Evergreen director says vandalism of Native art feels ‘a little personal’

The Evergreen State College has had a wood carving greeting its students for nearly 40 years. Named the “Welcome Woman,” the Makah art has been updated over time to be more reflective of all who come to the campus.

But last month the carving was vandalized — black paint was smeared on different parts of the woman, and someone left behind yellow handprints. And it wasn’t the first time the college’s Indigenous art had been damaged.

Two wood statues outside the House of Welcome, also known as the Longhouse, also have been damaged in the last year. One had some sort of material thrown on it and it had been scratched up. An etched window of the college’s carving studio also was broken when someone threw a rock through it.

Some of the repairs can’t be done until spring, once it’s no longer raining regularly. The cost of damages is estimated at $5,000.

And officials at the college’s Indigenous Arts campus want the perpetrators to know the damage done wasn’t just physical.

Laura VerMeulen, director of the Longhouse Education & Cultural Center, said she doesn’t believe they’ll ever know who damaged the carving, despite campus police having some leads. There aren’t any cameras near the art. She wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t a student, or if they didn’t have malicious intent toward Native Americans.

“For some people, not everybody, it’s like an anonymous presence to have Native art around, and so people don’t often think that there are contemporary Native people who had a hand in creating it, and that there are people from these cultures that live and work in the region, and we’re everywhere,” she said. “To see it vandalized feels a little personal.”

The two carvings at the House of Welcome were gifts from separate graduating classes, but all three of the carvings were done by Greg Colfax, a Makah carver who has been a faculty member at the college, and students. The Welcome Woman has been on campus since 1985, and the two others since 1996. They’re staples of the Indigenous Arts campus, and Native American artists have worked since they were erected to keep them in tip-top shape.

The original look of the woman was Makah inspired, with black and red coloring and design. VerMeulen said she’s been updated over time to not only represent the tribes in Washington, but anyone who comes to campus. Different tribes are represented throughout her designs and colors, and she wears a brooch that’s meant to be a symbol of humanity. And she’s posted right at the bus circle for all to see, so it was a top priority to get her as clean as possible before the artists can come back to make repairs.

VerMeulen said she thinks they’ve been lucky to have most of the art on campus left alone. The Native art represents the living cultures of Native people in the region, she said, and that it’s important to have symbols that represent the vibrancy of Native people and Native art.

She said she’s heard from students and staff that they hope this incident can be used as an educational moment. She said if the vandals knew the history and who created it, made it feel more personal, maybe it’d be less likely to get damaged.

The college is hosting a few events in the coming weeks that are centered around Native American culture, heritage and history. The first is a talk at 6 p.m. Nov. 16 featuring Deborah Parker, CEO of the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. She’ll be discussing Native boarding schools in Washington.

On Nov. 19 and 20 from about 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Misty Kalama-Archer will lead a weaving workshop. On Dec. 9 and 10 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the college will host its holiday Native art fair when visitors can meet Native American artists and buy their work. Reach out to VerMeulen at vermuelL@evergreen.edu for more information.