Interviews By Larry Abbott

Joe Feddersen

Sara Bates
Rick Bartow
Pat Deadman
Joe Feddersen
Anita Fields
Harry Fonseca
Bob Haozous
Printup Hope
Bobby Martin
Gerald McMaster
George Morrison
Shelley Niro
Joanna Osburn-Bigfeather
Diego Romero
Mateo Romero
Bently Spang
Ernie Whiteman
Richard Ray Whitman
Alfred Young Man
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LA: Maybe we could start by talking about some of your work from the mid-80's, like Birth of Venus and the Rainscapes. The Rainscapes were said to be "abstract images activating memory and imagination . . . " 1

JF: Those were like abstract landscapes, basically about space, color and texture. I think I did about fifty of them, each a unique print, in eight limited editions. I don't know what I thought about them at that time. They're really beautiful and all, but I was also seeing artists doing 500 of a series so I felt I had to quit those or I'd never be able to quit. I used to wonder how people did so many of something, because it would go beyond a personal investigation and become a commodity. I really had a hard time dealing with things like that. I felt like I needed to change, but some people think I'm still making these Rainscapes. If I didn't quit doing them it would be like any other job. What I think about in being an artist is that it is important to be curious and investigate what you're looking at. I love the investigation and I'm enthralled about the color and luminosity that are innate in my work.

"Birth of Venus," 1985, mixed media 
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I really enjoy getting engrossed in those qualities and when it becomes product I lose interest and then it's time to go on. So you probably notice there's a lot of change in my work. There was a series called Birth of Venus (1985) where I used what is called "make ready." When you bring up the color for a lithograph you run a lot of paper through the press before you get the color stable. I would use these proofs to draw on and to embellish the surface with things like staples, to make it less precious, and at the same time add a quality of light. When you walked by the staples shimmered. So it was like opposites. You violated the piece by stapling it and at the same time it became precious because it had glitter. The staples began to look like cut-glass beadwork in the way they glittered. They are more like collages, and they all have different names. I didn't have access to a press during that time period so I started making collages and doing a few screen prints. I don't know how many of those pieces I made.

LA: When did you start getting into computer-generated prints? You did a number of those in '89, like Liquid Darkness, Red Chevrons, and Red Web. You just show the outline of what appear to be anthropomorphic shapes.

"Fire from Within," 1985,
mixed media

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JF: In that time period I was an undergrad and I was showing them a lot of places. I met Truman Lowe, and he talked me into going to the University of Wisconsin. I had a huge studio in Pioneer Square [Seattle], like 3,000 square feet, and I was flying all over the place doing things. I decided that I needed to get back to exploring ideas. When I went to Wisconsin I wanted to do glasswork and computer graphic work, among other things. I wanted to think about imagery, about when an image becomes a symbol, how much of a relationship is needed to create an element of language, and where that link is. That's a lot of my investigation, dealing with things like that. They were almost autobiographical pieces that dealt with a person's place and their environment. I was really fascinated with the kind of stylus created by the computer printer. I used to work on those images. I kept the pieces small so the
stylus would not become an overpowering element. They're about five by eight inches. If they got much bigger then the stylus would become much too important.

LA: Did the series based on the Navajo and Pendleton blankets come after the computer-generated work?

JF: Those computer prints got autobiographical and really depressing. I decided it was time for a change. The ideas for the blankets came in when, I hate to say it's a break from serious things, the subject matter of the earlier pieces was getting a little bit depressing and I felt a need for distraction. I've always been fascinated with issues of pattern and color and I think that I probably did blanket pieces before. If you look at some of my work you realize that a lot of the designs are really symmetrical, like the designs that are on Plateau blankets. These designs come into my work naturally, and I like to think about these pieces as a whole. I'm creating my own images with a reference to blanket and basket designs, but I feel that I'm in the first person with those designs rather than simply talking about them from the outside or replicating artifacts.

