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

Rigorous University Design Program Brings ‘Ideal’ Amount of Upcycle to the Northwest

“Splash” bowl by Nick Hanlon made
 with clear plastic flatware

I love sexy and sleek design.  As a publicist in New York, I had the opportunity to promote home decor items for actress Jane Seymour, Richard Mishaan, and  U.K. celeb interior designer Kelly Hoppen’s boutique at Bergdorf Goodman.

It seems since puberty, I have had an interest in arranging home accessories to create a “look.” My father was an architect with top firms in Dallas and Seattle, so having an eye for detail runs in the family. While I have been focused on the Native American fine art world of late, my love for good, thoughtful and functional design has never gone away.

Ideal purveyors Lisa VanDoren and
Kathleen Iwerson help
WWU Industrial Design Students
price their “ReMade” pieces

Last week, I had the opportunity to work on another arts and culture segment for KGMI NewsTalk 790 featuring some remarkable students from the Western Washington University Industrial Design Program.  Seeing what they could do was a life-changing experience for me, and a reminder that we all should never give up and continue to follow our dreams and passions.

While many students take design classes at Western, only 12 are allowed to move on to the junior and senior levels with the chance to earn a Bachelors of Science degree. 

Students in the program learn how to make a variety of products throughout the year.  Once a year, the junior class completes an assignment that requires them to seek out discarded materials in the community and upcycle them into functional design products.  They must ensure that the items can be mass produced and brought to Market.

For the last five years, students have worked with Bellingham’s Ideal–Carefully Curated Goods, a local design and home goods shop, to bring them to the community through “ReMade.”  The 2013 edition of ReMade opened February 1st during the Downtown Bellingham ArtWalk and featured 13 products ranging from yo-yos to flower vases, dish scrubbers, glass storage containers, and decorative bowls made from clear plastic flatware. The store quickly filled with people as they scooped up the pieces that range in price from $6 to $125. Items are available for purchase through March 31 or until they’re gone.  Since there are only 20 of each item, supplies are sure to go fast!

“Scrub e” by Rosalee Daughtry
made from Sunforager boat canvas
and reclaimed teak wood

Watch a multimedia video featuring my KGMI radio “ReMade” segment and photos that capture the coolness of the project HERE.