Portland Oregon’s TriMet transportation system installed the three, one-ton totem public art sculptures called “River Spirits” at the Ainsworth Greenspace in January 2004. Shown here are early visitors to the installation.
About the Portland Tri-Met Metropolitan Greenspace Project
The Portland Tri-Met Metropolitan Greenspace Project is an extension of the Portland Tri-Met public art project. As such, Lillian Pitt’s project for the Ainsworth Greenspace was conceived as an extension of her public art project at the Tri-Met Rosa Parks station.
The inspiration for the 12-foot-tall sculptures was drawn from trees along the Interstate MAX alignment. Three bronze totem heads representing a legendary or sacred being top the totems: “She Who Watches” by Lillian Pitt, “Salmon” by Ken MacKintosh, and “Crow” by Rick Bartow. The sculptures face inward, forming a small plaza with a river-like pathway with a bronze spiral inset in the center.
Educating People about Native American Culture
As with many of Lillian’s artistic pursuits, her goal isn’t just to create amazing works of art. Equally important, is her goal to educate people about her ancestors and about the need to live in harmony with nature.
The educational aspects of the Ainsworth project were enhanced by the opportunity to include a poetry project for students at the Ainsworth school. Students learned to write poetry, and in keeping with the aims of the greenspace goals, were inspired to write about nature.
The class was taught by collaborating artist and author, Gayle Tremblay, who has worked frequently with Lillian over the years.
Many of the resulting children’s poems are engraved onto the maple-tree columns that serve as the stands for the totems.
Relections on the Ainsworth Greenspace Public Art Project
The Ainsworth project was an extension of the Portland TriMet Public Arts Project, so I had the privilege of working with the same artists that I worked with on the Rosa Parks Boulevard project.
We wanted to do something that was in keeping with the diverse neighborhoods that were nearby, and we wanted to do something to honor the maple trees that used to grow on that spot.
We ended up using legendary images from different tribal traditions to represent the diversity in Native American culture, and we placed these giant images on top of pillars in the shape of maple tree trunks.