A Contemporary Native American Art Form
I use bronze for some of my works of art because it has the sense of being virtually impenetrable ... strong as the rock that my Native ancestors carved on for so many thousands of years.
I feel that the use of bronze is a kind of testimony to the longevity of my people, and to the strength of the traditions that are still practiced today.
Working in bronze also helps me to understand that some things are meant to last forever.
The plaque shown at the top of this column depicts the mythical Thunderbird, sometimes thought to be the gigantic Condor that used to make it's home throughout the Columbia River Gorge and nearby vicinities. A number of these plaques were commissioned by the Army Corps of Engineers and were placed in three of the "in lieu" sites along the Columbia River. In Oregon they were placed in the Celilo Park and Boardman sites, in Washington at the Roosevelt Park site.
In lieu sites are Indian fishing sites along the Columbia River and its tributaries. They were established by the U.S. Government as compensation to the Indians for lands they had ceded by virtue of the Treaty of 1854. In lieu sites allow Native fishermen to continue to fish in their "usual and customary" places.
Learn more about in lieu sites by visiting the website for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC).
The Process of Creating Works in Bronze
The process of creating a bronze piece is long and complicated, and it requires the expertise and collaboration of a number of people. Consequently, works in bronze typically cost considerably more than works in other mediums.
The artist starts the process by creating the original work, usually in clay or wax. Lillian's medium of choice, of course, is clay. She says that her first piece in bronze was of She Who Watches.
I really loved my She Who Watches clay pieces. I thought that they were all beautiful. But I wanted to create some of them in more enduring material. After all, the real She Who Watches was carved into rock a very, very long time ago, and has overlooked the Columbia River, watching out for her people ever since.
Once the original work of art is created, the foundary process begins.
- A mold is made of the work, usually of silicon rubber or plaster.
- Special wax then gets poured into the mold so that it coats the inside of the mold evenly and completely.
- A shell made of silica is then coated on all of the wax surfaces.
- The wax then gets burned out of the shell (hence the term the "lost wax" process).
- The shell is heated in a kiln, and at the same time, ignots of bronze are dopped into a container and melted to about 2,100 degrees.
- The molten bronze is poured into the shell.
- Through a process of controlling temperatures in the kiln, eventually, the bronze pieces harden and are then left to cool.
- When the bronze has cooled sufficiently, the shell is removed.
- The surface is cleaned, and in the case of very large pieces, the smaller pieces that make up the whole are assembled
- Finally, the patina is applied in accordance with the artist's vision for the piece.
Every step in the process is as important as any other step. At any step in the process, a work of art that might otherwise be destined for a happy life, could be destroyed or severely damaged.
The "Shaman Bird" pictured to the right is one in the series of bronze "Shadow Spirits."
Like the porcelain Shadow Spirits Lillian creates, the bronze pieces convey a sense of the spiritual ... a sense that these are truly spirits from another time.
And, as with many of Lillian's other works, the sculptures often include the elements of rib bones and belly buttons, which are unique elements in traditional arts of her ancestors.
The Enduring Nature of Bronze
Given the lengthy and complicated process of producing works of art in bronze (as described to the left), it's no wonder that the cost of a bronze piece can be out of reach for some people. Still, Lillian continues to make bronze pieces because of their enduring quality.
Not everyone can afford to buy a bronze piece from me, but the fact that they last forever is what is so intriguing to me about them. I make them in limited editions so they're truly collectors pieces.
I make them to honor the enduring nature of my ancestors and the art that they carved for thousands of years along the cliffs overlooking the Columbia River.