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Suquamish carvings bring new life to Princess Angeline
SUQUAMISH — The woman in the photographs doesn’t look like a princess.
Her face is sharp and furrowed, her keen eyes rendered lifeless in black and white. The photographs show a once-spry woman worn down by time and hard work.
This is how most Northwesterners know Princess Angeline, eldest daughter of Chief Seattle — through the famed portraits by Edward Curtis and stories of her hard-scrabble life on Elliott Bay.
A new art installation in Suquamish will bring a very different woman into focus. The three-paneled cedar carving, to be unveiled during the 100th anniversary of Chief Seattle Days on Saturday, depicts Angeline clamming as a youth, tending to a child in the strength of her middle age and, finally, passing from her life in a dugout canoe.
Master carver George David found the Angeline who had been missing in black and white, said Peg Deam, a Suquamish Tribal Elder who will bless the carvings Saturday.
“Let’s pull her into the real world, of being a mom, being a teacher, someone digging clams,” Deam said. “That was her day.”
The panels will be raised at the south entrance of Angeline Park, beneath two cedar trees. The tiny county park was, not long ago, a patch of blackberries. Volunteer labor transformed it into a lively neighborhood playground in recent years, but the Suquamish Garden Club still felt it needed a more welcoming entrance, said club member Beth Soukup.
Soukup worked with Deam to find a carver for the project. Deam enlisted David, a member of Vancouver Island’s Naa-Chah-Nuth tribe, and an expert in Salish art who crafted the canoes for Chief Seattle’s gravesite. David was working in Neah Bay this week and was unavailable by phone.
David developed the vision of a three-paneled storyboard that would bring Angeline to life for park visitors.
The Garden Club raised $14,000 to pay for the project. About half came from the Suquamish Tribe’s Appendix X fund and Port Madison Enterprises, the rest from private donors.
“The native and non-native community tends to live parallel lives,” Soukup said. “This was a chance to help change that.”
David went to work on the cedar panels eight months ago in a borrowed Port Orchard studio. First, he had to find the woman behind the portraits.
Before Angeline became Angeline, she was called Kikisoblu, the eldest daughter of Chief Seattle, a leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes. She was born in the 1820s and it’s likely she was born in the massive Old Man House on the shores of present day Suquamish, said Suquamish Museum director Marylin Jones. No one knows for sure.
Stories about Angeline’s life abound. Some are true.
According to popular accounts, Angeline married a Skagit chief named Dokub Cud but was soon widowed. She was actually married twice, according to Suquamish Museum records, but the museum doesn’t release genealogical information to the public, Jones said.
Angeline made friends among the founding families of the city of Seattle, including Doc and Catherine Maynard. It was Catherine who decided Kikisoblu was too ungainly a name for the handsome daughter of Seattle. She chose the name Princess Angeline.
Angeline moved between worlds. She likely kept three homes, Jones said — one amid the bustle of early Seattle, one on Bainbridge Island and one in Suquamish, where she gathered shellfish. When the Suquamish and Duwamish were ordered to move permanently to the Port Madison Reservation, Angeline refused.
Instead Princess Angeline became a fixture on the streets of Seattle. She sold baskets on corners and did laundry for pioneer families. Photographer Edward Curtis found her regal face a perfect subject and the portraits he took of Angeline appeared on postcards and in magazines across the country.
Angeline lived to see Chief Seattle die in 1866 and the Old Man House burned by the U.S. government in 1870.
When she died in 1896, Angeline’s friends buried her on Capitol Hill, across the Sound from her father’s resting place in Suquamish.
A life in cedar
George David’s task was to retell Angeline’s story across three, seven-foot-tall cedar panels.
The scenes he chose are simple but full of symbology. In the center panel, Angeline tneds to a child. Her shawl wraps around his shoulders, relating her simple warmth. The carvings illuminate Angeline in a way the photographs could not.
“David has really brought her much closer to us,” Deam said.