Everett artist’s work a visual narration of Northwest tribal history

Everett artist Chris Hopkins developed his chops in Los Angeles during the pre-digital days of illustration.

He painted movie posters such as the one for “Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom,” album covers for Styx and other rock bands, Atlantic magazine covers and book covers for such titles as “The Beginning Place” by Ursula K. LeGuin.

In the 1980s, Hopkins was arguably one of the most sought-after illustrators in the country.

Then he called a halt.

Born in Mount Vernon and raised in Medford, Ore., Hopkins wanted to return home to the Pacific Northwest with his family. They moved to Everett in 1988.

Hopkins, 60, is the featured artist in the Schack Art Center’s exhibit “Trail of Cedar, Stone and Canvas,” which opens April 24 in Everett. Alongside Hopkins’ paintings, the Schack exhibit will feature traditional works by tribal artists including sculptural work by David Boxley, a Northwest Coast Tsimshian carver.

Seventy paintings by Hopkins pay tribute to the Northwest Coast First Nations and American Indian tribes. Most are on loan from the collection of the Kovalik family, whose patriarch, the late Joe Kovalik, was an honorary member of the Haidi tribe.

Today, Hopkins describes himself, not as an illustrator, but as a visual narrator.

The stories he tells in these paintings are of the history of the native people of Washington, British Columbia and Southeast Alaska.

The art also pays tribute to the tribes that preserve this history and enrich their culture in contemporary times, Hopkins said.

The artist is quick to point out that most of his support comes from friends in various tribes.

“Non-native academics might be critical of my work, though I have great encouragement from George MacDonald at Simon Fraser University and Portland State University,” Hopkins said. “The native community appreciates the accurate way I document the stories. I am very blessed to have made a lot of friends in the region.”

One of those friends is Port Gamble S’Klallam elder Gene Jones, who plans to sing a blessing at the art show opening. A photolike portrait of Jones by Hopkins is among the paintings to be exhibited.

“These are people whose culture is rich with history, mythologies, art, music, rituals and the good and the bad that have shaped those who have inhabited this area for thousands of years,” Hopkins said. “Their story is one of a way of life that was forever altered and derailed.”

One of the large paintings, titled “Spirit of Pestilence,” is a view from Tlingit canoes of the arrival of European ships on the West Coast.

The stories that were passed down, Hopkins said, described the sails as huge flocks of seagulls and the molasses and rice that the pale visitors ate as blood and maggots.

Hopkins has two other bodies of work with historical themes.

“I’ve done the plein air street scenes and lots of illustrations,” he said. “But I love history and research. I want to know where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

One body of work is a heartfelt tribute to the black U.S. Army Air Force service men in World War II. Hopkins’ 70 paintings of the Tuskegee Airmen will be displayed in May at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala.

The other is a series he is creating about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Hopkins’ wife, the sculptor Jan Itami Hopkins, is the daughter of a Fife family sent first to a camp in Puyallup and later to the Minidoka camp in Idaho. His wife and their son, Justin Hopkins, plan to add their art to the collection, Hopkins said.

In his studio now is a striking painting of a Japanese American boy wearing a baseball cap and holding a bat. Behind him is a sign that says, “No Japs wanted here.”

“I just want history to be seen,” Hopkins said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com

Exhibit opening

Schack Art Center exhibit “Trail of Cedar, Stone and Canvas” opens April 24 with a blessing from Gene Jones, the hereditary chief of the Port Gamble S’Klallam people, and a performance by the “Git-Hoan” (People of Salmon) Native Dance Group, who performed at the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.. The free exhibit runs through May 31 at the Schack, 2921 Hoyt Ave., Everett. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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