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Johnsons' family spirit lives on
by Reneé Mizar, MAC communications coordinator
As the artistic legacy of late Jamestown S’Klallam tribal elder Harris “Brick” Johnson lives on in his many totem poles that dot the North Olympic Peninsula landscape, so does the pride in tribal culture and traditions he instilled in his family.
That rich heritage is being honored in a new exhibit at the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley’s exhibit center, 175 W. Cedar St., that celebrates four generations of the Johnson family. Housed within the Jamestown S’Klallam Longhouse Exhibit at the MAC Exhibit Center, the new display shows the family’s history with weavings, cedar baskets, drums, masks and other artwork created by several family members, as well as family photographs, poetry and other writings.
A free reception for the opening of the exhibit is 4 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at the exhibit center with a traditional blessing ceremony by Jamestown S’Klallam spiritual leader Patrick Adams, followed by the reception sponsored by 7 Cedars Casino.
Johnson family matriarch and Jamestown S’Klallam tribal elder Rosie Zwanziger said although the exhibit itself has come together in the past couple of months, its seeds were planted some 40 years ago by her Uncle Brick and his wife, Iris. She said the two led concerted efforts among their many nieces and nephews not only to keep Jamestown culture alive but to put it into practice, including forming a Jamestown S’Klallam dancing group in the 1970s that performed at area festivals and events.
“He was supportive of and encouraged the artistic, athletic, musical and educational endeavors of all Jamestown youth,” Zwanziger said.
“Hanging out at Uncle Brick and Aunt Iris’ house, we picked up a lot about the culture and tradition and he made a point to teach us that. I think a lot of us didn’t realize growing up what an influence he had on us because you just take it for granted when you’re a kid.”
Watching a professional
Terry Johnson was one of those youngsters who spent years watching his Uncle Brick carve totems and whose father would help haul logs for carving. The products of that work are still seen throughout the area, including Brick Johnson’s totem poles at Pioneer Memorial Park in Sequim and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s administration center in Blyn, as well as the “happy crab” design he painted on the mini-longhouse he built that stands on the beach in Jamestown. The design, which Zwanziger said has become an honorary family crest, will be featured prominently in the exhibit.
“When I was younger, Brick was right next door, just a yard away and always working on totem poles,” said Terry Johnson, who can recall childhood summers spent carving small totems with his uncle and cousins.
Having worked at 7 Cedars Casino for the past 17 years, Johnson said he carves in his spare time and draws inspiration largely from just from seeing something he likes, including from books once belonging to his uncle. In addition to carving masks and small totems, Johnson’s artistic pursuits include having created an eagle headdress and writing poems, two of which have been published. Most recently, he has taken a leading role in restoring the weather-worn totem pole his uncle created in the early 1970s for display at Peninsula College in Port Angeles.
“Watching Uncle Brick cook crabs, fillet and smoke salmon, carve totems or just work in his flower and vegetable gardens were all part of our experiences as youngsters,” Zwanziger said of her uncle, whose decorative carved paddle is featured in the exhibit. “His spirit is felt through our artistic expressions and this exhibit is a tribute to his memory and the gifts he bestowed upon our family.”
The Jamestown S’Klallam Longhouse Exhibit, which opened in 2010 and features rotating collections of artwork and artifacts of cultural significance, is a collaborative endeavor between the MAC and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. The exhibit also features a custom-built interactive digital kiosk that links to the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s House of Seven Generations virtual museum.