Category Archives: Book Excerpt

The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl

In 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day in the United States—a celebration of the life and legacy of the important Chicano civil rights and labor leader. With the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) and Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) annual conferences also in full swing this Cesar Chavez Day, it’s only fitting that we are sharing a preview of Sarah D. Wald‘s forthcoming book, The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl (May 2016). Analyzing fiction, nonfiction, news coverage, activist literature, memoirs, and more from the Great Depression through the present, Wald’s book looks at how California farmlands have served as a popular symbol of American opportunity and natural abundance, and addresses what such cultural works tell us about who belongs in America, and in what ways they are allowed to belong. By bringing together ecocriticism and critical race theory, the book addresses an important gap in how we understand questions of citizenship, immigration, and environmental justice.

The excerpt below focuses on what Wald calls “the often-overlooked points of intersection between the UFW [United Farm Workers] and environmentalism.”

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Nature of California: Race, Citizenship, and Farming since the Dust Bowl, by Sarah D. Wald:

Most environmental historians cite Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) as the modern environmental movement’s birth announcement. They distinguish mid-twentieth-century environmentalism from the conservationism and preservationism of the Progressive Era in large part through its concern for toxins and other forms of pollution. Many participants in the environmentalism of the 1960s and 1970s expressed concern that human use of technology fundamentally threatened the circle of ecological life and imperiled humanity’s ability to sustain itself. Carson echoed these themes, linking the death of songbirds to the potential loss of human life. The popular concern for such issues congealed with the first Earth Day in April 1970. Organizers billed Earth Day as a national teach-in that included events at fifteen hundred colleges and ten thousand schools. As historian Adam Rome wrote, “The teach-ins collectively involved more people than the biggest civil rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s.” Millions participated.

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The history of modern environmentalism is entangled with the remarkable story of the United Farm Workers, the first successful unionization effort for farmworkers. In 1962, the same year Carson published Silent Spring, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta resigned from the Community Service Organization to focus on organizing farmworkers, and Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). In 1965, the largely Filipino farmworkers union, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), began the famous grape strike, with Chavez’s organization voting to strike in solidarity. In 1966, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and AWOC merged into the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). On July 29, 1970, just three months after the first Earth Day, the United Farm Workers (UFW) achieved a major victory, signing 150 contracts with the major Delano grape growers, covering thirty thousand workers. The success was short-lived, as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters began undermining the UFW by signing “sweetheart” deals with the growers. This controversy led to a renewal of the strike and boycott throughout the 1970s. The UFW never again had as many unionized workers. Continue reading

The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City

Burke-PortlandBlackPanthersFrom Ferguson, Missouri to Flint, Michigan, African American communities across the nation continue to struggle for the same basic rights, protections, and social services demanded by the civil rights movement exactly a half century ago. In their timely new book, The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City, authors Lucas N. N. Burke and Judson Jeffries remind us of an earlier case of concerned citizens, in a similarly overlooked black community, who took matters into their own hands when they felt they weren’t being heard by local leaders. While most of us easily associate the Black Panthers with berets and bullet belts, Burke and Jeffries show us that the Portland branch, which was much smaller than its more infamous counterparts in the Bay area, was more concerned with taking care of neighborhood kids and opening a free health clinic for the community.

Though there definitely are stories of violence, angry protests, police brutality, and other more dramatic episodes in their book, the excerpt I’ve chosen focuses on the group’s early attempts (before it was an official Black Panther branch) to start a free breakfast program for kids in the Albina district. I chose this passage for several reasons. For starters, it’s a warm, “feel good” moment that demonstrates the Portland Panthers’ ability to build community, countering the stereotype that portrays them only as angry and combative. Instead, we see Kent Ford and other Portland Panthers working to secure food donations, and organizing early morning schedules for cooks and servers, actions that clearly take a great deal of planning and effort. Secondly, we see through the press coverage how the Portland branch challenged those very preconceived notions about the Black Panthers. Reporters came in expecting militant ideology and instead found pancakes and syrup.

Finally, I chose this particular excerpt because it also speaks to the vision of the Panthers. Providing free breakfast to school kids might seem like a minor thing, but, as they argued, the idea that everyone is entitled to a healthy diet is truly a revolutionary concept. These days that concept is known as the “food justice” movement, but, as the authors show, it was being fought for in Portland long before it had an official name. Though the Portland Black Panthers branch dissolved by the 1980s, its legacy lives on in the city through the various activist groups fighting for fair housing, living wages, environmental justice, and an end to police brutality, among other issues. By shining the spotlight on the little known Portland Black Panther branch, Burke and Jeffries show us how even the smallest group—in the unlikeliest of places—can affect major change by building up its community and relentlessly pushing back against the powers that be.

