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The Office of Arts & Culture mourns the passing of Seattle artist Marvin Oliver

The Office of Arts & Culture notes with sadness the death of Marvin Oliver, who passed away July 17, 2019 at age 73. Oliver, of Quinault and Isleta-Pueblo ancestry, reflected in his art his Indigenous heritage, melding various artistic traditions in both large scale sculptural work and colorful prints. He is considered one of the regions’ foremost sculptors and printmakers, whose work influenced the direction of contemporary Indigenous art. His prints, masks, carvings and designs fuse ancient forms with modern aesthetics. Oliver was a mentor to many other artists and was professor emeritus at the University of Washington. His artworks can be found at institutions throughout Seattle, including the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s, and in its sister city, Perugia, Italy; he has exhibited his work across the country and the world.

The city of Seattle is fortunate to include 11 artworks by Oliver in its art collection. His prints, that are displayed throughout city offices, are extremely popular with city employees and the 40th floor of Seattle Municipal Tower – which functions as a sky lobby and holds many city conference rooms – features integrated panels that remind the viewer that the city is built on traditional Indigenous territory. More visible publicly are The Spirit of Washington, a sculpture in Columbia City, and A Salish Welcome, along the Ship Canal at Salmon Bay. The latter project was supported in part by local community group Groundswell NW through a Department of Neighborhoods Matching Fund Grant; the desire was to acknowledge the original inhabitants along the city’s waterways. A traditional welcome figure is rendered in bronze and holds a colorful glass panel that represents a salmon egg; this project is an example of the artist’s fusing of traditional and contemporary forms.

Known affectionately in the Indigenous community as “Uncle Marvin,” Oliver supported younger artists developing their practice. ARTS’ project manager Jason Huff, who worked with Oliver on { A Salish Welcome describes, ”Working with Marvin on A Salish Welcome was an eye-opening experience that became much more than a public art project for me. Our time working together was like a private class in Coast Salish art and cultural history, and a view into his creative process. I feel honored to have had the privilege to work closely with him and absorb his wisdom.”

Oliver’s artworks serve as a reminder of the cultural heritage of the region, as well as a lasting remembrance of a generous and respected artist.

Images: A Salish Welcome, 2010 (Seattle Public Utilities 1% for Art)  and Midnight Rider, 2006 (Seattle City Light 1% for Art)