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Traditions for troubled times

The Contemporary Crafts Gallery has occupied a sunny spot on Southwest Corbett

Avenue for 65 years, gazing at Mount Hood and gradually expanding to reach its current 8,000 square feet.

Filling a good part of that space until April 19 is the work of four sculptors from Alaska and British Columbia Ñ Larry Ahvakana, David Boxley, Ed Archie Noisecat and Art Oomittuk Ñ exhibiting 'Traditions in Cedar: Contemporary Native American Carving.'

Elsewhere in the gallery, Mardi Wood examines her family's relationship with the Nez Perce tribe in a show of her ceramics called 'The Memory of Water.' It also runs until April 19.

And 'Designed by War,' selections from the gallery's permanent collection of 700 artifacts, shows through April 13.

The show of cedar carvings combines tribal mythology from all four artists. Ahvakana is an Inupiaq from Fairbanks, Alaska; Boxley, from Ketchikan, examines Tsimshian legends; Oomittuk, raised in Barrow, is known for his Inupiaq masks; and Noisecat illustrates stories from his parents' tribes, the Shuswap and Stlitlimx of British Columbia.

The four boldly depict animals, fish and other symbols of nature like the sun, moon and stars as well as artifacts from religious ceremonies and the songs and dances that accompany the hunt. The 20 works from the four artists range from masks to free-standing pieces and cost between $300 and $10,000.

Wood is the great-granddaughter of C.E.S. Wood, an Oregon attorney and author who fought in the Nez Perce campaign and befriended Chief Joseph Ñ even translating his well-known 'I Will Fight No More Forever' speech.

Wood's 100 ceramic pieces, ranging from $100 to $2,000, illustrate her family's special relationship with the Nez Perce, including the gift of an Appaloosa stallion to the descendants of Chief Joseph. She's also concerned about the chum salmon, an endangered species that the Nez Perce are trying to restore.

'Designed by War' includes 40 objects that were produced or influenced by the displacement of artists through the wars of the 20th century. A number of works were created by Bauhaus artists driven from Germany by the Nazis in the 1930s. They include Otto and Gertrude Natzler, who established a studio in Portland, and Francis Senska, who started the pottery school at the University of Montana in Missoula.

The oldest piece on show is a 1939 bowl made by Greg Luykens, the artist who created the first mechanized potter's wheel, says curator William Henning.

'The idea behind a powered wheel was so that World War I veterans who had leg injuries could also study pottery as therapy,' he says.

When U-boats cut off the supply of craft imports from Europe in the 1940s, 65 American artists filled the gap with work called American Way and sold through Meier & Frank, Macy's and Gimbels. Many of the artists were women, producing work because their husbands, boyfriends and sons were at war.