LA: The work based on the legends of the Puget Sound peoples seem to be more narrative, like The Changer II and Grandmother's Mountain (both 1992). You wrote that these works "merge icons of the past with more contemporary idioms providing a vehicle that creates a dialogue with the wisdom of the elders." 2

JF: It was real interesting to go from something that was purely abstract to something based on a legend and having a narrative. The legend of The Changer is about when the creator comes to this area. He brings many languages to the people here, so they have beautiful but distinct languages. However, they can't communicate with each other. The sky is really low and people keep going into the upper world, causing chaos. Because of this chaos, the people come together and work to push the sky up, and they make several attempts before they achieve this. The people and animals that were not participating were stuck in the sky and became constellations. In the print these constellations are shown by the petroglyphs. What I wanted to do was talk about a story and to have that as a basis for the artwork, so the fracturing of the space is about the breaking away of the sky, and there were a lot of textures, especially at the bottom. The vertical elements represent the poles going up and breaking away. My interpretation of the story is that people from diverse backgrounds can come together to make change. That was the idea that I liked in that print.Grandmother's Mountain is about a legend from the Kent Valley. It talks about the how the Northwind people came in and took over the whole area. A terrible cold came and prevented the fish from returning. In the print I layer the images of the fish to show this. There's also a blockage point in the center of the print. The Northwind people also kidnapped a child, but as he grew up he became aware that his grandmother was exiled on a mountain and he went to visit her. From her strength he brought his people back and they returned to their heritage. In the lower right corner I use a dark triangular form to represent the mountain with the grandmother in petroglyph form welcoming him.

"The Changer," 1992, relief print
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LA: Have you done work with narrative elements before?

JF: I did a series a long time ago that was related to legends, in the early '80's probably. I work on a lot of different things. When I'm working on something it's not a clear break all the time. There might be a narrative in abstract work, and there's abstraction in the narratives, and sometimes they're autobiographical.

LA: You use layering of the images in much of your work, creating an effect of density.

JF: If I'm doing these overlaps I'm interested in issues of color and how colors relate to one another and how the richness of the surfaces is coming through and building up. A lot of the work is pretty methodical, printed and turned, printed and turned, with constantly changing colors.

LA: In some of the newer work you have tiny grid blocks in the image.

JF: I think I did about thirty-five of those based on Plateau geometrics and visual relationships. Right now I'm going through the process of using plates almost like brush strokes. I see a pattern and then print it on, creating relationships between the layers and building up the surfaces. You can get a lot of different textures.

LA: In the print Bird and Blanket you combine two different kinds of imagery.

JF: On that one, the top image is a blanket and the bottom image is from a series of work I called The Journal Pieces. I was doing something that involved a lot of method, and at the end of the day I would say, well, it's time to play. The Journal Pieces would be about anything that I was thinking about or anything that happened that day. I'd do a whole suite of those. One day when I was going to school there was a dead bird lying in the driveway, and that started a whole suite of bird prints. Then another series tried to connect these two. They combined disparate things, like time-based logs in a journal and mythology. One part has a structure and a linear way of working, and all of a sudden after you've finished something linear, you do something that's intuitive. It's a nice break, and uses up the rest of the inks. So a lot of the colors were determined by what I was printing that day. It's two separate prints joined together with a little bit of overlap.

LA: You're best known as a printmaker, but you also work in other media.

"Grandmother's Mountain," 1992, relief print
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**All reproduction rights controlled by the artists**

JF: My background is in printmaking techniques, such as lithography, etching, and screen printing, and I have training in painting and sculpture. I know bronze-casting, and I also do carving. One of my projects last summer was to make a fish trap. You have to collect a certain type of stick. Bends don't work very well in fish traps. You're also supposed to bind it with a fiber called Indian hemp. I knew it wasn't going to get wet so I used rawhide. It will fall apart if it ever goes in the water, but it's not intended to be useable. I was mainly interested in the form. Lately I've been learning how to make books. I've also been making baskets, except my career is going to be cut short. I have a problem with my wrist becoming real sensitive, like carpal tunnel, and the repetitive action inflames it, so I may not pursue that much further right now.

LA: You've done four collaborations with artist and writer Elizabeth Woody. How did they come about?

JF: The collaborations usually have a specific goal, like a show with a particular theme. We have a topic and we decide we're going to do a collaboration. We have long talks, brainstorming sessions, where we'll put out ideas, take notes, and go back to them. We do that a couple of times and usually end up stumbling on a direction where we want to go. One idea leads to another idea and after a while it starts to solidify. The first one we did was for the The Submuloc Show (1992). That one was a scaffolding piece ("Histories Are Open to Interpretation"), where we created a text through shadows.

