The Columbia River flows for over 1,200 miles, born free in the cradle of the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia. From its humble beginnings from a tiny spring you can straddle, to a two mile wide confluence with the Pacific Ocean, the river flowed for thousands of years in a natural state of astounding beauty. It was also the place of a miraculous ancient migration of Pacific salmon that came all the way home to the headwaters in Canada.
In this new original exhibition, “The Columbia River: From Source to Sea,” Hood River photographer Peter Marbach shares his decade-long odyssey to document the sacred landscapes and the people of the entire river. The exhibition opens on Friday at the Oregon Historical Society (1200 SW Park Ave., Portland) and is on view through April 1.
“I am forever grateful to the overwhelming support I received from individuals and businesses from the Gorge area to help bring this dream to fruition,” said Marbach. “This is just the beginning of an ongoing effort, through lectures and an eventual book, to educate the public about the Columbia River Treaty negotiations underway, and the once in a generation chance to bring back the ancient salmon runs all the way to the headwaters.”
When asked about the process of creating this exhibit, Marbach said, “It was a challenge to sort through all the work I have created for this exhibit. It is a vast, diverse river with so many distinct features and people who have inspired me with their stories. Ultimately, it came down to which images best represented the essence of the project and help illuminate the larger story of preserving this great river and taking steps toward restoring ancient salmons runs.”
One striking image featured in the show is a self-portrait of the artist (on page A1). “In December 2015, I drove the 15 hours to the headwaters region in search of the true source of the river,” said Marbach. “It was bitter cold but I was determined to stay until finding it. I trudged through a mile of frozen marsh following a creek that was continually narrowing until I found the spot where the water bubbles up from an underground spring. I was overjoyed to stand there and straddle the headwaters! But it took two hours to create a self- portrait, waiting for a brief moment of sunlight to illuminate the moment of discovery.
The exhibit will include a blend of riverscapes, wildlife, and portraits of people who live along the Columbia, showcasing the beauty, culture, and geographic diversity of Nch I Wana – The Big River.
“Having lived along the Columbia for more than twenty years, I have a deep respect and connection to this sacred river,” said Marbach. “This project only enhanced that connection, especially getting to know the wild and free section of the Columbia in British Columbia. Cradled between the Rocky Mountains and the Purcell Range, the unspeakable beauty fired my imagination to wonder what it must have been like before the era of dams when fish used to migrate all the way, some 1200 miles from the Pacific to the headwaters.”
The Oregon Historical Society’s museum (1200 SW Park Avenue, Portland) is open seven days a week, Monday – Saturday from 10am – 5pm and Sunday from 12pm – 5pm. Admission is $11, and discounts are available for students, seniors, and youth. Admission is free for OHS members and Multnomah County residents thanks to the renewal of the Oregon Historical Society levy.
For more than a century, the Oregon Historical Society has served as the state’s collective memory, preserving a vast collection of artifacts, photographs, maps, manuscript materials, books, films, and oral histories. Our research library, museum, digital platforms & website (www.ohs.org), educational programming, and historical journal make Oregon’s history open and accessible to all.
We exist because history is powerful, and because a history as deep and rich as Oregon’s cannot be contained within a single story or point of view.