The Burke Museum's Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art stages its founding art auction on May 23, 2004.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 5/29/2013
  • Essay 10398
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On May 23, 2004, the Burke Museum's newly established Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art stages its founding art auction. The Bill Holm Center is named for the Burke's retired curator of Native American Art, Bill Holm (b. 1925), an acknowledged authority on Northwest Coast art. The center was formally launched in 2003, and this is its first big public event. The art auction is held at the Burke Museum and includes more than 200 artworks by more than 50 Northwest artists. Some works were made by Holm himself, such as a sheep-horn bowl in the style of a Haida carver. Others were made by well-known Native artists such as Hyacinth Joe David (b. 1946) and Duane Pasco (b. 1932). The auction attracts a large crowd of donors and bidders and raises more than $300,000 for the Bill Holm Center Endowment, along with another $15,300 for the Burke Education Department's School Program. These funds will allow the Bill Holm Center to become a thriving research center for the study of Native art.

For Scholars and Artists

The Bill Holm Center was conceived as a way for scholars and artists to receive research grants to study at the Burke Museum. Robin K. Wright, Holm's successor as curator of Native American art, said she "wanted to assure Holm's legacy will continue into the future" ("NEH Grant").

Holm, well-known for his modesty, was "very hesitant to have his name on it" but finally agreed after being convinced that the focus would be on the art, and "not on him," wrote Wright in the auction catalog (catalog).

George F. MacDonald, then director of the Burke Museum, wrote that "the event is both a tribute to Bill Holm himself, and to those artists who have taken inspiration and guidance from his teachings and writings" (catalog).

Earlier in 2004, the center had received a National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant of $300,000. The auction was intended as a way to raise funds that would be matched by that challenge grant. Auction items ranged from paintings and carvings to drums, baskets, button dresses, and a model canoe.

The event was successful at reaching its goal and was instrumental in putting the center on a sound financial footing. The center continued to be a key research center, and in 2012 launched a new program called Connections to Culture, which allowed it to expand its research grants and make grants directly to Native arts organizations.

In 2013, the University of Washington Press launched the Bill Holm Center Publication Series, dedicated to important new research on Native art and culture in the Pacific Northwest. The first title in the series was 2013's In the Spirit of the Ancestors: Contemporary Northwest Coast Art at the Burke Museum edited by Robin K. Wright and Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse.

Sources: Auction catalog, "Celebrating the New Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art," May 23, 2004, Burke Museum website accessed May 1, 2013 (; Press release, "Burke Museum Receives NEH Grant for New Bill Holm Center," April 19, 2004, Burke Museum website accessed May 1, 2013 (; Jim Kershner interview with Bill Holm, April 16, 2013, recording in possession of Jim Kershner, Spokane.

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