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The art of place

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Klamath-Modoc artist featured at Favell Museum
Photo by Lee Juillerat Ka'ila Farrell-Smith, a Klamath-Modoc artist, is featured at the Favell Museum in Klamath Falls.
Emphatic, bold colors are features favored by Ka'ila Farrell-Smith
Photo by Lee Juillerat "Wokas Gathering" is among paintings by Ka'ila Farrell-Smith at the Favell Museum.

KLAMATH FALLS — Four years ago Ka’ila Farrell-Smith came “home” to a place where she had never lived.

“This is my home now,” she says of living at Modoc Point, the community along Upper Klamath Lake where her father, Alfred Leo Smith, a Klamath-Modoc Indian, lived until he, like other Indian youth, was sent to a boarding school as part of federal efforts to “assimilate” Native young people.

“My work is really linked to my father’s experience,” Farrell-Smith says of “In Situ,” an exhibition of paintings she created between 2011 and 2018 now on display through September at the Favell Museum.

Farrell-Smith, who describes herself as a contemporary Klamath-Modoc visual artist, writer and activist, says “In Situ” refers to a work of art made specifically for a host site, or a work of art that takes into account the site where it is installed or exhibited.

The decision to show the exhibit at the Favell came after the museum agreed to meet some of her demands. Instead of panels in the exhibit room, the area is open, which creates a sense of space for viewing the paintings. At her insistence, the orange carpet that was installed when the museum opened a half-century ago was replaced with a whitish-colored carpet, a change Favell staff and museum foundation members have welcomed. Also, at Farrell-Smith’s insistence, the room’s walls were repainted white.

The exhibit’s impossible-to-miss painting “Wokas Gatherer,” an artistically playful, colorful work that shows the wocus, or water lilies, and harvesters from an unusual perspective.

“It was a story he told me,” Farrell-Smith says, referring to tales her father told she about harvesting wocus, one of the tribe’s major subsistence foods, with her grandmother.

A different, harder-edged painting, “After Boarding School in Mourning,” reflects the experiences of Indian youth being taken from their families and sent to boarding schools, where they were required to speak English and convert to Christianity, and forbidden to speak, dress or pray in ancestral ways. Like several other paintings in the exhibit, she uses textures and colors to contrast with historic Edward Curtis black-and-white photos. “Mourning,” however, has a close, familia connection.

“It’s about him,” Farrell-Smith says of “Mourning” and her father. “There are a lot of painful memories. … For him there was such a loss of culture.”

Before moving to Modoc Point, where she and her partner Cale Christi live and work at the Modoc Point Studio Ranch, came after her years of living elsewhere.

Born in Ashland, Farrell-Smith, 39, lived three years with her family in Germany, graduated from South Eugene High School, won a full-ride scholarship and earned an art degree at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland and master’s degree in contemporary art practices from Portland State University. She continued her art education living and studying in Greece and Italy, but remembers her school years in Germany where her art teacher encouraged her.

Long before that, however, Farrell-Smith says her future seemed predetermined.

“I got into my mom’s (Jane Farrell) sketch book as a little girl,” she laughingly remembers. “So I’ve always had a studio. In my mind there was no question of what I was going to do.”

Her accomplishments are many and impressive. Her works have been displayed in several galleries, including a current group exhibit at the Portland Art Museum, High Desert Museum in Bend and other galleries throughout Oregon, Washington and Montana. She has received a Hallie Ford Fellowship in 2021 and 2019-20 Fields Artist Fellowship in 2019-2020.

Farrell-Smith’s art and other factors reflect her political activism. The Favell exhibit includes a letter she sent to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown explaining why she declined to have her art shown at Brown’s Salem office as part of the annual 2019 “Art in the Governor’s Office Program.”

In the letter, Farrell-Smith cites her opposition to the then-proposed Jordan Cove Pipeline. She also references, “My family’s history of being betrayed by powerful forces” over 150-plus years, noting her great-great-grandfather was a signer of the 1864 treaty between the Klamath Tribe and U.S. government, and her great-grandmother, Emma Ball, was 9 years old when she forced to watch the hanging of Captain Jack and other Modoc leaders following the Modoc War.

Along with her father’s activism — Congress passed Amendments to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1994 following a court case after Smith was fired from his job for participating in Native American religious ceremonies — Farrell-Smith participating in protests at Standing Rock opposing another pipeline, saying, “That changed my life.”

After several years working as environmental activist, she is focusing on her art.

“I sell my work, but I see it as more educational,” she says of using her art to reflect environmental and other concerns.

“I paint for myself, for processing, for healing. I want to work on healing tensions that are down here,” Ferrell-Smith says, referring to ongoing strife involving the Klamath Tribes and water issues by focusing on her ever-evolving art. As she explains, “I don’t like tribal politics … I want to remain an artist.”

IF YOU GO

“In Situ,” paintings by Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, is on exhibit at the Favell Museum through Sept. 3. The exhibit is supported in part by the Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Cultural Trust, Miller Foundation, Ford Family Foundation, and Klamath Defender Service.

The Favell Museum, 125 W. Main St., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is $10 for adults; $9 for seniors, veterans and students; $5 for youth 6 to 16; $25 for a family (two adults and two children). During the current exhibit, Klamath Tribal members receive free admission.

An artist meet-and-greet reception with Farrell-Smith is set from 5 to 7 p.m. June 3. Admission is $10 but is free to Favell members.

Call or email the Favell at 541-882-9996 or favellmuseum.com.