Interdisciplinary artist looks to her roots for inspiration
In many ways, CIRI shareholder Storme Webber defies categorization. A mixed-race woman of Aleut, African-American and Choctaw descent, she is a poet, playwright, educator and interdisciplinary artist. Her artistic works combine images, music, theater and writing to explore issues of race, class, gender and sexuality.
Born and raised in Seattle, Webber credits her maternal grandmother, who hailed from Seldovia, Alaska, for starting her “on the road of life.” Maxine Webber moved from Seldovia to Seattle in 1929, when she was eight years old. “It’s kind of a Native tradition anyway, but she took the main part of raising me,” Webber said. “She taught me to read before I went to school – she encouraged and supported it. She was very creative; she loved beautiful music. She played Billie Holiday, Dakota Staton, Ray Charles; she would sing and encourage me to do this. That got me started loving the creative arts. She would tell me stories about Seldovia. She used to say, ‘Honey, I was the only blonde Indian in Seldovia.’”
Webber entered the foster care system at age 11. “I left home by my own choice; there was a lot of drama in my family,” she said. “But I would say the love my grandmother showed me – her love of beauty, her creativity, and also her spiritual nature… affected me the most deeply of all.”
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Storme Webber describes herself as an in-between person. “Born into a crossing-over place where Indigenous met African met Texan met Alaska Native,” Webber writes in the introduction of her collection of poetry called Blues Divine. This African American, Native American and Alaska Native artist is being recognized for giving a voice to the marginalized. And it’s that voice that sets Storme apart.
A public school student, Webber was “blessed” to attend a summer program at Lakeside School, a private institution for youth in grades 5 to 12 that counts among its alumni Microsoft co-founders Paul Allen and Bill Gates. After two years in the summer program, she received an academic scholarship that enabled her to attend the school full time.
“If my grandmother had not taught me to read at such a young age, had not spoken to me as an adult and used the most incredibly beautiful and creative language, exposed me to music, I could not have met that blessing,” Webber said.
After graduating Lakeside in 1977, Webber enrolled in college at the New School in New York City.
Growing up, Webber said she was aware of CIRI “from a distance.”
“I never became as involved [with CIRI] as I have been since inheriting the shares myself,” she said. “Before I inherited the shares, though, I would say that CIRI supported me. When I went back to get my bachelor’s degree, that support was really important and encouraged me a great deal.”
Webber’s work as an artist involves many different mediums. Blues Divine, an ancestral mix tape and tribute, consists of a book of poems and accompanying soundtrack/audio book spoken in Webber’s own voice. Noirish Lesbiana utilizes video, live performance and music, visual arts, archival photographs and experimental poetry/song hybrid recordings to tell hidden tales of Seattle’s diverse LGBT culture.
In recognition of her work as an artist, Webber recently received a James W. Ray Venture Project Award. Two $15,000 awards are given to Washington State artists of any discipline whose work demonstrates exceptional originality.
In addition to her work as an artist, Webber teaches creative writing at the University of Washington. She said inspiring and supporting young people is “the best thing I could ever do.”
“I know what it is to be young and in trouble and to feel lost and that you don’t have a place in the world,” Webber said. “I hope I can be an example the ways my grandmother was, because she wasn’t afraid of anything. And people could look at her and say, ‘Who is she? She has nothing,’ but she had such a heart. I think about my ancestors, and especially my relatives I grew up with, and I just think my life is so blessed. No matter what happens to me or what has happened to me, I’ve been so blessed – they never had the opportunities that we had, and they did so much with what they had, and I just love them.”
A multidisciplinary exhibit of Webber’s artwork will be on display in 2017 at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle. For information about Storme Webber and her work, visit www.stormewebber.com.