Still Speaking: Edward Curtis’s Lens and Native Women’s Enduring Art

At the start of the 20th century, amid changes brought about by industrialization and the forced removal of American Indians to reservations, Edward S. Curtis undertook the enormous project of photographing Native people and recording ethnographic information from over 80 tribes across North America. The project took him over 30 years. It also came at significant personal cost, but it resulted in 20 bound volumes, over 2,000 photogravures and numerous recordings of Native languages, music and ceremonies. A small portion of that body of work is exhibited now at the High Desert Museum through January 20 in By Her Hand: Native American Women, Their Art, and the Photographs of Edward S. Curtis.

Over the decades, Curtis’s sepia-toned prints of Native people have shaped the ways that many non-Native people think about American Indians and the American West. Curtis’s legacy is a complicated one. He left us with thousands of photographs and recordings of Native people that otherwise would not exist. But he also brought the biases of his era to the project, photographing American Indians as a “vanishing race”—a stereotype that continues to negatively affect Native people’s lives. Countering this perspective, the exhibition features historical and contemporary works of art from the High Desert Museum’s permanent collection, highlighting the deep history and continued vibrancy of Indigenous people’s artist practices.

To broaden the story further and connect Curtis’s work to Native people’s lived experiences today, we asked three Native artists to comment on their art, its significance and the legacy of Edward Curtis. Pat Courtney Gold, a Wasq’u (Wasco) basket maker whose work is featured in the exhibition, commented that, “Art is part of my heritage. It is important for me and for Plateau people in general to see what we’re capable of reviving and the beauty of our heritage. Our heritage existed for thousands of years and speaks to us still.” Gold’s comments remind us of the importance of art as an expression of one’s identity and community and the significant role it can play in our lives.

By highlighting works of art created by Native women alongside Curtis’s prints, the exhibition celebrates Indigenous artistic traditions that have existed for centuries. They continue to thrive within Native communities today. It also reminds us not to look simply to Curtis but instead to look to the ways that Native people have and continue to express and portray themselves through their art.

A Steward of Energy

Chilly winds blow into the High Desert and many of us wonder how severe of a winter is about to arrive. Will it be another snowpocalypse? Will Mt. Bachelor diehards be praying for snow? Because of heating bills to come, many of us are looking at our own homes and wondering what we can do to be more energy efficient.

At the High Desert Museum, improving the energy efficiency of a building with sections that are almost 40 years old has long been a priority. In 2017, the Museum signed on to the Energy Trust of Oregon Strategic Energy Management Program. After a year of efforts big and small to improve energy usage around the property, the Museum saved 101,488 kWh. That translates into $10,149 in savings on electricity bills, well above our initial goal.

In recent months, our team has tackled numerous projects of varying sizes:
• New LED lights replaced older, inefficient T12 and T8 fluorescent lights.
• The Birds of Prey washer and dryer were replaced with more efficient units.
• Two refrigeration units and the ice maker were upgraded with Energy Star units.
• Motion light switches were added to mechanical, office and meeting areas.
• HVAC systems have been optimized.

In addition, in the first nine months of 2018, the Museum has saved 201,128 kWh. That’s over $20,000 in savings!

We’re planning for more work ahead. The High Desert Museum was the first commercial building in Oregon to install solar power, back in December 1994. It was done as a research opportunity through Mobil Solar Energy Corp and the University of Oregon.

Today, the panels are 23 years old. Therefore, University of Oregon staff will be returning in the coming months to hook the panels up to the internet in order to track production, among other things. We will all be able to see how our solar panels are functioning. If need be, necessary improvements will be made.

The High Desert Museum strives to be wise, responsible stewards of the generous resources given to us. We’ve made huge strides in our energy efficiency, but we will never consider this critical project complete. Most importantly, we remain committed to the Strategic Energy Management Program through 2018 and into the future.

The Treasure of a Feather

For many visitors, the Don Kerr Birds of Prey Center is one of the highlights of a day spent at the Museum. Raptors are not just an iconic part of the High Desert — they also have intangible value for cultures worldwide and throughout human history. The human connection to raptors is innate and universal. People everywhere are drawn to these powerful birds.

An important part of the Museum’s mission is to create a refuge for disabled raptors and provide the community with opportunities to enjoy them and learn about them up close. We do that with a collection of 30 non-releasable birds that participate in more than 1,000 public programs every year.

With that volume of education and outreach, raptor handlers quickly learn to anticipate the questions of a curious audience. Wildlife staff works tirelessly with our birds so they are comfortable with people getting close. Once close, people naturally want to touch. Being able to feel and hold something is a crucial component of an educational program. Touching has the potential to create powerful learning experiences. There’s a lot you can learn from holding a feather or talon, turning it in your hand, and feeling it in your fingers that would be imperceptible simply looking at a bird from across the room.

