Shaun Peterson, Puyallup, Tapped to Make Public Art on Seattle Waterfront

The 'Welcome Figure,' spuy'elepebS near Tollefson Plaza, Tacoma, Washington, created by Shaun Peterson.
The ‘Welcome Figure,’ spuy’elepebS near Tollefson Plaza, Tacoma, Washington, created by Shaun Peterson.


Indian Country Today


Shaun Peterson, Puyallup, has been selected for a commission on the Seattle Waterfront. Peterson’s art is a showcase of Coast Salish traditions for the modern world, and he’s experienced in creating public installations. After the announcement, he took to his blog at

I wouldn’t have foreseen this coming if you had asked me but it is here and it is now. I hope to make the most of this opportunity and showcase that Coast Salish culture is alive and well. That it is deserving of the land on which it comes from and that it will, as all art does, adapt to the world around it and will continue to thrive as long as the people exist in its region. As Chief Sealth once said long, when people believe our people have vanished we will be among you… something like that, I’m paraphrasing of course but the gist is, my art and others of Coast Salish heritage are making public works that will continue to be standing long after we have gone, and there is something to say for that. Today, I am overjoyed with the task ahead of me.

Below are a video portrait of Peterson, examples of his public art, and the full press release from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture:

Artist biography Qwalsius – Shaun Peterson from Shaun Peterson on Vimeo.


Salmon Continuum Bus Shelter, Tacoma Washington, by Shaun Peterson
Salmon Continuum Bus Shelter, Tacoma Washington, by Shaun Peterson



Welcome Figure, spuy'elepebS near Tollefson Plaza, Tacoma, Washington, by Shaun Peterson.
Welcome Figure, spuy’elepebS near Tollefson Plaza, Tacoma, Washington, by Shaun Peterson.



Welcome Figure (night), spuy'elepebS near Tollefson Plaza, Tacoma, Washington, by Shaun Peterson.
Welcome Figure (night), spuy’elepebS near Tollefson Plaza, Tacoma, Washington, by Shaun Peterson.



Killer Whale (Aluminum), Puyallup Tribal Health Authority, Tacoma, Washington, by Shaun Peterson.
Killer Whale (Aluminum), Puyallup Tribal Health Authority, Tacoma, Washington, by Shaun Peterson.



From the Natural World, Puyallup Tribe Elders Building, Tacoma, Washingto, by Shaun Peterson.
From the Natural World, Puyallup Tribe Elders Building, Tacoma, Washingto, by Shaun Peterson.



SEATTLE (March 25, 2015) — The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture is pleased to announce that artist Shaun Peterson, of Milton, WA, has been selected for a commission on the Seattle Waterfront. Peterson is a pivotal figure in contemporary Coast Salish art traditions, and is a member of the Puyallup tribe. He has major installations throughout the Northwest, ranging from works created in wood, glass and metal.

“This is an historic opportunity to have an artwork by a Native artist on our Waterfront,” says Mayor Murray. “Peterson’s artwork will be a tribute to the cultural significance of the waterfront to the Coast Salish first peoples and our city. The waterfront will finally reflect the origins of our vibrant City and also the many peoples who made this region what it is today—one of the fastest growing in the nation.”

This commission, undertaken in partnership with the Office of the Waterfront and Seattle Department of Transportation, sought an artist to create an artwork that recognizes the tribal peoples of this regionfor Seattle’s Central Waterfront project. Peterson will work with the city and its design team to develop a site-specific artwork or artist designed space that reflects the Coast Salish tribes that have a historic connection to this territory. The budget for the project, inclusive of artist fees, is $250,000.

“Seattle is named after our Coast Salish Chief, and in honor of that I hope that my work will demonstrate that Native art is not static,” says Peterson. “Our people are part of this land and its history, but most importantly we are part of the present. The art I create will aim to communicate that, and in the process, create space for dialogue.”

“Shaun’s work embraces new interpretations of traditional designs, and his facility in blending both the traditional tribal art forms along with contemporary elements and materials makes him the ideal artist to envision the Coast Salish presence on the waterfront,” says Ruri Yampolsky, Public Art Program Director. “We are incredibly excited to have Peterson create a permanent artwork that will be reflective of the Coast Salish peoples and the region.”

Waterfront Seattle is the large-scale project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with 26 acres of new public space, streets, parks, and buildings. The public piers will be rebuilt as part of the Seawall Bond passed by voters in 2012. Peterson’s first major public installation was a 37 foot story pole for Chief Leschi School in 1996; it was quickly followed by commissions in Tacoma and Seattle, Washington.  He continues to explore the future possibilities of indigenous art traditions.

Peterson joins artists Cedric Bomford, Ann Hamilton, Norie Sato, Buster Simpson, Oscar Tuazon and Stephen Vitiello in creating a permanent artwork which will transform the waterfront. This roster of diverse artists will help to create a sense of place on the renewed waterfront that will act as an invitation to residents and visitors alike.

