UO alumnus Johnpaul Jones awarded National Humanities Medal at White House ceremony

President Barack Obama presents Johnpaul Jones with the National Humanities Medal (Photo from the National Endowment for the Humanities)
President Barack Obama presents Johnpaul Jones with the National Humanities Medal (Photo from the National Endowment for the Humanities)

“The arts and humanities aren't just there to be consumed when we have a moment, we need them.”

With those words, President Barack Obama awarded the National Humanities Medal to University of Oregon alumnus Johnpaul Jones and 11 other recipients and the National Medal of Arts to 10 recipients during a ceremony at the White House on Monday, July 28.

The first architect to earn a National Humanities Medal, Jones was honored for his holistic architectural style that draws on his Native American – Cherokee and Choctaw – heritage. During his celebrated career, Jones has worked closely with many Native American tribes to translate their traditions and practices into modern building designs.

“Johnpaul Jones, architect, for honoring the natural world and indigenous traditions in architecture. A force behind diverse and cherished institutions, Mr. Jones has fostered awareness through design and created spaces worthy of the cultures they reflect, the communities they serve, and the environments they inhabit.”
- National Humanities Medal Citation for Johnpaul Jones

“Johnpaul is a very special and unique individual,” said David Hubin, senior assistant to the president. “His work at all levels within the context of Native American traditions is without parallel.”

His designs have won wide-spread acclaim for his “four worlds” aesthetic – natural, animal, spiritual and human – and for heightening the understanding of indigenous peoples and cultures of America. He is credited with being able to incorporate traditional Native American design through the use of color and texture in a way that is culturally and environmentally sensitive.

A founding partner at Jones & Jones Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners in Seattle, Jones earned his bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Oregon in 1967. Jones’ firm designed the Many Nations Longhouse on the UO campus that officially opened in January 2005. In 1998 he was also awarded the inaugural Ellis F. Lawrence Medal from the School of Architecture and Allied Arts for his distinguished career.

“Johnpaul has not only been our student, but he has been a mainstay on our campus for more than 20 years as a mentor to four university presidents while working with the president’s office on the Native American Initiative, of which the Many Nations Longhouse was a part,” said Hubin. “He has gone way beyond the role of an architect. His wisdom and generosity of spirit are a university treasure.”

National Museum of the American Indian

Among the most prestigious buildings Jones and his firm have designed is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. that opened in 2004 In creating a space that represented all of the tribes in the United States, he incorporated common elements, including fire, the seasons and shapes, especially the circle, to design an exterior that is organic and stands out among the linear designs typical of the National Mall.

Preferring to work on projects for the Pacific Northwest, Jones’s team designed the Vancouver Land Bridge in southwest Washington that reconnects Fort Vancouver with the Columbia River – two features separated by the Lewis and Clark Highway – and won the 2009 Top Honor Award by the Waterfront Center and Cultural Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Vancouver Land BridgeHis firm also planned the Mercer Slough Nature Park and later the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center – a series of tree houses 30 to 40 feet above the slough. The LEED Gold project was recognized in 2009 by the American Institute of Architects Seattle chapter with the AIA Honor Award and by the American Society of Landscape Architects in Seattle with ASLA Honor Award for excellence in blending architecture and landscape architecture.

First awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1997, the National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has broadened and deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities. The National Endowment for the Humanities was established by Congress in 1965 and supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the country.

By Melissa Foley, Public Affairs Communications