Unfortunately, raptors don’t enjoy being petted or touched. Instead we offer the chance to handle raptor feathers, talons and wings at our regular talks called Bird of Prey Encounter, during Kids’ Camps, in classrooms and during community-outreach programs. Inevitably, people ask if they can keep a feather to take home.

Human fascination with raptors and other birds has not always been reverent or respectful. In some cases, it has led to the exploitation and abuse of wild populations. Many species were once hunted for the commercial value of their feathers, a practice that peaked in the early 1900s. In an effort to halt the commercial trade in bird parts and stem the decline of wild populations, most bird species received protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. This federal legislation prohibits the possession of bird parts including feathers, eggs and nests, and together with the Lacey Act — which prohibits trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold — eliminates any legal commercial trade in raptors.

Sadly, sometimes raptors are still killed for their feathers. Because bird parts can command high prices on the black market, it remains illegal for people to keep raptor feathers and for the Museum to give them to anyone without a special permit.

We work closely with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to maintain special permits so we can house live birds. This arrangement ensures that visitors have a place to enjoy raptors while learning about biology and conservation. We also have permits to salvage raptor parts for education so we can make sure the public has opportunities to feel how sharp a falcon’s talon is, the softness of an owl’s feather and how light birds’ bones can be.

On a live bird, feathers eventually wear out. Molting is the process by which birds lose old worn out feathers and replace them with new ones on an annual basis. With 30 live birds molting a full set of feathers every year, we have far more feathers than we would ever need for education. While we cannot allow visitors to take feathers home, we do not throw feathers away. One of behind-the-scenes ways the Museum supports raptor conservation is by making naturally molted feathers and excess salvaged bird parts available for use by Native American Tribal members. Raptors hold deep spiritual significance to most Native cultures. Tribal artisans and craftsman incorporate feathers into incredible works of art that clearly emphasize reverence and respect for the birds. Examples of these beautiful and historic objects are also exhibited at the Museum, illustrating the strong connection between wildlife, history and contemporary culture in the High Desert.

Every year in January the Museum’s wildlife staff prepares a report for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service detailing the use of every live bird and bird part in the collection, including feathers that are part of historical and cultural objects on display. In our By Hand Through Memory permanent exhibition alone there are more than 200 bald and golden eagle feathers on exhibit, each one meticulously identified and inventoried by dedicated collections volunteers. Each item is required by law to be made available to the public a minimum of 12 times per year or for 400 hours, a benchmark the Museum far exceeds by providing exhibitions and programs to the Central Oregon community and visitors 362 days a year.

Extra feathers and other items are carefully packaged and mailed off. Eagle feathers and parts go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Eagle Repository in Colorado, and other feathers go to a Liberty Wildlife Non-Eagle Feather Repository in Arizona. These facilities ensure that raptor parts are legally sourced and distributed to Tribal members throughout the country for traditional use. We recently sent off a shipment containing two seasons worth of feather collection, totaling more than 2,500 feathers or more to the two repositories.

This is one small way the Museum works to conserve wild bird populations while simultaneously supporting the rich cultural traditions raptors have been a part of in the High Desert for thousands of years.

Birds of a Feather: The Afterlives of America’s Eagles

A Conversation with Artist Ben Pease

Crow/Northern Cheyenne artist Ben Pease
Crow/Northern Cheyenne artist Ben Pease considers himself an Indigenous creative, using creativity not just for art but also for education and storytelling.
Ben Pease, winner of the Curator’s Choice Award at the High Desert Museum’s 2018 Art in the West exhibition for his work “Keeper of the People,” explores the history and the future of Native American heritage through mixed-media art. Born on the Crow Indian Reservation in 1989, Pease grew up in southeastern Montana with roots in both the Crow and Northern Cheyenne nations. As a young, contemporary Indigenous artist, Pease’s work is well known for its unique and culturally relevant style. Find him online at benpeasevisions.com.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist, and what inspired you to take that path?
I’ve always been an artistic person. I suppose I get my creativity from my family and our history, quite literally our DNA — we’re not too far removed from a life of creation, creating beautiful things for daily use, for ceremonial use. Growing up on the reservation the art programs were sparse and almost nonexistent. When I was a kid, my mother decided to bring me to the Charlie Russell Art Week in Great Falls, Montana. I came into this place and it was total culture shock because I had never seen such amazingly made jewelry, such amazing Western wear, such big hats! It was this whole other world, and when I walked into the booth of another Crow artist — Kevin Red Star — and saw him painting … I thought, he’s from where I’m from, the same place, and I figured if he could do it, I could do it. That’s where it started.

Do you consider yourself a storyteller and an educator as much as you do an artist?
It always comes down to am I a Native artist, am I an artist, or am I a creative. And I think the latter because it’s so much more than just being an artist, just an educator or just a storyteller because you have to be creative in all the words you choose, in all the things that you share with other people.

