Anthony Duenas Takes Native American Myth to the Street

A thunderbird by Anthony Duenas. Spaceworks photo

by Lisa Kinoshita

Artist Anthony Duenas was born and raised in East Tacoma, but his roots are embedded with the Puyallup Indians, a tribe whose history in the Puget Sound region spans thousands of years. “I am Native American, an enrolled Puyallup tribal member,” he said in an e-mail interview. Duenas’s artwork centers on contemporary interpretations of Northwest native mythology rendered in the graceful curvilinear style of Coast Salish. He has created original outdoor murals and collaborative art around Tacoma including in the McKinley neighborhood, the Lincoln District and the Dome District.

“The more I got into the Coast Salish art form, the more I wanted to return the art form to the area,” he said. “I don’t want to lose the stories and myths of my tribe, and surrounding tribes.” Located on bustling city streets and near businesses, Duenas’s wall-spanning paintings energize neighborhood landscapes while bringing indigenous culture and storytelling to the surface of public awareness. 


His latest work is located downtown in the alley of Court C behind the 953 Market St. Building. It tells the story of, “Thunderbird, [who] used to kill and eat women and children. Five brothers came together and planned on killing Thunderbird – the oldest brother on the first day, the second oldest on the second day, and so on, ’til all 5 had fought.

“After fighting all five brothers, he realized that he would like them to be a part of his family and [to] turn them into humans….Thunderbird grants the brothers human life, and that they would not be killed in war.” In the alley, a giant thunderbird is the main image while five smaller panels depict the brothers in black and red.

The combination of traditional Native imagery painted in a non-traditional form and in unusual sites makes Duenas’s artwork an especially noteworthy addition to Tacoma’s bursting murals scene. The artist is pleased to visually tell the stories of the Puyallup tribe, and to “bring back the art form to the southern Puget Sound.” A mysterious and captivating mural on the McKinley hilltop commissioned by Dome Top community group showed “a representation of adolescent boys in the Puyallup main village, in training. Before settlers [arrived], the teenagers were forced to climb that hill and train to fight and hunt, to provide for the people.” Sadly, that mural has been effaced and covered over by graffiti. Hopefully, Duenas’s stories will continue to appear, and to provide parts of Tacoma’s mythos, piece by piece.

Anthony Duenas / syayayəʔ ʔə tiiɫ x̌ʷiqʷadiʔ, Court C alley (on the side of 953 Market St. Building). Through November, 2017

Photo: Kris Crews
Photo: Kris Crews