It is always a challenge invoking a force, now invisible, that once so animated a place. The Marie Louie Project has taken on such a task at Meadowbrook Farm in the Snoqualmie Valley, Washington.
Xa-cha-blu, a Snoqualmie woman usually known as Marie Louie, was born around 1800 in the village of Toltx, now Carnation. Though Marie Louie was renowned among her people in her time, her story is little known today. She lived to be over 100 and spent most of her life on Lake Sammamish, regularly journeying by canoe and foot between Seattle and the Cascade Mountains. During her travels she gathered plants and herbs, which she administered to Native and immigrant women in childbirth. Like most Puget Sound Native people, she followed a “seasonal round,” moving about and collecting the plants that sustained her practice where and when they blossomed and fruited. Ms. Louie covered a great deal of territory in her long years, and yet her life was very much rooted in place. Her “garden” was enormous.
This last September at Meadowbrook, an artwork, (de) Marking the Meadow, opened that commemorates Marie Louie and the tradition from which she came. Through this piece, the Marie Louie Project team—myself, curator Kenneth G. Watson and community advocate Barbara Jirsa—set out to honor the spirit of Marie Louie’s work: how she used her deep sense of place and the unique ecology around her to sustain herself and the many women for whom she cared. Her life’s work was knowledge based, as is so much of the corporate work for which the Pacific Northwest region is known today. She knew what grew where, when and how to get it; what the plants could do for others and how to get them to those in need.
Meadowbrook is a very special place, and it seemed the right site for an artwork in memory of Marie Louie. Meadowbrook is a field hundreds of acres in size, created in the wake of a departing glacier that once covered Puget Sound. For centuries the Native people annually burned off the area, realizing that meadows are forever transitory and that having such a large open space in a dense forest was a treasure. Plants that grow in meadows are very different from those found in wooded areas, and surely Ms. Louie would have gathered plants and herbs there. The huge meadow also long served as a meeting place for Indians from both sides of the mountains who came to trade things such as herbs native to their homelands. The meadow’s size and fertility weren’t lost on the arriving white settlers either: In the 19th century they arrived and saw it as farmland-ready, wrestling it from the Natives and establishing the “world’s largest hop ranch,” which made many men wealthy nearly overnight. When the hop ranch was functioning (it was in short order wiped out by a blight), there was a Snoqualmie camp set up in the area so that the Indians could labor in the fields (in what many still consider to have been near-enslavement). Marie Louie would have visited with her people in the meadow during that time as well.
Our art installation is spare—an abstract extension of time and place. It consists of 11 tall cedar planks standing upright in a large arc in the meadow with majestic Mount Si looming large behind. About 150 feet away we’ve placed a rock, a large shard that fell off of the nearby Swing Rock, a stone outcropping central to Snoqualmie creation myths. The rock fragment is now in the meadow as a meditation seat. The Salish tribes, including the Snoqualmie, didn’t have names for each month. Instead, they used descriptions signifying important happenings throughout the year: the time of the local salmon run, the time to collect certain berries, etc. Each plank marks one of these events, and we painted each of the cedar planks a color that corresponds with one of these seasonal terms. The uprights also evoke the hop poles that once punctuated the meadow and are shaped in a pattern found on Snoqualmie baskets.
It was the task of an elder, like Ms. Louie, to sit at sunrise and establish if a new season was upon them. The placement of each plank coincides with where the sunrise appears in the meadow at the particular time of year that a noted happening occurs. We invite visitors to sit on the rock, think about Marie Louie’s story and take in the meadow, the cedar uprights and glorious Mount Si. We are hopeful that the installation will help underline an ongoing connection between a people and an extraordinary place that has existed for centuries.
A consortium including King County had the foresight to purchase the Meadowbrook site some years ago. It is now administered by a nonprofit board for the cities of North Bend and Snoqualmie. The project was funded by 4Culture, North Bend, Snoqualmie and the Meadowbrook Farm Association, with much in-kind support also. We received very meaningful moral support from the Snoqualmie Tribe as well.
In the spirit of the seasonal round, the installation is semi-permanent, open at Meadowbrook Farm, North Bend, Washington, in the summer, fall and spring. The Marie Louie Project plans to continue its work next year with an installation at Sammamish Landing Park.