Qwalsius – Shaun Peterson

Qwalsius – Shaun Peterson

Qwalsius – Shaun Peterson is a renowned Coast Salish artist and a member of the Puyallup Tribe who has been practicing his craft since 1996. Peterson was born in Puyallup, Washington in 1975.  He began pursuing the art of his Native heritage shortly after graduating from high school. He works in wood, glass, metal, and digital media, embracing historical and contemporary influences throughout. In 2008, Seattle Art Museum mounted “S’abadeb, The Gifts: Pacific Coast Salish Art and Arts”, a major exhibition of historical and contemporary artwork which he contributed to.

In the fall of 2005 the artist received the Native name that belonged to his Great Grandfather; Qwalsius. In the tradition of receiving the name Peterson accepted responsibility to honor not only his immediate family through his art, but the community of which he is part, as well as the ancestors who brought the art to where it is now. In 2010 Peterson’s ambitious 20 ft tall, Salish-style “welcome pole” was raised in Tacoma, WA in Tollefson Plaza. As part of a public art collaboration between the City of Tacoma, the Tacoma Art Museum and the Puyallup tribe, it was ten years in the making. He currently serves on TAM’s board of trustees.

Peterson has recently been commissioned by the city of Seattle to create a permanent monumental work for the city’s waterfront project. It consists of cedar and bronze in the form of three figures in the ancient sculptural style standing on concrete bases with decorative elements that honor the Coast Salish textile art tradition. Most recently, he is working on a permanent installation for Kobe, Japan and three major works for his tribal community. The approach uses a mixture of traditional and modern materials to
showcase that Native art can honor the past in the present with modern innovation. The artist states, “Innovation is part of tradition because, as storytelling teaches us, the hero is often the one in question for making us change what we thought was the way. Art is just an extension of that, always in motion.”

He has recently collaborated on a collection of re-imagined Coast Salish myths with writer Andrea Grant, entitled “Killer Whale-Wolf & the Isle of Women.” The Coast Salish people of the Northwest have historically believed that they were surrounded by supernatural beings interfering with the natural world. In their culture, spirits were connected to all living things. Their customs, beliefs, and history were passed down orally through stories, songs, and dances. This illustrated collection is a modernization of some of these traditional Coast Salish stories.

“Native people have survived many obstacles with attempts to erase them from history,” Peterson says. “I am filled with pride knowing the work I make has a history that the ancestors of the land will relate to and the coming generation will grow up with, and bridge that gap as we continue to survive, as we always do.”