UW’s New Burke Museum’s New Outdoor Installation ‘Guests of the Great River’ (The Columbia); 11 Large-Scale Bronze Paddles

Officially one year after the opening of the new Burke Museum and in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, the Burke Museum, University of Washington, and the Washington State Arts Commission announced a new outdoor installation called Guests of the Great River that greets guests as you arrive at the museum’s east entrance.

Created by Chinook Indian Nation Chairman and artist Tony A. (naschio) Johnson and artist Adam McIsaac, the piece consists of 11 large-scale bronze paddles representing the arrival of a Chinookan canoe carrying cultural heroes of the Columbia River region, and with them the knowledge they embody.

Made possible thanks to funding from the Washington State Arts Commission in partnership with the UW, these larger-than-life bronze paddles were hand carved in wood by Johnson and McIsaac, then 3D scanned and enlarged in scale up to 11 feet, leaving the viewer in awe. The paddles are carved in a variety of Chinook styles and sizes—some of which are hundreds of years old — that are still made and used by communities today. The notch on the top is distinct to the Columbia River and was used to grab hold of cottonwood roots along the river banks.

Guests from the Great River is installed in the shape of a canoe, representing the cultural protocol of canoe families landing on neighbors’ shores. The paddles are lifted in a traditional form of peaceful greeting and respect to the museum and its guests. Different stories and figures are portrayed on each paddle. These heroes have come to celebrate and enhance the educational opportunities that the Burke brings to the Pacific Northwest and the world.

Watch a video interview with the artists here.

“People that live here on this land without any knowledge of this information are really missing a big part of what makes this place itself,” Johnson said. “My interest in sharing these stories and teachings is that people will treat the place differently, these aboriginal lands of ours—and the aboriginal lands of our neighbors—if people were to really understand these stories.”

“This is a magnificent artwork that honors the original peoples of this land,” Karen Hanan, ArtsWA executive director, said. “We’re very pleased to include Guests from the Great River as part of Washington’s State Art Collection.

Each day the paddles’ shadows take one stroke across the entry plaza of the museum, perpetually in motion. “Every five minutes it’s changing from the way the sun’s hitting it. While I’m really excited to see it here today, I’m really excited to see it change over seasons and years,” Johnson said.

“All of the art on the Northwest Coast is about bringing people together, sharing, and inspiring,” McIsaac said. “That’s what I have gotten from my relationship with Tony and his people. And that is as much to be celebrated as the art is.”

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