I met a remarkable artist at the Duwamish Longhouse today. Not only does Nytom carve exquisite sculptures on cedar planks and bentwood boxes, but he can sing like a bird. Thunderbird, perhaps.
The Duwamish longhouse hosts displays of native art, and this time around they have chosen a native of the small coastal Washington town where I have set my latest medical thriller, The Neah Virus. Because I am in the last revision of the novel and it’s due out this month, I thought I would have a look at Nytom and his work. I went to the grand opening of his show at the longhouse and I was far from disappointed. Rather, as I have almost come to expect with local natives, I was regaled with sights and sounds beyond anything I had imagined.
How many museum openings have you been to where the artist sings, as well as displays his art? I’m beginning to understand the native concept that a work of art is no work of art if it has no song attached to it. Nytom told a story of a time when he was a young sculptor and gave a carved mask to people in a nearby tribe. He was asked, “Where’s the song that goes with it?” and had no answer. He’s matured considerably since then, and the songs he sang to us visitors at the longhouse were mesmerizing and finely performed to the accompaniment of a tambourine-like native drum with beater stick.
If you can get to the Duwamish Longhouse any time in the next few months, you really should stop by and have a look at Nytom’s work. He’ll be back in Neah Bay, but his works are fine art in the highest sense. Carvings and prints abound, each with a story or song attached to it.
People who live in the Seattle area and neglect the Duwamish Longhouse really ought to reconsider. It is a place of amazing happenings and delightful experiences. The art, the song, the culture, and the history of the place are hidden gems of this fabulous part of the world some of us are lucky to live in.