Humboldt State University Library Special Collections Humboldt Room Humboldt State University Special Collections HSU Library Humboldt Room

I Am These People: Native Design Over Time

I Am These People: Native Design Over Time was a collaborative project of the interim board of directors of the Native American Arts Gallery. One of the tasks was to find photographs in the Humboldt Room collections that related in some way to the theme of utilitarian items used by local native peoples. The photographs chosen were sourced from the Boyle, Ericson, Humboldt County, Palmquist, and Roberts collections that showed life in and around Humboldt County. The photographs selected would be displayed alongside traditional and contemporary works by local Native American artists. The objects were selected from many private collections and the collections of United Indian Health Services, the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, Clarke Historical Museum and Humboldt State University Library-Humboldt Room.

This show was about elevating the humble utilitarian object and showing the beauty seen through these pieces of everyday life. However, in the austere setting of a gallery or museum the utilitarian aspect of these pieces begins to be erased, they are merely seen as objet d' arte. The task was to give life back to these objects, some of which hadn't been seen by anyone in many years, others of which lived their life with the family that cared for them. These photographs give back the sense of being that they had lived and been worked and used and cared for. Seeing the women pounding acorns and resting their feet in the flour tray, men mending their dip nets and collecting fish, weavers proudly displaying their handiwork and their livelihood give both context and a purpose to the objects. Seeing the people who had created these baskets, ladders, nets, tools, and many more items displayed next to contemporary artistic takes was astounding. It connected a thread from the contemporary artists to their ancestors in a solid way; this was a tradition that would not be erased.

My time spent moving through the vast photography collections of the HSU Library's Humboldt Room Special Collections was well spent. Folders and binders filled with faces young and old, smiling and affectless, running the gamut of stereotypical to heartfelt beauty. My purpose in selecting these particular photographs were two-fold, showing the beauty of the utilitarian objects and that of the people who created and used them. It is an opportunity for the community to place a face, if not a name, to the places and peoples of local tribes that some know little to nothing about. Further, it serves as a connection to the not too distant past that has stayed with me from my first foray into the collections. As in the poem Brian Tripp wrote, "I know I am these people/ and I have done all those things before/ many, many years ago."

Brittany Britton
July 2, 2012