several local plants they collected. Using India ink, recycled paper, and sticks and plants as paintbrushes, they created illustrations of some of the plants and grasses found locally. Throughout the week, as the students finished up their projects, they worked on the mural boards or on individual painting projects using acrylic paint on natural cedar rounds or large, round, river rocks.

At the end of the day on Friday, art camp students held an informal art reception, in which all of their hard work from the week was put on display for friends and family. “I am amazed at the quality and the amount of work which was completed during the week,” said Middle School Principle Pat Consoliver.

Joining the students for most of the week, Tuesday through Friday, was Toma Villa of the Yakama Nation. He specializes in sculpture, iron casting, painting and printmaking, but his roots have always been in graffiti art. Villa helped the students with their projects as well as the mural boards.

“I feel that you can never dream too big,” Villa said. “Some things may seem impossible, but if you make a plan in life, you will succeed.”

The organizing teacher for this week-long event was Sonja Little, The Dalles Middle School art teacher.


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