Where do your ideas for your paintings come from, where do you find your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from my culture, our history, from relationships between different entities whether that’s a tribal entity or a U.S. government entity or even other nations around the world. When I begin a work, I don’t really sketch it out. I just sort of start and things come to me. I begin with the substrate, the canvas, and I use historical paper items — money, signage, antique ledger papers, antique newspapers, vintage comic books — as a cultural reference point, linking to some idea or some thought I’m having, because I’m always thinking and things just move from my head into my work.

Ben Pease enjoys time with his two sons.
Ben Pease draws inspiration for his art from his native culture and his family — the Tribal Elders and his wife and their two sons.
Do all of your pieces relate to your Native American heritage?
Yes they do. I’m trying to figure out my own place in the world and to figure out where I am going, and not just me, but me as we — as a people, our communities and our tribal nations, and as a family with my beautiful, amazing wife and our two sons.

Would you say that there’s a theme that runs through all of your work?
I practice with a lot of other Native American artists — we call ourselves Indigenous creatives — and we see many non-native or non-indigenous people doing Native American artwork and making a killing at it, selling pieces for thousands and even millions of dollars. And really, that’s who we are. We’re the ones from the culture. So that’s where I’m coming from, we want to be that true, authentic voice and to come into the Western art world with an accurate perspective.

Why do you collage various paper items into your art, and how do you find and choose those items?
One word on a piece of newspaper, or a certain year on a thousand-dollar water bond from Montana, something like that will spark my interest. If I have an idea, it’s just in my head. I take my subject matter and my objectivity from my knowledge, from what I’ve learned from my culture and my family. And that’s really where it comes from. It’s not written down anywhere, it’s part of our oral history and part of the histories that the non-natives, the newcomers, have written down for us. A lot these paper items I’ll find at antique stores, or on ebay, and I have collectors who provide me with a lot of items. I do a lot of research, a lot of asking. Many of my family members are elders of the tribes, so I do a lot of finding information that way. I find a lot of my photographic references online in archives from various institutions — museums and universities. I have to do hunting on many sides, and that’s almost half of the job.

Are the pieces you collage into your work just symbolic or is there also a visual aspect to their inclusion?
For quite some time now I’ve been telling people that I am not in the game just to paint a pretty picture or in the game for aesthetics. I am coming with an open heart and open eye. I know that there is a constructed dichotomy of viewpoints and I want to try to understand both sides, and many other sides. I try to be subtle with my messages. I try not make people too uncomfortable, but I want to ask questions that people aren’t asking. Sometimes I do that and let people know and be very forward, and sometimes it’s on a piece of paper I put on the back of a painting and nobody will ever see it or even know it’s there.

Who would you consider your audience and what do you aim to say to them through your art?
Everybody. But, I do understand that not everybody knows our history so I am working to provide the history. I think if somebody wants to know more about my artwork they almost have to be in the room with me because it doesn’t always spell out what I want it to. My collectors always tell me that every single day they see something new and catch a new connection in one of my paintings which they didn’t see before. That’s what I want people to work for, I want them to think about what things mean from the past and for the future. My painting is not just for Natives, it’s not just for white people, it’s for everybody.

Ben Pease's piece, "Keeper of the People," has been awarded the Curator's Choice Award for the High Desert Museum's 2018 Art in the West exhibition.
Ben Pease’s piece, “Keeper of the People,” has been awarded the Curator’s Choice Award for the High Desert Museum’s 2018 Art in the West exhibition.
Congratulations on your Curator’s Choice Award. What inspired “Keeper of the People,” and what does it represent?
It’s part of my Indigenous Madonna series. It features a young Crow woman and really talks about the Crows’ belief of women as being the most holy beings, the most sacred beings, the closest to creation. If you have a strong need or a strong prayer, if you’re really in a hard time, you’re supposed to give your prayer and your thoughts to a woman so she can pray for you. Because she can give life, she is sacred. The halo in the painting represents that women are holy, but is also speaking toward cultural appropriation, to ask who sets those boundaries and why and is culture exclusive.

How do you know when a painting is done?
The common line that almost any artist will say is that a work is never done. For me, I’ve just recently figured out that every painting I’m working on is neither finished nor good enough. So I think about it like that, when a piece doesn’t seem like it’s up to my standards, I move on to the next one. I decide I need to try something else. Artists get creativity block so changing your mode of acceleration is important when that wall comes. Then all the art shows come up and I realize I need to put these pieces in, so I varnish them and put them in the show. That’s how I finish them.

