Conceptualizing Place: Pacific Northwest Native Art and Geographies

Fall 2020
Winter 2021
Spring 2021
Class Size: 50
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

2020 Grossman, Zoltan
geography, Native American studies
3D studio art

In this program, we will explore historical and contemporary relationships of Pacific Northwest Native peoples to place, using art and geography in a cross-cultural comparative analysis, and as "common ground" for strengthening intercultural communication. The unique status of Indigenous nations can be better understood by highlighting the centrality of territory in Native identity, and the strong Indigenous connections to place. These connections can be seen in numerous fields: art and material culture, Native national sovereignty, attachment to aboriginal and treaty-ceded lands, the focus on traditional land use and protection of sacred sites, environmental protection, climate justice, sustainable planning, Indigenous migration and symbolic mobility (through community practices such as powwows and canoe journeys), particularly in coastal Washington and British Columbia. 

All of these connections have been expressed artistically and geographically through traditional Indigenous cartographies, artistic "mapping" of ideas using contemporary art practices, digital graphic design, and modern mapmaking techniques. Examination of cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary ideas about land, place, environment, and relationship to human cultures offers the opportunity to develop new conceptualizations for the meaning of place, self, and community. We will examine how conceptions of land are disseminated through art and objects of material culture, informing our examination with geographic studies and investigation into the sociopolitical uses of mapping. Students will discover differences and potential meeting points between Native and Western cultural systems, identify differences within and among diverse Tribes and First Nations, and develop an understanding of Indigenous peoples' ability to define and set their own social, cultural, and spatial boundaries and interpretations. Students will develop greater awareness of Indigenous cultures, but also of aspects of culture that may be determined and protected by Native peoples themselves.

Fall quarter will introduce students to historical geographies and worldviews of Pacific Northwest Indigenous nations, basic visual literacy skills in art, literacy in graphic representational systems for geographic data, and design and production of artwork or maps in Adobe Illustrator. Nearly all instruction will be online in Zoom and Canvas, and the College is working for all students to have access to Adobe. The schedule breakdown of this online Zoom instruction will be flexible, specified in syllabus. Films will have an asynchronous option, viewable by students on their own through Canvas links, but also shown in class. Lectures and workshops will be in synchronous morning classes, to replicate (as much as possible) a classroom learning community. Discussions or digital workshops will be on Zoom in synchronous afternoon seminars, sometimes with small group breakouts.  

In early winter quarter, students will develop specialized team projects relevant to contemporary topics embedded in areas of interest, to assemble graphics, artwork, maps, photographs, and ethnographic interviews (online or in-person) into multimedia educational podcast presentations developed in GarageBand. Some students may have options for screenprinting their artwork in the printmaking studio. They will produce these projects in a period straddling late winter and early spring quarters, in independent three- or four-person teams, and present them when returning in mid-spring quarter.

In general, program activities will involve guest lectures, images, and videos, workshops, readings and class discussions, map quizzes, ethnographic interview skills, short writing assignments, and presentations. Students are expected to use critical thinking skills in interpreting the readings, images, videos, and lectures.

Through field trips to Native communities, and a comparative examination of museums by or about Native peoples, students will be asked to engage directly with the questions and contentions surrounding notions of place in Indigenous nations. In fall quarter, we will explore virtual field trip options to the Squaxin Island and Burke museums (or carry out physical field trips in winter quarter). Depending on state phase policies, we plan a winter-quarter three-day field trip to the Quileute and Makah nations, and a spring-quarter week-long field trip to Victoria and the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation in western Vancouver Island.


To successfully participate remotely in this program, students will need a laptop. The remote learning structure of our fall lessons are as follows: Lectures/workshops will be held on Zoom (Canvas) in morning classes, and there will be discussions or a digital workshop on Zoom in afternoon seminar. Students will need access to Adobe Creative Cloud (specifically Illustrator and Photoshop) as a special expense. Students will have access to some alternatives to synchronous participation, particularly in viewing films and other prerecorded material.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

Visual Arts, Digital Graphics, Native Studies, Geography, Mapping, Planning, Cultural Education


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Fall Complete Online Learning - This offering delivers all of its instruction online.
  • Winter and Spring: Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.
Special expenses:


Adobe Creative Cloud $60 per quarter at discounted student rate. Digital printing supplies $20 winter quarter.

Class Standing: Sophomore–Senior
Class Size: 50

Scheduled for: Day

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - 10:00 am
LONGHOUSE 1007B - Workshop

Located in: Olympia

2020-08-13This program is now fully remote during fall quarter