The Pacific Northwest may be known for its rainy winter season, but Bellingham and Whatcom County are also known for their incredible summer beauty. So when the weather is good I like to appreciate the diverse, thought-provoking outdoor art. The best part is, viewing is free and I can explore at my own pace.
The collections below range from the tiniest works to epic grandeur. Part of their charm is their placement in the surrounding landscape. 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, and showcases 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 when the collection of little people 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 Art in Public Places Program of the Washington State Arts Commission.
Literally, hundred’s of thousands of kids have climbed on the base of For Handel—including my own—while waiting to attend a performance at WWU’s Performing Arts Center (PAC). 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. 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. I like to listen to the audio interpretation of each piece on the WWU website to dive deeper into each piece.
516 High Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
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 sculptures throughout the property that reflect the connection between nature and the human spirit.
Sculpture Woods is open to the public on the first Saturday of each month, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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. 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.
2900 Sylvan Street
Bellingham, WA, 98225
If you take a stroll around downtown Bellingham, you may notice a few outdoor sculptures that catch your eye. 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.
Art is sprinkled throughout the city. There is a walkable concentration in the Downtown Arts District. As the waterfront continues to be redeveloped additional pieces will be added. One of the most recent includes the new reclaimed Waypoint piece that will be a glowing beacon. 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
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 for any age an experience to hunt and find it’s secret treasures. Everywhere you look there are 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. outdoor art
700 Chuckanut Drive N
Bellingham, WA 98229
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. outdoor art