Ranjit Arab, Senior Editor

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City, by Lucas N. N. Burke and Judson Jeffries:

Even though they were not yet card-carrying members of the Black Panther Party, NCCF (National Committee to Combat Fascism) members in Portland worked diligently in the fall of 1969 to establish a free breakfast program for school kids. “The government had money to fight a war thousands and thousands of miles away . . . and send astronauts to the moon,” Kent Ford said, “but ensuring that kids received a well-balanced meal before heading off to school was not a priority . . . so the Panthers made it a priority.” In 1967, the US government spent a mere $600,000 on breakfast programs nationwide. But as more and more Panther branches started their own free breakfast programs, government-sponsored breakfast initiatives proliferated. By 1972, government-sponsored breakfast programs were feeding more than a million children of the approximately five million who qualified for such aid.

Doing the work of a Panther without being acknowledged as a Panther frustrated some of the Portland members. Their community survival initiatives, among other things, were indicative of the NCCF’s burning desire and commitment to be recognized as full-fledged Panthers. Becoming an official Panther came with a tremendous amount of responsibility, but to some it was not significantly different from what they had become accustomed to doing as members of the NCCF. Oscar Johnson remembers how he structured his days around Panther activities: “My work as a Panther was not all that different than what I was doing as a member of the NCCF. I worked nights, so I was the driver. I’d finish my shift and pick up kids who needed a ride to breakfast. Go home and sleep. We solicited cash and food from neighborhood businesses in the afternoon and attended political education classes at night. It felt good. . . . We were doing something. We had the respect of the community.” Drawing on a small but diverse group of young working-class and student activists, these African American men and women used a variety of networks and connections to build a robust breakfast program. The Portland NCCF made the announcement that it was going to start a free breakfast program at a community meeting. “From the outset, people were receptive to the program,” said Black Panther Patty (Hampton) Carter. Believing the program to be a worthwhile endeavor, Rev. Samuel L. Johnson, head pastor of the Highland United Church of Christ, offered his church as the venue for the program. The church, located at 4635 NE Ninth Ave, was ideal, as it was spacious, met building and health code inspections, and was in close proximity to Martin Luther King Elementary School, which was located at 4906 NE Sixth Avenue. One week into the 1969–70 school year, NCCF members distributed leaflets (outlining the schedule, goals, and objective of the free breakfast program) to various community groups and passed them out to kids as they walked to and from school. Ford remembered that “people were so supportive of the program. . . . Rev. Johnson didn’t charge us a dime . . . neither did the Wonder Bread company that gave us fifty loaves of bread each week, no questions asked . . . then there was this one nice lady who (within a month of starting the breakfast program) came in one day with seventy-five cartons of eggs. When I attempted to pay her for her trouble, she turned me down flat saying, ‘You guys are doing good work.’ ”

Continue reading

Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement

Stars for FreedomEmilie Raymond’s Stars for Freedom turns our understanding of the civil rights movement on its head. Though popular narratives emphasize the movement’s grassroots origins, it’s equally important not to overlook the role that a handful of African American celebrities played in not only helping to fund the movement, but also in serving as ambassadors, liaisons, cheerleaders, and even foot soldiers for the  cause.

I’ve chosen to highlight this particular section from Emilie’s book because it covers a period exactly fifty years ago from this summer—a time that still resonates loudly with current events. Fifty years ago, the Voting Rights Act was passed; recently, however, the Supreme Court invalidated key parts of it. Similarly, exactly a half century ago this summer, rioting broke out in the Watts district of Los Angeles over police treatment of a black man; today, we see similar incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore as well as widespread outrage through the #BlackLivesMatter social movement.

Along with these similarities, what also stands out to me about the excerpt is Emilie’s ability to simultaneously view the movement from multiple levels:  we see comedian Dick Gregory on the streets of Watts risking life and limb with protesters; we see Harry Belafonte hustling behind the scenes writing letters and organizing last-minute benefits; and we see the grassroots Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) grappling with whether it had sold out by collaborating with glamorous celebrities. 

The result is an excerpt that, I think, demonstrates how deftly Emilie blends civil rights and entertainment histories—and it provides just a small glimpse of the exciting book she has written. I hope you enjoy reading this piece as much as I enjoyed working with Emilie on this amazing book!

