Magazine article Sunset

Maya Lin's Artful Journey: Along 470 Miles of the Columbia River Basin, the Creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Is Now Finishing an Astonishing New Work. from Eastern Washington to the Pacific Ocean, the Confluence Project Pays Tribute to the Human Spirit

Magazine article Sunset

Maya Lin's Artful Journey: Along 470 Miles of the Columbia River Basin, the Creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Is Now Finishing an Astonishing New Work. from Eastern Washington to the Pacific Ocean, the Confluence Project Pays Tribute to the Human Spirit

Article excerpt

SACAJAWEA STATE PARK, PASCO, WASHINGTON. The low sun casts diamonds on the Snake River. A breeze ruffles the Columbia River. The two great waterways converge here, at a point of land dense with gray willows and sycamores. A few yards away, drummers and singers from the Nez Perce, the Walla Walla, the Wanapum, and the Umatilla tribes beat out a blessing to a hushed circle of dignitaries. Among them--inconspicuous but for the news photographers pointing cameras and jostling for a better angle--stands Maya Lin, still blinking away her fatigue from the red-eye she caught from New York the night before.

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Lin is awaiting the third of seven site blessings for the Confluence Project, which could be the most ambitious public work of art ever created in North America. Along 470 miles of the Columbia River basin in Oregon and Washington, Lin and her cohorts are planning up to 10 original art installations at the seven sites.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Confluence Project took its initial inspiration from the preeminent explorers of the Northwest, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. But it's equally nurtured by the native peoples whose world Lewis and Clark entered and forever changed. The project includes art installations but also environmental restoration of the Columbia and the land around it. Dozens of government agencies (federal, two states, countless counties and cities), nonprofit organizations, and Native American tribes have been involved. And it will cost about $27 million to complete.

"Nothing like this has ever been done," says Jane Jacobsen, the Confluence Project's executive director. "Anywhere. Ever."

"How can you say no?"

The Confluence Project began life in 1999, as the Northwest prepared for the bicentennial of the 1804-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition. The anniversary evoked deep and complicated responses in Northwesterners. For many, the expedition represented adventure and the opening of the frontier West. For many others--particularly the region's Native Americans--Lewis and Clark's arrival signaled the end of a way of life thousands of years old.

Jane Jacobsen, then director of a program at the Vancouver (Washington) National Historic Reserve Trust, dreamed of a project that would commemorate the bicentennial in all of its complexity. She and colleague David DiCesare came up with the idea of approaching Maya Lin, best known as the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

It turned out they weren't alone. Independently, two other groups--the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla and a committee of community leaders in Washington's Pacific County--had also imagined Lin as the right artist, someone who would respond to the bicentennial with appropriate sensitivity. Together, and with other community members and tribes, they assembled a proposal. In November 2000, Lin accepted the commission.

Lin recalls the pivotal meeting in her New York studio. "In comes Jane," she says, "and she brings the Umatilla, the Chinook tribe, the Nez Perce." She shakes her head, laughing.

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"How can you say no?"

One river, many stories

Lin, her staff, the tribes, Jacobsen, and the associated public entities spent more than three years determining which sites along the Columbia River and its tributaries would be most suitable for the project. In geographic terms, the Confluence Project begins in southeastern Washington, near the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers. Here, at Chief Timothy Park, a basalt-rimmed "listening circle" will stem from Lin's interpretation of the Nez Perce ceremony blessing the land (expected completion, 2008). …

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