Lillian Pitt

Lillian Pitt

Artist Statement

“I was born of the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon over seventy years ago. My ancestors lived in the Columbia River Gorge area for over 10,000 years. My father’s people lived on the Oregon side near the great Celilo Falls. In the mid-1800’s the government moved the Washington Wasco, Wishxam, Wanapum Indians to Yakima, then switched their names to “Yakima.” The Oregon side Wasco, Wyam, Tenino, Tygh, Watlalas, were moved to Warm Springs, Oregon, then were called the “Warm Springs” Tribe. I lived in Warm Springs with my parents for twelve years before moving fifteen miles away to Madras. The day after high school graduation I moved to Portland to attend a hair styling college. After years of hairstyling, I became an instructor but had to retire because of a bad back, resulting in four back surgeries. I received my Associates of Arts degree in Mental Health/Human Services in 1981. It was during this time that I took a ceramics class. It was love at first touch! I knew then that I wanted to work in clay forever, but did not feel I was talented enough. So I made plans to continue my education in the undergraduate program in social work.

That same summer, I made seven raku-fired masks, just for the fun of it! When I heard the famous Navajo artist, R.C. Gorman, was having an opening at a local gallery, I gathered my poor quality photographs to show him, if I could muster up the courage to talk to him. I went, we talked, he asked, “What do you do?” I answered, “I make masks.” He bought two, and then convinced the gallery owner to carry the rest of my work. His generous support started me on my way in the art field. I had planned to give myself a year to give art a try; if I failed, I would go back to college.

Well, that was twenty years ago. I have been fortunate enough to make a living with my masks, mask pins, and multi media works ever since. My motto is the three “P’s”: patience, persistence, and perseverance.

When hand-building my masks, I think of the rich history of the Columbia River Gorge, the people, the legends and stories, the animals, salmon, and all its life-giving properties. It inspires me to pay homage to it all throughout the clay process.

The Stick Indian is part of it. They live in the mountains and whistle like birds. If a good person is lost in the woods, The Stick Indian will guide him to safety; whereas, a bad person will be led deeper into the forest. The Stick Indian also steals badly behaved children, and Coyote, the Trickster, is always involved to show us how not to behave, or to have fun in a mischievous manner. Legend has it that he was the one who changed Taagagilal, the woman chief near Wishram, into a rock to watch over her people forever. I never know which clay piece to do a special bronze edition with. Usually it has been fired in the wood fired anagama kiln sixty miles away. The piece sometimes has an aura of magic about it from the intense heat, ash and direct flame. I ask myself if the piece is worthy enough to be duplicated many times in a different medium. If it evokes positive feelings in me, I do the bronze edition, because I feel we all need positive messages or feelings. It takes sixteen weeks to complete the bronze casting process. It is complicated to me but I appreciate the results. Like the work from the high-fired anagama kiln, where fifty percent survives, I never know the exact outcome, so I treasure each piece that survives such a long journey. It becomes more special when it is shared with the general public because it represents my ancestry, my origins, and my sense of gratitude of who I am.”