Joe Feddersen | Signs of the Times

By Devon Jackson

Fish Trap Series, blown glass
Fish Trap Series, blown glass

Where most people see merely tire tracks and cinder blocks, simple shapes and primary colors, Joe Feddersen sees symbols and signs, identities and relationships. While some might describe the patterns of Feddersen’s prints, collages, and glass works as abstract, Feddersen thinks of his artwork as much more concrete. “I think of these as portrayals of the land, so they are, in a sense, landscapes,” says the 54-year-old artist from his home in Tacoma, WA, not far from the campus of Evergreen State College, where he’s taught printmaking for the past 18 years. “They deal with a visual language that speaks to place—in particular, the Plateau.”

A native of Washington’s Inland Plateau region of the Columbia River Basin and a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, Feddersen is deeply rooted to, and celebratory of, the land where he grew up. It’s a heritage that, ironically, he took for granted before reclaiming it artistically. The 12 tribes of Colville were renowned for their textiles, for the sophisticated geometry and subtle colors of their baskets and blankets. “There were always baskets and blankets around while I was growing up but I never really thought much about them. I never really thought about my Native background,” admits Feddersen.
Born in 1953 in the tiny town of Omak, in the middle of Washington and only an hour south of Canada, Feddersen was the third of six children. His mom stayed at home with the kids while his father went to work at the local lumber mill. Feddersen often made things on his dad’s table saw, and when he later worked in a crafts shop in high school, he cast figures and other knickknacks in ceramic—and spent entire paychecks on art supplies.

Still, he never really planned too far ahead. He remembers standing in line to register at nearby Wenatchee Valley College and saying to himself, “If I can’t be an art major, I’ll be a math major.” Art won out, but not for long. “I spent one year at Wenatchee, then I took a
seven-year hiatus to work for the public utility district as a hydromechanic and hydromatic operator, keeping the dam going,” laughs Feddersen, adding somewhat glumly: “You watch the dials.” For seven years. Watching the dials.
When he wasn’t watching the dials, he painted. “I always maintained ties to the arts community,” he says. “Plus, I became friends with the faculty at Wenatchee.” Faculty such as legendary printmaker Glen Alps, with whom Feddersen had taken a class, and printmaker Robert Graves. Meanwhile, back at the dam, most of his coworkers knew what and where their fellow dial-watcher really ought to be. “People at the dam would say, ‘What are you doing here? Go back to school and be an artist,’” he recalls. “So I started at the University of Washington in 1979, once again studying with Alps.”


Feddersen focused almost exclusively on printmaking and served as Alps’ studio assistant…

Featured in August 2007


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