Artist Spotlight: Petroglyphs in Contemporary Art

Artist Spotlight
Petroglyphs in Contemporary Art

By Tyler Noland, SOU ’21

Petroglyphs are an art form that holds intrinsically historic connotations. Often found in caves and on rocks, petroglyphs have been used for thousands of years as symbols carved in stone. These symbols are meant to represent a shared cultural meaning. While they have been found in many different cultures all across the globe, the artwork of Joe Feddersen, one of the featured artists in the Winter Exhibit, dials in on the use of petroglyphs in indigenious North American Tribes. Joe Feddersen is a member of the Colville Tribe where they place high cultural value on petroglyphs as ancestral communications. Many of the pieces of Feddersen’s art featured at the Schneider include glyphs iconography with both traditional and contemporary contexts. 

Joe Fedderson, “Charmed”, 2012 – 2018, fused glass, 132 x 324 x 6 in, 335.3 x 823 x 15.2 cm, courtesy of Froelick Gallery, Portland, OR

On display in the Schneider’s Heiter Gallery is Feddersen’s installation entitled “Charmed”, a sculptural collection of glyphs. Surrounding this main work are expanded pieces from the “Echo” series. “Charmed” encompasses the far wall of the gallery with floor to ceiling hanging glass glyphs, creating a sculpture that reminds viewers of a wind chime. Feddersen’s artwork combines traditional indigenous designs with that of the contemporary landscape. He demonstrates that to be a contemporary artist one does not have to abandon the traditional, but instead consider how new and old work together. This piece juxtaposes glyphs of arrows alongside the symbol for the deathly hallows from Harry Potter, and is an excellent example of this idea. Important symbols in the landscape of tribe life used to include animals and nature, but Feddersen now contrasts these with images of airplanes and power lines. Using culturally powerful imagery the meaning of Feddersen’s glyph iconography depends on the ultimate interpretation of the viewer.    

Joe Fedderen’s “Charmed” and “Echo” will be on display in the Heiter Gallery at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland, OR until March 14th, 2020. 

Tyler Noland is a junior Creative Writing major at Southern Oregon University. She is originally from the Bay Area, and this is her second year at the Schneider Museum of Art. While not working on her writing she enjoys thrifting for her newest funky outfit.