Grant from Idaho Humanities Council will fund Chinese Beuk Aie temple film project
The Center for Arts & History at Lewis-Clark State College has announced an award of $3,000 from the Idaho Humanities Council for the making of a short film by Patricia Keith about Lewiston's Chinese Beuk Aie temple.
Until her retirement two years ago, Keith taught literature, composition, script writing, and video production at the college. With LCSC Communications Arts Professor Sean Cassidy, she has completed two full-length documentaries, one on Burma and one on Tibet, and with anthropologist Suzanne Morrisey a 35-minute documentary set in Ecuador. She has also recorded a 3-DVD set that documents the 2012 Chinese Remembering conference, including the placing of a memorial stone at Chinese Massacre Cove in Hells Canyon.
"I’m really looking forward to working with Chuimei and Priscilla," Keith said recently after receiving news of the award. She was referring to two of her principal consultants on the film - scholars Chuimei Ho of Bainbridge Island, Washington, and Priscilla Wegars of Moscow, Idaho. "Yes, they know the history of the Chinese in this area," she conceded, "but they also feel the history. It's the feeling that I hope this documentary can communicate; it's the feeling, I think, that has motivated Chuimei, Priscilla, and many others not only to preserve the objects from Lewiston's Chinese temple but also to try very hard to understand their meaning, their significance for us all."
Scholar Chuimei Ho has recently pioneered scholarship that appears to link artifacts associated with the 1890 rebuilding of the temple to the 1887 massacre of Chinese by whites in Hells Canyon. As a scholar, Priscilla Wegars served as a consultant in the original effort to preserve the temple and its artifacts spearheaded by former state representative Deanna Vickers, former Lewiston Tribune publisher Butch Alford, and the late Gorden Lee. Lee, a high school classmate of Alford's, lived in Lewiston from 1948 - 1963 and was one of the last people who could trace his membership in the Beuk Aie Temple Society back to the society's founding in 1865.
The Project Director for the grant, LCSC Director of Continuing Education and Community Events Debi Fitzgerald, acknowledged that it was Deanna Vickers, the wife of former LCSC President Lee Vickers, who initiated the restoration of the temple and its major artifacts back in the early 1990s - and quite possibly rescued them from oblivion.
The temple, first built prior to being destroyed by fire in 1875, rebuilt the same year, and relocated and rebuilt again in 1890 in the area where the Lewiston Tribune buildings now stand, had been demolished in 1961 and its precious altar removed to a locked stone house where Vickers and others "rediscovered" them. The altar and major artifacts associated with the temple, including exquisite hanging lamps, deity and gratitude plaques, donor boards, and altar sets, were subsequently removed from storage and then laboriously and meticulously cleaned and restored by a small group of trained volunteers. The artifacts were then curated and put on display in a series of permanent exhibits that opened to the public at the Center for Arts & History in October of 1994.
Kathy Martin, LCSC Dean for Community Programs & Governmental Affairs, observed that the original restoration project was funded with $25,000 in grants, $15,000 of which came from the Idaho Humanities Council.
"The artifacts are priceless," Martin noted, "and they have had a remarkable history that deserves to be shared and appreciated. I’m confident that Patricia’s film is going to help us in that effort."
Some of that history, of course, is as recent as March of 2009, when a fire struck the Center for Arts & History building at 415 Main Street, forcing the removal of the entire Beuk Aie Temple Collection from what is believed to be the oldest standing brick structure in the city.
"We’re very grateful, of course, to all our patrons," Martin added, "including the National Endowment for the Humanities, Idaho Heritage Trust, and the Lewis-Clark State College Foundation. Without help from them all, we would probably never be able to reopen the exhibits in time to help celebrate the Sesquicentennial of Idaho Territory, which is what we plan to do. With the Idaho Humanities Council grant and Patricia’s film, I'm optimistic that we can expand our audience. We’re very grateful."