Traditional Art, Contemporary Feel

The Power of the Underwater People at Dabob Bay by Malynn Foster. Acrylic on canvas. Photo by Melissa McCarthy.

Native American art is often focused on the past — restoring works and practices that have overcome erasure. But the IN THE SPIRIT Contemporary Native Arts Exhibition is looking forward.

This exhibit, hosted by the Washington State History Museum in collaboration with the Tacoma Art Museum and the Museum of Glass, features 28 works of art from 24 contemporary artists. Many of the works are reminiscent of traditional Native American art, but have introduced new modes, materials, and ideas that are contemporary in nature.

Visitors find their steps through the low lighting of the exhibition, with beams of light illuminating the various works around them: delicate woven garments, cast stainless steel masks, glass-blown totems, complex acrylic paintings, and a number of pieces commenting on pertinent social and political issues.

Seasoned and emergent artists alike use this exhibition as an opportunity to take more risks than in a traditional gallery setting.

“The exhibition is experimental in nature,” said Charlie Bloomfield of the Pyramid Lake Paiute, Saanich, and Lummi Tribes. Bloomfield has participated in the exhibition for the past 10 years, nine of those as a featured artist and now as one of the jurors on the selection committee.

Bloomfield said this exhibition, because it doesn’t take place in an art museum or a gallery, allows artists to try something new and push the envelope.

Predator Cannibal by Robin Lovelace. Stainless steel and abalone. Photo by Melissa McCarthy.

Mary Mikel Stump, Washington State Historical Society Director of Audience Engagement, has seen a similar trend. “We’re happy that we can be a fertile ground for these artists to take risks,” Stump said.

The IN THE SPIRIT exhibition opens Thursday, June 20, on a free third Thursday for the museum. IN THE SPIRIT will be on display through Aug. 10, where it will culminate with a community festival complete with vendor booths, performances, and free admission to all three museums (Washington State History Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, and the Museum of Glass).

For more information, visit

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