This refers to a PREVIOUS SW, held Saturday, February 1, 2020
Please see this page for the most recent Sound Waters University information
A.3 Coast Salish Public Art: Themes and Issues Visible on Ancestral Lands Crisca Bierwert

Map of Coast Salish Art in King County: detail and locationCoast Salish art works include numerous design and thematic traditions from the southern to northern reaches of the Salish Sea. Many Coast Salish artists are able to be very productive today, including more than a dozen who have produced large scale works that are visible to the off-reservation general public, as well as major works that are installed on reservations. Most of these works are on Coast Salish ancestral lands.

Coast Salish design traditions differ from others of the Pacific Northwest, such as the work by artists from northern Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida Gwaii First Nations. This course will clarify these distinctions and go over some of the historic differences among Coast Salish art traditions as a basis for knowing more about contemporary Coast Salish art. There will be some discussion of ways that contemporary artists are drawing on traditions, on their innovations, and what they have to say about these historic and cultural dynamics. Are totem poles a Coast Salish tradition? Do figures on Coast Salish art represent clans, or other family symbols? Why are contemporary artists using glass and metal, and how do some artists discuss this?

The course today derives from the work that Crisca Bierwert has done, in collaboration with contemporary Coast Salish artists, to create a website that maps the public art works in King County that have been created by artists of Coast Salish descent. The website celebrates Coast Salish art on Coast Salish lands, and the comments about the art come from the artists themselves. It is a resource for educators and a wider public, with background information on Coast Salish history and recent art history also provided. The course will go over the information given by the artists, as well as sharing the powerful images they provided for the website.

The recent history of Coast Salish art is evident in the artists’ bios, which recognize the skills they learned from elders who kept traditions going through decades of suppression. Other themes come up when you look at various kinds of artistic work. Themes identified include Welcome, Orcas, Salmon, Sovereignty, Legends, Weaving, Ancestors, Social Action, Tribal Canoe Journey, and Art-Making. The course presentation will include quotes from the artists in each of these categories, and opportunities for participants to explore these and other statements on their own. Many of these themes involve resources from the ocean and rivers, and several artists are clearly activists in addressing the importance of sustaining resources. Of particular note are examples of social action, since public gatherings are forms of performance art that are intrinsic to Coast Salish traditions. One such tradition and innovation the work by Lummi Jewell James, whose Totem Pole Journeys engage a continental public in issues of fossil fuel production, and in the cause of Tokitae, the orca captured in 1970 and held at the Miami Seaquarium. Much other social action is undertaken by community groups, and some of these will be reviewed as well. See,, and