artist, entrepreneur

Louie Gong

From the moment you set foot in Seattle, you can feel it: art is everywhere.

The thriving arts scene is a priority in this city—in fact, Seattle has been recognized for having more arts-related businesses and organizations per capita than any other metropolitan area in the U.S., according to Americans for the Arts. Artist and entrepreneur Louie Gong is one of the contributors to this creative city. Read on for a look at the city through his artistic lens.

Q&A with Louie Gong

The art in your store Eighth Generation depicts everything from salmon to the Seattle Seahawks. How did this mix arise?

For many native artists, nature is a major inspiration, but sometimes you have to reconcile with living in a city. I grew up on the rural Nooksack reservation, but I always visualized myself in a city. My first designs were on Vans sneakers. The art in the store reveals influences from both nature and the urban environment. That’s why it looks and feels different from other “native art” stores. Our focus is to be honest and challenge stereotypes.

What’s the significance of your design featuring three hummingbirds fighting?

I’m Nooksack, Chinese, French and Scottish. All my work is about identity. If you watch hummingbirds, you know they’re territorial—they’re proxies for people. In this design there’s a bully, a victim, and a hero. I think we can revisit these roles—have new conversations about identity and race—with a lighter tone through the artwork.

What’s your advice for visitors looking to purchase Native American art?

Make sure the artist’s name is attached. There is a market for this cultural art, and native artists have been kept out of the profit loop. Avoid “native-inspired” art, which means native people weren’t involved. In our store we use the term “inspired native,” because native artists are creating the work.

What do you wish people knew about Seattle?

I want people to know that the native art of Seattle area is Coast Salish. It’s distinct from Northwest Coast peoples, who stretch from Northern California to Alaska. Traditionally, Coast Salish art was utilitarian, carved into things people actually used. That’s why our art is on phone cases and tote bags. It’s more accurate.

Where can visitors learn about Coast Salish history?

It’s really worth a trip to the Suquamish Museum, which you can get to by the Bainbridge ferry. It’s tribally run, so native people are in control of the story. Or the Hibulb Cultural Center in Tulalip—that’s another really beautiful, authentic museum.

Where do you hang out when you aren’t working?

I’m perpetually kicking myself for not spending more time in nature. But when I do get out, I like to go to Seward Park. The International District has so much great food—I go to Eastern Café for breakfast, Hoho Seafood for Chinese, and Phnom Penh Noodle House. The Wing Luke Museum is another favorite spot, especially the Bruce Lee exhibit.


Interview by Brangien Davis.

Photo taken in his studio at the INSCAPE Arts & Cultural Center. 


The Seattle Channel’s Art Zone with Nancy Guppy caught up with Louie Gong to learn more about Eighth Generation and how he’s working to mentor other Native artists.



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