Big Bird, 1979

Marvin Oliver
(American | Quinault | Isleta-Pueblo, born 1946, died 2019)

Location: Yelm High School, Yelm


Big Bird is a carved and painted cedar wood sculpture by late Native American artist and master carver Marvin Oliver (Quinault/Isleta). He created the large 7x15 foot carving in 1979 using traditional Northwest Coast techniques, designs, and colors. It depicts the ultimate Northwest Big Bird: an eagle.

The carving was originally located on the outside of Yelm High School for over forty years. In 2020, Yakama student Carmen Houck brought the weathered artwork to the school’s attention and asked the Principal if the artwork could be restored. That led to the carved cedar artwork undergoing restoration, including a re-painting, with guidance from Brigette Ellis, Marvin Oliver’s widow. David Franklin, an artist and student of Marvin Oliver, restored the Big Bird carving. Click to watch a time lapse video of Franklin applying the turquoise-colored paint.

In June 2021, Oliver’s restored Big Bird was re-installed inside Yelm High School in the Commons area, where it will once again watch over students. In January 2022, the artwork and its renewal were celebrated with the Yelm High School community and the Nisqually Nation at a re-dedication. Click to watch the re-dedication.

This artwork was acquired for the State Art Collection in partnership with Yelm School District.


Seattle-based Quinault and Isleta-Pueblo artist Marvin Oliver (1946-2019) was a master carver, sculptor, and printmaker producing works in cedar wood, bronze, glass, steel, and paper.

Oliver was born in Shelton on southern Puget Sound and worked within the traditions of Native American Northwest Coast designs and themes. He was also an important influence on contemporary 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." Many of his artworks express his ideas and Native American stories about life, time, traditions, ancestors, the universe, and his hope for future generations.

Oliver earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State University in 1970 and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Washington in 1973. He was Professor Emeritus of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington and Adjunct Curator of Contemporary Native American Art at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture (both in Seattle). In the 1970s, he began a tradition of an annual “Raven’s Feast” dinner at the University of Washington 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.

MediumCarved and painted western redcedar wood
Dimensions7 ft 6 in x 15 ft 9 in x 1 1/2 in
ID NumberWSAC1979.095.000
Acquisition MethodSite responsive commission
Artist LocationWashington, United States
Location Information
AgencyYelm Community Schools
Artwork LocationYelm High School
Commons area
WA CountyThurston
Site TypePublic School
Address1315 W Yelm Ave.
Yelm, WA 98597
Geo. Coordinates46.950619, -122.624327
Before VisitingSome artworks may be located in areas not accessible to the general public (especially in K-12 public schools). Consider contacting the site prior to a visit to ensure access.