Ancient Inspiration, Contemporary Expression: Lillian Pitt
The art of a people is a window to its culture and spirituality. In preparation for our "Blessing the Waters of Life Conference," we are pleased to share the artwork of one of the most widely revered contemporary artists of the Columbia River Tribes. Lillian Pitt, a descendant of Wasco, Yakama and Warm Springs people. One of the frequent subjects of her art over the years has been "She Who Watches" a well-known ancient rock painting in the Columbia Gorge. The wide-eyed pictograph has an interesting story behind it. Coyote, known as a trickster, attempted to betray a local tribal leader. A wrestling match ensued and the wily coyote threw the female chief onto the cliff. She turned to stone and to this day, "Tsagiglala" or "She Who Watches" the tribe's guardian, watches over her children.
Art by Lillian Pitt, clockwise from top left: Coyote, She Who Watches in Glass, She Who Watches, Otter. All photos used with permission of Lillian Pitt.
Lillian Pitt is a Native American artist from the Big River (Columbia River) region of the Pacific Northwest. Born on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, she is a descendant of Wasco, Yakama, and Warm Springs people.
She is one of the most highly regarded Native American artists in the Pacific Northwest. Her works have been exhibited and reviewed regionally, nationally and internationally, and she has been the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions. Her awards include the 2007 Earle A. Chiles Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the 1990 Governor’s Award of the Oregon Arts Commission, which declared that she had made “significant contributions to the growth and development of the cultural life of Oregon.”
Primarily a sculptor and mixed media artist, Lillian’s lifetime of works include artistic expressions in clay, bronze, wearable art, prints, and most recently, glass. The focus of her work draws on over 12,000 years of Native American history and tradition of the Columbia River region. Regardless of the medium she chooses to use, Lillian’s contemporary works are all aimed at giving voice to her people.
“Everything I do, regardless of the medium, is directly related to honoring my ancestors and giving voice to the people, the environment and the animals. It’s all about maintaining a link with tradition, and about honoring the many contributions my ancestors have made to this world.”
Lillian’s works are found in personal collections, art galleries and museums. They are also found in numerous public spaces including parks, schools and cultural institutions throughout the region. Her most recent public works are featured at the Vancouver Land Bridge, one of the seven “confluence” projects along the Columbia River, designed by internationally renowned architect Maya Lin.