New sculpture at Edmonds College honors orca whales, Tulalip traditions, family

“Family,” by artist James Madison
(Photo courtesy Edmonds College)

Artist and Tulalip Tribes member James Madison has installed a new sculpture at Edmonds College. Madison combined traditional forms and contemporary techniques to depict three orca whales.

“This beautiful sculpture speaks to our college’s values and sense of community,” said EC President Dr. Amit B. Singh. “We thank James Madison for this honorable tribute that lifts up Indigenous voices.”

The large-scale painted aluminum piece, titled “Family,” questions the distinction between humans and animals and calls attention to their interdependence.

“In Native American culture, in history, in stories, we perceive animals and human beings as the same thing,” said Madison. “We’re so far away from that now — the ice is melting, the environment has changed so much. It’s scary.

“The way that I see things, if orcas and salmon go away, if we push them to not exist anymore, then we — human beings — are going to go away. We need to protect them as much as possible.”

“Family” is partially inspired by “Three Brothers,” a story told to Madison by his grandfather. The story, which is a variation on a Tulalip myth, begins with an evil chief who takes over a village and starves his people. Three brothers in the village decide to ask orca whales for help, and the whales offer to teach the brothers to hunt salmon. The brothers turn into orcas, hunt salmon, feed their village, and overtake the chief.

Madison has depicted the brothers as orcas in “Family” as well as a number of other works, including a wood carving at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park. But Madison also sees the orcas in “Family” as a representation of himself and his two sons — “playing, hunting, and learning family traditions. Always together, always a team.”

Madison’s sculpture is located outside Hazel Miller Hall, the college’s new, 70,000-square-foot building dedicated to science, technology, engineering, math, and nursing. It is the latest piece acquired by the college through the Art in Public Places Program, which purchases and cares for artworks in state buildings, colleges, universities, and schools throughout Washington. Past acquisitions include Evan Blackwell’s “Metropolis” sculpture on the front of Meadowdale Hall and Lorna Jordan’s “Reach” sculpture, which serves as a “heart for the campus” and a gathering place for students east of Lynnwood Hall.

“Art is a tool for education,” said Audi Asaf, EC Visual Arts faculty member, department co-chair, and member of the committee that selected Madison for the installation. “It was very important to us that the new piece acknowledge and honor the Indigenous people whose ancestral land Hazel Miller Hall was built on.”

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