LA: Could you talk more about that first collaboration? You've written that, "we have structured an opportunity for the viewer to discover multiple layers of meaning created through the combination of language and object." 3

JF: We went through that talking and planning process and decided to show how histories are viewed in different ways by different people. There can be different ways of looking at the same thing. The piece is like a burial scaffold. One part of the text is on a panel that runs across the top and another part is on the bottom. If it is shown correctly the bottom text panel would have been in about an inch of water. The black part of the bottom was supposed to be like a mirror. When you looked in the bottom you'd see the words on the top because it would be a mirror image and you could read that and the texts would merge. Basically the top part talks about spiritual imagery and the bottom is more materialistic imagery. You had to merge the two.

LA: The second collaboration was a single newsprint sheet with text and photographs. 4

JF: That one is a broadside we did for Reflex Magazine. Liz mostly did all of the writing. The title is Inheritance Obscured by Neglect: Waterways Endeavor to Translate the Silence from Currents. Inheritance Obscured by Neglect [1989] is the title of a piece of mine that's on the cover of Duane Niatum's book of poetry Drawings of the Song Animals [1991]. The title became a jumping off point for the work that Elizabeth and I did. Inheritance Obscured by Neglect is about how the Earth is everybody's responsibility, and that if we're neglectful and not paying attention we can cause a lot of damage, like the Exxon Valdez wreck in Alaska. Someone not paying attention created a huge disaster. That piece has a figurative element that's like a cocoon oblivious to its surroundings and what's going on around him. The petroglyph images in the background represent animals and are covered in an oily, tarry substance. The dialogue between Elizabeth and me about that piece led to the Reflex piece. When we started to do this project Liz was really fascinated with that title and we used that as a departure point. Again, we'd sit around and talk about it, and she came up with the poem and we worked on it together.

LA: You have three bands or levels of photographs. The bottom photo is of a pile of skulls, the middle photo is of rounded rocks, and the top one is of water. The text of the poem is superimposed over the photographs.

JF: It's like three layers of photographs. There was a burial island called Memaloose Island in the Columbia River. When they made the Dalles they flooded this island but before they flooded it, they took all of the bones from the burial site and shipped them to the Smithsonian. The bottom picture of all the skulls in a pile is a historical photograph, and that's talked about in the text. I took the other two photographs. What's really interesting is the relationship of the skulls to the rounded rocks in the middle photograph. There's a visual similarity between the skulls and the rocks. The top photograph is of water because this project was commissioned for ideas about water. But it also has to do with the Columbia River.

LA: You also did a project for the 1992 exhibition "For the Seventh Generation: Native American Artists Counter the Quincentenary, Columbus, New York." You've written that the series of pieces analyze "the visual format and perception in that there are discrepancies between 'physical fact and psychic effect': the issue of blood quantum makes the genealogy of one more important than the actions or expressions of the total person." 5

JF: That one was titled "Skins 4/4: Analysis of Color." We only showed one piece, but the whole work was a grouping of four similar images, photographs which Elizabeth took. The idea of the seventh generation is that what you do now has repercussions in seven generations. This was also two years after the Indian Arts and Crafts Law went into effect. What we wanted to talk about was blood quantum and we tied that back in with the image of Josef Albers' Homage to the Square. He talks about color relationships as a progression of squares. But we wanted raise issues about blood quantum and skin pigmentation. We started with a photograph of hands and covered that with a sheet of gray Mylar. We cut a square out of the center of the Mylar to reveal the color of the hands, drawing attention to the skin pigmentation. At the same time it obscures personal history. A lot of history is seen in your hands, like whether or not you're married, whether you have a ring, some hands have tattoos on them, the whole thing about reading your palm. We were trying to talk about histories and layers by obscuring one thing with something else.

