Arts | NW Life | Oregon

Peggy O'Neal & Larry Watson Create Historical Art For Museums

OPB | Feb. 11, 2013 7:15 a.m.

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"Paradise of the Past" / Diorama by Ko-Kwow arts & exhibits

"Paradise of the Past" / Diorama by Ko-Kwow arts & exhibits

Mural by Peggy O'Neal / Umpqua Discovery Center

Native American tribes lived along the Rogue River for thousands of years before European explorers ever ventured into the valley. While they lived simply, the Rogue provided an abundant life for the tribes: fish, game, berries, camas bulbs.

We wanted to tell their story in “River of the Rogues,” a new Oregon Field Guide special. But how do you tell that story without the benefit of photographs?

Fortunately, we found the artwork of Peggy O’Neal. Her work captures the everyday moments for Rogue River Indians, the arrival of the explorers, and the painful exodus as terms of surrender force the tribes to leave their homeland.

O’Neal has spent her career depicting historic settings. She’s done much of her work with tribes, particularly tribes in southern Oregon.

She and her husband, Larry Watson, create fascinating dioramas for museums and interpretive centers. The trees and rocks are life-sized and the pictures are life-like, giving viewers the experience of stepping into another era.

O’Neal and Watson are as much historians as artists. They carefully research the images they portray.

More to Explore: Ko-Kwow Exhibits

Three years ago, O’Neal and Watson partnered with the Coquille Tribe to create Ko-Kwow Arts & Exhibits. They travel the country designing intriguing displays that tell stories.

Right now they’re working at the Jensen Gallery in Hood River telling the story of the fishing tackle company, Luhr Jensen. They’re doing work for the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma and the New River Nature Center near Bandon, Oregon.

In 2001, O’Neal and Watson allowed Art Beat producer Tom D’Antoni behind the scenes as they prepared for the opening of the “Tidewaters and Time” exhibit at the Umpqua Discovery Center. Watch the video below to learn more about O’Neal and Watson’s work.

To learn more about the history of the Rogue River, watch “River of the Rogues,” an Oregon Field Guide special.

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