Carver of tribes’ canoes to speak at Smithsonian

The story of the return of shovel-nose dugout river canoe for the Stillaguamish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes is scheduled to be told in Washington, D.C., next week at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Felix Solomon, a Lummi-Haida artist who has been a leader in the revival of Coast Salish carving, has been invited to talk July 21 during the museum’s Living Earth Festival. More than 20,000 people are expected to attend the festival. His lecture includes a multi-media presentation that outlines his work, especially with the canoes.

Solomon, 55, was commissioned to carve a canoe for the Stillaguamish Tribe of Arlington in 2010. He did the same for the Sauk- Suiattle Tribe of Darrington in 2011. They are the tribes’ first traditional canoes in modern times.

In 2009, a logging company unearthed some old-growth cedar timber from a road bed in the Stillaguamish River watershed. Buried for more than a century, the 300-year-old logs were in good shape, so tribal officials asked Solomon to carve canoes from two of the old cedars.

It was perfect timing for Solomon, who since 2003 had been studying and making models of Coast Salish river canoes. His research took him to the Smithsonian’s American Indian museums in New York City and Washington, D.C., where he was granted special access to the museum’s collections.

“The Stillaguamish canoe was very important to all of us Coast Salish people,” Solomon said. “It’s not a racing canoe or an ocean-going canoe. The shovel-nose was how we traveled in the rivers and what we used to fish and gather.”

On his trip this month, Solomon plans to go back into the museum’s collections to delve deeper into history.

“That’s a worth the trip to D.C. right there,” he said. “I could go everyday into the archives and not see everything.”

Solomon currently is planning the restoration of two large story poles from the 1960s, one that was displayed at the Century 21 World’s Fair in Seattle in 1962. He also continues to produce his own art, which is based on simple, but beautiful traditional Coast Salish designs.

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

Canoe on display

The shovel-nose dugout river canoe owned by the Stillaguamish Tribe currently is displayed in front of the Angel of the Winds Casino, 3438 Stoluckquamish Lane, located north of Arlington. More about the National Museum of the American Indian is at nmai.si.edu.

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