OHS’s ‘Native Regalia’ brings it all back home

Sue Perry Olson, dentalium cap, Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw, 2002. Photo: Frank Miller

Above: Sue Perry Olson, dentalium cap, Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw, 2002. Inset: Chooktoot’s doctor regalia, Klamath, ca. 1900. Photos: Frank Miller

On Portland’s South Park Blocks the big visual news this fall is the Portland Art Museum’s splashy China Design Now exhibit and its micro-blockbuster single-painting show of Raphael’s portrait La Velata, with its sexy speculation on the great Italian painter’s private life.

Chooktoot's doctor regalia, Klamath, ca. 1900. Photo: Frank Miller

But as important as the Far East is to our future and the European Renaissance is to our past, we have a past right here, too, that continues to inform our present and future on the Upper Left Coast.

I’m talking about Oregon’s Native American heritage, and I’m hoping that in all the understandable fuss about China and Raphael, a small jewel of a show at the Oregon Historical Society doesn’t get lost.

The show is called The Art of Ceremony: Regalia of Native Oregon, and it continues for just another week, through Sunday, Nov. 15, at the historical society, right across the park from the art museum at Southwest Jeffferson and Park Avenue. I reviewed the exhibit in The Oregonian last December when it opened at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem; since then it’s been traveling to other museums and cultural centers around the state.

The Art of Ceremony combines a lot of prime historical pieces with work in a historical vein by some leading contemporary tribal artists. It’s curated by Rebecca J. Dobkins, an anthroplogist at Willamette University who’s assembled several fine exhibits of Northwest Native American art at the Hallie Ford, but it’s notable also because the pieces chosen were selected in close consultation with members of each of Oregon’s federally recognized nations: These are the things the tribes themselves consider their best work. And in a lot of cases they’re things that aren’t ordinarily seen in public settings like powwows: They’re traditional regalia not usually in the public eye.

Spend some time with this show if you’re downtown. The historical society is closed Monday but open Tuesday through Saturday.