Before Lummi Island was a haven to artists, many of whom open their studios a few times a year for the popular Island Artist Tour, it was home to the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) people. This year, for the first time, Lummi artists came to the island to share their work during the annual Labor Day weekend artist tour.
“Historically, there hasn’t been much connection between Lummi Nation and Lummi Island,” says Rosalee Qweleesia Revey-Jacobs, one of the artists. “Art brings people together. I’m excited for our communities to come together in a good way.”
Photo courtesy of Jason LaClair
Lummi Island is home to ancestral Lhaq’temish village and ceremonial sites, as well as hunting and foraging grounds. Reefnet fishing is an ancestral Lhaq’temish technology that is still practiced — primarily by non-tribal fishermen — at Legoe Bay on Lummi Island. Since the relocation of the Lhaq’temish people from the islands to the mainland, Lummi Island has been home to mostly non-Native people.
The Lummi artists brought work that ranged from traditional to contemporary arts and crafts, encompassing everything from cedar bark hats to wool weavings, beadwork, car cruisers, T-shirts, prints, and paintings. Revey-Jacobs in particular works with mesh, grapevines, ribbons, and flowers to create wreaths, centerpieces, and wall-decor.
“People often appreciate that I come up with surprising combinations of color, materials, and content,” she says. “I just work from my heart, and I work to bring joy to others.”
Photo courtesy of Jason LaClair
Jason LaClair, who offered up prints for sale, comes from a family of Lummi and Nooksack artists. He’s designed logos for local businesses and brings beauty and meaning to large public walls in Whatcom County, including the bright salmon mural on the North Forest Street retaining wall in Bellingham.
Music was also part of the event, featuring Swil Kanim, the widely regarded violinist and storyteller currently collaborating with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
“It’s healing when Native and non-Natives share a stage, share any kind of artistic space,” he explains.
Photo courtesy of Swil Kanim
Ria Harboe, painter and longtime Lummi Island resident, concurs, “It just feels right having Lummi artists back on the island, sharing their work.”
As the Lummi artists didn’t have a studio on the island to open to the public, the Lummi Island Heritage Trust (LIHT) opened up the Otto Preserve meadow as a place for the artist market. Susan Hutton, the new Executive Director of LIHT, says, “I think there’s growing awareness that not only is the island traditional Lummi territory, but also that Lummi history and present-day community, culture, spirituality, knowledge, and leadership are vital to the health and future of this place we now all call home.”
Photo courtesty of Cyaltsa Finkbonner (Creative Cuzzin)
In addition to Revey-Jacobs, LaClair, and Kanim, the Lummi artists at the event included Creative Cuzzin, Floyd Warbus, Saalmathlat Ethel Hillaire-Warbus, Aletha Ballew, and Eliza Julius.
“Everything has a message, a story,” explains Cyaltsa Finkbonner, also known as Creative Cuzzin, of her work, much of which is about our endangered killer whales and salmon, the ocean, and the power of blessings and prayer. “Art brings forth the teachings of the ancestors through different mediums.”
“Lummi Artists on Lummi Island” took place Saturday, Sept. 3, at the Otto Nature Preserve on Lummi Island. In addition to Revey-Jacobs, LaClair, Creative Cuzzin, and Swil Kanim, the Lummi artists at the event included Floyd Warbus, Saalmathlat Ethel Hillaire-Warbus, Aletha Ballew, Amanda Smith, and Eliza Julius.
The next Lummi Island Artist Studio Tour is set for mid-November, 2022. Events are usually announced on lummi-island.com/artists-studio-tour