Lillian Pitt holding a bronze She Who Watches

Lillian Pitt

Her Journey as a Native Amercian Artist

I was already in my 30’s, and already an artist, before I knew that my ancestors lived in the Columbia River Gorge for more than 10,000 years.

Imagine.

That's 8,000 years before the time of Christ, and 6,000 years before the time of the Great Pyramids at Giza!

My family never spoke about it, because when I was growing up, it was better for our survival to try and cover up the fact that we were Indian.

But today I can tell you that I'm proud of who I am and who my people are. We're known as Warm Springs, Wasco (Watalas) and Yakama (Wishxam) — Indian people of the Pacific Northwest.  We call ourselves the River People.

Lillian Had Help from Her Friends

Lillian attributes much of her success as an artist and in life overall, to the friends and creative spirits she met along the way.

One of the stories she tells, is about her good friend R. C. Gorman.  Gorman is the famous Navajo Indian artist known for his brightly colored paintings and sculptures of amply endowed Native American women from the southwest. The New York Times called him "the Picasso of American Indian art."

My life as an artist started in 1981 when I first met R. C. Gorman. I wasn't thinking of becoming an artist at the time, but I was taking an art class as a college elective, when R. C. came to Portland. I went to see him on a whim, and I brought him some photos of masks that I had been working on as part of my class.

I was shocked when he said he wanted to buy two pieces! From that point on, I was hooked. I was now an artist.

R. C. invited me to his home every year since then until he died in 2005. He was an amazing inspiration to me, and I'll always be grateful to him for giving me the help and support I needed over all those years.

Now, I try to return the favor, by teaching as many people as I can about the things that I know, and by helping them along their own paths in whatever ways I can.

Various Images of Lillian at Work

 

Lillian Pitt ... A Lifetime of Achievements

Lillian Pitt surrounded by her art

Lillian Pitt Shown at Various Stages of Her Career

Pictures on this page show Lillian throughout her career as an artist. 

  • Top left, Lillian holds her first bronze mask of She Who Watches.
  • Top right, Lillian surrounded by her art.
  • Bottom right, Lillian on cover of Native Peoples Art and Lifeways magazine.
  • Bottom left, Lillian teaching people how to do rock art, and leading a tour group to her installation at the Confluence Project in Vancouver, WA.

 

Lillian Pitt on cover of Native People's Magazine

Lillian Pitt in Native Peoples Magazine

Native People's Arts & Lifeways magazine featured Lillian on the cover of its July/August issue, 2007.

The focus of the issue is on masks, and the article featuring Lillian talks about the artists "behind the masks" that they make.

 

It Wasn't Always Easy

While Lillian was fortunate to have had the help of many friends over the years, it wasn't always easy. 

She struggled for years over the idea of being an "Indian" artist, she often wondered if she was going to be able to pay the bills, and she was physically incapacitated much of the time.

Being an "Indian" artist wasn't necessarily a good thing in the early days.  And, it's not necessarily a good thing still to this day. There was, and still is, a lot of baggage to go along with it.

And like most artists, I had some very lean years. There were many, many times when I truly did wonder if I was going to be able to pay the rent. 

And after my 7th back operation, I thought I might not even be able to work as an artist anymore. It takes some strength you know to mold clay and to work with heavy materials like bronze and glass. 

But I'm still working ... and still loving what I do!