Oregon Convention Center

Public Art

Oregon Convention Center, Portland, OR

My goal wasn't just to produce public art, but to educate viewers about the rich cultures and history of the various Native peoples who lived throughout Oregon.

So each of the 26 bronze plaques I developed had both pictures and text. My friend and well-know Native American author Gail Tremblay wrote the text as poetry, and I designed the images. Ken MacIntosh was the fabricator.

We titled the work "Voices" because we thought of the plaques as giving our ancestors a voice ... giving them an opportunity to be heard in this modern world where the memory of them are otherwise being drowned by progress.

Examples of the Verse

Following are four of the 26 poems that are included on the plaques. 

The old dreamers lived lightly on the land.

With bells and seven drums they ushered in

the dance to welcome the wild foods

that Earth gave freely to keep the nations whole.

Even now, people remember their old songs and sing

the words that keep the world alive.

Hunting on the shoulders of the mountains,

we learn to distinguish between the whistling of Stick Indians

and the high piercing call of the elk,

who, at times, feed and clothe the people,

give them bones to carve

PADDinto tools and magic forms

that will delight the eye.

In the 1920's at Chemawa Indian School,

young Lewis Pitt bristled under military discipline,

refused to salute a sergeant.

Sent as punishment, to salute every tree on the parade grounds,

he gladly walked around greeting each one.

Better to honor elder beings rooted to mothering Earth
than to salute some oppressive fool.

Scaffolding underfoot, dip nets in hand

catching fish at Celilo and Willamette Falls

kept thousands of generations nimble and alive,

sparked dreams, made feasts rich with prayer.

Each time we dance and sing that memory rises,

and we long to see our childred where our parents stood so strong.


Click here for a PDF copy of the all of the Convention Center plaques with all of the poems. NOTE: This is a large file.  Depending on your connection speed, it may take a up to a minute to open.


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The Oregon Convention Center Art Collection

Walking Tour Guide CoverSince its opening in 1990, the Oregon Convention Center has become known for its extensive public art collection, which is valued at over two million dollars.

For the Center’s 2003 expansion, ten artists were selected through a public invitation process to produce work for the center’s permanent collection, one of the largest and most varied convention center art programs in the country.

Lillian Pitt's "Voices," a series of 26 bronze relief plaques, is the largest collection of a Native American’s artwork for a public space in the city.

Click here for the Art Walking Tour map of all the art at the Center, provided by the Oregon Convention Center.


About the Project

The 26 plaques in the Voices exhibit represent the voices of Native people throughout the region.  While Lillian herself descends from Wasco, Yakama and Warm Springs ancestors, she felt it was her obligation to honor all of the Native peoples of the region in her work.

I wanted to give people an idea for just how diverse we Native people were historically. So I dedicated plaques to as many people as I could ... as well as to as many places, memories, and aspects of culture as I could.

It wasn't easy. We had only a very short amount of time to complete the project, and we couldn't have any more than 56 words on a plaque. So basically, we needed to tell the story of 10,000 years of civilization in a series of sound-bites.

Regardless of the stress of getting it all done it time, I was very pleased with the outcome.