Today, we mourn the loss of Marvin Oliver,’73, a giant of the art world, a treasured professor emeritus of American Indian Studies and a graduate of University of Washington. It’s painful to lose someone who has been so integral to our culture and community, but we can reflect with joy and gratitude on his enormous and lasting contribution to our world. His impact will always be felt here, not only through his seminal artwork, but through his efforts to advance the cause of equity through teaching, mentorship, and community building.
Only a few months ago, we had the privilege of presenting Marvin with the Charles E. Odegaard Award, which honors individuals whose leadership in the community exemplifies the former UW president’s work on behalf of diversity, at the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity’s annual Celebration. Marvin, of Quinault and Isleta-Pueblo heritage, perfectly embodied that spirit. Across his career spanning more than four decades, his soaring, breathtaking sculptures merged, in his words “the spirit of past traditions with those of the present to create new horizons for the future.” In the process, he greatly advanced the development and recognition of Native American contemporary fine art in the art world and within the broader culture.
Here at the UW, where he earned his M.F.A. in 1973, he will be best remembered as an inspiring teacher who connected deeply with students. He loved introducing students to the discipline and technique of his craft while also encouraging them to discover and celebrate their own identity. Early in his tenure, he began a tradition of an annual dinner, now known as Raven’s Feast, to celebrate the accomplishments of American Indian and Alaska Native graduates. In the years since he founded it, Raven’s Feast has grown into a cornerstone of the UW Native community.
Marvin will be missed by all who knew him and experienced his incredible impact, whether in the classroom, the studio or simply by being in the presence of his phenomenal work. His legacy remains a vibrant part of our campus, from his influence at the Burke Museum to his powerful works like “Raven’s Journey” in the HUB and “Soul Catcher” at the School of Public Health. Above all, he lives on in the many people and places he touched with his art and wisdom. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and loved ones in their time of loss.