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The last frontier

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A long winding river that weaves its way through the rugged landscape before pouring into the Pacific Ocean; dense green forests, fed by the many months of rain that this region is known for; cascading waterfalls that spill into hidden gorges, sculpted by the water that flows into them; a range of mountains, majestic and evoking an impressive wild beauty; this is the Pacific Northwest. With images like this it is easy to imagine the wonderment of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as they made their way towards the Pacific Ocean.

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As part of the 2006 bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery – otherwise known as the Lewis and Clark expedition – artist Maya Lin was asked to head up a commemoration project. Collaborating with a group of Pacific Northwest Native Americans and civic groups from both Oregon and Washington, and working with a $27 million budget, Maya Lin set out to design a project that would 'reclaim, transform and re-imagine seven places along the historic Columbia River Basin'. The Confluence Project, as Lin's endeavor is called, is a collection of seven permanent art installations along a 450-mile section of the Columbia River Basin that Lewis and Clark traveled.

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The idea was to evoke the history of the expedition as well as highlight the enormous change that it brought to the Pacific Northwest. As Lin says, 'it is sometimes good to understand what's been lost, what is irrecoverable, what is valuable to us and what we would like to repair.'

That is what makes this project extraordinary; it focuses on a symbiotic relationship between nature and art, in the hopes to 'reflect a consciousness of the tremendous changes set in motion by the Corps of Discovery on the Northwest's native people and environment.'

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Although the bicentennial has passed, the installations remain; reminding us that history is forever part of our surroundings and that we must make an effort to preserve it. Some of the most impressive interpretive artwork can be seen at Cape Disappointment – where Lewis and Clark reached the end of their westward passage – where Lin and her crew restored wetlands and built a massive fish-cleaning table made of polished basalt, native to the region, inscribed with a Chinook legend. AB

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