New Art and Sounds from the Pacific Northwest: Indie Folk
Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, WA - To Jan 29, 2023
American folk art could be described as the offspring of homespun craft and rough-hewn primitivism, its vitality honed by generations of makeshift invention rather than academic tool-grinding. An exhibition at Bellevue Arts Museum celebrates Pacific Northwest “indie folk” art and music, highlighting the character of this region’s “unique artistic ecosystem involving craft traditions, pre-industrial cultures, and Indigenous and settler histories.” Many of the handmade artworks on view infuse the rooted nature of folk art with a contemporary perspective that ensures its survival into the digital age.
Walking into the galleries, visitors are immersed in gently plucked sounds of the Pacific Northwest, a playlist of indie folk compiled by Portland’s Mississippi Records. Eric Isaacson, founder and owner of the label, makes note that all of the musicians on the playlist held down day jobs while making music, from working as a librarian to farming parsnips to running a dollar store. That soulful independence shines through their music.
The exhibition offers a rich stew of visual narratives, including a Joey Veltkamp quilt that salutes both Washington State ferries and the navigational routes once followed by Indigenous Peoples. Artist Joe Feddersen created two immaculately woven Indian baskets, their Native designs cleverly supplanted by abstract parking lots and electrical towers. Improvisation and harsh poetry intertwine in Silver Fence, by Marita Dingus; made from wire and metal pull tabs, this beautiful, lace-like curtain represents the enclosures on West African beaches where human beings were held captive until the slave ships arrived. A monumental painting by Andrea Joyce Heimer captures the dark, complex underpinnings of a summer rodeo in Montana, with figuration that is opaque and unpretentious. Artworks by ceramicist Jeffrey Mitchell, sculptor Vince Skelly and glass artist Cappy Thompson expand the definition of folk art.