Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Feeding the Inner 'Spirit' with Kwakwaka'wakw Art in Seattle

A Spirit Within by Rande Cook
(Photo: Paul Niemi)
This past Saturday, Steinbrueck Native Gallery in Seattle sponsored a very special cultural event at the Seattle Art Museum. Owners Elizabeth and Matthew Steinbrueck hosted the Copper Maker Dancers, a Kwakwaka'wakw dance, song and drum troup led by Chief Calvin Hunt and his wife Marie.  The group, which hails from Fort Rupert Village in Port Hardy, British Columbia,  also included artist Rande Cook.  Legendary ethnographer and art historian Bill Holm and his wife Marty were honored guests, and took a prominent place onstage amidst the drummers, singers and dancers.

Rande Cook Beats a Drum as the Copper Maker
Dancers Perform Traditional Dances
(Photo: Paul Niemi)
For me, the highlight of the performance was witnessing the dance of the Tso-no-qua or "The Wild Woman of the Woods" mask.  The tale of the woman who combs the shoreline looking for young boys and girls to eat is, perhaps, my favorite in the Northwest Coast story lexicon mostly because of her mystical and dark presence.  Numerous dances, including some very sacred ones, were accompanied by glorious singing and drumming.  The performance culiminated with an invitation to the audience to participate in a group dance onstage.   This was a marvelous opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together and be healed by a sense that we are all one. 

A Member of Copper Maker Dancers Performs
the Dance of Tso-no-qua
(Photo: Paul Niemi)
Afterwards, everyone headed over to the Steinbrueck Native Gallery for the opening of works by Rande Cook in "A Spirit Within."  This exhibit is breathtaking and represents everything lovers of Northwest Coast First Nations art have come to expect.  Cook works in a variety of mediums including jewelry, which are just as captivating as his masks and other carvings.

Kwakwaka'wakw Artist Rande Cook
Speaks to a Collector About His Work in
"A Spirit Within"
(Photo: Paul Niemi)
Cook commented on how Northwest Coast masks mean nothing without the dances and songs that they were created to bring to life.  It was thus fitting and an extraordinary experience from a continuity standpoint to see and feel the dances, songs and music and then view the exhibition.  The exhilaration aroused by the performance filled the gallery show with incredible energy, vibrancy and relevance to what spectators had experienced a couple of hours earlier.

"A Spirit Within" continues through June 10 at Steinbrueck Native Gallery in Seattle. For more information, visit

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