During their journey through the Northwest, between 1805-06, Lewis & Clark documented 45 native plants. Their journal entries about the plants are a unique combination of science and art.
As an official site on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, Maryhill Museum of Art will present A Passion For Plants: Before and After Lewis & Clark from July 17 through November 15.
The exhibit features a rich array of objects and works of art celebrating the passions inspired by those plants.
Included in the exhibit are photographs of original Lewis and Clark Herbarium sheets (from the Ewell Sale Stewart Library at the Academy of Natural Sciences), plant study specimens, early 20th century hand-tinted photographs by celebrated Northwest photographer Albert Barnes, historic Native American objects decorated with or fabricated from those plants alongside contemporary works of art by Northwest artists Rebecca Allan, Ineke de Lange, Ron van Dongen, Kay French, and Stephan Soihl who were inspired by the same plants.
"When Lewis and Clark traveled through the west, they were fascinated by many plants that were new to them," said Lynette Miller, guest curator. "The American Indian people who lived in the area had observed the same plants for thousands of years and had learned by experience which plants might be used for food and medicine."
Among the Native American artifacts in the exhibit is a Klickitat beaded bag (ca. 1880) decorated with images of oak branches and acorns.
"The artist was probably inspired by observing the same type of Garry oak (Quercus garryana) that Lewis and Clark documented near Clatskanie, Ore., on March 26, 1806," said Miller. Lewis remarked in his journal that near the river towards the upper point we saw a fine grove of white oak trees. The Garry oak grows from Vancouver Island to California and along the Columbia Gorge as far east as The Dalles.
In today's world, the plants Lewis and Clark documented still hold special fascination and offer undiminished challenge and delight to contemporary artists. Rebecca Allan makes delicate watercolor paintings; Ineke de Lange and Ron van Dongen capture plants through the medium of photography; Kay French paints romantic images in acrylic on wood; and Stephan Soihl makes prints and mixed-media drawings on paper in an expressionistic style.
"As time goes on, most of us feel some concern with the preservation of the earth as it has been, with its ability to sustain life," said artist Stephan Soihl. "On a smaller scale, these plants and flowers are so representative, with their own vitality, of life on earth."
Guest Curator Lynette Miller is a scholar of American Indian basketry, especially the flat twined bags of the Plateau on which she has published extensively. She has had a life-long interest in native plants and their use by both American Indians and non-Native people, is a member of the Washington Native Plant Society and of Oregon and New Mexico societies in the past. She is currently the curator for the Washington State Historical Society and serves as the president of the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory Foundation, both in Tacoma.
The public is invited to join Miller and the artists at the opening reception for the exhibit on Saturday, July 17, at 1 p.m.
Then, at 3 p.m., venture outside for the dedication of the museum's permanent Lewis and Clark Overlook and Native Plant Garden. The dedication will include a Blessing by Ella Jim of the Rock Creek Band of the Yakama Indian Nation.
The Overlook includes interpretative panels with passages from Lewis and Clark's journals related to the area and most of the plants Lewis and Clark documented while in the Northwest. Admission to the reception and dedication are free with museum admission.
Funding support for the Lewis and Clark Overlook and Native Plant Garden was provided by the Washington State Lewis and Clark Trail Infrastructure Program, the National Park Service Challenge Cost Share Program of the National Historic Lewis and Clark Trail, and the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.
Also, from 1 to 4 p.m., members of the Klickitat County Master Gardeners will be on hand to reveal tips to successfully growing plants in the plateau region. Plus visitors may try their hand at a creative flower pounding art activity and make a commemorative bookmark.