Ranjit Arab, senior acquisitions editor, UW Press

On August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, and Dick Gregory commemorated the event at the Sumter County Courthouse lawn in Americus, Georgia, with a group of avid African American registrants. Surrounded by a cordon of white state troopers in white helmets who were dispatched to protect them, Gregory observed, “When everybody gets to voting, we are going to get us some black faces under those white helmets. And it ain’t going to be from no suntan neither.” He foretold of the dramatic effect voting rights would have on the daily lives of African Americans.

Only one week later, the comedian rushed to the Watts district in Los Angeles, where a race riot was threatening to destroy the city. Sparked by the arrest of a young black man for drunk driving, the altercation had grown into a widespread armed confrontation with the Los Angeles police and the National Guard. Wanting “to help in any way I could,” Gregory drove into the riot area near a housing project and was shocked by the “stark and horrible expression of raw violence.” He started to walk between law enforcement and the rioters when “the bullets started to fly.” When he was shot in the leg, Gregory rushed into the street, yelling “Alright goddamn, it. You shot me, now go home!” With a burning wound, Gregory was in disbelief that “after all the times I’d been arrested by red neck deputies in the past four years, here I was shot by a black man in California.” He charged forth, believing “somebody had to stop it.” On that street corner at least, the rioters retreated. Across town, Belafonte, already booked at the Greek Theater, continued to perform nightly when most other public venues were closed. Admittedly “apprehensive” about potential problems in an audience of five thousand, he also saw it “as a challenge” to show a capacity for unity in such dreadful circumstances. Belafonte even brought in youngsters from Watts to give them safe haven. The riot lasted six days and resulted in thirty-four deaths and $40 million in property damage. August 1965 foretold of the movement’s impending “crisis of victory” and of the stars’ varying roles in its progression.

Harry Belafonte, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sammy Davis, Jr. at the “Broadway Answers Selma” benefit show at the Majestic Theatre.

Harry Belafonte, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sammy Davis, Jr. at the “Broadway Answers Selma” benefit show at the Majestic Theatre.

For the time being, however, the leading civil rights organizations optimistically planned their futures, and celebrities were instrumental in their efforts. In March 1965, the New York [FOS Friends of SNCC] office held a workshop emphasizing their new fund-raiser of choice: the house party. Although such events were admittedly “small, exclusive receptions,” the group still called their efforts “a grassroots public relations program.” They instructed workshop attendees to ask themselves “Is the money there?” before planning a party. “Regardless of their goodwill, a constituency must be people of means or the funds realized will be commensurately small,” the literature explained. The program emphasized cultivating “prominent” and “wealthy” individuals, as well as members of the media, and highlighted obtaining artists for the parties. Another development from the conference included the creation of a contact information sheet (with addresses and phone numbers) for the artists willing to sponsor SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] events. This long-awaited list could be distributed among the FOS groups and made for more streamlined planning. It also reflected the importance of Selma to bringing more celebrities into the movement on a more permanent basis. The list included the regulars from the 1964 house parties, as well as those individuals, such as Tony Bennett and Shelley Winters, who had marched in Selma, and those, such as Alan Arkin and Eli Wallach, who had participated in Davis’s Broadway benefit. FOS groups went on to hold an unprecedented number of star-studded house parties in the coming months.

The successful house parties led to benefit concerts devoted to SNCC alone. With the help of Julie Belafonte and Diahann Carroll, the New York FOS organized an elegant black-tie dinner and dance at the New York Hilton Grand Ballroom on April 25, 1965, to benefit freedom schools and voter registration drives in the South. The program featured Harry Belafonte, Brando, Carroll, Sammy Davis, Jr., Streisand, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee. Tickets cost $100 per person, and a number of celebrities and wealthy New Yorkers sponsored entire tables at $1,000 each. SNCC netted an estimated $80,000 from the event, and held a similar dinner, again hosted by Julie Belafonte and Carroll, the following year.

The organization also succeeded at having more parties in Los Angeles. Brando headlined one party at a Hollywood home in June 1965. Poitier cohosted a SNCC fund-raiser with Belafonte, Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory and Richard Burton, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, and Mike Nichols at a posh Beverly Hills discotheque in August. The event resembled a movie premiere. Such guests as the actors James Garner, Lauren Bacall, and Lee Marvin, and the filmmakers Stanley Kramer, Arthur Penn, and Robert Blumofe arrived wearing tuxedoes, long gowns, and lavish jewelry. The event was held only a few days after the Watts riot, and Poitier used it to plead for funds, arguing the disturbances were “only a symptom of the underlying social diseases eating away at the fabric of society.” The stars shouted their pledges, challenging one another until they reached $50,000. The party was written up in the New York Times for the “surprising number of Hollywood luminaries” willing to publicly support the “most radical and controversial of all the major civil rights organizations.”

