Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Joe Feddersen

By Mique’l Askren


“Okanagan IV” 2003, Mixed media installation, 144 x 696 inches, Courtesy of National Museum of American Indian

Articulated through the ancient grammar of Plateau woven design and enunciated with humor, Joe  Feddersen’s extensive artistic career has generated a visual vocabulary that has indigenized the urban landscape. Born in 1953 in Omak, Washington, near the Colville Indian Reservation, Feddersen is an Okanagan member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. He received his BFA at the University of Washington under the tutelage of renowned printmaker Glen Alps and, in 1989, his MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In his printmaking, collage, glass and weaving work, Feddersen interrogates the interrelationship between urban landscape and the natural environment. His people, and other tribes from the Inland Plateau Region of the Columbia Basin, are renowned for their textile traditions and the complex geometric patterns they use on baskets and blankets to represent the features of their lands. These designs were originally inspired by everyday occurrences such as seeing snake tracks in the sand. Now, as Feddersen remarks in a 2010 interview, most people are accustomed to seeing the tracks left by SUVs.[1] He brings this tradition forward by incorporating symbols and landmarks from the urban environment such as electrical towers, high rise buildings, cinderblocks, chain-linked fences, traffic signs and construction barriers in concert with the visual vocabulary developed by his ancestors.

Feddersen’s art speaks of changes in the physical world but also draws attention to the resilience of long-standing ways of understanding and knowing rooted in a Plateau epistemology. His work addresses the destruction of the land and its ecology as a result of clear cutting and development. An accomplished basket maker, Feddersen intricately weaves the outline of a planning model for a typical suburb intoCul-de-Sac (2002).


Joe Feddersen, “Urban Vernacular: Parking Lot,” 2008, Linocut, 19 x 26 inches, Photo by Rebekah Johnson, Courtesy of the Froelick Gallery

Plateau basketry also informs his glasswork. Not only does he bring its design elements into the medium but also its texture. In Parking Lot (2004), Feddersen reproduces the texture of fine twining in white glass with an open grid typical of a parking lot. Feddersen states, “It’s about sign and place. And I would hope that people from the Plateau area recognize the traditional patterns that are keeping the language alive, while also seeing the humor in the new ones, as to how our land is changing.”[2] Feddersen’s humor and wit demonstrates to his own people ways in which the urban environment can be incorporated into their ancient art forms and, at the same time, challenges audiences to view the contemporary environment through the lens of Plateau traditions.

A writer, lecturer and teacher, Feddersen taught printmaking for twenty years at Evergreen State College until his retirement in 2009. That same year, the Tacoma Art Museum opened Joe Feddersen: Vital Signs, a major retrospective exhibition of sixty-two of his works created since 1996.[3] His artwork has been exhibited nationally and internationally in over a dozen solo exhibitions and thirty-two group exhibitions
since 1982. Upon his retirement, Feddersen returned to his hometown of Omak, Washington. He states: “moving gives me more time to do my artwork. But more important, it gets me back to my community.”[4]

Joe Feddersen, "Urban Vernacular: Parking Lot," 2008, Blown, mirrored glass, copper leaf, 18 1/2 x 12 x 11 1/2 inches, Photo by Bill Bachhuber, Courtesy of the Froelick Gallery

Joe Feddersen, “Urban Vernacular: Parking Lot,” 2008, Blown, mirrored glass, copper leaf, 18 1/2 x 12 x 11 1/2 inches, Photo by Bill Bachhuber, Courtesy of the Froelick Gallery













 [1] Bob Hicks, “Exhibit of Joe Feddersen’s Work at Hallie Ford Museum Shows He Straddles Several Worlds, All His Own.”, February 12, 2010,

[2] “Press Release: Joe Feddersen: Vital Signs,” Tacoma Art Museum, July16,  2009,
[3] Rebecca J. Dobkins, Barbara Earl Thomas, and Gail Tremblay.  Joe Feddersen: Vital Signs. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009).
[4] Hicks, exhibit at Ford Museum.

Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Art, Spring 2013

Web-based Resources:

Joe Feddersen.” Museum of Glass. Publication 2010. Access May 2013.


Selected Bibliography:

Dobkins, Rebecca. Vital Signs. (OR: University of Washington Press. 2008.) 

Ahtone, Heather. “Reading Beneath the Surface: Joe Feddersen’s Parking Lot,”  Wicazo Sa Review. Vol. 27, No. 1. MN. 2012.

Jackson, Devon. “Sign of The Times.” Southwest Art, Vol 37 Issue 3 (Aug 2007): p188-191

This article talks about how cultural identity and life experiences serve as inspiration in the development of Joe Feddersen’s artwork. 

Gallivan, Joseph. ARTnews, Vol 107, Issue 8. (Sept 2008): p159

A review on the exhibition of Joe Feddersen entitled “Urban Vernacular” displayed at Froelick gallery in Portland, Oregon in 2008.

Everett, Deborah and Elayne, Zorn. Encyclopedia of Native American Artists (Indianapolis, IN: Eiteljorg Museum, 2008); p 45.

Pitt, Lillian. Glass Art Society Journal. (2008): p62-65

An article on glass art work and how Joe Feddersen uses the medium to incorporate ancient basket designs from his tribe.