Artists create banners for Elwha fete

PORT ANGELES — It’s as if they’ve been deep in the river, so saturated are these with colors of water and joy.

A suspended array of banners, made by artists from Port Angeles, Sequim, Portland, Ore., and across Western Washington, will greet the 400 guests attending Saturday’s ceremony at the Elwha Dam.

Waving over the walkway to the stage, the bann­ers will be part of the historic day marking the removal of the river’s two dams and the return of its fabled salmon.

Anna Wiancko Chasman of Freshwater Bay and Karen Hanan of Arts Northwest, organizer of this week’s Celebrate Elwha! series of events, put out the call for banner artists.

Those who responded received neither money nor an invitation to Saturday’s ceremony, Chasman said.

Instead, the painters and photographers gave pure gifts: radiant blue, green and gold images. Iridescent fish. Undulating waves. Words of peace, welcoming and the “water of life.”

Laura Alisanne is one of the Port Angeles artists, one whose banner is imbued with intense blue — and the excitement she feels about the freeing of the Elwha.

She recalls reading an account, in a book about Clallam County history, of people hearing the sound of salmon cracking their skulls on the newly built dam as they tried to return home to spawn.

“That story has always haunted me,” Alisanne said.

But she’s also watched the salmon travel up the Sol Duc River.

“I was so moved by the will and determination, the power and the grace,” she said. “It was humbling.”

So her banner, made to fly over the Elwha, “is informed by the joy I feel,” she said, “that the way home will be clear for these creatures now, after nearly 100 years.”

Each of the artists has his or her own story of connection, added Chasman. She was struck by how they poured themselves into their work.

Many contributors

The contributors include Port Angeles’ Barbara Slavik, Melody Charno, Gay Whitman, Dani LaBlond, Sarah Tucker, Pamela Hastings, Doug Parent and Sherilyn Seyler; Lyn Smith of Sequim; Leo Osborne of Guemes Island; Christine Hella Thompson of Olalla; Suzy Cyr of Woodinville; Margot Thompson of Portland; Malia Mercer of Lynnwood; and David Berger, Karen DeWinter and Jessica Dodge of Seattle.

Also for Saturday’s ceremony, Port Angeles photographer Pam Russell created a collage depicting Lower Elwha Klallam elder Alan Charles, while art teacher Cathy Haight and Lower Elwha tribal members Jamie Valadez and Luana Arakawa worked with local children to make two quilt-like banners.

Backdrop for stage

The backdrop for the stage at the Elwha Dam was created by Jake Seniuk, a fine arts photographer and the director of the 25-year-old Port Angeles Fine Arts Center.

His mural, 10 feet high and 25 feet long, shows the outline of a giant salmon as a window into Olympic National Park.

To create this, Seniuk used numerous photographs of salmon, melded together, along with a Native art-inspired painting.

After Saturday’s ceremony, the mural and the art banners will be moved to a public display space, though Hanan has yet to determine exactly where.

Jan Harbick of the Port Angeles Downtown Association said this week that she hopes to install them in the empty storefront at First and Lincoln streets, at least for a time.

Hanan said Port Angeles’ Olympic National Park Visitor Center is another possibility; she sees the banners becoming a traveling exhibition.

Wherever they go, the banners will be shown off for years to come, Hanan said, adding that they will be part of an Elwha River Restoration archive that blends the artistic and the scientific.

Chasman, for her part, looks forward to those great messengers: the salmon.

She traveled some time ago to Alaska, where of all the wildlife, a particular fish left the deepest impression.

“What got me the most,” she said, “were the sockeye. They signify the health of our world.”

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at [email protected]

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