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.