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Maryhill Museum offers new ‘Big River’ exhibition


Organized by the 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 now through Nov. 15.

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 19-century explorers and early pioneers; during the 20 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 combined works of Moorhouse, Rutter and Thompson represent a majority of the extant photographs of 20-century Indian life in the mid-Columbia region,” says Steve Grafe, curator of art at Maryhill Museum of Art and organizer of the exhibition. “In developing the exhibition, we sought 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 here.”

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. 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.

Thomas Leander “Major Lee” Moorhouse (1850-1926) was an amateur Pendleton, Oregon photographer who took up the hobby shortly before 1900. 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 20-century Plateau life.

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 the Yakama Nation.

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 as it was 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.

Saturday, July 16, all day, come celebrate the opening of the exhibition Beside the Big River: Images and Art of the Mid-Columbia Indians, with the following special programs: a tour of Petroglyphs & pictographs at Columbia Hills State Park; 10 a.m.

Walk the Temani Pesh-wa Trail at Columbia Hills State Park where dozens of Native American pictographs and petroglyphs are on display. Take a guided tour of Tsagaglalal (She Who Watches), perhaps the most famous petroglyph in the Pacific Northwest. Tour is limited to 25 people; call (509) 773-3733 to reserve a space.

The Columbia River meanders through the lives of all who live and visit here. A Native American artist born on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, Pitt is a descendent of Wasco, Yakama, and Warm Springs people. She is one of the Northwest’s most highly regarded artists and has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the Governor’s Award of the Oregon Arts Commission. Primarily a sculptor and mixed media artist, Pitt also works in clay, bronze, wearable art, prints, and most recently, glass, drawing on more than 12,000 years of Native American history and traditions of the Columbia River region. Come watch her slide lecture at 3 p.m.

Visit the EyeSEE Activity Room to see an exhibition of artwork created by students under the mentorship of artist Lillian Pitt. This project is part of the Confluence Project, a collaborative effort of Pacific Northwest tribes, renowned artist Maya Lin, civic groups from Washington and Oregon and other artists, architects and landscape designers. Come look at art created by students of Celilo Village at 4 p.m.

Maryhill curator of art Steve Grafe leads a gallery walk in the exhibition Beside the Big River: Images and Art of the Mid-Columbia Indians. Join him at 4:30 p.m.

Join Beside the Big River curator Steve Grafe on July 21 at 7 p.m. as he talks about featured photographers Lee Moorhouse and J.W. Thompson and shows seldom seen examples of their work, which preserves an important record of 20th-century Indian life in the Columbia River basin.

On Sept. 19 through the 22 join Maryhill Trustee Art Dodd, members of the Portland Art Museum’s Native American Arts Council and Maryhill curator Steve Grafe for a three-day American Indian art tour in the city of Denver and beyond. Visit the Denver Art Museum’s newly installed Native American galleries, the collection of Southwest and Hispanic art at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and much, much more. For more information, pricing and to register, visit or call (509) 773-3733.

Housed in a glorious Beaux Arts mansion on 5,300 acres high above the Columbia River, Maryhill Museum of Art opened to the public May 13, 1940 and today remains one of the Pacific Northwest’s most popular cultural destinations. The museum was founded by Northwest entrepreneur and visionary Sam Hill, who purchased the property and began building the house with dreams of establishing a Quaker farming community. When that goal proved untenable, Hill was encouraged by friends Loie Fuller, Queen Marie of Romania, and Alma de Bretteville Spreckles to establish a museum.

Maryhill Museum of Art boasts a world-class permanent collection, rotating exhibitions of the highest caliber, and dynamic educational programs that provide opportunities for further exploration by visitors of all ages. On view are more than 80 works by Auguste Rodin, European and American paintings, objects d’art from the palaces of the Queen of Romania, Orthodox icons, unique chess sets, and the renowned Théâtre de la Mode, featuring small-scale mannequins attired in designer fashions of post-World War II France. Baskets of the indigenous people of North America were a collecting interest of Hill; today the museum’s Native American collection represents nearly every tradition and style in North America, with works of art from prehistoric through contemporary.

Maryhill’s Outdoor Sculpture Garden features more than a dozen large-scale works by Northwest artists. The Maryhill Overlook is a site-specific sculpture by noted Portland architect Brad Cloepfil; nearby are Lewis and Clark interpretive panels. Four miles east of Maryhill is a life-sized replica of Stonehenge, Stonehenge Memorial, which Sam Hill built to memorialize local men who perished in World War I. Nearby, the Klickitat County War Memorial honors those who have died in the service of their country since World War I.

The museum was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. In 2001 the museum was listed as an official site of the National Historic Lewis and Clark Trail and in 2002 was accredited by the American Association of Museums.

Maryhill Museum of Art is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m ., March 15 to November 15. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, $3 for youth age 7-18 and free for children 6 and under. Family admission is $25 to admit 2 adults, plus related children under the age of 18. The Family Rate will be extended to grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Admission to the Stonehenge Memorial is free; it is open from 7 a.m. to dusk daily.

Sandwiches, salads, espresso drinks, cold beverages, and freshly baked desserts and pastries are available at Café Maryhill from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; the Museum Store features art and history books, jewelry, Native American crafts and other mementos.

Maryhill is located off Highway 97, 12 miles south of Goldendale, Washington. Drive times to the museum are 2 hours from Portland/Vancouver, 3.5 hours from Bend, 4 hours from Seattle, and 1.5 hours from Yakima. For further information, visit


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