Saturday, February 9, 2013

Painting Gives Coast Salish Artist Creative Rebirth Filled with Humor

"Seahawks Nest" by Emerging Lummi
Artist Phillip T. Solomon
Just three years ago, twenty-seven year-old painter and shoe artist Phillip T. Solomon from the Lummi Nation, wasn't sure where his life was going.  It could only go forward because a mere seven years prior, his life was quickly moving backwards and obviously in the wrong direction.

Solomon is quick to tell you that he spent some long hard time in prison in Washington State.  Even though he didn't commit the crime, he was still charged with it and ended up serving a long sentence.  While incarcerated, Solomon learned some important life lessons and got to know himself a little bit more. 

A product of an absentee father, Solomon spent much of his life living between his mother's care and foster homes.  His connection to the Lummi culture was very weak since he had lived away from the Lummi Reservation. While in prison, Solomon was elected to be a drum carrier for traditional ceremonies within the prison walls.  He learned to beat the drum and sing traditional songs.  All his life, he had left his hair cut short.  While in prison, he began to grow it long in the traditional way and began to have questions about his culture.  When no one had answers for him, he began to research and learn as much as he could.  When he left prison, he began drawing again. It was something he stopped doing around age 15 when things started to get bad for him.  Now, at age 24, he felt a renewed passion for the art--a disclipline he had loved since childhood. In spite of the fact that his father was never around, Solomon remembers that his dad was an amazing artist. In fact, he credits Thomas Solomon as his biggest inspiration, with his mother and sister leading close behind.

In 2010, Solomon decided to enroll at the Northwest Indian College to take some math, English and art courses.  He found an advocate at the Coast Salish Institute of NWIC, and she encouraged him to start focusing on incorporating authentic Coast Salish designs into his art.  Soon after enrolling, he was asked to submit a design for a college logo contest and won. It was followed by another logo contest win.
Pair of Painted Shoes for Phillip Solomon's
Salish Stories at Coast Salish Creations
In the summer of 2011, Solomon first tried his hand at painting a pair of shoes with his designs.  This was well before he even knew who Nooksack/Chinese/French and Scottish custom shoe artist Louie Gong was (he now considers Gong one of his heroes).  After wearing the shoes, people at Lummi began to notice them. Suddenly he couldn't keep up with the orders.

In 2012, he was asked to be part of a mural team to create a large piece for the outside walls of the old Northwest Indian College Training Building near the Lummi Island Ferry. He gained even more recognition inside and outside the Lummi community as a result of the project. 

In late 2012, Phillip Solomon's work caught the eye of  SiLowLeetSa (a.k.a. Doralee Sanchez), owner of the new Bellingham gallery Coast Salish Creations.   Impressed with his sense of line and creativity, Sanchez decided to give Solomon his own show. Entitled Salish Stories: Works by Contemporary Painter and Shoe Artist Phillip Solomon, the show will offer collectors the opportunity to purchase canvases and painted shoes that express Solomon's love for life, his humor and desire to teach people about Coast Salish lore and Lummi culture. He is wonderfully versatile in his styles and is perhaps one of the best young Coast Salish artists I have seen of late.

Salish Stories opens today at 3:00 p.m. with an artist reception through 7 p.m. at Coast Salish Creations.  There will also be a traditional and contemporary Native fashion show at 3:30 p.m. featuring hand-appliqued designs by SiLowLeetSa with accessories by more than a dozen artists. Salish Stories runs through February 28. The gallery is located at 424 W. Bakerview Road #102 in Bellingham, Washington. For more information call (360) 922-7902 or visit the gallery on Facebook at!/pages/Coast-Salish-Creations/483867848318603?fref=ts

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