Tribal Elder Encourages Young Artists with Scholarship

Grand Ronde Tribal Elder and artist Steve Bobb, Sr., is supporting the youth of his close-knit Willamina, Oregon, community with a gift that offers more than financial assistance. He and his wife Connie established a scholarship at SOU for students from Willamina High School who are interested in art.

“People often associate pursuing a career in the arts with the old ‘starving artist’ stereotype, but that’s not true,” said Steve. “I want to show kids who are interested in art that they have support, that a career in the arts is possible, and that people believe in them.”

Steve’s lifelong career as an artist is colorful proof that one can make a living in the art world. “I’ve always been an artist. I did my first job for money as an artist when I was ten years old, and I’ve been working as an artist ever since. I have worked on everything from signs to cars to sculptures,” he said.

Steve joined the U.S. Marine Corp in 1968. After his return he pursued art as a career, designing logos for sign companies and building and painting custom cars and hot rods. Among his most striking works is the West Valley Veterans Memorial. The bronze sculpture features a man and woman dressed in traditional Native attire reaching toward the sky. They are surrounded by four black pillars representing the Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force.

“Some people find it strange that so many Natives fight in the military given our history with this country, but we are descendants of warriors, and we still see this land as ours,” said Steve. “The creator placed us in this beautiful nation, and we still defend it because it was given to us. We will not stand on the sidelines.”

Steve’s love of his community is evident in much of his work and activities. “My family has lived in the Grand Ronde community for 120 years. I also attended Willamina High, and I try to help wherever I can,” he said.

Remembering the limited opportunities for art students when he attended Willamina High school in the 1960s, Steve decided he wanted to do something to encourage high school artists. It was around this same time that SOU President Linda Schott visited the Grande Ronde tribe as part of the university’s outreach effort to Oregon’s Native tribes. “It all fell into place. We were supposed to meet,” he said. Steve shared with her his desire to support the students of Willamina, and the scholarship idea was born.

Steve says he hopes that the students who receive the scholarship see it as one more piece of encouragement. “I don’t want students to get discouraged about an arts career,” he said. “If you have a little bit of knack and some motivation, there are tons of different ways to apply those skills. Art opens all kinds of doors, and each and every student can make things happen.”