A Conversation with Artist Hadley Rampton

Artist Hadley Rampton offers a painting demonstration at the High Desert Museum.
During the 2018 Art in the West exhibition opening, artist Hadley Rampton delighted Museum visitors with landscape painting demonstrations.
Hadley Rampton, winner of the Jury’s Choice Award at the High Desert Museum’s 2018 Art in the West exhibition for her work “Vista,” blends her love of the outdoors with her passion for art through plein air painting. Born in Salt Lake City in 1975, Rampton grew up exploring the Utah wilderness and the Teton/Yellowstone area, a place she has always loved and continues to wander today, along with her trusty Border Collie, Phoebe, who plays while the artist paints. Find her online at hadleyrampton.com

When did you know you wanted to be an artist and what influenced that path?
I’m one of those who can’t remember when I wasn’t creating art — drawing or painting. As a little girl I loved creating art, mostly drawing. When I was 9, seeing this interest of mine, my mother put me in art classes outside of regular school — at the Visual Art Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. With that, I was able to begin oil painting and figure drawing by the time I was 12, and I just loved working with more professional and advanced media. I loved it so much so I would just do it. It made me happy. And I was always interested in drawing accurately, drawing from life. I would actually be jealous of those kids who were drawing more from imagination. Even though I could draw more accurately, I was jealous because I didn’t have quite the imagination that they did.

Where do you find your ideas and inspiration for your pieces?
I love being outside. For me it’s these two loves and being able to combine these two things. I definitely do the majority of my work outside. It can get difficult, but I love the feeling of the elements around me, it energizes me. Maybe that is why my colors tend to be a bit more intense, and also my brush strokes and with my palette knife … I tend to just put down the color and then the next color and not labor over it too much. Being outside, because the light is changing and everything is moving and there’s all this energy around me, I can’t fuss over things. Being outside also allows me to really focus. Up in the mountains by myself, out in nature, that’s it. I’m there. I’m painting. I’m not doing anything else. There is nothing else to distract me.

Do each of your pieces represent specific places or landscapes?
I love to explore. If I wasn’t an artist I would be an explorer. Most of the places I paint I have been to many times, they’re places around where I live — mainly in the Northern Utah mountain ranges, Southern Utah, the Tetons and into Idaho, but I’ve never been south of Utah painting. When I am in a new place, I’m not sure what I’ll be painting. I just head out and look for things that really strike me. I love to venture into new territory, but also to revisit old territory and look at it in different ways and maybe from a different angle or with a different perspective.

Hadley Rampton's trusty companion, Phoebe, poses next to "Teton Gold," painted in the Tetons.
Hadley Rampton’s trusty companion, Phoebe, poses next to “Teton Gold” just after the painting was completed. Rampton painted this piece, which is featured in the High Desert Museum’s Art in the West exhibition, in the Oxbo Bend area of the Tetons.
I’ve come to love painting aspen trees. I have taken a bit more of a still life approach in a way because I am really thinking of the subtleties of composition and placement on the canvas. It’s a different thing than when I paint a distant landscape … the way the trunk curves, especially in the white, the shadows, the various colors that emerge, I emphasize those. I investigate that on much more of an intense level.

With the more distant landscape pieces, the location becomes more relevant. I always paint from life, but I am not too worried about making my paintings look exactly as the scene looks. I love letting what I’m feeling play a role, and because I work quickly there is a lot of gesture in the work, so things aren’t exact and that’s okay. In some ways, I hope that by working that way the feeling of the place comes through even more, much like a gesture drawing of a person — it may not be anatomically accurate, but it can convey the personality and the feeling of that person.

Do you still paint people?
For the longest time that is what I loved most. Through college I painted and drew the human figure quite a lot. Now I’ll go to a coffee shop and I’ll sketch the people as they’re moving, again carrying on with that immediacy and going with the gesture. When I travel overseas and take my watercolors, I paint street scenes and the people … just as I’m wandering, the scenes that I come upon. It’s like how I work here — just exploring and coming upon something that captures my desire to paint. It’s a different subject when I’m traveling overseas, but it’s that same sort of philosophy.

Do you consider yourself a historian, capturing time through your art?
I love history, and I think that’s especially true with the painting during the travels I do overseas. Where I go, what I see … I am generally always thinking about history and wanting to learn more by being there. With my paintings, especially of street scenes, I am really drawn to wear and tear where you can feel the history and the passage of time rather than everything being perfect. It’s also culture that I love to capture. At one point I had the privilege of being in Istanbul, and talk about history! I was able to paint these mosques and the Hagia Sophia, and the fun of it was there’d be a woman in a full burka and another woman in complete Western dress — shorts and a tank top. That’s the culture of Istanbul, they have this incredible history and then they have the whole Muslim component and then it’s also modern. I love capturing things like that, that tell, through visual means, a story, that tells so much about the place.

What are some of the most unique or noteworthy places you’ve been able to capture with your paintbrush?
It’s actually hard for me to rank places because even the places that I’ve gone that aren’t that far off the map have been incredible. I tend to be drawn to wandering and coming upon things. So even in a place that is more familiar, such as Paris, I find little moments that might be surprising. And the same is true for landscapes. I’ve painted iconic places like the Tetons, but then also have had the opportunity to venture down into the back areas that are not as known.

