Local Squamish artist James Harry oversaw the installation of his sculpture on Whatcom Community College’s campus this Monday, just outside of the Phyllis and Charles Self Learning Commons building.
Titled “ININYAX’A7N” or “Thunderbird,” this sculpture was designed by Harry not only to bridge the gap between modern and Salish art, but also to pay homage to and preserve Squamish culture.
Despite its recent installation, this piece has been in the works since 2020 as a collaborative effort between WCC and the Washington State Arts Commission.
According to WCC Marketing Program Manager Mali Gorovoy, “The College has a strong interest in and an on-going commitment to elevating Indigenous voices, visibility, and Indigenous Art on our campus.”
In order to find a local artist with whom to work, WCC ran a request for proposals, specifically focusing on Indigenous artists who may have interest in creating public art, alongside the state’s standard process of art commission. This process culminated in the selection of James Harry.
According to James Harry’s website, Harry is well known for his contributions in bringing Coast Salish art to the public eye, mainly via sculpting, metal casting, painting, and drawing. James Harry learned his initial skills in art from his parents during his youth, by listening to First Nations stories, and learning about form, design, and carving from his father. He learned painting and drawing from his mother, who was well versed in the art of painting.
Over the last decade, Harry has spent a portion of that time working in school districts across the Vancouver BC area. In his sessions at these schools, Harry would engage youth and students by creating art, as well as sharing lessons about Salish art and knowledge.
Reception for this piece from the student body has been positive. K.K Schlemmer, a student here at WCC, stated “I really like the sculpture, I feel like it is a really important addition to the campus as a good centerpiece.”