Apr 092007
Authors: Elena Ulyanova

Some call her artwork traditional with a contemporary twist.

Yet, Susan Point, Coast Salish artist, considers her work traditional – in her day at least

“We are in the 21st century,” Point said. “It’s evolution, time changes, who knows if the person I’m copying from was a contemporary artist of their time?”

Point’s exhibition “A Point in Time” is open at the Hatton Gallery in the Visual Arts Building and will continue through April 27.

She was in the Hatton Gallery on Monday night for a book signing.

Point began her art career making jewelry nearly 28 years ago. At that time she modeled her work after more northern native art forms that she said look very different from Coast Salish art of the Pacific Northwest, until one day when she found she had her own art form.

“I was ecstatic when I found out, after all these years that I had an art form that no one else was doing,” Point said.

However, remains of Coast Salish art were not easy to find. Point said that at the time of European contact, most of the Coast Salish artwork was either burned by missionaries or sent to distant museums, which resulted in the loss of many cultural remains.

“When I first started out, there was absolutely nothing for me to reflect on,” Point said.

With much determination, Point not only successfully interpreted carved images of traditional Spindle Whorls, intricately carved disks used for spinning wool, into prints. She also spent years convincing skeptical galleries that her work was native, and she was successful in that, too.

“I was determined to teach the outside world, the general public and even my own people the art style of our area,” Point said.

Her work ranges through various mediums, including everything from prints to glass to wood carvings. It also hosts a reoccurring nature theme which Point said she acquired through personal experiences and Coast Salish traditions.

Although she doesn’t always have a theme consisting of so many frogs, they are visible in many pieces in her current exhibition.

“I went with the frog theme because it is universal, it doesn’t only affect me as a native person, or my community, it affects everyone,” Point said. “If you don’t look after your environment, the frogs are going to disappear, and then what will happen to the world?”

For the traditional Coast Salish people, when the frogs began to sing, it was an indication of when spring had arrived and it was time to leave their longhouses, and when the frogs commenced their singing, this indicated that the fall/winter season had begun.

The frogs in Point’s artwork reveal her concern for the environment.

“When I used to go to bed or wake up the frogs would be singing, now with the development of the concrete world, there’s none of that,” Point said.

Now having mastered so many different mediums, Point looks to her future and plans to try new forms such as weaving, and continue to pass her artistic style to future generations.

“I think that’s the most important thing that I could do is continue the actual art form itself because if no one does it after I’m gone than it will be lost once again,” Point said.

Katie Brinkmann, sophomore fine arts/graphic design major said she believes Point’s work is powerful and reaches out to other artists as inspiration for their own work.

“The fact that she’s filtering her culture into her artwork and expanding on that in her own stylistic aesthetic creates a pleasing visual experience,” Brinkmann said.

Yet it seems that Point never expected to reach this destiny.

“I never thought I would ever get this far, I never thought I’d ever become someone,” Point said. “I don’t consider myself an expert on my art form, because every day is a new day and every day I learn something new.”

Staff writer Elena Ulyanova can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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