Marvin Oliver’s “Big Bird” gets much needed repair

Yelm High School’s Principal John Johnson shared, “I cannot express enough how much this project has meant to me as it is re-installed in a place of honor for our students and community; where it should have been these past many years.”
In addition to the student who illuminated the artwork’s poor condition and Mr. Johnson, who reached out to ArtsWA, there were many who assisted with this significant conservation project:

• Art handling company Artech developed a cradle system to remove the artwork while limiting stress to its aged and delicate wood grain. They also re-installed the artwork in its new home.
• Conservator J. Claire Dean developed the plan, performed much of the treatment, and oversaw the restoration.
• Artist and student of Marvin Oliver, David Franklin restored the painted surface.
• Engineering firm Rbhu developed an installation method that would be structurally sound and limit modifications to the artwork.
• Brigette Ellis, Marvin Oliver’s widow and partner, guided ArtsWA in making decisions about the treatment approach to best honor the artist and artwork.

More about Marvin Oliver
Marvin Oliver (1946-2019) was a master carver, sculptor, and printmaker. He produced works in cedar, bronze, glass, steel, and paper. He is of Quinault and Isleta-Pueblo heritage and drew on these sources in his art. Oliver was an important culture bearer and influence on generations of Native American art and artists. He described his art as “formulated by merging the spirit of past traditions with those of the present…to create new horizons for the future.”
Oliver was a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington for more than forty years, as well as an Adjunct Curator of Contemporary Native American Art at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle. He is recognized by generations of Native and non-Native students as an influential teacher and mentor. He began a tradition of an annual “Raven’s Feast” dinner in the 1970s to celebrate the accomplishments of Native American and Alaska Native graduates. He also gifted one of his prints to each graduate. Raven’s Feast has grown into a cornerstone of the UW Native community.

ArtsWA will celebrate this artwork and its renewal with the Yelm High School community at a re-dedication of the restored artwork in Fall 2021.

Click to explore more by Marvin Oliver

Read more about the conservation of Marvin Oliver’s Big Bird

See a time lapse video of Marvin Oliver’s student (and artist) David Franklin, restoring the black paint on Big Bird.

After major restoration, Marvin Oliver’s Big Bird was re-installed in June 2021 inside the Yelm High School Commons area. The artwork was previously located on the building’s exterior, where it was damaged by exposure to the elements. Photo by ArtsWA.

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