A Journey of Art: Western’s Outdoor Sculpture Collection

by Lorin Lindell

One of the many things that makes Western so unique is its abundance of art.  The University has been collecting sculptures since 1960 and now has a nationally acknowledged Outdoor Sculpture Collection. Western's collection began with James Fitzgerald’s “Rain Forest,” and has now grown to include over 36 different sculptures.

WWU students have presented several different interpretations for each sculpture on campus. While the true meaning is left up to the artist, each perspective offers a new understanding of the artwork and of our world.

If you can’t come to check out the artwork yourself, take a virtual tour of some of WWU’s acclaimed sculptures!

Tall metal sculpture with water running over the sharp edges

Located on the northern side of WWU campus, Rain Forest can be found right outside of the Wade King Recreation Center. Fitzgerald was born in Seattle and has always put a hint of his hometown in his artwork. This particular piece has been recognized as a symbol of the “great rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula.”

While Rain Forest was created in 1959, Fitzgerald is still known as one of the most innovative modern artists in the Pacific Northwest.

Bigger Big Chair took WWU grad David Ireland two years to complete. It was originally meant to be placed outside of Wilson Library as a symbol of knowledge and learning. The chair was so big and heavy though, it had to be moved to south campus behind Buchanan Towers. Bigger Big Chair is 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

Oversized metal chair 12 feet tall

Many think of Ireland’s chair as a symbol of education, especially, since it was originally designed to be placed outside of Wilson Library.  Its new location, behind Buchanan Towers, bring about a whole new set or interpretations and understandings though. Despite, its new location tucked back into the woods, Bigger Big Chair still provokes a sense of authority for all who see it.

Ireland may have been born and raised in Bellingham, but the center of his career can be found at 500 Capp Street in San Francisco. Ireland spent over two years completing “maintenance” on this house in order to turn it into a studio. He quickly became attached to the house and began to view it as a sculpture rather than a home.  The 500 Capp Street foundation now honors David Ireland’s legacy and allows visitors to come and view the home that became a masterpiece.

Oversized 12' x 6' metal chair sitting on top of a grassy hill

“You can’t make art by making art” - David Ireland

The Feat of Strengths is actually a seven-part sculpture. Tom Otterness composed this piece out of seven different green bronze people, many carrying a sandstone boulder. Each bronze character offers a different understanding of what they stand for though.

bronze sculpture of small stylized person carrying a heavy rock over its head. The rock is real

 Otterness is known to be a social justice sculpture. He attempts to start a conversation on controversial issues through his art, making it difficult to know his true intentions for his small bronze people.

bronze sculpture of small stylized person carrying a heavy rock in both hands. The rock is real

His little people are found all over the world including several parks in New York, California, Walla Walla, Washington, and The Netherlands.

For many, the tiny green people have come to symbolize the 4 year battle of earning a college education. Just like the green people who hold and carry their boulder, students must also balance the workload that comes with earning a higher education. Others interpret the sandstone as the “weight of education” and understand the people to be both students and faculty on campus.

Otterness’ people are in the middle of the second piece of art though. They are spread out among the San Juan Islands and can be identified based on the yellow bricks, which is meant to depict the tide flow. This second element, causes students to understand the small people as depictions of life on the San Juan Islands.

bronze sculpture of 2 small stylized people carrying a heavy rock in both hands between them. The rock is real

“You think you are making something, and then you put it out in the public, and you see it’s understood in a very different way. As an artist, you learn from public reaction.” - Tom Otterness


In 1996, WWU student Steven Tibbetts entered a student art contest for his piece Scepter, and won! The piece was purchased by Associated Students and later gifted to the University in order to be part of the sculpture collection. It is now on display in Red Square by Frashier Hall.

Tibbetts created the sculpture out of reused car parts from the 1950’s. This has led many viewers to believe he was working to portray the scepter as both a human and a sovereign emblem.

Tall metal sculture of a scepter, created from used car parts

The Man Who Used To Hunter Cougars for Bounty, contains three different parts. The first two are easy to identifiable, the man and the cougar. It is the third, the jug of whiskey that is often overlooked.  If you look carefully though, you are able to make out the jug hidden over the man’s shoulder.

This sculpture was created in the exact location it is currently on. Creator Richard Beyer had the granite cub delivered right outside the WWU Wilson Library. He then spent the next eight weeks sculpturing it. Forty-seven years later, it can still be found outside the Wilson Library.

Massive stone stylized sculture with rounded edges and smooth appearance. A man and a cougar are locked in combat.

While this piece tells the story of a man and cougar coming together to share a drink, hug, and song in their old age, it holds other meanings too. The Man Who Used to Hunt Cougars for Bounty was installed two years after the first Earth Day in the United States, causing some students to see this sculpture as a reminder that we need mutual respect between man and nature.

Massive stone stylized sculture with rounded edges and smooth appearance. A man and a cougar are locked in combat -head on angle

Located on the edge of North Campus you will find Curve/Diagonal. This sculpture was created by WWU alumni Robert Maki in 1979 and was placed on Western’s campus two years later.

Maki’s piece was so large and heavy, he made a wooden replica to decide where on campus to put his official masterpiece. He eventually decided to place it above High Street in order to capture the movement of light.

What makes Curve/Diagonal so unique is its ability to change. Every hour and every day the sculpture changes. Marki wanted to place the sculpture where the direction of the sun could be used to change the viewer's’ perception of the piece.

Metal sculpture, shaped and pointed like the tip of an arrow. Flat panes of metal that come together with a sharp point at the tip. It rests in the center of a grassy lawn creating dark shadows behind where the sun hits.

“I have always thought of my sculpture as a fragment completed by the site. If not site-generated, they are positioned or placed to activate the site geometry and reference their sudden, extending to engage the viewer visually and physically.” -Robert Maki

For more on what Vikings are saying and thinking about WWU’s sculpture collection, check out the Public Art Collection Project website.