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Exhibition Explores Mid-Columbia Indian Life between 1900 and the Late 1950s
Thomas Leander "Major Lee" Moorhouse, Columbia River, near Wallula, Washington, 1902. Lee Moorhouse Photograph Collection, PH036-1836, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon, Eugene. Used with permission.

GOLDENDALE, WASH.- Organized by Maryhill Museum of Art, the exhibition Beside the Big River: Images and Art of the Mid-Columbia Indians, explores the artistic and cultural traditions of Native Americans living along a 200-mile stretch of the Columbia River between 1900 and the late 1950s.

Included in the exhibition are 40 historical photographs of Indian life captured by regional photographers, as well as examples of Indian art worked in a variety of mediums. The exhibition will be on view at Maryhill Museum of Art July 16 – November 15, 2011. An opening celebration will take place on Saturday, July 16.

The Mid-Columbia River region extends downriver from the mouth of the Snake River to present-day Bonneville Dam. Mid-Columbia peoples who live along this expanse of river are known for their unique and skillful carving of stone, wood, bone and horn. The region’s basketry traditions, ranging from cedar root berry baskets to twined “sally bags,” also are highly regarded. Bright and colorful beadwork incorporates designs inspired by the local landscape and wildlife.

Mid-Columbia Indians figured prominently in the writings of 19th-century explorers and early pioneers; during the 20th century, these same peoples were photographed by regional photographers. Between 1900 and the late 1950s, three of them -- Lee Moorhouse, Thomas H. Rutter, and J.W. Thompson -- captured nearly 6,000 images of Indian life along the Middle Columbia River. They also photographed Columbia River peoples who were relocated to communities on the nearby Yakama, Warm Springs and Umatilla Indian Reservations.

“The work of Moorhouse, Rutter and Thompson provides a unique window into the lives and artistry of mid-Columbia Indians,” says Steve Grafe, curator of art at Maryhill Museum of Art and organizer of the exhibition. “In developing the exhibition, we wanted to recognize and remember the lives of our Indian neighbors, showcasing their work to visitors and regional residents who may be unaware of the rich traditions that have long flourished along the Columbia.”

Beside the Big River: Images and Art of the Mid-Columbia Indians presents 40 Moorhouse, Rutter and Thompson photographs of regional Indian life and select examples of Indian art worked in a variety of mediums. All of the objects and many of the photographs featured in the exhibition are drawn from the collections of Maryhill Museum of Art; additional photographs come from the University of Oregon Knight Library Special Collections, the National Anthropological Archives, and from the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

The Photographers
Thomas Leander “Major Lee” Moorhouse (1850-1926) was a Pendleton, Oregon photographer who took up the hobby near the turn of the 20th century. He subsequently created thousands of glass plate negatives recording the regional transition from frontier life to the early modern era. Between 1910 and 1919, Moorhouse made over 600 photographs of the Pendleton Round-Up. For several years, he served as agent on the Umatilla Indian Reservation and was heralded as an authority on local Indian life. His best-known photos show the peoples of the southern Columbia River Plateau; images that he created away from his studio preserve an important record of the lives and dress of turn-of-the 20th-century Plateau peoples and culture.

Thomas Rutter (1837-1925), a native of England, came to the United States via Australia and served as a Union soldier during the Civil War. He began his professional photography career around 1867, operating studios in and around Butte, Montana. After relocating to the Pacific Northwest during the 1890s, Rutter worked in Tacoma, Washington and later in Yakima, where he photographed the city, the surrounding area and the members of Yakama Indian Reservation.

John W. Thompson (1890-1978) arrived in Clatskanie, Oregon as a teenager and later became a teacher. He also gained a reputation as an excellent field botanist. After retiring, Thompson spent much of the 1950s photographing Pacific Northwest Indians. He took many photographs at Celilo Falls and in Indian communities along the Columbia, where he recorded traditional food gathering activities, root feasts, dances and parades. His pictorial record of Columbia River Indians shows a vibrant culture undergoing dramatic change. Thompson sold many of his images as sets for classroom use. Nearly 3,000 of his images are in the collection of Maryhill Museum of Art.

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