Event celebrates Native American artist Rick Bartow’s sculptures that are now part of the Capital Mall in Washington D.C.

  • Friday, October 26
  • Lecture: 6 p.m.
  • Reception: 7 p.m.
  • Roger Hull Lecture Hall
  • Hallie Ford Museum of Art

Indian Country Conversations and the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University are pleased to celebrate Oregon Native American Artist Rick Bartow’s newest sculptures that were recently installed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Bartow’s welcoming poles stand over 20 feet tall and are titled We Were Always Here, and are now part of the Capitol Mall landscape in Washington D.C. At 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, Bartow will share images and talk about how the project came about and its journey to completion. A celebratory reception will follow the lecture. This event is free and open to the public. 

“Bartow’s monumental sculpture, We Were Always Here, represents the pinnacle of Rick's achievements as an artist,” says Rebecca Dobkins, anthropology professor and faculty curator of Native American Art at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. “The fact that the Smithsonian commissioned Bartow to produce the work and offered him this opportunity to create what is the most important piece of sculpture on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian is evidence of his stature in the field of contemporary Native American arts.  Rick's achievement is something that all Oregonians can feel proud of, and those of us associated with the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette are tremendously excited to have this opportunity to celebrate the dedication of ‘We Were Always Here’ right here at home.”

While attending an artist competition several years ago at the NMAI, Bartow captured the museum’s interest and later received the honor of a $200,000 commission for the welcoming poles.  Bartow’s first challenge was to locate the materials. A 1,200 year old-growth western red cedar, that become the heart of the project, was transported from Washington state to his studio in Newport. The involved carving process included 10 people working on various parts of the poles. 

Bartow gave the following description to the Smithsonian, “The Welcoming Bear and Raven, Healer and Rascal sit atop the sculpture poles; one, slow and methodical, fiercely protective of her children, the other a playful, foible-filled teacher of great power. Both Bear and Raven are focused on water and salmon for serious reasons. The salmon reflect the health of the environment, in particular water, the source of all life. On each pole are repeated lower horizontal patterns that symbolize successive waves, generations following generations, an accumulation of wisdom and knowledge.”

Bartow lives in Newport, Ore. and is an artist whose mixed-media sculptures, prints and paintings have been shown around the world. Bartow is also a blues guitarist and a member of the Wiyot tribe from Northwestern California. 

Indian Country Conversations

This program is a series of encounters that brings leaders from Native American and indigenous communities to Willamette University to interact with the campus, the broader community, local reservation communities, and the Chemawa Indian School (a federal boarding school located in Salem). A Native American Advisory Council, composed of statewide native leaders, Native American students and alumni, and Willamette staff and faculty, guides the selection of guests and plans activities.  Each semester, leaders and artists from Indian Country are brought to the Willamette campus for dialogue, teaching, and learning.


"We Were Always Here" by Rick Bartow, installed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, photo courtesy of Froelick Gallery."We Were Always Here" by Rick Bartow, installed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, photo courtesy of Froelick Gallery.