Do you always work with the same color palette?
My palette is very limited, so I do a lot of mixing. I have a blue, a version of red, a brown, a yellow and a white, no black, and from there I mix. Through the seasons, the color palette of the painting changes even though I’m working with the same paint colors. Then of course it varies from when I’m working in southern Utah in the redrock desert versus more northern alpine environment. So I do respond to the colors around me in real life, but sometimes it’s much more vibrant than what it really is, and other times it’s accurate to what it is. When I’m painting, I’m not really thinking about it, it’s just happening.

"Vista" by Hadley Rampton
Artist Hadley Rampton was driving in the Park City, Utah, area when she found her inspiration for this piece. “Vista” is the winner of this year’s Jury’s Choice Award in the Art in the West exhibition at the High Desert Museum.
Congratulations on your Jury’s Choice Award for this year’s Art in the West exhibition. What inspired “Vista,” what does the piece represent and what was the process of creation?
“Vista” — that piece is painted in the Park City area near Salt Lake in a spot I had not painted before. I had felt like doing something with a bit more distance. It was the beginning or middle of March so there was still some snow in the upper mountains, but there was also the wonderful warm hues that emerge when the snow melts. I found it while driving in the area — I just pulled over and it felt right so I set things up. With that one, I returned to the same place at the same time of day for several hours over a period of several days. It has a stylized, abstract feel to it. As I painted, I began loving the patterns and colors that were emerging. It was such a different piece. When that happens, when I paint a piece that is so different, just like anything at first, I’m not sure how I feel about it. But with this one, I came to really love it!

How has your art evolved?
For many years it was me yearning to draw accurately, but then ironically by the time I got to college I was inspired by the loose manner in which I saw others painting and drawing. I wanted to be more emotional, to let it go so that what happens happens. That is where I am now, and it is much more fun for me to be loose and let the emotion enter.

How do you know when you’re finished with a piece?
It’s hard to explain, but when it’s done it’s done. It’s a feeling, that last stroke, and I step back and just know.

Fire: A Prescription for the Forest

Low-intesity flames travel across the forest floor during a carefully planned prescribed fire at the Museum.
Low-intensity flames travel across the forest floor during a carefully planned prescribed burn at the Museum.

This spring, one cloudy May day, we watched flames creep across the floor of part of the Museum’s ponderosa pine forest. For a long time, we had been carefully planning for this prescribed burn of a portion of our acreage. The fire, though low intensity, still left a somewhat dramatic sight for our visitors the next day.

While some understood what we’d done and why, others came with questions. Some were curious, a few concerned. Why would we set the beautiful forest on fire, leaving the ground blackened and stumps smoldering? In short, for the health of the forest and the safety of the Museum and our community. It’s called a prescribed burn for this very reason.

Flames belong in the forest, an ecosystem that has evolved to withstand, and benefit from, the heat. Historically, low-intensity wildfires would burn through a ponderosa forest every five to 20 years. This would help to clear out shrubs, saplings and some of the pine needles and other litter lying beneath the trees. Larger trees would remain intact, their thick bark serving as a shield. The heat would open ponderosa cones and enable them to release seeds, continuing the natural cycle.

For centuries, people have suppressed wildfires in the West. Fuels have built up on the forest floor, and shrubs and trees have grown into unnaturally thick stands, depriving certain wildlife and plants of the habitat they need to thrive. When lightning or human actions start fires, as they inevitably do, they therefore often burn unnaturally hot and can inflict substantial ecological damage. A high-intensity wildfire would also threaten the Museum, our artifacts and the wildlife in our care. The damage that an out-of-control wildfire could cause is eye-watering — much more so than the smoke from our prescribed burn.

We are grateful to the U.S. Forest Service for partnering with us to plan and implement our burn. The process began with removing shrubs and small trees, reducing the fuels that had built up. We checked for ground-nesting birds before we mowed.

Some visitors have wondered aloud whether we could have just mowed the forest and left it at that. A low-intensity burn offers some unique effects, however. It increases the availability of nutrients, encouraging native plants to thrive. Fires can also create snags, which provide food and habitat for woodpeckers, bats and others. Only a portion of the property was mowed and burned, increasing the diversity of habitat types for the benefit of a wide range of species.

Ground fuels are measured after the Museum's prescribed burn to calculate what percentage was removed by the fire.
Measurement of ground fuels help U.S. Forest Service managers calculate the percentage of fuels removed by the Museum’s prescribed burn.

Over the years, we have been seeing fewer raptors and ground-nesting birds on the property. Both trends might be due to the density of vegetation and forest debris. More ground squirrels and other small mammals are able to stay safe under thick cover. Ground-nesters, such as quail, then face pressure from ground squirrels, for whom bird eggs make a tasty meal.

