In Art News
Hey, Twilight, the Quileutes Aren't Werewolves
White people are cool like this: Stephenie Meyer began her nocturnal/diurnal romance story Twilight with a Google search for "wettest place in America," which turned up Forks, Washington. The Quileutes, natives of the area, trace themselves back to a pair of wolves that lingered by Kwati the Transformer while he was creating the world out on the shores of the Olympic Peninsula. He turned the wolves, which are sacred animals to the Quileutes, into the first humans; Meyer turned them into werewolves, or, in their human form, sexy, sexy, brown-skinned teenage boys.
A glass case at the entrance to the first-ever museum show of Quileute art contains a beautifully woven dream catcher with a wolf charm dangling from it. It was made by a member of the Quileute tribe, but it's a figment of the tourist imagination—the Quileutes didn't start making dream catchers until Twilight said they did. Dream catchers come from tribes near the Great Lakes; werewolves are a European invention.
Today, the Quileutes sell wolf dream catchers to the international visitors of the Quileute Oceanside Resort in stormy La Push, where roughly half the 700 tribal members live on a one-mile-square reservation. There are 70 units at the resort; on full nights, the resort can make the reservation half again as populous. Meanwhile, only two people left are fluent in the Quileute language, an isolate tongue called Chimakuan not spoken anywhere else on earth.
Barbara Brotherton is Seattle Art Museum's curator of Native American art, and she organized Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves with members of the tribe. Teenagers appearing in a documentary video made for the show say things like "We don't just go around with our shirts off all the time!" Quileute attitudes toward Twilight are varied, but Behind the Scenes passes over that subject. The show is by and for the tribe. Brotherton found drawings made by Quileute children in 1905, now held by the Smithsonian. Descendants of those children will set eyes on their ancestors' drawings for the first time at SAM.
In 1888, a spiteful homesteader set fire to the Quileute village. (Spiteful about what? The Quileutes were already being forced into a tiny area after thousands of years on the vast land from beach to rain forest; evidence suggests they may have been the only people on these shores during the Ice Age.) A few of the objects in the show are probably survivors of the fire.
There's a hauntingly corpselike ancestor mask, with a fat orange tongue protruding. The giant nostrils on an ochre-and-charcoal-painted wolf headdress flare on two planes, toward the front and the side, the unnamed artist obviously working with perception and performance in mind. Now the performance has just become a little more public, for better and worse.