Frank S. Matsura: Portraits from the Borderland

Exploring indigenous representation through a multi-dimensional lens, portraits by Japanese photographer Frank S. Matsura (1873-1913) alongside period-specific Columbia Plateau regalia detail Matsura’s most culturally significant work against a backdrop of regional transformation.

Available 8-12 weeks

Exhibition Images

  • Frank Sakae Matsura Japanese Charley Leo and Wife 1911

    Frank Sakae Matsura (Japanese, 1873-1913), Charley Leo and Wife, 1911, archival print from gelatin dry plate scan. Okanogan County Historical Society, MATSURA6345. Image courtesy of Okanogan County Historical Society.

  • Frank Sakae Matsura Wapato Smithins Family, c.1903 - c.1913

    Frank Sakae Matsura (Japanese, 1873-1913), Wapato Smithins Family, c.1903 - c.1913, archival print from gelatin dry plate scan. Okanogan County Historical Society, MATSURA6371. Image courtesy of Okanogan County Historical Society.

  • Frank Sakae Matsura Chilliwist Jim (La-ka-kin)

    Frank Sakae Matsura (Japanese, 1873-1913), Chilliwist Jim (La-ka-kin), n.d., archival print from gelatin dry plate scan. Okanogan County Historical Society, MATSURA7329. Image courtesy of Okanogan County Historical Society.

  • Woman’s beaded bag Interior Salish and Sahaptin Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture

    [Woman’s beaded bag, Interior Salish and Sahaptin], c.1900 - c.1925, 11 x 9 ½ in Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, 1780.520. Image courtesy of Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

  • Man’s beaded gauntlet pair Interior Salish and Sahaptin Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture

    [Man’s beaded gauntlet pair, Interior Salish and Sahaptin], c.1900 - c.1925, 13 x 7 in. Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, KNAPP.1981.17. Image courtesy of Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

About the Exhibition

Frank S. Matsura: Portraits from the Borderland spotlights photographs recovered from the studio archive of Washington-based Japanese photographer Frank Sakae Matsura (1873-1913) alongside period-specific American Indian regalia from the Columbia Plateau.

Frank Matsura led an unconventional life, the details of which historians are still compiling from early records. Mysteriously arriving in newly-incorporated Okanogan County, WA from Japan in 1903, Matsura witnessed the architecture of western expansion and the diasporic conditions it created from the perspective of an outsider. Personable, humble, and formally-trained in photographic arts, Matsura became a popular member of the community and many flocked to his studio for portraiture. Hidden among Matsura’s total body of work, ranging from commercial photography to more experimental formats, are some of the most visually potent and nuanced images of Indigenous peoples from the era: conceptually sophisticated and collaborative portraits of individuals and families with whom Matsura maintained trusting relationships.

These photographs capture moments that reveal Syilx (Okanogan) communities effectively adapting to a changing time–a message distinct from many of Matsura’s contemporaries, whose work reinforced erroneous beliefs that Indigenous peoples would soon disappear. Enlivening the images, cultural objects from the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture’s premier American Indian Collection illustrate many of the meaningful items featured in Matsura’s portraiture; they offer a more intimate look at materials and processes containing archives of intergenerational memory.

The exhibition’s four themes: The Myth of the Vanishing Indian, Beauty and Utility, Collapsing Hierarchy, and Geijutsu Shashin (Photographic Art), consider various ways in which Matsura’s artistic legacy challenges colonial stereotypes, unsettles power dynamics in image-making, and fills important gaps in art historical and regional narratives.

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