Arts

Native American Artist Lillian Pitt Shares Mask Making Traditions

OPB | July 14, 2011 5 p.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 12:59 a.m.

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Native American artist Lillian Pitt feels a deep commitment to passing on the legends of her people to the younger generations. 

Pitt, who is a descendent of Wasco, Yakama and Warm Springs people, has created many works of art drawing on the tradition of the Columbia River region, including sculpture, mixed media, clay, bronze, wearable art, prints and glass — and of course masks.

“Giving reference to the elders by duplicating the petroglyphs and using the basket designs in my masks has always been the basis for my work. And I always hope I’m doing it with honor and reverence,” says Pitt.

Go See It!

Beside the Big River: Images and Art of the Mid-Columbia Indians

All spring, this busy Portland-based artist made the 90-minute drive to Celilo Village east of The Dalles many times to teach the village children ceramics and the cautionary tale of the “Stick Indians.”  The Stick Indians are shadowy spirits whose whistling guides good humans back to the safety of the village and bad humans deeper into the forest where they are lost forever.  

After weeks of sculpting, glazing and firing, the children put the finishing touches on their own ceramic Stick Indian masks.

“I have been so thrilled with their abilities, to pick up so quickly with just a couple of lessons to make the masks,” says Pitt. “There are a few of them who are really, really talented.”

An exhibit featuring the masks opens July 16 with Lillian Pitt giving a slideshow at 3pm and then at 4pm, the Celilo children presenting their work and sharing the legend with museum visitors. The exhibit at the EyeSEE children’s gallery at the Maryhill Museum of Art will be up throughout the summer.

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