UWT Art Installation Honors Puyallup River and People


July 8, 2019 – A new art installation focused on our rivers and the languages we use to name them, came to fruition at the University of Washington, Tacoma, on the week of July 8. “All the Rivers in the World” by artist Vaughn Bell is an outdoor piece stretching 270 feet along the length of the retaining wall on the west side of the Prairie Line Trail.

“All the Rivers in the World” is an effort to recognize the shapes and names of rivers that mean the most to the community. To begin his work, Bell engaged the campus community in a series of participatory events, where participants were asked to think about “the rivers you know, remember and are connected to,” as recalled in a press release from UWT.

Participants were encouraged to share the name of the river that means the most to them in “the language most meaningful to you.” The gathered names in various languages were used to create the piece; a series of metal panels shaped into the rivers named by the community, etched with their names. This has the effect of creating “a river of words, in which all the names come together to create a larger whole.” This river of words is an intentional reference to the “ghost signs” found on many UWT campus buildings.

Dr. Danica Miller, a professor at UWT and Puyallup Tribal member, consulted on the project, and helped Bell coordinate with the Puyallup Language Program. As a way to recognize the significance of the Puyallup people and river, the Lushootseed name for the Puyallup River starts and ends the project.

The Lushootseed name for the Puyallup River frames either side of the installation. Photo by Puyallup Tribal member Jennifer Squally.
The piece is installed by UWT Facilities staff, supervised by artist Vaughn Bell. Photo by Puyallup Tribal member Jennifer Squally.