Portals & Sentinels
One of the great things about looking at art is that sometimes there is no explanation, so you get a chance to find meaning for yourself outside the context of cultural identity.
Last fall I visited the Cathlapotle Plankhouse at the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge in Washington -- a full-scale replica based on archaeological evidence of a Chinookan town that Lewis and Clark visited during their Pacific Coast expedition.
I took pictures of the painted figure over the doorway thinking that I would do some research on the symbols. I never found a decent explanation, so I decided to just think about what these symbols might mean in my own life.
In my head I've nicknamed him "fish-man" because I connect Northwest Native Americans with salmon, and there was something about his shape and exposed ribs that reminded me of a decaying fish.
I particularly like the two arms that end in these snake-like heads that seem to be devouring the doorway. The yellow dots remind me of seeds or water, and then the yellow stripes over his head look like modern day traffic markings that say something like halt, proceed with caution, or take notice.
For me, the best part of this structure is the round doorway, the portal from outside to inside, and when once entered through I'm assuming the community encounters different experiences and responsibilities.
In life we have portals. Sometimes these portals appear to us in the physical world like opening your front door to greet someone. Other times these portals are intangible like moving from way of thinking to another. I've come to imagine that my "fish-man" is like a sentinel, asking you to stay awake and pay attention when you crawl through the hole into the void because something important is about to happen.
I'd love to hear what you think about this figure or if you have any information about these Chinook symbols.