Outsider Art

A sojourn on the Salmon Art Trail

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It may be an illusion, but it seems that when true summer hits the Pacific Northwest—or when the daytime temperatures reach at least 80 degrees, whichever comes first—the population doubles.

Suddenly, scantily clad humans are filling swimming holes, swarming brewery patios, skateboarding down city streets in droves and generally doing everything they can to stay outside until they get called in for dinner.

To make sure brains don’t atrophy during the months when the ongoing onslaught of sunshine stupefies them, it’s a good idea to still seek out creative pursuits once in a while. (Don’t worry, the following suggestion about how to keep your head in the game won’t require you to enter an enclosed space.)

If you’re a downtown Bellingham denizen, you probably already know about the Whatcom Creek Salmon Art Trail. Located near the the Bellingham Bay estuary, the nine pieces of outside art maintained by the City of Bellingham and presented in conjunction with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) are there to remind viewers of the environmental story of the four-mile body of water—and to bring attention to how important it is to have healthy, salmon-bearing streams.

“Through art, we can begin to see and start to understand the environmental story of Whatcom Creek,” a Parks and Rec missive explains. “Using salmon and salmon habitat as a window into this place, we can reclaim, transform and re-imagine our relationship with nature in the middle of our city.”

During last Saturday’s record-breaking heat wave, a dear friend and I showed up early for a viewing of iDiOM Theater’s outdoor presentation of The Emperor of the Moon at Maritime Heritage Park and spent some time perusing various works of art included in the short walking tour.

Our first stop was the 1990 “Centennial Mural” by East Los Streetscapers, which touches on many of the historical aspects of the locale where Coast Salish people first landed canoes, camped, fished and gathered shellfish.

On the building-sized mural abutting the former Sculpture Northwest Gallery and the in-progress Sylvia Center for the Arts, a giant salmon dominates the scene. Within the entirety of the work, there are longboats and trappers, elders and canneries, dancers beating drums, loggers, sea otters and bodies of water. It likely depicts the time frame of the mid-1850s, when Lummi Nation members and Euro-Americans met at the creek to discuss land claims.

Gerard Tsutakaw’s 2001 bronze fountain, “Confluence,” was also easy to spot, as it’s located at the Holly Street entrance to the park. Elsewhere, we perused Steve Seymour’s “Steel Salmon Going to Salmon Woman” (1997), “Salmon Woman Totem” by the Lummi House of Tears Carvers (1997), and Philip Baldwin’s aluminum sculpture, “Four Ages of the Seas” (2000).

“The art along the Whatcom Creek Salmon Art Trail connects us to nature and shares the community’s environmental history,” I later read.  “Artists and their artworks along the creek provide a gift to the community and to those who come after us, contributing to the richness of our city, our place on the earth and our lives.”

For more details about the Whatcom Creek Salmon Art Trail, go to

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