Eiteljorg Musuem Blog

As I Remember

by Jennifer Complo-McNutt, Curator of Contemporary Art | Apr 15, 2016
It is with fond memories and a heavy heart that I share with museum friends the passing of Rick Bartow, artist, father, friend and one of the most genuine people I have ever met. RIP Rick Bartow (December 16, 1946 - April 2, 2016).

Rick Bartow

The first time I met Rick Bartow (Wiyot) was in Portland, Oregon, at the Froelick Gallery in 2000. I was there to review work for the second round of the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship. Rick and his friend, artist Joe Feddersen (Colville Confederated Tribes), were both there and had both been accepted into the Fellowship program. I had spent time with Joe before, but this was my first face-to-face meeting with Rick. Rick was modest. Joe was not. It was the beginning of what would be my great pleasure to experience, for years, the unrelenting rivalry and trickery of their friendship.

At that time, the Fellowship program was very young and so were the three of us. Gallery owner, Charles Froelick, was a wonderful host, making introductions and eventually taking me into the gallery’s storage, where I saw Rick’s incredibly prolific body of work. Drawing after drawing; wood carvings large and small; heart-wrenching, blood-boiling transformations of animals and people--birds and dogs were all there; bears, coyotes peering out with teeth and glasses and colors. It was overwhelming. With hundreds of images and ideas racing through my head, I choose the work for the 2001 Fellowship exhibition, After the Storm.

The show included Fox Spirit (2000), which the museum later purchased for our permanent collection. I probably heard Rick tell the story of this unforgettable piece a thousand times. He called the taxidermy fox that is the foundation of Fox Spirit, “Mickey the dog.” Rick rescued Mickey from the trash at his home and assigned it to a shelf until it started to shed. In an attempt to save Mickey, he bound the fox and later spray painted it after it continued to disintegrate. He told me that when he painted the fox’s eyes white, he “knew it was art”—no longer “Mickey the dog” but Fox Spirit. The identifiable moment when this piece became art has always been a point of great interest for me and an insight to share with others. One more thing: The characters written on cardboard and wrapped on the fox’s leg have been translated as “one soldier” and “ramen noodles.” The mystery of those words remains.


Fox Spirit, 2000
Mixed Media
Collection Eiteljorg Museum

Rick’s work has a way of taking his audience to the precipice of our strongest feelings about our families, friends, ourselves and the mysteries of our lives. Rick’s first wife died in 1999, shortly after he created a self portrait. I remember taking 28 + 13 Selbst (1999) to the museum’s Collections Council for approval of the purchase. Comments included the power of the piece and how hard it was to look at. I believed then as I do now, some works are meant to be preserved by museums because they are so heart-wrenching, too honest for hanging over the living room sofa.


28 + 13 Selbst, 1999
Pastel, graphite, charcoal
Collection Eiteljorg Museum

When artists arrive for Fellowship weekend activities they are transported to their hotel in a “limo.” Most of the time the “limo” experience is really a shared ride in a large vehicle. For some reason, in 2001, Joe got a real stretch limousine and Rick was relegated to the average experience. Oh boy, that fueled the fire! And I never heard the end of it. But that did not diminish the great fun we had during the celebration. We were lucky enough to have a local gallery host a pre-opening “jam” with Rick and friends. We enjoyed great sounds on an unusually sunny November day.

From left to right, John Domont, Kim Gradolf, Rick Bartow, John Vanausdall

As a very generous act of friendship, in 2007, the Froelick Gallery and Rick donated to the Eiteljorg a maquette (small model or study in three dimensions) that illuminates the responsibility of raising a child. It is a beautifully-symbolic work that acknowledges young men who are incarcerated and their inability to provide for their families. It extols the importance of all parts of the community that support and build families. Rick’s daughter, “Wee Lilly Malcolm-Bartow,” peeks out of a basket; the moon and the sun; the coyote and “humblers,” birds who make us behave; salmon and masks come together to illustrate the balance and circle of life.

Recently, while visiting Portland, I saw another body of Rick’s work that was large and magnificent and bold—even after his recent stroke. Nothing will ever take the life from this artist’s work. I was thinking this week how profound Rick’s legacy is and how each of his works is alive—not just like one describes the beautiful movement of an artist line or brilliance of color, but alive like a deep breath. Of all the artists we exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum, Rick’s work reaches young and old, happy and sad, those who know a lot about art and those who don’t. It is genuine and authentic.

Prior to his passing, Rick made another generous donation to the museum of work that represents his interests and ability in transformation—work that I have only seen today and have only begun to process. Here are a few examples.  


Guard Dog, 1996
Pastel, Charcoal
Collection Eiteljorg Museum

Grandmother Mouse
Pastel, Charcoal
Collection Eiteljorg Museum

Coyote Chant, 2004
Charcoal, Pastel
Collection Eiteljorg Museum

In my office I have two notes from Rick with drawings of birds and dogs. I look at them nearly every day and occasionally reread them. He was always grateful—grateful for the season and the day—and talking about animals and birds he had seen. Rick was always writing about the work--his work, your work and how it was going; what was new and coming up in his musings; what he was excited to see.

As I talk to colleagues and friends and we acknowledge this great loss, the thought of Rick Bartow’s great legacy continues to inspire me. I keep thinking, the spirit of Rick lives on so vividly in his work, he has finally and truly transformed.

Bob Hicks wrote a thoughtful story about Rick in Oregon Arts Watch:
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