Since the parties targeted only a select few, “for the balance of the community,” SNCC used “broadside direct mail appeals for money,” but it employed celebrities for this task as well. Belafonte penned a series of letters in the spring and summer of 1966, alerting recipients of the continued impoverished and terrorized conditions of the rural South and pleading for funds. Ultimately, the organization raised $637,736 in 1965, its highest income to date, and double what it had raised in 1963 before house parties and close collaboration with celebrities became routine.

Despite this impressive fund-raising record, SNCC did not always manage its celebrity supporters effectively. This largely stemmed from a lack of organization outside of the New York office. FOS groups failed to coordinate with the New York staff members, and wealthy supporters complained of being inundated with requests for parties and benefits. Betty Garman, a fund-raiser in the New York office, admitted, “I don’t know they are sending letters off and thus can’t explain that this is not the way to obtain talent for concerts, etc.” She expressed confidence only in the Bay Area (San Francisco), Boston, and New York groups as being “competent” to handle major events; Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington was “where smaller events could be planned.” A Philadelphia FOS volunteer, however, complained, “We cannot understand how it is that New York can easily have a dozen top stars where not one can be available for Philadelphia.” She reported that they had started plans for parties, “but on one condition. We must have top name stars like Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr., [opera star] Leontyne Rice, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston” or “big fund raising in Philly is a dead issue.” Meanwhile, a report on fund-raising at the Baltimore FOS office expressed disappointment that despite its proximity to Washington and its potential to obtain “big-name people,” the full-time staffer there “somehow . . . does not follow up.”

Moreover, SNCC bungled some lucrative opportunities. A celebrity billiard tournament to be chaired by James Garner, cochaired by Steve Allen, Milton Berle, and Sammy Davis, Jr., and held in Los Angeles in May 1966 had to be aborted within a week of the event due to disorganization and friction among the Los Angeles FOS activists. One embarrassed SNCC organizer admitted, “I feel very badly about this because I have had contact with all these stars in the past and as you can understand, it can leave a feeling of ill-will.” The event would have brought in a number Hollywood’s white stars, such as James Coburn and Dennis Hopper, and rising black entertainers such as Bill Cosby and Ivan Dixon, who were rather new to the movement, as well as many others who had done little civil rights work since the Prop 14 campaign. Fifty-seven celebrity participants had to be notified of the cancellation. SNCC likewise failed to follow through on a benefit concert with Frank Sinatra and benefit screenings of the short film Ivanhoe Donaldson (1964) about one of its own activists. The film’s distributor offered to screen previews in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, but after seeing little follow-through, complained about “the lack of any action at SNCC.” These lapses resulted largely from SNCC’s unusual makeup as an organization without a membership or a traditional hierarchical structure.

They also perhaps reflected a growing discomfort within SNCC about its connection to wealthy liberals. In a Northern staff meeting in 1965, several activists raised concerns that SNCC was becoming “elitist” due in part to its income stream. Indeed, after the fund-raiser in Beverly Hills, Belafonte acknowledged, “The irony of partying at a discotheque was not lost on anyone.” Stokely Carmichael became SNCC chair that same year. He was openly critical of nonviolence, and Belafonte felt Carmichael and his cohorts had begun to view him as “part of the establishment,” which in the 1960s was tantamount to treason. James Forman denied that guilt-ridden liberals constituted SNCC’s support. “I think they are sophisticated people who understand the importance of what we are doing,” he asserted. “These are people who have been red-baited, who pulled out of politics in the late ’40s, and have been waiting for a new generation of political activists.” He cited Belafonte as an example, saying, “Harry Belafonte, who is wealthy, is more radical than anyone in SNCC. He really understands the social forces involved.” Longtime activist Bob Zellner said, “Most SNCC folks were grateful for all political and financial help from whatever the source.” Betty Garman, another SNCC activist engaged in fund-raising, concurred, saying that the fund-raisers were “helping us to tap resources we could never reach ourselves because of who we are and how we work. On the other hand,” she continued, “there is some concern that the people who give wouldn’t give to us if they knew more about who we are and how we work.”

