Bellingham and Whatcom County are known for their incredible summer beauty. So when the weather is sunny, I like to appreciate the diverse, thought-provoking outdoor art, for free, at my own pace.
The art collections below range from the tiniest works to epic grandeur. Part of their charm is their placement in the surrounding landscape and because they’re outside, you can see them almost any time and usually without a crowd.
Western’s sculptures are acclaimed to be one of the top ten university collections in the entire United States, showcasing major artists of the 20th Century. With an environmental focus and a minimalist theme, the collection varies from autonomous objects, participatory art, land-based art, and art as a structure. Because each piece was added to the collection over a span of many decades, the entire campus is dominated by these diverse and amazing sculptures that are each rich with history. You’ll be fascinated by the artists, the meaning in each piece, and for some, their purpose.
Western ensures that art is incorporated into the budget of each new building meaning the collection continues to grow as the campus does. I worked on campus in 1999 when the collection of small figural sculptures in bronze, Feats of Strength by Tom Otterness came to the square outside the then-new Biology building. This art was added to campus with support from Western Washington University in partnership with one-half of one percent for art law via the Art in Public Places Program of the Washington State Arts Commission.
Literally, hundreds of thousands of kids have climbed on the base of For Handel while waiting to attend a performance at WWU’s Performing Arts Center (PAC). The sculpture by Mark di Suvero was created in 1975 and is dedicated to composer George Frederic Handel. The view of Bellingham Bay and downtown from the adjacent quad is spectacular.
You can tour through more than a dozen sculptures on the WWU campus. Use your phone to dive deeper into descriptions of each piece and hear an audio interpretation. When campus is open, visitors are able to pick up a printed copy of the University Public Art Collection at any of the Visitor Information Centers. The closest one to WWU is located at 904 Potter Street in Bellingham.
There are lots of ways to get to WWU. Make sure you park legally. Please deleteI like to listen to the audio interpretation of each piece on the WWU website to dive deeper into each piece.
In addition to Western’s on-campus collection, the university is also the new steward of the 14.5-acre Sculpture Woods On Lummi Island. The collection was donated to WWU by artist Ann Morris and her family, for the university to maintain and use the property to enrich their curriculum.
There are 16 life-size bronze sculptures throughout the property that reflect the connection between nature and the human spirit.
Tucked away above Lake Whatcom is a beautiful park that shows off original sculptures nestled in a gorgeous garden stretching over 2.5 acres. With over 37 permanent works by international and local artists, there is always something new to discover. Bring your phone and access the City of Bellingham Public Art Collection website for descriptions of each piece. This little park is a hidden secret, has cool shade on a sunny day, and is rarely crowded. When my kids were little, we would explore this quiet, restful place and pose for pictures with the art for grandma.
The City of Bellingham has owned this secret garden since 1993. It is open dawn to dusk year-round. When you arrive at the front gate of the park you can review the park map to get a greater understanding of the layout. There are also restrooms at this park as well.
The vegetation is lush with spring flowering azaleas and rhododendrons and in the fall, beautiful leaves of many colors on the maples that fill each corner. But FYI, no pets are allowed in this park. A visitor tip – there is parking at Big Rock Garden after you turn right up the small roadway.
If you take a stroll around downtown Bellingham, you may notice a few outdoor sculptures that catch your eye. The City of Bellingham Public Art Collection has cataloged 21 pieces in the downtown area. Take a walking tour to see if you can find them all. One very popular piece is the Sentinel by T. Ellen Sollod, which is located right outside of Bayou on Bay.
The City of Bellingham has more than 80 outdoor sculptures and pieces of artwork in its collection and that will only improve. In 2015, the Bellingham City Council approved an ordinance requiring the city to set aside funds to be used to integrate artwork into new projects. The ordinance requires 1 percent of capital projects that cost at least $2 million to comply. That means the already stellar public art in our area will continue to grow as the city does.