About Shaun Peterson
Shaun Peterson is a pivotal figure in the revival of Coast Salish art traditions. An enrolled member of the Puyallup tribe, and also affiliated with the Tulalip tribe, Peterson carries the name Qwalsius, originally carried by his great grandfather, Lawrence Williams. The name has been translated in two possible meanings as the Lushootseed language spoken by many Western Washington tribes has become scarce. The first translation is “Painted Face” and the second is “Traveling to the face of Enlightenment.”

Peterson is a Native American artist producing work that is a continuation of the ancient art of the Northwest Coast first peoples. While knowledgeable and invested in diverse tribal styles and applications, his focus and expertise is the art of the Southern regions that encompass the many tribes of Western Washington and Southern British Columbia known as Salish territory. Shaun’s artistic career began under the guidance of key mentors in the field of Northwest Coast art including master artists Steve Brown, Greg Colfax (Makah), George David (Nuu-chah-nulth), and Loren White.

Selection panel members and advisors:

Tina Jackson, Cultural Activities Coordinator/ Kate Ahvakana, Suquamish Tribe
Barbara Brotherton, curator of Native American Art, Seattle Art Museum
Patti Gobin, Tulalip Tribes
Candice Hopkins, curator, University of New Mexico, Carcross/Tagish
Warren KingGeorge, historian, Muckleshoot Tribe
Cary Moon, urban designer
Eric Robertson, artist, Métis/Gitksan

Heather Johnson-Jock, artist and Tribal Council Secretary, S’Klallam Tribe
Guy Michaelson, Berger Partnership
Steve Pearce, Office of the Waterfront
Tracy Rector, Seattle Art Commission
Denise Stiffarm, Urban Indians, Gros Ventre (A’aninin/White Clay)
Ken Workman, Duwamish Tribe
Nicole Willis, Tribal Relations Director, Office of Intergovernmental Relations

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Our Plants Are Our Medicine

 Hibulb’s Rediscovery Program offers new gardening class to connect Tulalip’s ancestors




By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

The Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve’s Rediscovery Program is offering Tulalip tribal members an exciting new class to reconnect with their traditional culture. The class is part of a series of classes entitled ‘Native Plants and Medicinal Herbs’ that will be ongoing during the traditional harvesting season, early spring to late fall. The series of classes will focus on teaching tribal members how to collect, garden, harvest, and process native plants and herbs that are indigenous to the Tulalip region. The first of a full series of native plant gardening classes will take place Sunday, March 15, starting promptly at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 4:00 p.m., at the Center’s facility classroom.

“Our plants are our medicine. They nourish our bodies and feed our spirit,” says Inez Bill, Rediscovery Coordinator. “We want to see our people gardening and harvesting the plants and herbs that our people have used historically. So we are starting this brand new series of classes that will help pass on the values and teachings of our ancestors. Hopefully, by taking the classes, our people will begin to use these plants at their homes and grow them in their gardens for their own use.”

Over the past four years, the Rediscovery Program has hosted its ‘Gardening Together as Families’ classes that emphasized teaching our tribal membership how to grow their own organic vegetable gardens. The Rediscovery Program staff think that the time is right to shift from a general theme of organic vegetables to one that specifically tailors to the traditional gardening customs of our Tulalip ancestors. By reintroducing the Tulalip people to native plants and herbs that were once used by our ancestors for generations.

“We’ve been doing the ‘Gardening Together as Families’ classes for four years now. That was an opportunity for people to come get hands-on experience growing their own organic vegetables. Now, we are able to shift the theme of our gardening classes to accommodate the needs of our people,” explains Rediscovery staff member Virginia Jones. “We want to give the people an opportunity to learn about the uses of Tulalip native plants and to grow them at their own homes.”

Throughout this new series of native plant gardening classes, there will be a primary focus of working with and getting familiar with the many uses of five major native plants; the stinging nettle, fireweed, giant horsetail, the Nootka Rose, and mountain huckleberry. There will be other native plants worked with as well, to supplement the uses and knowledge that come from working with the five major native plants.

“These plants we will be working with are all traditional food sources. They are something that are ancestors would have had, and so we are really fortunate to have them still available to us,” says Jones. “Today these foods are no longer a part of our everyday diets. We are trying to reintroduce these native plants back into the diets of our people. We want to reach our people on that level because these plants were used as foods that healed us and kept our bodies full of all different types of nutrients that our bodies needed.”

To participate in the first class in this new series, to be held March 15, the Rediscovery Program staff ask that you please RSVP ahead of time by calling Virginia Jones at (360) 716-2635 and leave a brief message with your name and how many family members will be attending with you. The initial class will be accepting 20 tribal member participants, so RSVP your spot as soon as possible.

Also, all those who will be participating in the native plant gardening class should remember to bring garden gloves and paper bags.

“Working with native plants is our culture,” says Bill. “It’s a delicate balance of going out and being with nature, gathering plants in prayer and working with them in a respectful way. We are one with nature at this time.”


Contact: Micheal Rios,