SNCC attempted to deal with these contradictions and critiques. Under pressure from New York FOS volunteers to hire a salaried professional fund-raiser, Forman repeatedly refused, saying “that would destroy the philosophy of the organization.” When those at the winter 1965 fund-raising conference continued to insist on such a position, Forman took on the responsibilities, but not a pay increase, himself. Meanwhile, Betty Garman encouraged FOS offices to reach out to “all sections of a community” in broader programs. She challenged the advice pushed at the fund-raising conference in terms of pursuing elite donors. Acknowledging that “house parties work,” she also insisted “they work on all levels of a community. Some people think of a house party as a way to raise BIG money—which means a fancy house and a star and expensive food and free drinks and NAME people. But there is no reason to feel,” she continued, “that a house party cannot be successful if it raises $50 or $100 or $200,” as long as SNCC held many such parties. Thus, SNCC could “involve people,” meaning a broad cross-section of average folks. Others in the organization expressed concern that if students wanted to begin direct action in the urban North, they could well find themselves in conflict with the very liberals that supported the Southern projects. This anxiety led SNCC activists to brainstorm how to reach more blacks in Northern ghettoes and in the South, and, ironically given SNCC’s suspicion of the NAACP, the black middle class. This debate would come to naught later in the decade due to radical policy changes within SNCC, but it foreshadowed a growing critique of liberal celebrity activism and its paradoxes.

Ozette: Excavating a Makah Whaling Village

Ruth Kirk’s Ozette: Excavating a Makah Whaling Village presents a detailed account of a world-famous archaeological site on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Full-scale excavations from 1966 to 1981 revealed houses and their contents—including ordinarily perishable wood and basketry objects that had been buried in a mudflow well before the arrival of Europeans in the region. Led by Richard Daugherty, with a team of graduate and undergraduate students and Makah tribal members, the work culminated in the creation of the Makah Museum in Neah Bay, where more than 55,000 Ozette artifacts are curated and displayed. Ruth Kirk was present—documenting the archaeological work from its beginning—and her firsthand knowledge of the people and efforts involved enrich her compelling story of discovery and fieldwork, and deepen our understanding of a complex and storied culture.

Here, we feature an excerpt from Ozette in which Ruth Kirk describes the location of the long-occupied coastal village and the earliest stages of the world-famous archaeological excavation of the site.

(Scroll to the bottom of this post to learn about upcoming opportunities to hear Ruth Kirk discuss Ozette).

The year was 1947. Richard Daugherty, a student at the University of Washington, was hiking the state’s wilderness Pacific coast, recording archaeological sites. World War II had ended, and with it his service as a navy blimp pilot flying patrols on the lookout for submarines. He had returned to his studies and in connection with them was making this survey of more than two hundred miles of coastline, from the mouth of the Columbia River to Cape Flattery. Not far from the cape, he had reached Ozette, the site of a Makah whaling village. A broad terrace bordered the beach for a half mile or more, and on it the walls of a few houses lay fallen into the grass and nettles, along with rotten roof boards covered with moss. Families had lived there until the 1920s, when they moved to Neah Bay, sixteen miles north.The federal government had ordered their children to be in school, yet had provided none at Ozette. They had no choice but to move.

Kirk-fig-1.01_alt

The main Ozette village stretched for about three-quarters of a mile along the beach, connected to Ch’kknow acht Island by a low-tide sandspit.

That exodus accounted for the end of the long human continuity at Ozette, but what were the beginnings? Midden—refuse—exposed in the sea bank edging the beach belonged to those earlier chapters. Lots of midden, and deep. Daugherty noted layer on layer of broken mussel and clam shells, whale bones, charcoal, and rocks cracked and split by the heat of a fire. This clearly was the premier site of the more than fifty he had recorded along the entire coast. He was seeing archaeological material that amounted to a cultural jigsaw puzzle belonging to the Makah people—and although he could not know it at the time, he was also looking at what eventually would provide the high point of his professional career.

Now the year was 1966. Daugherty had completed his PhD and joined the faculty at Washington State University, in Pullman. He had worked with other archaeologists in Egypt and Sudan, gathering evidence of the human past along the Nile River before it would be lost owing to construction of the Aswan Dam. He had consulted on Peace River archaeology in British Columbia and directed investigations in eastern Washington along the Snake and Columbia Rivers. But he kept wanting to get back to Ozette, and he found a way to do it. The National Science Foundation approved funds for research, and Daugherty recruited thirty archaeology students from across the United States and Canada to come and learn field techniques while helping unlock the story of Ozette’s past. The Makah Tribal Council had approved the undertaking.

Richard Daugherty (left) and Ed Claplanhoo assessed the sea-bank erosion caused by winter's storm-driven waves.

Richard Daugherty (left) and Ed Claplanhoo assessed the sea-bank erosion caused by winter’s storm-driven waves.