LA: Your most recent collaboration was Archives: Response to Static Form for Imparting Story/History, done for the TULA Foundation [Atlanta, Georgia] in 1994. This installation was described as a repository, with "accumulations of story and artifact, organically, ofttimes randomly, accrued." 6

JF: The installation dealt mostly with identity, and we made different forms of books, what we called natural book forms, which included photographs, texts, and objects. When you entered the gallery there was a wall that was parallel to the front window and it created a kind of foyer. It was on this wall that we unfolded one of the parts of the installation. This was an excerpt from Elizabeth's poem, "Translation of Blood Quantum," [in Luminaries of the Humble, pp. 103-104] which was fed into a computer and shot off the screen, then printed on color photography paper. We used eight lines from the poem. There were four sections of two lines each which were folded in accordion-book style, and the sections were put on glass shelves one above the other. Each one of the two-line parts of her poem was sixteen by twenty inches, but when they were unfolded they formed a whole image, one big book, that was about eight feet tall by twelve feet long. It all merged into one big piece but it could be read like chapters. This was called "Thirty-Second Parts of a Human Being." Cibachrome images of overlapped hands were with the text of Elizabeth's poem. This part initiated the dialogue between us and the viewer.

The gallery extended behind and around that wall, so off to the left there was a back room. Glass shelving went around this room, and on the shelving were framed texts that talked about everybody's unique ways of looking at things. There were transcriptions from a conference and a lot of clippings out of the newspaper and other media about the Indian Arts and Crafts Law. Those were in blue Xerox and framed in silver. Also in that room, on the back wall to the right, were fifteen Ciba photographs of hands. There was something on all the walls of the back room.

There was also the text of a letter that Elizabeth wrote me which we put on these shelves with rub-on letters, so that when light shone on the text you could read it in the shadows on the wall. The text went around the whole gallery. I'd like to read it. It was dated May 13, 1993. It's on Hyatt Hotel stationery:

"Well Joe, I'm back East again. Saw Reyna tonight at the big reception. It's a long trip, long week. My great aunt Amelia passed away and we went over the mountain, took the car, my mother and sister to Warm Springs. Although it was a somber event, people were saying good things and I really felt good. I went over. Sometimes being there, just being there, is the best medicine there is. My people are beautiful and as I was flying here I shed a few tears thinking how it is to be so far away. The more I travel, the more I understand how precious our country is. The truth and honesty that pours out of the 'folks' at home. A portion of our family was not there. Cyrus Katchia and his sister Caroline Tohet led out their family and their people. As Cyrus passed us he waved his eagle feather at my mother and I to join the women. I was so touched to be remembered that I couldn't speak. As I twirled and moved my hands my body began to feel sure in the world, centered. I loved this woman and I hoped my thoughts helped. One cousin said, 'Pray hard for everyone. If we get strong the world will get better.' The salmon, deer meat, roots, corn, fruit, potatoes and the meal shared has renewed my strength. It's odd to be thousands of miles away and thinking of telling you all this. As Jolene and I walked outside we strolled up the road, the air was rich with the exquisite smell of earth, sage, and juniper. We were cupped in the liquid sense of sky, the mountain in the distance, the ground. Even some guys driving by had hollered at us. They recognized Jolene. I even saw children who loved me when they were little. Now they're big and so good to see. One girl, Rosie, asked for me and I was glad. She used to come over to my house to play. She'd ask me to teach her things and draw. She wants to be an artist. Both her parents went to IAIA. It's so funny because she always would ask to go to 'Lizzy's' and one aunt thought I was a little girl and dropped her jaws when she finally met me.

"Anyway, I wonder at times why I stay away so long. I guess because I would miss it, if I did visit more. Sometimes the work I do doesn't seem to fit and then I know that gathering things, ideas, meaningful ideas when I travel. Anyway, just a short note before I begin the 'big doings' here. I guess Alyce and Phillip have returned. Reyna filled me in on the wedding, asked me questions about this and that. I forget not everyone does things the same. I will probably be going and going writing all these next several weeks. I'm not really good at keeping in touch, I guess, so that sometimes people think that I've disappeared, especially the last month. Now, that I will probably go to New Zealand and have to divert my energy and savings onto that."