The burn has created a more diverse habitat, with some bitterbrush remaining, but also more open areas. As a result, hawks should now enjoy improved hunting success, which in turn will help to keep the rodent population in check.

Forest managers always weigh potential benefits against the actual and potential costs of a prescribed burn. In this case, the benefits dwarfed any negatives and we were excited to return fire to the forest. The result should be a revitalized and resilient ecosystem that supports an abundance of native plants and wildlife.

The new interpretive signs along the Museum’s Fire in the Forest Trail offer visitors a chance to understand the important role of fire in ponderosa pine habitats.
This burn also provided a fantastic opportunity to connect our community to the importance of forest restoration. Together with the U.S Forest Service, we took photos before and after the burn in specific locations, and will continue to do so for years to come. In doing so, we will capture the restoration process and communicate the important role of fire to our visitors. We also took measurements of the fuels on the ground, so that we can calculate the percentage of fuels that the burn successfully removed.

In addition, we have renovated our fire trail, Fire in the Forest, with additional signs along the loop to further explain the role of fire in ponderosa pine ecosystems. Have a look next time you visit the Museum! And watch, too, for the incredible regeneration that will happen in our forest over the next few months and years. We are already seeing small signs of new life.

The Bee-All and End-All

“Every third bite of food you take, you can thank a bee or other pollinator for… ”
E.O. Wilson, Forgotten Pollinators.

I was once a field biologist, lucky enough to call catching and identifying butterflies part of my
job. On one particularly hot afternoon, though, my pursuit of a rare butterfly was not going as
planned. It would fly close by, only to slip my net at the very last second. As the white wings
fluttered away for what felt like the hundredth time that day, I gave a resigned sigh. I let my net
slide to the ground. But mere moments later, I glanced down and there, resting gently on my
sleeve, was the butterfly. It was one of the most perfect, beautiful things I had ever seen. A new
appreciation of these insects was born.

Butterflies offer much more than beauty. Along with bees, hummingbirds, moths, wasps and beetles, they are pollinators whose small stature belies their importance. Pollinators transfer pollen and enable many plants to produce fruits and seeds. This makes them vital to the reproduction of many native and commercial plants. Our native flowering plants are key to healthy soils and clean air and water. Plus, more than 150 different crops, such as apples,
almonds and tomatoes, rely on them — a 2016 report estimates that pollinators are essential to three-quarters of the world’s crops, worth more than $577 billion. Pollinators and the plants they support also hold rich cultural values that no dollar amount could ever cover. Pollinators are under threat on a global scale. Pressures include habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species, disease and the widespread use of certain harmful pesticides. Despite this, I am feeling optimistic. Last spring, we held an event to shine a spotlight on efforts to protect pollinators. The City of Bend, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sisters Middle School and Your Garden Companion shared their conservation successes and answered audience questions about how to support pollinators of all kinds. Their passion and commitment to this cause, and the enthusiasm with which audience members responded, gave me hope for the future of pollinators.

At the Museum, we are all keen to contribute to these local conservation actions. This summer, we look forward to celebrating National Pollinator Week and helping visitors to contribute to the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas. We are also planning to plant a pollinator habitat of native flowering plants on the grounds. In the fall, we will begin a professional development program to help teachers to establish pollinator habitats at three different Central Oregon schools.

If you are keen to support local pollinators yourself, a few things to consider:
• If you have a yard or patio space, plant some native plants that the pollinators will love.

Get inspiration from the Xerces Society, or chat with experts at your local plant nursery.
Build a bee condo!
• Tell your friends and family about the importance of pollinators.

I am no longer out in the wilderness identifying butterflies for a living. But my role at the Museum is to
connect people to why such species matter and how we can help them to thrive for generations to come
— and that, for me, is even more fulfilling.

Photographs by volunteer Museum photographer Abbott Schindler

Give a Bird a Home

Nest boxes are a fun and simple way to help backyard birds this spring.

Last spring, I watched in wonder from the window as a pair of mountain chickadees built a nest and raised their young in the front yard. I would perch, tea in one hand, binoculars in the other, excitedly reporting my sightings to my partner and our dog. It was such a perfect start to my day.

To see birds create and care for a nest, then witness their young fledging, is a delight. If you’re lucky, birds might naturally select a site near your home, but a nest box will improve your family’s chances of seeing this phenomenon first-hand. Many High Desert bird species are in decline due to a combination of pressures including habitat loss and fragmentation, window collisions and predation by domestic cats. A small but meaningful way to support them is to provide a safe, dry place for them to raise their nestlings.

Nest boxes are available at specialty and most hardware stores. It can be less expensive and more fun to make your own box, however, as some folks did recently at the Museum’s Nest Box Building workshop. If you’d like to do the same, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nestwatch.org offers a variety of building plans and information about nest monitoring.

