July 14, 2023

Tim Johnson

Pole Carving Nears Completion

Lummi Artist Jason LaClair’s work showcased at August fundraiser                                   
Throughout the spring and summer, Lummi artist Jason LaClair labored to put the final touches on a ceremonial totem pole in the Hotel Leo space as part of Art Walk in downtown Bellingham. Now—as his work nears completion—come questions for the next phase for this unique art object: Who will receive the pole? Will it be a gift or donation?

Children of the Setting Sun Productions, who helped sponsor and present the carving, will hold a fundraiser for Jason LaClare’s work to help answer these questions at a Story Pole Fundraiser on Friday August 18, from 5-7:30pm at the Hotel Leo.

The carving forms the centerpiece of QwotQwem—meaning “noisy waters” in Xwlemi Chosen—an ad-hoc gallery dedicated to honoring local Native and Indigenous artists. LaClair completed the ceremonial pole originally begun by carver Samuel Cagey, Jr., a beloved Lummi tribal elder whose health was poorly impacted by COVID-19. LaClair’s work is intended to honor and benefit the work of Cagey’s carving, and complete his story.

The pole was on public display through July, and featured dedicated carving demonstrations that included Bellingham school children.

“CSSP staff have an ongoing partnership with Happy Valley Elementary School and members of our Department of Teaching and Learning for the development of locally based lessons to enhance the Since Time Immemorial curriculum for Bellingham students,” Bellingham School District Superintendent Dr. Greg Baker explained. “Staff, students and families have been highly engaged in this work, and in late May the Happy Valley PTA, CSSP and local non-profit Whatcom CARE co-sponsored a highly successful Since Time Immemorial Family Night open to students from across our 14 elementary schools. This standing-room-only event featured local tribal dancers, artists, story tellers and state leaders in Since Time Immemorial curriculum, and CSSP generously provided a salmon dinner.”

The Blackhawk Dancers performed several traditional dances, and Lummi elders who have been teaching songs at Happy Valley sang to bless the food.

Whatcom County libraries also participated so families could check out books to support their conversations at home.                    

LaClair, who is of Lummi and Nooksack heritage, has been practicing art over the last 29 years as a self-taught artist. Through firsthand expertise and instruction, students learned the distinctive style and unique characteristics of Coast Salish art before painting their own canvases using the shapes and tradition of Coast Salish art. LaClair has also painted murals at several schools and taught lessons on Lummi totem pole carving as part of a larger tribal effort to bring Since Time Immemorial curricula to local schools.                    

The next phase of the pole’s journey involves developing funds sufficient to deliver the pole as a charitable community gift, according to CSSP Executive Director Darrell Hillaire.                    

The Story Pole Fundraiser will provide an opportunity to learn more about LaClair and the ceremonial pole, and includes a silent auction to help develop those funds. Refreshments will be served.               

The Hotel Leo is located at 1224 Cornwall Ave. In Bellingham.


Jason LaClair Story Pole Fundraiser and Auction:

5-7:30 pm Fri., Aug. 18 Hotel Leo Rose Room

About Jason LaClair:

Jason LaClair is a 38-year-old Coast Salish artist from the Lummi and Nooksack communities. Mr. LaClair has been practicing Northern Formline Art and Coast Salish Styles for more than 25 years.

In 2021, he collaborated with local artist Gretchen Leggitt to create the public installation of the “Salmon Run” mural for the City of Bellingham. In addition, he was the artist of the “One from the Heart” mural in Ferndale. Other murals decorate the Boardmill Building in the Port of Bellingham’s central waterfront redevelopment.

Jason's drive comes from the need to share the art of his ancestors with his People and the Whatcom Community as a whole. He says he loves what he does and that his career is the best way to express himself.                 

About Children of the Setting Sun Productions:

Children of the Setting Sun Productions creates and shares Indigenous stories of gratitude, generosity and respect. We seek to empower the minds and hearts of future generations. Darrell Hillaire is executive director of CSSP, leading projects based upon relationships with elders and community leaders regionally and nationally.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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