Jim Bergeron - Biography

I grew up on a small farm in north central Minnesota in the inside of the curve of a question mark made by the upper Mississippi River. I often say that it was North, East, South and West of the Mississippi River. It is a land of lakes, streams, and swamps. It was lived on by many Native American tribes, most recently by the woodland Sioux and now by the Chippewa. It is a unique place as it is touched by the prairies, the northern woodlands, and eastern forests. The great animal and plant diversity attracted primitive people.

A large percentage of the students of the high school I attended were Native American It was not unusual to hear Chippewa spoken on the sidewalks of Cass Lake. There were stories of former Indian villages, mounds, and finds of artifacts along the shores of the rivers and lakes near where I grew up. As I listened to the stories and read histories I became fascinated with the technology that was used by primitive people to live off the land. I soon learned to make stone tools. Our life on a small farm also brought to me many of the skills that come with living off the land.

After finishing graduate school in Oregon I went to work in Astoria, Oregon. Astoria is at the mouth of the Columbia River and the home of the Chinook Indians. They are often considered part of the Northwest Coast Culture. I had become interested in woodcarving and the people of the Northwest Coast were magnificent woodworkers, often using woods that we do not use today and in ways that have almost been lost. I began to acquire books about Northwest Coast Indian Culture.

I began teaching Oceanographic Technology in a small college. One of the courses of study was commercial fishing. After the first year I was asked to explore setting up a two year course in commercial fishing. I did so working with local fishermen. After a few years I quit and went fishing commercially. When the fellow I was fishing with died I returned to academics and spent a year in Kodiak, Alaska teaching some aspects of fishery oceanography. While there I took a class in woodcarving which gave me the basics of carving and of Northwest Coast art.

When I returned to Astoria I was employed by Oregon State University as a Sea Grant Marine extension Agent. That job enabled me to set up various seminars and classes. One was a two week class in Northwest Coast Art taught by Douglas Granum through Portland State University. Douglas is a gifted teacher and artist. The classes ran for two weeks each summer and continued for ten years. I began as a student and moved up to more of an assistant, especially in obtaining materials and tools. During the classes I made the acquaintance of many area carvers and completed projects including masks, totem poles, bentwood boxes, drums, bowls, and various tools. Douglas also showed many finished projects that he had completed and his extensive collection of slides, many of which I have copied. My library now contains more than 250 books and pamphlets on Northwest Coast Indians.

When I returned from Alaska I began teaching woodcarving at Clatsop Community College evenings during the winter. All classes were beginning woodcarving classes. As my own experience increased I began teaching more advanced classes. While working at OSU I taught basic woodcarving, Northwest Coast style; bentwood box making; Adze and crooked knife making; and design. I have also taught the construction of various Indian fishing gears using Hilary Stewart’s book “Indian Fishing”. I have recently been doing classes at The Sitka Center, a non-profit art and environmental center on the central Oregon Coast. I do hour long talks on Northwest Coast art and the technology of the Northwest Coast Indians. During the winter of 2003 I finished a number of pieces in the Chinook style for the Clatsop County Historical society. I spoke recently on the ways Northwest Coast Indians used wood to the Society of American Foresters. These talks are enhanced with many examples of art objects and tools.