New Art and Sounds from the Pacific Northwest: Indie Folk

New Art and Sounds from the Pacific Northwest: Indie Folk

New Art and Sounds from the Pacific Northwest: Indie Folk

The Pacific Northwest is home to a unique artistic ecosystem involving craft traditions, pre-industrial cultures, and Indigenous and settler histories. Like folk art, the works featured here are handmade, unpretentious, and often blur the line between functionality and aesthetics. For the artists—patchwork quilters and abstract painters alike—a rural and working class ethos of passed down knowledge and making do with what you have is as foundational as academics and studio technique. The exhibition features an intergenerational array of notable artists from throughout the region and a playlist selected by Portland’s Mississippi Records.

The works on view are handmade, unpretentious, and can blur the line between functionality and aesthetics. Immaculate woven baskets and tooled-wood objects mix with works that are makeshift, improvisational, and employ salvaged materials. For the artists—patchwork quilters and abstract painters alike—passed-down knowledge and a rural and working-class ethos of making do with what you have are as foundational as art history and studio technique.  

While hand making and materiality anchor most of the works in the exhibition, a few involve photography and video. Regardless of medium, the works meditate on the sense of place and identity engendered by small towns and rural communities in a digital and global era.


Sounds of the Pacific Northwest 

The music genre Northwest indie folk could mean a lot of different things to different people. Our region is home to many cultures that have adapted their traditional folk music to the modern world. This playlist could have been filled with new school shape note singers or black church gospel bands or lo-fi homemade hip hop, and the term “indie folk” would apply to them all.

The outside world tends to see the Northwest as a bit of a “soft” music scene, and they are not far off. The vibe here is exceptionally gentle. Even the punk and avant-garde music of the Northwest seems to have softer edges than the comparative scenes in other parts of the USA. The skies are grey, the trees are green, and the music is minor chord and sweet.

All of the artists on this list worked day jobs while still producing music. They are all firmly working class. Fred and Toody Cole from Dead Moon built their own Western ghost town, ran a dollar store called Buckaroo, and did construction and laundry work. Michael Hurley was an eight-track repairman and a parsnip farmer. Brian Mumford (Dragging an Ox Through Water) works as a librarian and movie projectionist. Ural Thomas still works construction jobs at the age of 82. This is all real working-class folk music. Yes, this music is gentle. But it is also hard won, honest, and fiercely independent.

—Eric Isaacson, founder and owner, Mississippi Records, Portland, Oregon


Funding for this exhibition is provided by the Samuel H. and Patricia W. Smith Endowment, the Mildred S. Bissinger Endowment, Nancy Spitzer, Patrick and Elizabeth Siler, and members of the JSMA WSU.  

Organized by the JSMA WSU and guest curated by Melissa E. Feldman.

Art by Marita Dingus:  Fabric Basket, 2003, Courtesy of the artist and Traver Gallery, Seattle

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Exhibition Credits

The Bellevue Arts Museum presentation is supported by general operating support from Microsoft Corporation, ArtsFund, the Bellevue Arts Museum Board of Trustees, and the Museum membership.

Media sponsors: KCTS 9, The Seattle TimesThe Stranger