Plateau Indian Art on Main Street is a project of the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture, funded by a generous grant from the Oregon Community Foundation. It allowed for an artist of Plateau Indian background to put up an art piece in downtown Joseph, OR, joining the considerable bronze statues already on display. The Josephy Center’s namesake, Alvin Josephy, Jr,, helped bring the Nez Perce story back to American attention with his classic history of the tribe, The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, published in 1965.
Almost two years ago the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture received a large grant from the Oregon Community Foundation to do something creative and significant in the arts. In the application for a “Creative Heights” grant, the Josephy Center pointed to Joseph’s bronzes and said that although many of them depicted Indians, none were the work of Indian artists. With the grant, a call to Plateau Indian artists was widely distributed across the Northwest. Two artists were selected by jurors representing the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon, the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho, and the Nez Perce people on the Colville Reservation in Washington. Each finalist artist was asked to submit a “concept”—a sketch and idea of a work they would construct to say something important with art. Doug Hyde’s idea is a large slab of granite with the outline of the Wallowa Mountains carved at its top and the outline of a Nez Perce woman carved from its center. The woman, in bronze, a few feet away, is walking towards the granite.
Library Director Rich Wandschneider has been reflecting on the growing interest in and appreciation of the original inhabitants of the place. People from across the country come into the Josephy Library to learn more about the Nez Perce, their war of 1877, and where and who they are today. Albert Andrews, a Nez Perce elder from Colville, says that many people want to “stop” the story in 1877, but there is almost a century and a half of history since that time, and the Nez Perce are still here, living now primarily on the three reservations in three states, with some descendants of war survivors still in Canada. In Wallowa County, the Nez Perce Homeland has a new interpretive exhibit and a dance arbor and longhouse on over 300 acres at the edge of the town of Wallowa.
There’s a large July celebration—“Tamkaliks”—and longhouse services and educational events occur throughout the year. Recently, the Wallowa Land Trust sponsored a course in Nez Perce history and culture and welcomed “root diggers,” women from the three reservations, to a traditional root digging on cooperating private landowners’ grounds. At Chief Joseph Days—we sometimes do not think about the namesake of the most famous local celebration and the town it is in—there is a small powwow and “friendship feast” held at the new arbor east of the rodeo grounds. The walwama band of the Nez Perce were forced to leave the Wallowas in 1877, but their names and spirits have remained part of the country since that time, and now, with greater understanding of an often torturous past, the Josephy Center invites the community to come together to celebrate their return.
The grant is part of OCF’s “Creative Heights” initiative, which encourages non- profits, artists and citizens throughout the state to test new ideas, stretch creative capacity, and provide unique opportunities for Oregonians to experience innovative arts and culture. The initiative has thus far invested more than $945,000 through 13 Oregon nonprofits, part of a $4 million, four-year investment by OCF in arts and culture around Oregon.
Doug Hyde of Oregon Chosen as Plateau Artist
Artist Doug Hyde was born in Hermiston, Oregon, and traces Nez Perce, Assiniboine, and Chippewa tribal ancestry. He attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1960s. While recuperating from serious injury after a second tour in Vietnam, Doug learned to use power tools to cut and shape stone. Sculpting in stone and bronze became the passion and focus of his life.
Hyde will receive a $25,000 artist award in three installments over a year-long period, with additional grant money available for artist travel and expenses, and artwork production. The second finalist for the project was Yakima artist Toma Villa. Each finalist had time to draft a proposal for jurors from tribal and local communities. Doug’s proposal deals with Nez Perce removal and return to the Wallowas. He will visit the city and meet with local artists and Josephy Center and city officials in the near future before developing a final plan.
In 1998, one of Hyde’s sculptures was installed at the White House. In 2008, his bronze, Little Turtle, was purchased for the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s Cultural Resource Center. Hyde has focused most of his efforts in the past decade to help Native American tribes tell their stories.
The Josephy Center and Oregon Community Foundation are proud to give Doug Hyde the chance to tell the Nez Perce story in the town named for its most famous leader.
The sculpture is now open for public viewing, on the east side of the Josephy Center.
All photography © Talia Jean Photography.