“WOMEN’S WORK: The Clatsop Tribe Helps Sacajawea Prepare Provisions for the Return Journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”
Terra cotta 6″x12″. stained with underglaze and fired to cone 05.
This tile was commissioned by a client who wanted to flank her fireplace with artisan made tiles with a retro look and Northwest imagery. She saw my tile “Northwest Natives” at the ATNW show in 2013 and asked me to make a companion piece with Sacajawea but no caucasians.
Since Sacajawea was the only nonwhite person who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition, except for one black slave, I had a challenge. After a great deal of study and research, I have created a scene which took place while members of the Expedition waited for the snows to melt in the Cascade Mountains so they could make the crossing safely. While they waited near the coast of what is now Northern Oregon, they were befriended by the Clatsop Indians. They built a fort they called Fort Clatsop in honor of their new friends. During the nights they would safely lock their group inside the fort, but during the daytime, members of the Expedition mingled freely with the Clatsop Tribe both inside and outside the gates.
The Clatsops were very helpful in assisting members of the Expedition with provision for the winter months and preparations for their return journey. Specifically depicted in this tile is the vitally important work that women do, which is often overlooked. I have honored it here along with Sacajawea, a most remarkable young woman without whom the Lewis and Clark Expedition would likely have come to grief.
For most of the nineteenth century, Sacajawea was an unknown, unheralded figure. Her story was revived in a 1902 novel, The conquest: The True Story of Lewis and Clark, by Eva Emery Dye, who is responsible for much of modern society’s view of the young woman. Dye wove a fictional narrative that transformed Sacajawea into a Native American princess (based on the fact that her brother, Cameahwait, was a chief). It perpetuated the myth that named Sacajawea as the guide of the Lewis and Clark expedition and created a romance out of her friendship with Clark. A very compelling story indeed — but almost entirely untrue.
Sacajawea was not a Shoshone princess in any sense of the word, athough her family may have had high status in the tribe. She was certainly not the guide of the expedition. She was able to point the way through areas she was familiar with, but in unfamiliar terrain, she was as lost as any corps member. And there is no historical evidence of a romantic relationship between Sacajawea and Clark.
Because of these myths, it is hard to accept Sacajawea for what she really was: an extraordinarily tough, brave, and resourceful person who lived through an incredible journey at a very young age. Sacajawea endured everything the men endured while constantly having to care for an infant. More than that, she collected much-needed food along the way and proved to be an invaluable interpreter. She also served as a peace symbol, defusing many potential conflicts on the journey. Tribes approached by the Expedition members were alerted to the peaceful nature of the strangers by the observation that they had a woman and baby with them — not something that would occur if aggression was planned. Even when Sacajawea and her husband (the interpreter) Pierre Charbonneau didn’t know the tribe’s language, Sacajawea knew the appropriate gestures to communicate basic information.
By all accounts, this unassuming Native American teenager contributed a great deal of strength and resourcefulness to one of the great expeditions in American history.
In honor of Sacajawea and her contribution to the opening of the West, the U.S. Mint immortalized her on an Golden Dollar coin in the year 2000.
terra cotta, 6″x12″ underglaze stain, fired to cone 04.
This tile was my entry in a theme exhibit entitled “Northwest Native” held at the 2013 Tile Show put on by Artisan Tile Northwest at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle. There were several awards offered and this tile was chosen winner of the Tile Heritage Foundation* Award. The Tile Heritage Prize is awarded to the artist whose tile, in the opinion of the juror, best reflects the ceramic traditions of North America. Cliff Schultz of Art Tile Co., Inc. in Seattle was the juror. It also won the People’s Choice Award by a huge margin. The tile is 6″x12″ and made of Red Art terra cotta clay, oxidation fired to cone 04.
When faced with the challenge of creating a tile on that theme I thought immediately of the native tribes of the northwest. I wanted my tile to show the harmony with nature, hard work and ingenuity of the area’s original inhabitants, and to express action and tell a story. The tribes of the northwest depended heavily on salmon which were huge and plentiful up until about a hundred years ago. When tribesmen fished upstream where it was not safe to stand on the rocks or river’s edge, they built platforms out over the water for net fishing. This technique is still used today.
Also represented in this tile is a girl weaving a cedar bark basket, with native cedar trees and douglas firs in the back ground, and that trickster Raven and some ferns in the foreground.
I chose to make it out of terra cotta clay with minimal color and maximum sculptural texture to to give it an earthy, timeless/retro feel. I was very pleased to win the Tile Heritage Award as well as the People Choice Award for this work.