Fife Schools’ Indian Education Coordinator Martha Sherman invited parents, students, community members and Indian Ed teachers from other school districts to participate in a nice afternoon of making Native inspired art Aug. 22 and 23 at Surprise Lake Middle School (SLMS).
Gathering outside under the trees on these two perfect summer days, groups were instructed by painter and textile artist Doe Starr, whose Tlingit cultural connections have inspired her Native American artworks for decades. Her works are often seen locally at Indian Education events, where her painted tablecloths and wall hangings never fail to elicit praise. “I feel like I’m making regalia for the whole room,” she said.
She is always happy to share her knowledge. “I realize that the age I’m at I’ve got about 10 more years to do this so I need to get the next generation started,” she said as she walked among tables at SLMS where the fledgling painters were creating their own pieces. Among the learners was Mary Wilber, Native American Education Director at Lake Washington High School, and Dorothy Apple, program manager for Native American Education at White River School District.
Apple has worked with Starr for many years and, like Wilber, took advantage of the opportunity at SLMS to learn something new to take back for her students. “I just wanted to refresh so that I can go back to my students and say, ‘look, this is what we can do,’” Apple said, working on a cedar, fern and dragonfly designed banner with her daughter-in-law Clarissa Bottorss.
“I’m teaching them the basic techniques of how to create their own – teaching the teachers so they can share with the kids,” Starr said. Starr used to do commercial interior design before computers came along so she has considerable professional skills in drawing and drafting by hand, which she shared at SLMS. Once basic outlines were measured out and measured again, the artists were free to create any design they wished.
“I’m not telling them what to draw because I respect the creative process in every single person,” Starr said. “Every time I do these classes I learn something new. Everyone has their own value of cultural knowledge that they’re sharing while they’re working.”
Mizu Sugimura, who is on the Arts and Culture Coalition of Pierce County, the Fife Arts Commission and on the board of the Fife History Museum, said she appreciated the opportunity to learn something to share with her with her peers.
“Being invited and join something like this is helpful in personal education but I’d like to bring this to the groups I belong to,” she said.
Sugimura has deep interest and connection to the Puyallup Tribe and the Japanese experience in the Fife. For example, in the early days of Fife when white landowners refused to provide land to Japanese immigrants, quite a number of Japanese immigrants were able to lease land through Henry Sicade and other Puyallup tribal members.
“I have an interest in the stories of the Fife area where Japanese and Native American cultures have had positive interactions. Some of the historic things that have happened – theft of land, destruction of culture – actually happened along a very similar timeline in the state of Washington (to Japanese immigrants).”
This is the type of historic information that Sugimura works to make known to adults and youth alike.
“If they don’t have that education and appreciation, it’s easy to carry on some of the stuff that has been going on,” she said.