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Worth D. Griffin and the Portrait Commissions

Saturday, October 7th, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

In 1936 when Washington State College (later WSU) Fine Arts Chairman Worth Griffin and junior faculty member Clyfford Still traveled from Pullman to the Colville Indian Reservation to identify tribal members for Griffin’s commissioned research project (and to set the foundations for the upcoming Nespelem Art Colony), the reservation was in a dramatic period of transition.

For most, Native America’s place in American history ended in the late nineteenth century with the final Indian Wars. Stereotypical images of one-dimensional Indian maidens or long-haired warriors on horseback hunting buffalo on the Western Plains remained, while in reality most tribes were relegated to the anonymity of reservation life far removed from general populations. For many American Indians this might have been their final legacy, if not for the Great Depression and its various federal projects and legislated initiatives.

Public fascination with American Indians and their significant link to American identity grew during the 1930s when a surge of tourists and artists traveled to Indian reservations in the West to glimpse and record what they thought was a “vanishing race.” In North Central Washington, Griffin and Still instead witnessed a culturally and politically resilient native community navigating sovereignty and modernization. Simultaneously Federal New Deal art programs encouraged the growth of artist colonies throughout the country. In Washington State the Nespelem Art Colony brought teachers and students to the Colville Indian Reservation to generate a local historical record of tribal people through portrait paintings.

Michael Holloman

Michael Holloman is a tenured associate professor in the Department of Art at Washington State University (WSU) located in Pullman, WA. He currently teaches courses in Native American art history and the studio arts. In 2021 he was appointed as the Coordinator for Native American Arts, Outreach and Education for the College of Arts and Sciences. Previously he served as the Director of the Plateau Center for American Indian Studies at WSU beginning in July of 2010 -2013. In 2002 he became the Director of American Indian exhibits and programming at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture in Spokane, WA while maintaining duties as the museum’s tribal liaison. Prior Michael was an Associate Professor of Art at Seattle University.

He maintains an ongoing commitment to Native American arts, culture, research and education, which is exhibited in both his professional and personal endeavors. Michael is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation. He is a proud parent of two sons, a passionate yet mediocre golfer, a foreign film enthusiast and a lover of short stories and non-fiction.

 Image Credit

Worth D. Griffin (1893-1981), Luke Cowapoo (Daylight), 1935. Oil on canvas. Museum of Art/WSU Permanent Collection 37.1.5.