Anna Wiancko Chasman's “Freedom” is one of the banners flying over the “River Story” exhibition at the Port Angeles Library.

Anna Wiancko Chasman's “Freedom” is one of the banners flying over the “River Story” exhibition at the Port Angeles Library.

WEEKEND: Port Angeles Library: A river runs through it

PORT ANGELES — It’s a dazzler.

And what was an invitation-only show has just become accessible to all: “River Story,” an exhibition of Elwha River-fed art, poetry, rhythm and song opening at the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St., tonight.

The banners already are flying — 20 created by artists across the Pacific Northwest, greeting people as they enter the library; then, suspended from the rafters at the north end, is the enormous mural of water- and airborne salmon titled “The Eternal Return.”

These works were created for last summer’s “Celebrate Elwha!” ceremony at the Elwha Dam.

But since that Sept. 17 event was an exclusive one for federal, state and tribal dignitaries, the artists — and the rest of the public — didn’t get to see them.

Tonight and all summer long, the story of the Elwha — past, present, future — will flow through the public library, where everybody can dive in.

To hail all of this, a public gathering will start at 6:30 p.m. tonight.

The Lower Elwha Drum and Dance Group will perform at

7 p.m. and then, as they finish, the drummers and dancers will break a symbolic paper dam.

Following a river of paper salmon, they will lead a “swim” through the exhibition of sculptures, paintings, photographs, poetry and interpretive panels.

“It’s a huge culmination,” said artist Anna Wiancko Chasman, who gathered the banner artists and helped orchestrate “River Story.”

“The artwork is beautiful,” added Brenda Francis, a poet and the communications director for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.

She and her daughter Ava, 4, both made salmon for the symbolic river.

The nation’s attention turned to the Elwha River and tribe last year when removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams — a $325 million project that grew out of a 1992 act of Congress — began at last.

Elwha Dam already has been cleared, and Glines Canyon Dam upstream is expected to be gone by next year.

But the dam demolition is one facet of the restoration of a wild ecosystem, one that nourished legendary salmon runs — and the tribal people who live beside the river.

The “River Story” exhibit tells a story of transformation through the handiwork and words of artists and writers.

In addition to the banners, there’s Harry von Stark’s and Ray Hammar’s large sculpture made with salvaged dam metal, Wiancko Chasman’s images of birds and fish, Peter Malarkey’s paintings and banners constructed by ­Klallam children and by youngsters at the Clallam County YMCA.

Then there’s the Olympic National Park perspective, unfolding in the park’s traveling Elwha River Restoration exhibit.

Looming over these is that “Eternal” mural, a kind of photo collage dreamed up by Jake Seniuk, the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center director who will retire at the end of June.

“River Story,” like any healthy waterway, will take in nourishment: Visitors may choose to write poems and reminiscences, perhaps inspired by the Elwha River-inspired poetry collections in the show.

These publications — Where Thunderbird Rests His Head and Waits for the Songs of Return, a book assembled by the Elwha tribe; a pamphlet titled “Suite for the Elwha”; and Landscapes of Home: A Natural History of the Elwha River — are on display.

They contain poetry as well as inspirational art, said Kate Reavey, another organizer of “River Story.”

Nearby are the tools of contribution: pencils and paper, writing prompts and a box.

People floating through can write poems and slip them, signed or anonymous, into the box, Reavey said.

So “this is a generative art exhibit,” she added.

In June, July and August — and through the exhibit’s Sept. 8 closing day — the library will host free poetry readings, performances and activities for children and adults.

Those events will be announced in the Peninsula Daily News and on the North Olympic Library System’s website, www.NOLS.org.

The Port Angeles Library also can be reached at 360-417-8500.

The newly remodeled library opens at 10 a.m. every day except Sundays, when it is closed. It closes at 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, at 6 p.m. Fridays and at 5 p.m. Saturdays.

“All of this has never been together in one place and never will be in one place together again,” library assistant director Margaret Jakubcin said of the “River Story” exhibit.

After two decades of planning, “it’s happening, right here,” she said.

“These are the people who have been part of it, celebrating and sharing.”

________

Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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