The Washington County Museum is taking a new approach to creating their seasonal exhibits. They are inviting experts from the community to bring fresh perspectives as Guest Curators. This exciting new program is still under development, but is having a soft launch this summer with their first Guest Curator, Steph Littlebird Fogel. Fogel will create an updated and expanded version of the museum’s exhibit on the Kalapuyan peoples – the Tualatin Valley’s first people. Fogel was born and raised in what is now known as Washington County and is a registered member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Raised within Grand Ronde and Kalapuyan tribal community, Native culture plays an important role in her artwork, career, politics and identity.
The Washington County Museum’s permanent exhibit about the Tualatin (also called Atfalati) Kalapuyans, is one of the most popular and essential exhibits at the museum. The existing display was created over a decade ago in partnership with Grand Ronde tribal government representatives, but for the past few years only a fraction of the total content has been on display. Under new Co-Directors Molly Alloy and Nathanael Andreini, the museum positions itself as facilitators of descendant communities telling their own stories. As Guest Curator, Fogel will have creative and scholarly control over the new exhibit. She will respond to, update, and add new perspectives, such as contemporary Native artists, to the existing display’s content. “Since the scholarship about the Kalapuyan peoples continues to grow and change over time, we feel that this important exhibit deserves a refresh,” says Andreini. “Our audiences are eager to learn about the Native people of the area because there is often too little visibility around tribal history and culture. We are really excited that Steph brings a contemporary Native artist perspective and can emphasize how present those cultures are today,” adds Alloy.
Fogel immediately made her first important update: the exhibit’s title will be altered from This Kalapuya Land to This IS Kalapuyan Land, emphasizing the present tense. Fogel points out that “Often times non-natives view Indigenous culture in the ‘past-tense’. It is rare for fine art institutions or museums to make space for contemporary tribal voices unless their work conforms to historical stereotypes.” She describes her intention as Guest Curator to “make visible a dynamic community of indigenous artists. Some are mixing traditional with modern materials, some may be making very traditional crafts, and others’ work is completely devoid of tradition. I will be challenging the way we think about Indigenous culture, from both a historical and a contemporary perspective.”
The Washington County Museum is trusted as a resource by people wanting to better understand the whole culture of this area, but for too long that has been presented from a limited perspective. In sharing her expertise, personal experiences, and network with the museum as Guest Curator, Fogel will be able to expand and enliven the public’s knowledge of Native community members’ experiences and histories. As she puts it, “to share the vibrancy of life as it is today for the tribal people of Oregon.”
This IS Kalapuyan Land will open with member preview and public opening receptions both on Thursday, August 15th and will feature performances and refreshments. The expanded exhibit will take over the majority of the museum’s exhibit hall, and remain up for the entirety of the school year to allow for numerous public programs and partnerships with PCC classes, and to host over 1,500 students on field trips to expand the reach of learning. Check online for details at www.washingtoncountymuseum.org.
Steph “Littlebird” Fogel is a registered member of Oregon’s Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, a professional writer and working artist. Fogel earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Printmaking from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon where she currently lives and works. Fogel’s notoriously vibrant imagery combines the traditional totem styles of her Indigenous ancestors with contemporary illustration techniques, and post-industrial palettes. Her work frequently touches upon issues of contemporary tribal identity, cultural survivance, and responsible ecology. Fogel has received two separate grants from the Art + Sci Initiative, and her work has been featured by the Oregon Bee Project, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.), the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and the United States Postal Service.