Ed Claplanhoo, a young councilman at the time, was a graduate of Washington State College (now University), and he knew Professor Daugherty. Consequently the council asked his opinion of Daugherty’s proposal. Years earlier they had declined a University of Washington request for permission to excavate at Ozette, but they could see merit in the current proposal as a way of strengthening the tribe’s tie to Ozette and they trusted Claplanhoo’s assessment. The federal government was considering “surplusing” the land at Ozette as vacant and no longer eligible for status as an Indian reservation. However, several Neah Bay elders had lived there as children, and they cared deeply about those roots.

Hamilton Greene, one of the elders, remembered “a solid line of houses facing the water, and canoes on the beach. My grandfather used to say that Ozette had been a big village. The word he used to describe it means ‘a whole bunch.’ More [houses] than you’d care to count.” Daugherty’s proposal seemed like a way to augment such memories with a new kind of knowledge. The tribe and the professor would work together.

The beach served as lunchroom for the 1966 archaeology crew.

The beach served as lunchroom for the 1966 archaeology crew.

The archaeology camp was set up just back from the beach, where a splashing creek furnished water for drinking and for icy showers. On days when it was not raining, the crew ate out on the beach, sitting on drift logs. On drizzly days, they gathered in a large, floorless tent designated as mess hall and classroom. A Coast Guard helicopter had brought in the big tent and smaller sleeping tents, a cookstove, groceries, shovels, surveyor’s transits, and field notebooks and laboratory catalogs with blank pages to be filled with information day-by-day as the excavation progressed. It was a onetime delivery. From then on, supplies had to be backpacked four miles through the forest and along the beach or flown in by a small plane twenty-four miles from the logging town of Forks. Often it was too foggy for the plane to land, and, for the same reason, travel often was unsafe by boat from Neah Bay, sixteen miles north, or La Push, eighteen miles south.

A trail through the forest leads from road's end to the beach.

A trail through the forest leads from road’s end to the beach.

By modern standards Ozette is isolated and remote, but it was quite the contrary during its long years as a village approached from the sea. Sixteen houses stood there in 1834, according to the report of three shipwrecked Japanese seamen who had drifted for more than a year across the Pacific Ocean before finally being washed ashore and captured by Ozette Indians. They were subsequently rescued by the Hudson’s Bay Company and eventually taken to Macao, a trade center on the southeast coast of China. A half century later, the 1889 Pacific Coast Pilot also mentioned Ozette, with a reporter stating: “Passed close outside [Ozette] and had a fine view of it. The village has over 20 houses and is not bulkheaded to prevent the inroads of the sea.”

There could scarcely have been a better setting for Northwest Coast human life. Several offshore islands and a wide rocky reef at the village doorstep broke the force of swells and incoming waves, thereby easing the landing of canoes. The reef, exposed at low tide, hosted year-round edibles such as mussels, clams, sea urchins, snails, chitons, limpets, crabs, and octopus. About twelve miles west, nutrient-rich water welled up from the edge of the continental shelf and concentrated the plankton; fish fed on the plankton, and fur seals fed on the fish. That abundance of food brought migrating seals closer to shore at Ozette than anywhere else along the entire coast from Northern California to Alaska. Sea lions hauled out on the rocky points and beaches of the islands. Kelp beds furnished ideal habitat for sea otters. Red snapper and lingcod—bottom fish—thrived close to the village. Halibut banks were a short paddle away, and salmon came to the Ozette River a little over a mile to the north. Red cedars in the forest behind the village supplied planks for houses and bark for baskets, and they also could be made into dugout canoes. Deer and elk roamed the forest, which was interspersed by treeless prairies where villagers could gather a variety of plant foods and medicines.

Kirk, Ruth_credit Mary Randlett

Ruth Kirk, photo by Mary Randlett.

Ruth Kirk, writer and photographer, is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Archaeology in Washington, with her husband Richard D. Daugherty; Sunrise to Paradise: The Story of Mount Rainier National Park; and Exploring Washington’s Past: A Road Guide to History, with Carmela Alexander. Her writing has earned her many accolades, including the John Burroughs Medal for Natural History Writing and a National Book Award nomination. Kirk also has received recognition for her writing from both the New York Academy of Sciences and the American Library Association.

Meet Ruth Kirk and pick up a signed copy of Ozette at these upcoming events:

Bill Holm’s Northwest Coast Indian Art

PrintBill Holm, Professor Emeritus of Art History, and Curator Emeritus of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum, is recognized internationally as one of the most knowledgeable experts in the field of Northwest Coast Native art history. His groundbreaking book, Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form, was originally published in 1965 and is credited with having drawn numerous artists into their own practice of Northwest Coast art. The 50th anniversary edition of this classic work offers color illustrations for a new generation of readers along with reflections from contemporary Northwest Coast artists about the impact of this book.