And it continues. This letter talks about a person's relationship to the community in a lot of different ways. It's really eloquent in the way that she describes her relationship to the land, the people, and the meal shared. I also liked the way she talked about people being different, how not all weddings are the same, for instance. There are three voices in this installation, and one of the voices is this letter that interweaves with other things, like the media clippings, and how that comes from a different source yet defines what a Native person is. There was an intertwining of these three voices, combined with the way the letter was casting shadows on the wall. We used this letter to tie the whole piece together. You could go back and forth between ideas, you could look at little pictures and see short anecdotes, even though I don't think anecdotes is the right word. These are thoughts of what's important to people. It was also visually interesting to see the geometric abstractions around the gallery because the cast shadows created interesting designs. It was ethereal. Something was there but was not really there.

LA: To finish up, what have been some of the sources of your work?

JF: One of the Skagit elders who really influenced me was Vi Hilbert. She was the teacher of a class I had at the University of Washington on Lushootseed literature, and influenced how I looked at the legends and the narratives. Right now there are basketry and blanket designs. A mainstream artist would be Frank Stella. There's a wide range because I tend to be interested in a lot of what's going on. I like the way Stella digs things out, puts paint on the canvas to create an object. As you look at some his work, there are luminosity and textures and layers. He creates object pieces, they're not narratives Sometimes I try to pull things into my own work from an historical context. As a Native person things tend to come in that may have a different base than mainstream culture, but when I look at my work I don't say that it looks Indian or not. I'm not telling a story about somebody else. I'm telling my own story and what I'm thinking about at that time. I was fascinated with fish traps so I did a fish trap. I was fascinated with landscapes and I had to do landscapes. Things like that are really important to me and sometimes I wonder whether they're important to other people, but when I turned forty I decided I should do whatever I wanted to do.


1 Abby Wasserman, "Joe Feddersen," Portfolio, San Francisco, CA: American Indian Contemporary Arts, 1986, unp.

2 Joe Feddersen, "Artist's Statement," The Spirit of Native America, San Francisco, CA: American Indian Contemporary Arts, 1993, p. 4.

3 Joe Feddersen and Elizabeth Woody, The Submuloc Show/Columbus Wohs, Phoenix, AZ: ATLATL, 1992, p. 30.

4 This piece is number 5 in a series of broadsides done for Reflex Magazine's Broadside Project and is dated March/April 1992. The text is superimposed over three panels of photographs.

5 Joe Feddersen and Elizabeth Woody, "Skins 4/4: An Analysis of Color," "For the Seventh Generation: Native Artists Counter the Quincentenary, Columbus, New York," Norwich, NY: Arts Council Gallery, 1992, pp. 10.

6 Lil Friedlander, exhibition brochure, TULA Foundation Gallery, Atlanta, GA, 1994, unp.


Archives: Response to Static Form for Imparting Story/History, two-person exhibition, Tula Foundation Gallery, Atlanta, GA, 1994

The Spirit of Native America, group exhibition, American Indian Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, CA, 1993

Joe Feddersen, solo exhibition, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, OR, 1993

Feddersen: Paintings and Prints, solo exhibition, Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA, 1993

"For the Seventh Generation: Native American Artists Counter the Quincentenary, Columbus, New York," group exhibition, Arts Council Gallery, Norwich, NY, 1992

The Submuloc Show/Columbus Wohs, group exhibition, ATLATL, Phoenix, AZ, 1992

Our Land/Ourselves, group exhibition, University Art Gallery, The State University of New York, Albany, NY, 1990

Fractured Spaces, solo exhibition, Lynn McAllister Gallery, Seattle, WA, 1988

Portfolio, group exhibition, American Indian Contemporary Arts, 1986


Joe Feddersen, "Artist's Statement," The Spirit of Native America, San Francisco: American Indian Contemporary Arts, 1992, pp. 4-5

_____, and Elizabeth Woody, "Skins 4/4: An Analysis of Color," "For the Seventh Generation: Native Artists Counter the Quincentenary, Columbus, New York," Norwich, NY: Arts Council Gallery, 1992, pp. 9-10.

_____, "Artist's Statement," The Submuloc Show/Columbus Wohs, Phoenix, AZ: ATLATL, 1992, p. 30.

Lois Allan, "Culture and the Postmodern," Artweek 21, 35 (October 25, 1990): p.

Abby Wasserman, "Joe Feddersen," Portfolio, San Francisco, CA: American Indian Contemporary Arts, 1986, unp.

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