Introduction | About the Painting | Items on Display | Various Sketches | Back to Homepage

Chinook Traditional Artistry
Lewis and Clark Visit Cathlapotle Village on the Columbia River in 1806
Oil on canvas
Chris Hopkins, 2004
Loaned by Gloria and Tom Bernard

The arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition in March 1806 at Cathlapotle, a large Chinookan village on what is now the Washington side of the Columbia River, has been reconstructed by Chris Hopkins in consultation with Burke Museum Director George MacDonald, site archaeologist Ken Ames, and Tony Johnson of the Chinook Tribe. It is rich in ethno-graphic detail and portrays the homeland of the materially rich, ranked society of the Chinookan people, whose trading sphere extended as far north as Sitka, Alaska.

The Chinook lived in permanent villages on both sides of the mouth of the Columbia River and inland to Astoria. Fishing was their economic mainstay, augmented by hunting. They also gathered a wide variety of plant foods.

The Chinook were renowned as traders, and they used currency of dentalium shells to control the regional economy. Chinook Jargon was the lingua franca of trade up and down the Northwest Coast.

Lewis and Clark spent the fall and winter of 1805-06 in Chinook territory. Later, the Chinook had extensive contacts with Euro-Americans involved in the fur trade. Between 1830 and 1840 their communities were decimated by epidemics of smallpox and measles. By 1900 Chinook traditional culture had been greatly affected by American settlements in the area.

Examples of traditional Chinook artistry include elegant bowls made of mountain sheep horn; intricately designed twined baskets; large carved and painted house posts and panels; and cedar canoes with distinctive high prows. Special cedar dugout cradles were used to flatten a child’s forehead as a mark of status and beauty.

Today, the Chinook Tribe continues to seek formal recognition from the federal government.