Uncontroversial Monuments

With today's political climate at high tension I hope to add some glimmer of hope for good news. It's been a couple years in the making now and I am now able to speak about a project that will be ongoing as part of Seattle's waterfront project.

For some time now the city of Seattle has been working on renovating their waterfront and in the process commissioning 6 artists of which I am one. The city put a call out for submissions to have a monumental sculpture that represents the Coast Salish people and specifically recognizing the Puget Sound tribes. 

The project early on called for a totem pole which was quickly changed as totem poles are not customary to the Coast Salish people. Much like the project I was involved in with the city of Tacoma who also sought a totem, the decision was made to create something more customary to the culture and the land. In Tacoma's case, a female welcome figure raised in September 2010.

It seems in recent years I've been more aware of peoples choice of words in radio and television, meaning podcasts and YouTube essentially. This snapshot of pop culture has hipsters donning headdresses in bad taste, the use of the phrase "when we killed all the Indians" as a matter of fact kind of notion in conversation, or "America just doesn't have culture like Europe, we have no culture here". That last one takes the cake with me. I beg to differ and draw the line there. This country is filled with culture in art, language, song and dance with a rich history. It's just undergone many efforts to eradicate but in recent years out of the shadows seeing some appreciation.

Events like the Sante Fe art market, pow wows across the country and Tribal Journey's in the Pacific Northwest showcase a cultural identity that predates the country it's known as today. I am happy and fortunate to live in this time with this opportunity to share a culture through public art and have people know the art tradition is made with intent to honor the land from which it comes from. I believe this comes at an important juncture in our political climate as we revisit the civil rights movement of the 60's with high tension. Where monuments of controversial 'leaders' are in question for what they stand to represent.

With that said it is my honor to share a preview of the figures I will be creating as a permanent installation on the Seattle Waterfront near Piers 62/63 close to the Seattle Aquarium. The intent for the sculpture is to honor the people whose city is named after Chief Sealth. I have chosen to create three figures that represent family. The style is going to be unfamiliar to most but in time I hope that people will see the appeal of this style that has been at times mistaken as originating from Africa, the Pacific Islands or New Guinea

 artist rendering of proposed waterfront figures for Seattle

artist rendering of proposed waterfront figures for Seattle


It has long been a dream of mine to make works that relate to our tribal history and acknowledge the nuances of our sculptural tradition that have been foreign in it's own land. So I am happy to share the preview of renderings that represent figures, not of any one person, not of one tribe but one of an idea of unity and peace. These figures will be carved in western red cedar with heads cast in bronze that sit atop concrete bases. Each base will have elements that reflect aspects of Coast Salish design, carving, painting and weaving. I am hopeful people will come to appreciate the subtle ambiguity of the figures and regard them simply as beings that belong to a place  where the land meets the water and have a long history that can be understood as a harmonious and uncontroversial nature.

Native people have survived many obstacles with attempts to erase them from history. Sealth noted this in his early uncensored speech about questioning the right for his people to simply be as they are. What is perhaps most notable and inspiring to me relating to this undertaking is his words in addressing the notion that Americans at large will think of his people as gone. It seems we are in that place now even though we remain. I am filled with pride knowing the work I will make has a history that the ancestors of the land will relate to and the coming generation will grow up with and bridge that gap as we continue to survive as we always do. O'siem.

Happy International Women's Day

So it's been quite some time and after a few people asking it's never a better time to start a blog than to get behind something dear to my heart. I love the women who have shaped my life in ways I can't even begin to understand but I will try in a brief post for this fine day.

Let's make no qualms with this posting, this is not a countdown in any particular order per say but more of a personal acknowledgment of women I have known and admire for their iniquities unto their own powerful senses that have captured my fascination and  admiration.

Barbara Earl Thomas

Barbara Earl Thomas is a visual artist, a writer, and a community activist with a longstanding record as an arts administrator. She has overseen programs for Seattle’s Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs, Bumbershoot a Seattle Arts Festival, and the Northwest African American Museum where she served as executive director from 2008-2013.

I met Barbara when she was a consulting artist to a small group of artists seeking know how of how to survive the business of art. She opened with a story as a child making art that made her grandmother smile which in turn made her feel good about herself and I was hooked. She was the first woman I met in the art world to mentor with absolute honesty about the day to day reality of being an artist for a profession and all it would entail. She and her work are both powerful as they are captivating.