In this excerpt from the preface, Holm reflects on the book’s legacy and adds a note about its formation:

Holm's original cover with his correction.

Holm’s original cover with his correction.

As I look back on five decades of Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form there really isn’t much that I would change today. I suppose that if I had guessed that it would become a kind of hand book for Northwest Coast Native artists, rather than a somewhat technical analysis of the characteristics of Northern Northwest Coast art, I might have written it differently. Probably the first thing I would have changed would be the title, adding the word “Northern” before “Northwest Coast.” Although the geographical limits of the tradition are stated a number of times in the text, artists and some others using it have often skipped the words in favor of the pictures. The result has been that many have assumed that the art tradition described was pan-coastal.

I probably would change a few terms too, and perhaps correct a few questionable statements. My goal in inventing terminology was always to try for really descriptive words. That I sometimes failed to succeed, I regret today. For example, the term “salmon-trout’s head” was lifted bodily from George Emmons’s list of terms given him by Tlingit weavers. I tend now to call this and related design elements “elaborated inner ovoids,” since they almost never represent a fish’s head.  Similarly the design representing a wide, frontal face with long, narrow nostrils, that I referred to as a “double eye structure,” I now call a “two step structure,” referring to the unique arrangement of the formlines delineating the corners of the mouth and nostrils of the face. And its related term, the former “single eye structure” is now the “one step structure.” On the other hand, I still hold to the descriptive terms “tertiary line” and “T-shaped” relief over the terms often used by contemporary Northwest Coast artists, “fine line” and “trigon,” believing that the old terms are more descriptive of the figures’ functions.

Wooden bowl, Haida. The interrelation of two-dimensional design with sculptural form is well illustrated in this frog bowl by the master Haida carver, Charles Edensaw. University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology A7054.

Wooden bowl, Haida. The interrelation of two-dimensional design with sculptural form is well illustrated in this frog bowl by the master Haida carver, Charles Edensaw. University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology A7054.

As the characteristic shapes and arrangements of the elements of northern Northwest Coast two-dimensional art began to become familiar to me I came to the realization that there was a sort of grammar or syntax to it that was not unlike that of a written language.  There were “rules” that transcended tribal and linguistic boundaries on the northern coast and that were followed in remarkable uniformity by artists of all the tribes of the area. Like a written language, it allowed individual variation while still conforming to the rules. Just as a proper and proficient use of writing doesn’t guarantee a great poem or gripping novel, the “rules” of the northern Northwest Coast “formline” don’t automatically result in great art. That is left to the artist.

A short history of the genesis of Analysis of Form is included in the preface. Here I would like to elaborate just a bit. After having completed the work for a Fine Arts Master’s Degree in Painting under the GI Bill, I cast about for a job.  I liked teaching so went back to school to qualify for a teaching certificate. A requirement at that time was that I return to class after a year of teaching. By that time I had a pretty good understanding of the characteristics of the formline system, so I approached my longtime friend, Dr. Erna Gunther, then Chairman of the Anthropology Department and Director of the Washington State Museum (now the Burke Museum) with the proposal that I take a Graduate Research Course from her and write a paper, the subject being “The structure of Northwest Coast Indian two-dimensional art.”

Woven spruce root hat, Haida. A configurative design of a split wolf is painted around the hat in black, red, and blue-green. Private collection.

Woven spruce root hat, Haida. A configurative design of a split wolf is painted around the hat in black, red, and blue-green. Private collection.

Dr. Gunther readily agreed, and the result was the basis for “An Analysis of Form.” The paper lay fallow for half a dozen years, when I was urged by friends to try to publish it. It sounded like a good idea, but I began to realize that it was incomplete, lacking any kind of documentation. It was all in my head. Again I went to Dr. Gunther for advice. This was in the days before personal computers, and she suggested that I try Keysort Cards  to record characteristics and organize the results. I recorded characteristics of 392 specimens on 400 cards and used the results to fine-tune my conclusions.  Then, what to do?

I had no idea of how to proceed toward publishing the study.  One day I was in a laboratory in the Burke Museum, visiting a friend who had generously let me use a picture of a contemporary silver bracelet he owned as an illustration of how the design system had broken down.  Dr. Walter Fairservis, then the director of the Burke, was in the room and heard our conversation.

He came over and asked me what we were talking about.  Dr. Fairservis, an Asian and Near Eastern specialist, was being unfairly criticized by some members of the public for not exhibiting more of the museum’s Northwest Coast collections. I briefly described my study to him. He turned, picked up the phone and dialed it. He spoke — “Hello Don (Don Ellegood, Director of the University of Washington Press), we have a great manuscript here on the art of the Indians of the Northwest Coast.”

