Beyond the daring boldness of his paintings and sculptures, Rick Bartow was a quiet and reflective friend and mentor to many, including Karen Murphy.
Murphy, who is a trustee of Bartow’s artistic estate, will talk about Bartow April 15 at the Karin Clarke Gallery. An exhibit of Bartow’s work (Rick Bartow: Myth/Reality) is up through May 13 at the gallery.
Bartow and Murphy met at the end of 1992 at a mini powwow in Siletz — she worked the raffle and he contributed drawings — and they formed an enduring friendship after Bartow’s wife, Julie Swan, died of cancer in 1999 and Murphy attended to her as a hospice social worker.
The friendship, a “deeper level of sister and brother that remains to this day,” she says in pre-talk notes, became more profound when Murphy’s spouse died in 2009. From there, Bartow and Murphy, both recovering alcoholics, included each other in important family events, she says, and explored spirituality through Indigenous culture, especially Singing Salmon Sweat Lodge.
“Sweat lodge is a spiritual place where people gather with heated stones, their eldest relatives and connect with Creator through song and prayer,” Murphy tells Eugene Weekly in an email. “It is a healing place. Rick Bartow and Walter Klamath started Singing Salmon Sweat Lodge for recovery.”
In a 2022 Oregon ArtsWatch piece about Bartow, it was noted that the artist, an enrolled member of the Mad River band of the Wiyot Tribe in Northern California, and Klamath, an elder in the Siletz Tribe, built the sweat lodge together as an essential part of the Siletz Tribal Alcohol and Drug Program. It also was an essential part of Bartow’s sobriety.
“Walter said anyone of any gender or race could attend because we were all in recovery from something,” Murphy says.
Murphy notes that Bartow “taught me ceremony, songs, life lessons, and took care of me as a big brother would. Every time I represent him, I am filled with honor and humility.”
Karen Murphy Talk on Rick Bartow: Myth/Reality is 2 pm Saturday, April 15, at Karin Clarke Gallery, 760 Willamette Street. FREE.