Commentaries on museum studies; culture and cultural forms; interdisciplinary scholarship and cultural studies; the political dimensions of signification; art and aesthetics in comparative perspectives; Memory work in Africa and the African Diaspora; slavery, race and representation; anthropological inquiry. Often concerned with the Museum of Culture and Environment at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA, and (as of July 2017) with the MSU Museum at Michigan State University.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Salmon Woman by John Hoover
In January 2013, in conjunction with the visiting exhibition "FashionStatement: Native Artists and Pebble Bay" as well as our exhibition "Voices of the River," we are delighted that we'll be displaying John Hoover's marvelous sculpture "Salmon Woman" (1987).
My exhibition label is as follows.
born Cordova, Alaska
American, Aleut/Unangan, Russian
Old Growth Western Red Cedar,
oil pigment, beads
Loan of the Hoover family
According to the legends and
sacred stories of many indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest, Salmon may
present itself in an animal or human form. In some stories, after Salmon leave
behind their physical fish bodies in the upper reaches of rivers, to serve as
food for human beings and animals, its spirit can swim invisibly back to the
Pacific; under the ocean the Salmon people gather in their human forms. For the Native peoples of Southeastern
Alaska, a beautiful woman manifests herself at the heads of salmon-spawning
streams so salmon will return year after year to those same waterways to spawn.
This elaborate version of Salmon
Woman was created by John Hoover, an artist of Aleut (Unangan) background. Look
closely and you can identify the many animals who draw sustenance from the
annually returning Salmon: Bear, Sea Lion, and Seagull. Out of the human
woman’s body emerges two large salmon, representing her bountiful gifts of
food. Salmon Woman’s womb is
decorated with red beads that symbolize her eggs. Notice that the same red beads
were also used to create the the eyes of the woman as well as the eyes of the other
animals, thus symbolically binding these forms together.
Coastal First Nations people
have harvested cedar trees for millennia, honoring the wood’s versatility and
its spiritual significance.
Coastal Tlingit and Salish Shamans were protected by cedar guardian
figures, and cedar trees have long been understood as imparting long life and
health to communities that honor them.
Carved out of old growth Western Red Cedar, sometimes dating back
centuries, Hoover’s work highlights the regenerative gifts of the cedar tree,
celebrating cycles of growth, loss, and rebirth.
This free-standing sculpture
also powerfully evokes the multiple levels of existence that inform the
traditional understandings of the Native peoples of the Northwest Coast: the
visible realms of water, land and air, as well as the continuous traffic
between visible and invisible domains of the universe.
John Hoover was fascinated by
spiritual transformations between human and animal manifestations, a prominent
motif in tradition-based Native American art of the region. If you would like
to see more examples of John Hoover’s work, in the Museum the lobby you will
find a permanently installed, John Hoover carving, “Man who Married an Eagle”(1971). This carving is structured as a triptych
that reveals a hidden mystery, the protective outer doors represent an Eagle in
birdlike shape, while the inner surface depicts human beings morphing in and
out of bird form.