And the rest is history…

Upcoming Symposium
March 27-29, 2015

ArtTalk—Conversations with Northwest Native Art is organized by the Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art and will bring together leading scholars and Native American/First Nations artists to present and discuss current trends and recent research on the distinctive art traditions of our region, both to examine the last fifty years of Northwest Coast art, as marked by the 50th anniversary volume of Bill Holm’s Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form, and to look forward to the next fifty years.

The symposium will accompany the exhibition Here & Now: Native Artists Inspired which marks the tenth anniversary of the Bill Holm Center. This symposium will feature artists and scholars from the U.S. and Canada and highlight current research in the field of Northwest Coast art history. It will focus in particular on Native American/First Nations Canadian artists whose art is rooted in deep understanding of their respective cultural and visual heritage yet is clearly contemporary in its expression. Speakers will include distinguished scholars, as well as young artists who are pushing the boundaries of their traditions.

Learn more about the Bill Holm Center via its website and Facebook page, and about the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture.

Pumpkin Patch to Jack-o’-lantern: A Halloween History Lesson

Pumpkin decor and jack-o’-lanterns have become ubiquitous symbols of Halloween, but how did a simple squash become a quintessential part of this American holiday? Cindy Ott explores this and other surprising stories about the pumpkin’s rise to icon status in her book, Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon. Beginning with the myth of the first Thanksgiving, she shows how Americans have used the pumpkin to fulfill their desire to maintain connections to nature and to the family farm of lore, and how small farms and rural communities have been revitalized in the process. In the following excerpt from the book, Ott delves into the origins and evolution of Halloween pumpkin traditions.

When most Americans think about communing with nature, they probably do not think about celebrating Halloween, but its festivities say a lot about how Americans imagine the natural world around them. While adult costume parties and parades still define the holiday, they share the night with children walking from door to door in costumes, yelling ‘Trick or Treat!’ to be rewarded with candies from their neighbors. The tradition started in the 1920s and became more popular with post-World-War II suburbanization and the baby boom. Pumpkins ranging from a single jack o’ lantern to more elaborate displays greet neighborhood children. Some homes metamorphose into haunted-house extravaganzas, with cobwebs stretched across bushes, faux gravestones planted in yards, paper skeletons hanging from porch rafters, and glowing jack-o’-lanterns perched on doorsteps. Others highlight a country feel, with hay bales, pumpkin-headed scarecrows, cornstalks, folk-art style wooden pumpkin cutouts, and fresh pumpkins piled decoratively near potted mums. Continue reading

Five Activists Who Shaped Seattle’s Civic and Cultural Landscape

StirringSeattle-CampbellIn the 1950s, the city of Seattle began a transformation from an insular, provincial outpost to a vibrant and cosmopolitan cultural center. As veteran Seattle journalist R. M. Campbell illustrates in Stirring Up Seattle: Allied Arts in the Civic Landscape, this transformation was catalyzed in part by the efforts of a group of civic arts boosters originally known as “The Beer and Culture Society.” This merry band of lawyers, architects, writers, designers, and university professors, eventually known as Allied Arts of Seattle, lobbied for public funding for the arts, helped avert the demolition of Pike Place Market, and were involved in a wide range of crusades and campaigns in support of historic preservation, cultural institutions, and urban livability. The excerpts below introduce five influential activists who shaped the Seattle we know and love; learn more about them and the battles they waged along with other activists in Stirring Up Seattle.  

Upcoming event: Join Stirring Up Seattle author R.M. Campbell as well as Mary Coney, both members of the original Allied Arts, and former Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman for a conversation moderated by Town Hall founder David Brewster at Town Hall Seattle on November 10 at 7:30 p.m.

1. Alice Rooney

Alice Rooney with Paul Schell at the Allied Arts annual meeting, 1979. Photo by Roger Schreiber. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

Alice Rooney with Paul Schell at the Allied Arts annual meeting, 1979. Photo by Roger Schreiber. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

Alice Rooney almost said no to Robert Jackson Block, then president of Allied Arts, when he offered her the job of executive secretary in 1960. “I have two children; I live in the suburbs and have no car.” Block then asked two questions: “Do you have a typewriter? And phone?” Well, yes, she tentatively replied. In his customary fashion, Block barked, “What’s the big deal? That’s all you need. You’re hired.” And so Rooney came to the fledging organization that had been founded only six years earlier, and stayed for twenty years […] Even now, some thirty years later, one does not mention Allied Arts without mentioning Rooney. Continue reading