Rick Bartow was born in 1946in Newport, Oregon to a Yurok and Wiyot father who relocated to Oregon for work and married Bartow’s Euro-American mother. His artwork is influenced not only by his Native American heritage, but also by the effects of a traumatic thirteen-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Contact with artists in Germany, Japan and New Zealand also inspires his work. He is best known for pastel and graphite drawings, prints and mixed-media sculptures. His art has been widely exhibited in the United States and internationally. Bartow’s works are in the collections of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the Heard Museum, the Portland Art Museum and the Westfalisches Landesmuseum (Munster, Germany).
In 1997/1998, his sculpture, Cedar Mill Pole was shown in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden at the White House as part of the exhibition Honoring Native America. Carved from a twenty-six foot cedar log, it was influenced by collaborative work with Maori artist, John Bevan Ford. Combining Maori and Native American designs, the pole is topped by a carved human face influenced by Tlingit sculpture. The eye shape, brows, and treatment of the nose, and the use of red and black paint pay homage to the carving traditions of the Pacific Northwest. The face seems to emerge from inside this carved pole, to rise above and stare out into a world both foreign and familiar. This work celebrates the experiences of Indigenous peoples around the world and the living traditions they pass down. Given the trunk when the tree was cut down for road construction, Bartow carved this work to heal the relationship between the human community and the natural world. After its stay in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, it was returned to the area near the place where it was originally cut and stands as,“… a symbol of hope for redemption after destruction, a
central theme in Bartow’s career.”
Rick Bartow also creates small, highly evocative, mixed-media sculptures. These works have an intimacy and immediacy that is haunting. His sculpture, Quee Queg, done in 1996, is named after the tattooed Polynesian Native who befriends Ishmael in Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick. In it, Bartow interrogates the colonial mindset that interprets the Native as savage and the colonizer as civilized. Combining carved wood with found objects, this work is only thirteen inches tall but has a raw intensity. Large nails pounded into the area where one would expect to see a nose and eyes obliterate its face. The work references traditional nail-fetishes from the Congo that are so often defined as primitive art. In this work, Bartow critiques colonial discourse at the same time that he creates an object that is full of power and raw magic.
In his monotype, Out from Behind the Mask (2005), a dark face stares at the viewer, a cross — like a dark star — marks its forehead. The teeth seem skeletal, the nose a bright smear of colored inks. Hair and clothes are bright when compared to the unmasked face. A rosy shirtfront between the sides of a red vest bears the words, “OK Fear the Darkness then love the light.” For Bartow, what hides behind the mask is no easy revelation
 Rebecca J. Dobkins, Rick Bartow: My Eye (Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 2002), 47, paraphrased from Don Hamilton, “The Healing Tree Takes Shape,” The Oregonian,December 2, 1996.
Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Art, Spring 2013
“Rick Bartow.” Froelick Gallery. 2010. http://www.froelickgallery.com/Artist-Detail.cfm?ArtistsID=227
Rawlins, Brendan. “We Were Always Here: Rick Bartow.” National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian. 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIBea6MKFQI
Rick Bartow discusses his work and participation in “We Were Always Here” at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Levine, Ketzel. “Morning Edition: Rick Bartow.” National Public Radio. 2003. http://www.npr.org/programs/talkingplants/features/2003/bartow/index.html
This link leads to an audio interview by NPR Morning Edition’s Ketzel Levine on the work of Rick Bartow and a recent exhibition at the Gustav Heye Center in New York City, New York.
“Continuum 12 Artists.” National Museum of American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. http://www.nmai.si.edu/exhibitions/continuum/subpage.cfm?subpage=artists
The gallery guide for the exhibition includes an essay about Bartow’s work.
Dobkins, Rebecca J., Bartow, Rick. Rick Bartow: My Eye. (Seattle. University of Washington Press, 2002), p74-76
This book explores the rich cultural influences of Native American artist, Rick Bartow in the development and creation of his pastel drawings, paintings, and mixed media sculptures.
Gibson, Daniel. “The Fantastic Realm of Rick Bartow,” Native Peoples Magazine. (2012): p12
This article in Native Peoples Magazine highlighting the artistic process and concept behind artist Rick Bartow’s carving “We Were Always Here” installed at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.