Something From the Sea: The Sculpture of Marvin Oliver [17 Images]

Something From the Sea: The Sculpture of Marvin Oliver [17 Images]

By: 
Lee Allen
3/17/14

Marvin Oliver is one of the Northwest Coast’s foremost artists with a 40-year career of working in a variety of media.  “Most of my ideas involve something from the sea,” says the one-time Alaskan commercial fisherman, whose heritage is Quinault and Isleta Pueblo. While many of his creations are manageable in size, others are monstrously large -- for instance, there are the two glass whales, 20 feet long and 18 feet high, weighing in at 8 tons that now belong to Bill and Melinda Gates. Or the 26-foot-long suspended steel and glass Mystical Journey piece at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. Then there’s a 23-foot-tall mixed media totem pole (Tetons) housed in Wyoming’s National Museum of Wildlife Art that incorporates elements of cast glass, etched copper, and cast bronze inlaid with abalone.  Not to be overlooked is his cast bronze 26-foot-tall orca whale fin (Spirit of Our Youth) decorated with images of leaping salmon and rising above rolling grass meant to simulate ocean waves. To learn more about Oliver and see more of his work, visit marvinoliver.com.

How did you decide to become an artist, and how does your upbringing influence your work?

I was surrounded by Native American art growing up and started producing artwork early on. My works merge the spirit of past traditions with those of the present…to create new horizons for the future.

Your work has found its way to places far removed from the Pacific Northwest -- where has it traveled?

I’m on display throughout the United States, Canada, Japan, and Italy where a city near Rome hosts a unique totem [30 feet tall, and made of bronze instead of wood], two thunderbirds going up to heaven carrying the sun in their beaks.  I was the first non-Italian artist to be commissioned in 2,000 years.

How does your creative process work?

It comes from within, from my spirit, my inner feelings.  I’m an edgy artist, somewhat eclectic.  My creations belong in the category of art in evolution with a foundation of traditional spirit.  People don’t say I’m a Native American glass artist, they say I’m a glass artist who happens to be Native American.

You're also a teacher -- what do you get out of that experience?

Teaching revitalizes me and takes me out of the studio to reflect and refresh my own perspective.  But I can only teach the tools.  From there, individuals have to supply their own creativity.

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