People of the Sea and Cedar: Explore culture, art and symbolism, lifestyles, community

Visitors can learn more about the history and cultures of the Northwest Coast tribes at the Whatcom Museum’s “People of the Sea and Cedar” exhibition at the Lightcatcher.
Visitors can learn more about the history and cultures of the Northwest Coast tribes at the Whatcom Museum’s “People of the Sea and Cedar” exhibition at the Lightcatcher. Courtesy to the Bellingham Herald

November is Native American Heritage Month, and the Whatcom Museum is proud to celebrate the history, heritage and cultures of the Northwest Coast people in the Lightcatcher building with the exhibition “People of the Sea and Cedar: A Journey through the Tribal Cultures and History of the Northwest Coast.” The exhibition, which opened this past summer, blends both historical and contemporary perspectives through art, text panels and interactive components.

Featuring artifacts from the museum’s collection, such as Coast Salish artwork and carvings, woven blankets, hand-made tools, clothing, baskets and cedar hats, the exhibit showcases some of the traditional crafts created by the Northwest Coast people. Visitors have opportunities to learn about the traditions, languages and stories of these tribes.

“The Whatcom Museum hasn’t had a permanent presence of Coast Salish culture and history, past and present,” said Patricia Leach, executive director of the Whatcom Museum, who is excited to offer visitors a chance to learn more about Northwest Coast history.

With input provided by tribal representatives, researchers and educators, the museum presents an experiential exhibit. “People of the Sea and Cedar” provides hands-on learning experiences, a Lummi language interactive and videos showcasing Lummi and Nooksack weavers and carvers. Themes of cultural knowledge, art and symbolism, lifestyles and community present the Northwest Coast tribes as vibrant, living cultures who honor their past while building cultural and economic futures for their people.

Additionally, the exhibition complements the museum’s popular “People of the Sea and Cedar” school program, which has been offered to Bellingham and Whatcom County students for more than 20 years.

“Now that our state legislature has mandated the teaching of native cultures in our schools, the timing on the creation of this new gallery space couldn’t be better,” said Leach. “The museum is excited to enhance the education of our local school children with the ‘People of the Sea and Cedar’ school program, which now takes place in the new gallery.”

Visitors can learn more about this exhibition by taking a docent-led tour of the gallery from 2:30-3:30 p.m. Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tours are included with admission and begin in the lobby of Old City Hall.

Coming Soon: Mark your calendars for the museum’s annual Deck the Old City Hall holiday celebration, which takes place from noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 24-Dec. 31. The community is invited to view decorated trees throughout the building, visit with Santa and Wally the Museum Mouse, and get into the holiday spirit. Admission is by donation, and proceeds support the museum’s rich offerings of exhibitions and programming. More info at whatcommuseum.org.

Christina M. Claassen is Whatcom Museum’s marketing and public relations manager. Reach her at cmclaassen@cob.org.

Whatcom Museum

The non-profit Whatcom Museum is operated by the Whatcom Museum Foundation and the city of Bellingham. The Old City Hall building at 121 Prospect St. and the Lightcatcher Building at 250 Flora St. are open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays. The Family Interactive Gallery, located inside the Lightcatcher, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission, good for all sites in a day, is $10 general, $8 youth (6-17 years) and student, senior or military, $5 children (2-5 years). Memberships start at $50 and include free museum admission.

The museum offers a variety of programs and exhibitions about art, nature and Northwest history. Its collections contain more than 200,000 artifacts and art of regional importance, including a photographic archive. The museum is accredited nationally by the American Alliance of Museums and is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.