16th Annual FisherPoets Gathering, Astoria, Oregon

Riki Saltzman, OFN Director

The annual FisherPoets Gathering happens in the dead of winter—the last weekend in February. While this may seem an odd time for most of us to go traipsing off to the wet and windy northwest coast, it’s downtime for salmon fishermen. As poet, fisherman, and teacher Jon Broderick has noted, however, crabbers and longliners are still hard at it. Regardless, this event warms and renews all who take part. Oddly, it’s about everything but the food, which is, admittedly, the end product of what these folks do. As this event makes clear, fish do not become food until fishermen catch them, canneries process them, grocers sell them, and we lucky consumers get to buy and eat them.

Back in the late 1990s, a few commercial fishermen (preferred term by men and women) decided to create a gathering to share their songs, stories, and poetry. FisherPoets was based in part on the highly successful Cowboy Poetry Gathering (Elko, Nevada), which celebrates, presents, and preserves the various cultural traditions around raising range animals. While FisherPoets involves similar kinds of public presentations, it is a way for commercial fishers to renew their ties, catch up on news, and connect with each other. As marine historian Hobe Kytr told me early on, “This is a celebration of commercial fisheries by and for by commercial fishers.”

At the FisherPoets Gathering, working fishermen come together to celebrate who they are, mourn their losses, laugh at their mistakes, tease each other, talk about politics, regulations, and the economy, and then write movingly in poetry and prose about who they are, what they do, and—oh yeah—the fish they catch. Besides the fact that those men and women who produce and perform excellent and moving art have amazingly dangerous and hard jobs, what surprised and delighted me was how many women were and are involved—as deckhands, fishermen, and such—and as excellent writers and performers.

To hear some of the performers, check out “In the Tote” on the FisherPoets Gathering website.

Warm Springs Audio Preservation Project

Emily West Afanador, OFN Program Manager

Warm Spring tribal members have been preserving their heritage through audio recordings of songs, legends, oral histories, and Tribal Council meetings dating back to the 1950s. With the help of a grant from the Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Folklife Network staff Emily West Afanador and Sanna Parikka accompanied University of Oregon Librarian Nathan Georgitis on a trip to Warm Springs Culture Department to work together on making these recordings stable and accessible for future generations. Georgitis installed new digitization equipment and trained Warm Springs staff and volunteers, Valerie Switzler, Dallas Winishut, and Greg Arquette in best practices for sound preservation. Meanwhile, Afanador and Parikka documented the process with photos, video, and interviews. The OFN website will soon feature an online audio digitization training module to make this preservation process available to all Oregonians.

It is a privilege to work with the Warm Springs Culture Department, where projects like this are just one of the many efforts to revitalize cultural knowledge and practices that were forbidden during the boarding school assimilation era just a generation or two ago. Arquette is eager for the knowledge he will gain by listening to tapes of elders; Winishut will build curriculum with the native language recordings for use in Warm Springs language immersion classrooms; and Switzler is confident that the voices of tradition-keepers on those recordings will serve as important cultural role models for today’s tribal youth.

Traditional Artist Spotlight: Kelli Palmer

Sanna Parikka, OFN Intern

Kelli Palmer and her apprentice, Joy Ramirez, create American Indian cornhusk baskets and bags by combining the traditional materials, cornhusk and buckskin hide, with colorful rayon raffia ribbon. Traditionally, cornhusk baskets were used for food storage and during wedding trades. Since then, the craft has developed to include purses, side bags, and horse regalia for show.

Cornhusk weaving is a labor-intensive art form. The husk needs to be handled wet, and an experienced weaver can take up to an hour to complete just one row of a basket. Nevertheless, Palmer strives to use real cornhusk as much as possible; she adds colored rayon raffia because its colors last much longer than the hues of colored cornhusk. For her designs, Palmer sometimes pre-draws the pattern, but she also enjoys creating the images as she weaves without a predetermined design in mind. This inspires her to create novel designs, and that that’s how the patterns were traditionally being created, too.

According to Palmer, cornhusk weaving is currently gaining in popularity, and her classes fill up very quickly. She is happy to be able to teach the intricacies of the skill to Ramirez, so that eventually they can start teaching weaving classes together, preserving and passing on this skill for yet another generation.

OFN Open House and Artist Panel Discussion: Thursday April 18

The OFN staff invites you to a panel discussion with OFN traditional arts masters and an Open House on Thursday, April 18 to celebrate Oregon’s cultural heritage and our new office space!

OFN Artist Panel Discussion:
Collaboration Center
Room 121 Knight Library
2:30pm – 3:30pm

OFN Open House:
Oregon Folklife Network
Room 242 Knight Library
4:00pm – 6:00pm

Come snack, socialize, and enjoy performances by three of Oregon’s Traditional Arts masters:

Esther Stutzman (Kalapuya/Coos): Blessing and Kalapuya traditional story;
Daniela Mahoney: Slovak/Ukrainian egg decorating demonstration and talk; and
Mark Ross: Traditional old time/folk music string performance.

Preceding the Open House, we offer an Artist Panel Discussion with our master artists as an added treat for folk arts enthusiasts. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to engage with three of Oregon’s celebrated tradition bearers.