Bird species vary in nesting behavior and therefore in their nest box preferences. The American robin tends to prefer a shelf, for example, while the northern flicker requires a deep box, filled with wood shavings, that it can excavate as it would a tree. When considering what type of box to provide, think about the habitat around you, what species you’ve seen in your area and which birds you’d most like to attract.

You can help to keep birds safe from predators by providing a secure, perch-free box that blends in with the surroundings. Predator guards are also available. If you or your neighbors have an outdoor cat, place your nest box in an area your feline friend cannot access.

It can take a while for birds to adopt a newly installed box, so be patient. Providing food and a reliable source of water can help to attract them.

As I watched the chickadees fledge last year, I felt an enormous sense of gratitude for the opportunity to watch them at such close-range. Now that spring is here, I’m looking forward to seeing the whole process all over again.

Spring Activities for Kids

As the sun’s rays shine between the trees, glinting off the frost covering the bare aspen branches outside my window, I can feel the promise of spring, even as winter weather lingers. I know that soon buds on aspen branches will burst with fresh spring leaves and winter will give way to a new season! The arrival of spring is one of my very favorite times of the year. It’s a great time to get outside and explore. Longer days, warmer temperatures, new leaves and blossoms, and the return of migrating birds await you.

There are so many ways to celebrate spring, no matter your age, but these are some of my favorites!

1. Go on a hike and look for signs of animals!
In the spring, animals such squirrels and rodents are emerging from hibernation or torpor (periods of long slumber, but not true hibernation). You’ll see signs of their activity such as chewed pine cones and nibbled plant shoots.
Make a simple chart to focus your observations. Sketch what you see!
– Scat (animal poop)
– Tracks (footprints)
– Forage (chewed pinecones, nibbled branches, etc.)
– Homes (nests, dens, etc.)

Come stroll the Museum’s many nature trails and look for signs of animals such as the golden-mantled ground squirrels and chipmunks, which are very active this time of year. Check the feeders in the wildlife viewing area for spring activity. Talk with a wildlife expert at the Museum if you have any questions about birds and mammals you’ve seen during your visit.

After watching the busy songbirds at the Museum’s feeders, get an up-close and personal view of raptors during our “Sky Hunters” program, offered for a limited run each year during spring break (March 24-31, 2018). Watch as powerful aerial predators take flight overhead in this intimate, free-flight demonstration showcasing each bird’s agility and grace. Date, time and price information can be found on our website calendar.

Families with young children will also enjoy exploring our “Who’s Home?” interactive exhibit. Watch as your little ones get creative, imagining they are snakes in the rimrock, just emerging from hibernation!

2. Start sunflower sprouts!
Sprouting seeds indoors before you plant outside helps the plant develop in a controlled environment. Or, rather than planting outside, have you ever eaten fresh microgreen sprouts? They are extremely nutritious, and, when grown in your own kitchen, very local!

By planting sunflower seeds inside, you can choose to transplant some outside where they will grow into tall sunflowers come summer, and save some for a delightful, edible treat.

Black oil sunflower seeds are my favorite. You can find quality seeds at a garden supply store, or by searching online.

1. Purchase quality seed. I use black oil sunflower seeds. Though other types will work, these are the least expensive.
2. Soak your seeds in warm water for 12 hours in a covered container. I recommend about two cups.
3. Drain and rinse.
4. Soak the seeds again in warm water for another 8-12 hours. (Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the seeds start to sprout.)
5. Once the seeds have begun to sprout, fill a clean, plastic nursery tray with moistened seed-starting potting mix nearly to the top.
6. Sow the seeds thickly across the entire tray then cover
it with another inverted nursery tray to block out the light. There is no need to cover the germinating seeds with more potting soil. Be sure there are some small holes in the top tray to allow for ventilation.
7. Water the tray from the bottom once or twice per day by setting the tray in a bigger tray of water for a few minutes.
8. As the shoots grow, they’ll push up the top tray (usually within a few days). At this point, remove the top tray to expose the growing seedlings to light.
10. Move the tray in front of a bright, sunny window.
11. Continue to regularly water by spraying shoots and soil with a spray bottle several times a day.
12. Harvest the sunflower shoots that you want to eat when they reach 4 inches high by cutting them off at soil level with sharp, clean scissors. Transplant the rest of the shoots outside!
13. Store unwashed sunflower microgreens in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge for up to five days. Wash them as you need them by running the shoots under cold water. They are delicious on sandwiches and salads!

By planting seeds indoors, kids get to witness every stage of the sprouting process, and then taste the results of their efforts and watch as their sunflowers grow and mature in the yard or garden.

Did you know?? At the Miller Ranch, the Millers are also getting ready to start a garden for the summer. Come ask the Millers about what they are doing to prepare their garden.
Spring is a prime time for sprouting in the great outdoors, too! Look for bud bursts and other signs of spring on the High Desert Natural History Walk at the Museum, offered daily.

