Lillian Pitt, Transcendent Artist of Warm Springs

(Photos above courtesy of Raven Makes Gallery)

The second and third floors of the Portland Art Museum offer the finest collection of Native American Art in Oregon and represent one of the best collections in the United States. These works span both the North American continent and its history, from ancient times to current, which are reflected by some of the contemporary artists that have been included. The works of Lillian Pitt are displayed prominently at the entrance to the expansive collection.

The Museum at Warm Springs has held exhibitions honoring Lillian’s work and has her pieces displayed at the entrance to the Collections Room. The High Desert Museum is still another Oregon museum that houses her work. Outside of Oregon, Lillian’s art graces the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and The Burke Museum in Seattle, which holds yet another nationally famously collection. The list of awards, shows and exhibitions for Lillian’s career is over three pages long. Books have been written that include her works; books have been written about her works. Her place as the preeminent living Native American artist of Oregon is unquestionable.

These distinctions however, are somewhat limiting because they form a certain kind of perimeter around Lillian, creating a perception that her Native American roots and those artistic traditions are what enabled her to be so successful. While she does not shy away from those connections, a single opportunity to see Lillian’s pieces at a show, one chance to meet her, quickly discards the narrower perspective a person might hold regarding her ability as an artist.

Lillian has come to understand, incorporate, and master many of the concepts and techniques of contemporary Western art. Her range of mediums—glass, clay, metal, jewelry, printmaking, multi-media—establishes an exceptional breadth of skills for any artist. In short, Lillian’s dynamic artistic abilities demonstrate that she would have been a highly successful artist had she chosen Western World subjects and motifs. Her Honorary Doctorate from the University of Portland nine years ago exemplifies this high regard for her and her abilities.

Her indigenous heritage and the birthright traditions that come along with it deeply formed Lillian, both as a child and young adult. Throughout her early and later career, she remained true to this most essential foundation. The result of Lillian’s commitment to her identity has helped to raise the public’s awareness about the First Peoples of this region, while accomplishing it in a beautiful and contemporary manner. As a young artist in the 1960’s and 70’s, Native American Art had its place, but that place wasn’t nearly as popular or lucrative as it can be today. At the time, the art world was embracing a number of modernist movements that fairly excluded tradition. Art was more trendy then; elegant and enduring could be brushed aside as being passe. Lillian did not waiver; she stayed with what had shaped her even though transforming herself more simply into an artist could have allowed her to capitalize on her ability and what was fashionable to create in the moment. In short, she chose the most honorable yet more rigorous path. Now in her 70’s, she still walks it.

Lillian will be holding a show in Sisters June 22-24 with an Artist Reception on Friday from 4-7pm. Her new works will be on display at Raven Makes Gallery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *