With an installation called "Coyote Now!" Seattle artist Ryan Feddersen has taken the mischievous mythological figure of Coyote and transported him to Missoula. She re-imagines him as the creator of Missoula's famous peace sign, which was painted illegally between 1983 and 2001 on a 30-foot-high telecommunications reflector panel that overlooked the valley from the North Hills. (Each time U.S. West, the company that owned the panel, painted over it, someone would repaint it under the cover of night.)
On a wall inside the Missoula Art Museum, Feddersen's large-scale coloring book pages depict Coyote masterminding the act of rebellion.
"Since the painter was anonymous, I decided it could have been Coyote," Feddersen says. "First we see Coyote the artist in his studio surrounded by anti-war propaganda posters. Inspired, he thinks of a peace sign, which we see him clandestinely graffiti at night, and then we see the final image of the peace sign on the hill."
Next to the pages on the wall is a bowl of crayons, which Feddersen carved into the shapes of small coyote bones. Museum-goers are encouraged to use the crayons to color the pictures—a symbolic act meant to reference stories in which Coyote dies due to some act of mischief and is resurrected when a fox jumps over his bones three times.
"Coyote Now!" is one of four installations Feddersen made for her MAM exhibit, Resistance. In another piece, "Unveiling the Romantic West," she's created images based on Edgar Paxson's Missoula courthouse murals. They appear to be straightforward depictions of the Lewis and Clark story done in black ink, but the ink is thermochromic, which means if you hold your hand against it long enough it disappears to reveal other images beneath it. The hidden layer shows things that were particularly important to Native Americans: bitterroot plants for medicine and the Buffalo Road on which they traveled.
- A panel from Ryan Feddersen’s installation “Coyote Now!” shows Coyote camping out in the mountains.
"I wanted to take these artificial, romanticized paintings that are very much presenting one version of history and bring in elements that remind people there's a lot more to this story, and if you dig for them you can find them," she says.
Feddersen grew up in Wenatchee, Washington, and is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (her uncle, Joe Feddersen, is a notable Native American artist). Resistance is about resource policy and how it has assumed the exclusion of Native American people, but it's also an obvious reaction to current politics surrounding Standing Rock and the Trump administration. The installation "Martha Stewart Cocktails" is a feminist piece that shapes felt and bottles to look like Molotov cocktails. "I used felt because it's soft, as a symbol of feminine, and made it into an image of violence and rebellion," she says. "It's looking at feminism as one of the acts of resistance."
The interactive part of the exhibit—thermo ink and coloring—allows viewers to engage with the work. And participation by both artists and viewers, Feddersen says, is what any good resistance movement needs.
"It's been exciting to see people start to get hungry for it," she says. " I'm encouraged by the fact that a lot of artists are seeing this time as a call to action. At some point, everybody makes a decision about how and when they want to make an impact in the worldand for a lot of people it's now."