Talks + Programs

Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts

Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts
By Lisa Radon
Photo: Redstar, Wendy. Enit. Six-color lithograph. 2010. 22 3/8 x 30 inches.

Originally published June, 2011

Founded in 1992, Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts had been something artist James Lavadour had been thinking about since the 70s. If you don’t know Lavadour, you know his paintings. He layers paint and drags it into richly colored mountainous landscapes. His work is in the collection of a number of museums including the Portland Art Museum and the Seattle Art Museum and is represented by one of Portland’s top galleries, PDX Contemporary Art.

Lavadour had been thinking about using art as a transformative practice within the Native American community. Crow’s Shadow Institute is a non-profit designed to bring “technology, instruction and cultural exchange” to artists Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, home to Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes, in Eastern Oregon. Of Crow’s Shadow’s 5500 square feet in what was once a Catholic school, half is gallery with space for administration and half is given over to Crow’s Shadow Press, a professional print studio, a computer graphics lab, photography darkroom, and library. The location has special resonance, for what was once a site of forced cultural assimilation is now a thriving center for cultural preservation with regular classes in traditional Native American arts.

Lavadour wanted to help Native American artists, as Crow’s Shadow board president Pat Walters puts it, “get beyond the reservation. He had a vision to help facilitate Native artists selling their art to patrons in Pendleton, Portland, New York, and overseas. He always calls Crow’s Shadow a ‘conduit to the mainstream.'” Many of the Native artists Lavadour knew were like him, painters. A Fellowship to the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper inspired him to suggest that printmaking offered artists the opportunity to create editions, which is to say create once and sell multiple times, contributing to their self-sufficiency.

“The board could grasp it as a vehicle to help people become self-sustaining,” Walters says. “We really do have so few artists who are 100% artists. Most have a first job. But in order to use the printmaking medium, we had to hire someone who knew how to do it. We found Frank Janzen and he’s been with us for 10 years.”

Emerging and established Native artists are invited to Crow’s Shadow for residencies to work with Janzen who is a Tamarind Master Printer. Over the years artists including Marie Watt, Wendy Red Star, James Luna, Edgar Heap of Birds, Dale Chihuly, and Rick Bartow have worked with Janzen at Crow’s Shadow.

Over the years, Crow’s Shadow has had strong youth programming. In addition to offering workshops at the Institute, Crow’s Shadow has been contracted with the Nixaawii school district to provide arts education for its students. As is happening with arts programs at school districts across the state, the program, Walters reports, lost funding this year. Yet the Crow’s Shadow track record is strong. “Especially in last 10 years we’ve helped facilitate a number of high school kids going to art school,” Walters says. “We help them build portfolios, help them photograph their work.”

The public is welcome to visit the Crow’s Shadow gallery, attend a scheduled tour, and join printmaking workshops in the studio at several times throughout the year. Once a year, PNCA brings a group to Crow’s Shadow for a printmaking workshop with Janzen.

Last year, Crow’s Shadow cemented an archival partnership with the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem where the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts Biennial exhibition has taken place for the last six years with support from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Oregon Arts Commission. Just this June, Crow’s Shadow welcomed a new executive director, Melissa Bob, from the Lummi nation in Washington. It’s fitting that this institute that began as one artist’s vision, now has Bob, herself a Native American artist, in the leadership role.

Courtesy of The Oregon Arts Commission.

Artist Credit: Wendy Red Star, James Lavadour, Frank Janzen, Marie Watt, Wendy Red Star, James Luna, Edgar Heap of Birds, Dale Chihuly, and Rick Bartow

Project Website

Oregon Arts Commission