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Lawrence Pitre: An Artist of Our Times

Updated: Feb 2

Lawrence Pitre will be presenting his art at our monthly community meeting Wednesday, February 7 at 7pm, Grace United Methodist Church 720 30th Ave. S 98144.

Lawrence Pitre is an artist for our times. His artwork brings together people at a time when everybody seems to be isolating themselves into separate identities and those identities are fragmented as well.

For his long series of paintings called “Who We Are” (visible in a small version at 12th and Yesler), Pitre did a lot of research to find many aspects of the history of the Central District that have not been acknowledged in art before.

Lawrence Pitre. “Seattle Curtain Manufacturing Co. 1960, operated by the Capeluto family which produced custom textiles for nearly nine decades, despite the restrictive covenants in the Central Area” from the series “We Are One.” 30x24in acrylic painting done on canvas.

He begins with Chief Seattle but comes back to Indigenous peoples later in the series. We see the effort to assimilate Native Americans in boarding schools and the Duwamish in 1890 preserving their culture.

He then depicts the Denny family and the Yesler lumber mill (called Skid Row, because the logs were “skidded” to the water).

Pitre moves on from the founding white families to Chinese Coal miners and Japanese Farmers. He depicts Jewish and Chinese grocery store owners, Filipinos and Irish.

Another focus is individuals like the Gang of Four, (Roberto Maestas, Bernie Whitebear, Bob Santos, and Larry Gossett).

Pitre based one panel on a photograph of James W. Washington, Jr. with his Fountain of Triumph sculpture (recently restored and now at 24th and Union). Others feature Bruce Lee, De Charlene and Earl’s Cuts and Style as well as his own parents.

Several panels address gentrification, and inequity particularly in housing, but there are also celebratory subjects like a Japanese Wedding.

Pitre grew up not far from all of these places. His trajectory to become an artist is unusual and reminds us of the privilege especially white artists enjoy in gaining access and opportunity. At an art class his teacher singled him out and he did go to the UW School of Art where he was fortunate to take classes with Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence said to him “promise me you won’t ever quit.” There is an affinity with Lawrence’s “Migration” series, but Pitre’s paintings are larger in scale and focus on Seattle as an immigration hub for many different ethnic groups.

Pitre tried to find work in the arts in the 1980s, graphic design on a Mac, but nothing worked out, so he joined the military for 13 years: he had three deployments to Iraq and even volunteered to go there! Fortunately, he came back whole. Then he worked for the Veteran Benefit Administration for 10 years

He took art classes toward a Masters at Seattle University because his children nagged him into it. As a thesis project he proposed “How does art affect communities?” and that was the springboard for his work.

In addition to the series “We Are One,” he is currently working on 14 signs for a path in Beer Shiva Park in Rainier Valley, scheduled to open to the public this spring. In another project he worked with Hawthorne Elementary School students. Each grade level was asked “what does culture mean to you and your family.” He put their drawings on a canvas which now hangs over the library door. A project for the new Africatown apartment building on 23rd is also in progress and he has completed a work for the Bob Santos building in the International District.

“Jazz,” a large 3 panel work, appears as you enter the parking garage for the Amazon grocery store at 23rd and Jackson (which sadly is supposed to make up for destroying the beloved Red Apple that was there for so many years – the subject of another one of Pitre’s panels). As you go into the garage (I walked in), you can easily see his multi-panel series, with the theme of music that honors a few of the many musicians who performed in this area.

Pitre has created more than ten different series each one with twelve works, including recently the “Stations of the Cross.” He also experiments with different media such as painting on burlap or compost (!).

Pitre is an artist who brings communities together and thinks about the place of art in our lives. What a wonderful endeavor. Lawrence Pitre shares both the joys and sorrows of urban life.

~Susan Platt, PhD


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