If you can see Mt. Baker, you are part of The Experience

State of the Art

Celebrate summer with these outdoor art collections around Whatcom County


In 1931, just after the stock market crash, philanthropists Anna & Archer Huntington opened what’s considered to be the U.S.’s first public outdoor sculpture garden. Situated on more than 9,000 acres on South Carolina’s coast, it gave everyone the opportunity to walk amid graceful oak trees, listening to the sounds of birds and insects busily making their way through manicured gardens. And for a few brief moments, visitors could break from the ritual of their everyday working lives and enjoy the beauty in front of both nature and art.

Here in the shadow of Mt. Baker, you can also wander among works of art while taking a break from the daily hustle and bustle. As we head into summer, enjoy a walk through five collections certain to reawaken your senses.

"Head" by Canadian artist David Marshall, at the Big Rock Sculpture Garden in Bellingham, WA.
"Head" by Canadian artist David Marshall, at the Big Rock Sculpture Garden in Bellingham, WA.


While young families and gaggles of teens flock to Lake Whatcom for a respite from the summer heat, head to a secluded oasis just above the lake at Big Rock Sculpture Garden. Here you’ll find a permanent collection of 39 sculptures by local and international artists (as well as a Japanese-style pagoda) situated on what feels like an expansive plot of land but is only 2.5 acres – making it easily walkable.

Originally named “Gardens of Art” by its founders George, Mary Ann and David Drake, it was purchased by the city of Bellingham in 1993. The garden is cared for by a dedicated group of volunteers, supporting the stated mission of the park, to “inspire an appreciation of the arts and natural environment by showcasing high-quality outdoor sculpture and offering engaging programming in a unique Pacific Northwest setting.”

Notable works include a geometric sculpture by Mexican artist Sebastian, rarely seen pieces by Canadian artist David Marshall, and the recent addition of “Swell” by artist Aaron Loveitt, whose work was selected by a juried process to honor the passing of a beloved Bellingham resident.


In 1896, the iconic Chuckanut Drive (officially known as State Highway 11) was built to provide a land route to the communities along Bellingham Bay. Also referred to as “Washington state’s Big Sur,” the winding road hugs the coast through dense forested canopies striated by bolts of sunlight. At the northern end of the drive sits Chuckanut Bay Gallery & Sculpture Garden, housed in buildings that formerly held a garage, service station and general store.

Today, motorists can pop into the gallery (which opened in 1986) to view the work of over 400 artists, including an outdoor garden that features numerous sculptures among a collection of water features, lanterns, chimes, bird houses and feeders, and an abundance of plants and flowers. Take a minute to sit back and enjoy the sounds of nature and manmade beauty in this peaceful setting.


In 1959, a trailblazing vision led to the inclusion of art in Western Washington University’s construction budget, and in 1974 the state legislature established a public art program to bring more outstanding artwork to the campus. Touted as being one of the top 10 university collections in the U.S., the WWU collection showcases the work of acclaimed artists of the late 20th century to the present.

The university committed to provide a “never-ending maintenance” schedule to keep each piece true to its original form.

From James Fitzgerald’s “Rain Forest” (installed in 1960) to Sarah Sze’s “Split Stone” and Luis Camnitzer’s “A Museum is a School” (both installed in 2019), the outdoor art collection is accessible via audio interpretations from a cellphone, and is available for viewing all summer, even when classes aren’t in session.


Just like the lifecycle of a salmon, the lifecycle of Whatcom Creek has involved birth, death and rebirth.

For 8,000 years, Coast Salish people used the mouth of Whatcom Creek to land canoes, camp, fish, and gather shellfish.

Flash-forward to the 1900s, settlers had “dredged, bermed, moved, paved, diverted and channeled” the creek into city neighborhoods, eventually polluting the once-thriving waterway. But lifesaving efforts were adopted in the mid-1970s to restore the creek and its banks so that it could once more play a part in the ecosystem of the area.

A walk along the Salmon Art Trail takes you past artwork that aims to connect you to nature and showcase the community’s abundance of natural resources. Ten works of art are situated along the path of the creek as it runs out to join the sea, and includes pieces such as Salmon Woman Totem, created by Lummi House of Tears Carvers. Carved from cedar, it peers over Maritime Heritage Park. Adding to the story are native plant signs that explain the significance of a variety of local flora.


Sculptor Ann Morris lives and works on Lummi Island overlooking the Salish Sea. Nestled amongst her 14.5-acre tree-shaded property are many of the life-sized figural sculptures she’s crafted out of bronze. Some are allegorical, some mythical, and some a combination of realism and surrealism.

Finding each sculpture is like a treasure hunt, with every piece revealed providing another opportunity to marvel at the talent of a single artist whose medium is metal.

WWU serves as the steward for the collection (which was donated to the university by Morris and her family), and it’s only accessible the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the artist opens the gates to the public for free.

The sculptures feel tied to the land, with the abundant vegetation playing host to her interpretations of human life in a variety of forms, pursuits, and eventualities.    X