Clarissa Rizal

Clarissa in Taiwan 2006

Clarissa Rizal was an amazing artist who left us too soon. She was a member of the Tlingit weaving community apprentice of Jennie Thlunaut. Her work in woven material both customary in the way of Robes and regalia were and remain exceptional. Her fearlessness to explore her artistic creative appetite lead to great break throughs and I was ever so fortunate to learn from her openness about that creative process.

Her work is significant to the weaving community and her absence is very much felt in her recent passing but she serves undoubtedly as an inspiration in the legacy she left for us to learn from.


Ramona Bennett 

Ramona Bennett is a member of the Puyallup Tribe. She is one of many tribal members who collectively helped to ensure the rights that so many sacrificed their lives for. Ramona has been an activist for much of her life and a major spearhead in securing fishing rights for the Puget Sound tribes. She continues to be an instrumental figure including the recent need for awareness when it has come to #IdleNoMore and #NoDAPL. I had the pleasure to visit with her at an event hosted in Muckleshoot that acknowledged the warriors who fought to defend the territory and rights of our Native people in which she was acknowledged as a true bearer of the torch in keeping that alive.

Matika Wilbur

 photo by Kevin Gradey

photo by Kevin Gradey

Matika, a Native American woman of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes (Washington), is unique as an artist and social documentarian in Indian Country- The insight, depth, and passion with which she explores the contemporary Native identity and experience are communicated through the impeccable artistry of each of her silver gelatin photographs.

I had the honor and privilege to create the logo for her 562 project that has gained world status acclaim. Her project has a goal to document all Native Nations of the United States in a collective that will give voice that Native people are very much a part of the modern world and will share their stories with a fellow Native citizen that will acknowledge them in a way that perhaps others could not and share that with the world.

susan point

For anyone who ventures or takes interest in Coast Salish art, it's understood it would not be where it is without her high driving ambition to create works of art that carry that heritage. Susan proved that carving is not strictly a mans arena but that she could really dig in and make waves.

arianna lauren

Founder of Quwutsun made Arianna has shown change starts by start up. Although it's only been a short time since she's launched her line of products she's made an impression in her community and has a promising future where the sky is the limit. She's modeled for various designers and continues to explore the creative fields of opportunity as a force of nature and ambition.

Mother, Aunties, sisters, cousins and grandmother

 photo by Steven Miller

photo by Steven Miller

If there were a secret to my success in life and this career I have come into, it wasn't just hard work alone although that was a large part. I learned to work hard from the women who raised me. They have taught me all I know about love, life and forgiveness and understanding. I was blessed in this life to be born into a family and even more so a tribe of strong women leadership that goes back many generations. There are so many women in my family they all know who they are and I've grown up to see them become amazing mothers and at times still have the strength of our grandmother to call me out when I need to be brought in line with our teachings.

It's impossible to capture all the women who have changed the world and continue to so I can only share a snapshot before I lose your attention with what came to mind on this day in March 2017. 

Star Wars, two Native artists and a 'pioneer'

It's has been over a year since this subject was posted on the old version of the blog which had to give way for the new format but this post is important to me. It was about a year ago this time of year I spoke out about the poorly imitated works of my friends Jeffrey Verrege and Andy Everson whose works led a path for someone to come in and lay claims to for namesake.

This makes me think of the many instances a non-Native has 'pioneered' a path guided by Indians and to overlook landscapes and territory unknown to them and say 'look at this place not seen by man before these eyes of mine', shoulders back and chest out. That very notion has become all to familiar to Native people that despite our presence and experiences we have and contribute.

With the latest release of the Star Wars trailer it's no wonder to see postings all over about it and in relation to that I saw some Native individuals post links to Scott Ericksons interview on geekologie, I'm not linking to it but you can search if you like but it outlines him as someone 'pioneering' the meld of modern Sci-fi and Native art.

I took the time last year to do a comparison of my two colleagues works along with approximate release dates of their work along side this pioneer to showcase what does not take a genius to understand. The work called innovative takes a meld of something genuine and makes it into a stick figure version paraded as genius. The concern comes in when realizing how someone can cash in on this when I went to look at all the social linking that was done and the following this guy had on Pinterest alone.


My point in this all is to simply say, support the artists who laid the path for someone to come in after and lay claims to something Native Inspired and I encourage you to visit the artists websites who have given way to much sacrifice to take a leap of faith and explore that new territory.

And don't be afraid to go to geekologie and say something in that thread and be heard.