The King County Public Art Collection features a wealth of work by Indigenous artists who carry forward the cultures of First Peoples.
Among the wetlands and woods that surround Brightwater, at Delta Pond near Little Bear Creek, Andrea Wilbur-Sigo’s Grandfather’s Wisdom reflects the history and culture of the region’s First People. Twenty upright cedar paddles flank the front frame of a longhouse, “a modern view of what a longhouse would look like standing in a place that it’s highly likely one might have been,” Wilbur-Sigo said when the work was created in 2012. Unfortunately, after a decade in the elements, the longhouse had weathered—so 4Culture contracted Wilbur-Sigo to restore it. As of this month, her work is complete and Grandfather’s Widom is as clean and crisp as ever.
Wilbur-Sigo is a member of the Squaxin Island Tribe, and descendant of the Skokomish Tribe and many other tribes of Puget Sound; she is also the first known woman carver in her family of carvers and a longtime advocate for Coast Salish traditions. For Grandfather’s Widom—her first-ever permanent public artwork—she used symbols that hold great meaning for all Puget Sound tribes: the Killer Whale, Octopus, and Thunderbird, all of them rendered in the crescents, trigons, wedges, and circles that define Salish style.
The King County Public Art Collection (KCPAC) includes a wide variety of works that celebrate Indigenous artists and cultural traditions—from Coast Salish to other Pacific Northwest First Nations and beyond. These artworks share stories and values, honor Indigenous stewardship of this land, and lift up Native artforms themselves, which continue to be passed on from one generation to the next—preserved despite the genocide and assimilation that could have extinguished them. Today’s artists both carry and evolve these traditions.
The collection’s works by Indigenous artists range from traditional to modern using many different materials. For example, Preston Singletary (Tlingit) fuses contemporary blown and carved glass, cast lead crystal, and bronze with Northwest Native themes and designs. The KCPAC includes several of his artworks from various stages of his career in its portable holdings, including Killer Whale Totem and Hyacinth Medicine Amulet. Susan Point, a descendant of the Musqueam people, focuses on Coast Salish traditions. Among her pieces in the county’s collection: a set of six carved cedar panels on the Green River Trail that share the legend of the Northwind Fishing Weir as well as a relief mural and gate design featuring Coash Salish iconography at the West Seattle Pump Station.
Singletary and Point also both have works on view at Harborview Medical Center, as do a number of Indigenous artists, including Dempsey Bob (Tahltan, Tlingit), who currently has a major retrospective on view at Montreal Museum Of Fine Arts, and Connie Watts (Nuu-chah-nulth, Gitxsan, Kwakwaka’wakw), whose Vereinigung hangs from the ceiling of the main lobby of the Ninth and Jefferson Building.
For more artworks that tell Native stories, check out Eagle by celebrated Indigenous sculptor Marvin Oliver (Quinault, Isleta-Pueblo) or a pair of totems by David Boxley (Ts’msyan) that depict his culture’s Beaver and Salmon legends. (A master carver, Boxley also hosted one of the first potlatches in the region since they were outlawed in in 19th century.) A series of petroglyphs by Roger Fernandes (Klallam) on the Green River Trail illustrate a Duwamish ceremony.
The pieces above reflect just a small portion of the KCPAC’s works by Indigenous artists—and 4Culture is consistently adding more. Through our Curator’s Choice program, we recently acquired a beaded bag by Denise Emerson (Skokomish, Navajo), and a new sculpture by Michael Halady (Duwamish) debuted last month at the King County International Airport. Meanwhile, RYAN! Feddersen (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation) is working on a RapidRide commission; Timothy White Eagle (mixed-race Indigenous American) is devising a piece for the West Duwamish Wet Weather Storage Facility; and the forthcoming South County Recycling and Transfer Station will welcome two new artworks featuring the Sun, Moon, Frog, and Heron by Muckleshoot Indian Tribe Cultural Division artists Keith Stevenson, Tyson Simmons, and Sam Obrovac.
4Culture is honored to support these artists and many others through our commissions and acquisitions, and we are constantly exploring how we can do more for Indigenous communities. As you look for ways to mark Indigenous Peoples Day this month, we hope you will seek out some of these remarkable artworks.