As the waterfront continues to be redeveloped additional pieces will be added. One of the most recent includes the new reclaimed Waypoint piece that is a glowing beacon at night. It is a remnant of the downtown waterfront’s history as part of the Georgia Pacific Pulp and Paper Mill. The new park that will surround it includes beach access, walking trails and a fantastic view.
The City of Bellingham acquires, commissions, and has had artists donate these incredible pieces. All are available for public viewing year-round. The real question is, can you see them all?
More details can be found here: City Center Outdoor Art
The Ferndale Arts Commission‘s Downtown Mural Project has added several murals for visitors to downtown Ferndale to appreciate. You’ll find art in three alleyways off of Ferndale’s Main Street, and on buildings on nearby Second and Third Avenue.
These murals were designed by local artists and installed by the artists themselves or through a volunteer effort coordinated by the Arts Commission. They were organized by former Ferndale Councilmember, now Whatcom County Auditor, Rebecca Xczar, on behalf of the Arts Commission and funded with a combination of a Project Neighborly grant from the Whatcom Community Foundation, city funds and private donations from property owners.
A commissioned mural, Spirit of Kulshan, is a sweeping contemporary landscape by Brenda Goddard-Laurence of Brenda Goddard Designs on the side of 5685 Third Ave, adjacent to the scrumptious Luxe Thai.
It’s generally easy to find street parking in downtown Ferndale. After taking your mural tour, consider a walk along the Nooksack River in the nearby Centennial Riverwalk Park or take a short drive to enjoy nearby Hovander Homestead Park.
Travel Tip: This gallery was temporarily closed in observance of the Washington State Public Health orders to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19. Please plan to check out this beautiful garden and gallery once orders have been lifted.
Highway 11, more commonly known as Chuckanut Drive by the residents of Bellingham, offers beautiful views, relaxing curves, and one of the most gorgeous galleries filled with local artists, Chuckanut Bay Gallery and Sculpture Garden.
The Gallery building was constructed in the 1930’s as a garage and service station for motorists. Years later it was converted into a general store and in 1986 the gallery was opened by Don and Carol Salisbury. Fast forward a few decades and the Gallery changed hands for the first time to the current owners Nancy and Christopher Haley.
The Gallery features over 400 artists and offers Bellingham residents and tourists a warm welcome into the art world. Whether exploring the art for sale inside or venturing into lush gardens decorated with unique sculptures made of every kind of material, you’ll be fascinated.
The Outdoor Sculpture Garden is speckled with colors on the ground, in water fountains and hanging from tree branches. The sculpture garden is small but offers viewers of any age an experience to hunt and find its secret treasures. Everywhere you look there are delete a intricate sculptures peeking out at you. Long glass flowers, metal frogs and bears, dazzling stone figures all populate the Garden serenaded by the sound of running waterfalls and songbirds.
Want to take the artwork home with you? Art lovers can scoop up pieces of handmade jewelry, wooden crafts, cookware, games, textiles, art prints, handcrafted soaps and lotions. Or make their own artwork by taking pictures in the gardens overflowing with sculptures.This makes a great stop on your way to or from the brilliant Larrabee State Park, full of huge trees, beach, rocky cliffs and spectacular views of Bellingham Bay.
From small designs like the Kombucha Town’s mural to the largest mural in Washington State located on Puget Sound Energy’s building that spans the length of two football fields, Gretchen Leggitt is leaving her mark on Bellingham and Washington State.
- The Kona Bike Shop: 1622 N State St., Bellingham
- Puget Sound Energy: 915 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham
- Horseshoe Cafe: 113 E Holly St., Bellingham
- Ciao Thyme: 207 Unity St., Bellingham
- Kombucha Town: 210 E Chestnut St., Bellingham
There is so much outdoor art available in Bellingham and Whatcom County that you won’t be able to see it all in a single day. So plan your stay for a long weekend, a week or longer to appreciate all of the art this beautiful place has to offer.