CORVALLIS, Ore. – Partially framed with massive Douglas fir beams and sided with cedar planks, Oregon State University’s new Native American Longhouse stands out from the campus’s traditional red brick.
Like a wooden jewelry box, the cultural center holds several significant pieces of art, representing a variety of Native American traditions. Among its treasures are two bronze sculptures by the late Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache artist, Allan Houser. Originally from Santa Fe, Houser is often cited as the “father” of contemporary American Indian sculpture.
The two Houser sculptures – “Mountain Echoes” and the 8-foot, 600-pound “Watercarrier” – were donated to the center by the family of Portland developer and philanthropist John D. Gray. The 1940 OSU alumnus, who passed away last year, and his late wife, Betty, were friends with Houser and avid collectors of Native American art.
Another prominent artwork inside the longhouse is a 12-foot, one-of-a-kind totem pole created by Clarence Mills. A member of the Haida Nation, an indigenous people located in Canada and Alaska, Mills and two assistants carved the totem from an 800-year-old cedar tree that fell in Vancouver, B.C.’s Stanley Park in 2006, and was donated to Mills. Thirteen creatures appear on the 360-degree totem, including a beaver, Oregon State’s mascot.
The totem was commissioned by Vancouver residents Jim and Luana Whyte, who graduated from OSU in 1970 and 1972. Longtime admirers of Native American art, the Whytes also contributed a painting by Haidi artist Bill Reid to the longhouse. Reid is known worldwide for his “Spirit of Haida Gwaii” sculpture, which is pictured on the Canadian $20 bill.
“The idea of carving all the way around the pole was inspired by another artist’s sculpture that’s less than a foot high,” Jim Whyte said. “Working at a much larger scale was far more difficult. It took 10 times longer than a traditional totem. No one has created a 360-degree, full-size totem before, and I wouldn’t expect others to attempt it; it’s far too expensive.”
Additional artwork in the center by Oregon artists includes paintings by Rick Bartow, of Wiyot and Yurok heritage, and metalwork by Tony Johnson of the Chinook Tribe and Shirod Younker of the Coquille and Coos Indian Tribes.
“We are pleased that we can share art of this quality with the Oregon State community and visitors to our campus, thanks to our generous donors,” said OSU President Ray. “Our longhouse is nicknamed Eena Hawes, or ‘Beaver House,’ signifying that it’s for all Oregon State Beavers. At OSU we believe that art, too, is for everyone. It enriches the experience of students from every major.”
The Native American Longhouse is the first of four new cultural center facilities to open its doors on campus. The initiative got off the ground with a $500,000 gift from the late Portland philanthropist Joyce Collin Furman to create the OSU President’s Fund for Cultural Centers. The 1965 OSU alumna was a strong supporter of her alma mater and served on the steering committee for The Campaign for OSU.
The cultural centers are among 24 major facility projects that have been completed or are under way at OSU as a result of the current $1 billion campaign.