3. Make a Bird Feeder
More than half of Central Oregon’s birds depart for the winter, leaving about 175 species that are hearty enough to survive the cold temperatures, snow, and scarce food. But come spring, migrant birds are returning and need to replenish after a long journey! Create this ponderosa pinecone bird feeder, and survey the local birds that come visit! Consider placing the feeder away from windows to mitigate collisions. Take it one step further and apply window stickers so birds don’t mistakenly fly into the glass!

You will need:
– Large ponderosa pine cones (found on the ground on an outside adventure!)
– Peanut butter (shortening for people with nut allergies)
– Birdseed
– String
– Butter knife
– A shallow dish
– And, of course, a place to hang your bird feeder! (a tree or bird feeder hanger work nicely)

1. Shake or lightly brush the pinecone to remove any dirt or debris. Trim off any loose scales that may break off as you create your feeder.
2. Tie string securely around the cone. Create a loop to easily hang your feeder from a tree branch.
3. Use the knife to coat the cone with a layer of peanut butter, pressing some between the rows of scales, filling in larger gaps. If the peanut butter is too thick to spread well, it can be warmed up slightly in the microwave to make it easier.
4. Once the cone is completely coated with peanut butter, roll it in the birdseed in a shallow dish, pressing lightly to keep the seed adhered to the cone. Work the seed in between the rows of scales.
5. Feeders can be hung immediately, or can be frozen for several weeks. The feeders do not need to be thawed before hanging.
6. Hang your feeder and carefully watch for visiting birds!
For bonus points, record the species you observe on eBird (www.ebird.org) – a partnership of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society. There, you can see what types of birds other people have seen in your area, and share your sightings with others.

Learning about birds in your own backyard is an excellent extension of learning to complement your Museum visit. What do the birds in your backyard have in common with birds at the Museum? How are they different?

I hope you can use these activities to embrace the changing seasons! Spring is a blend of showers and sunshine, but whether sun or rain (or even snow), there’s plenty to explore to stay busy! When you’re warming up (or drying out) back indoors, continue your celebration of spring with these books:

Spring children’s books:
And then it’s spring by Julie Fogliano & Erin Stesd
Seeds, seeds, seeds! By Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
Seeds sprout! (I like plants) by Mary Dodson Wade
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
The Stick Book: Loads of things you can make or do with a stick by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield

Spring adult books:
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich
What the Robin Knows by Jon Young
Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver by Mary Oliver

To Blake Little, Gay Rodeo is Personal

Blake Little, Chute Dogging
From the moment he attended his first gay rodeo in 1988, photographer Blake Little was hooked. “I was completely drawn to it and I had to be a part of it,” he stated. “I wanted to be a cowboy.” Pursuing the thrill of his own cowboy dreams through the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), Little became immersed in the spirited Western community. As a participant, Little found himself in a unique place where he could draw on his passion for photography and use his background and skills as a photographer to document the gay rodeo through his camera lens.

Little knew, of course, that the view through a camera lens can be unique, often capturing the world from a different angle than seen when simply passing by. Through his photographs, he invites us to view things as they are, while also challenging us to see them from a different perspective.

What resulted was a series of 41 stunning black-and-white photographs taken between 1988 and 1992. On exhibit at the HDM from December 15, 2017, through April 30, 2018, Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo, presents a glimpse into a little-known world, allowing us to explore a story with the intimacy of an insider’s point of view. In addition to representing Little’s own experience on the gay rodeo circuit, the exhibition also celebrates the lives of many of its participants during those years, capturing the spirit and camaraderie of a vibrant community. The collection elegantly combines the action of roping and riding, while also presenting a portrait of the courageous cowboys and cowgirls behind the scenes.

The exhibition, Little explained, memorializes his own “unforgettable experiences in gay rodeo,” and honors “the cowboys who competed with me and left a huge mark on my life.” Competitors came from a wide variety of backgrounds, yet the relationships they formed became some of the most important in their lives. The gay rodeo community offered the LGBT cowboys and cowgirls a place where they could be themselves and embrace their true identities. Despite the competitive nature of rodeo, participants were supportive of one another. “For me that was the most memorable and rewarding thing about rodeo,” Little stated.
Some of the rodeo participants pictured in Little’s photographs still ride, but many have retired and some have passed away.
Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo is curated by Johanna Blume, assistant curator of Western art at the Eiteljorg Museum, and offered through the courtesy of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, IN.

This exhibit is a program of ExhibitsUSA and The National Endowment for the Arts. 
Made Possible by Cascade Arts & Entertainment, Oregon Cultural Trust and Zolo Media. This project has been funded in part by the Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. With support from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

Blake Little, Chute Dogging, Phoenix, Arizona, 1989; archival pigment
printed on Epson exhibition fiber paper, 13.25 x 20 inches; Loan courtesy
of Blake Little.