Pullman artist Pat Siler did something many artists struggle to do: survive.
Pullman residents might recognize Siler’s downtown Pullman mural on the side of Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasters, but he also has two pieces in the current from the Kolva-Sullivan Ceramics Exhibition on display at the WSU Museum of Art.
One of the owners of the collection, Spokane gallery owner and art collector Jim Kolva, said Siler is a “real northwest treasure.”
Born in 1939, Siler grew up in Washington and showed an interest in art at a young age. Siler went to WSU, then called Washington State College, in the late 1950s to complete his undergraduate degree in art.
“I’ve always been interested in doing art my whole life,” Siler said.
In 1961, Siler completed his degree at WSU and attended the University of California, Berkeley to obtain his master’s degree in painting.
“I think a lot of kids back in the fifties, they just wanted to go to California… for all kinds of reasons,” Siler said. “Just go down there because it’s an exciting place if you’re from Western Washington, at the time.”
After graduating from UC Berkley, Siler continued to live in the Bay Area, working various jobs so he could continue to pursue art, upholstering furniture, working as a handyman, working in a communications systems factory and spray-painting in a metal shop.
“I did a whole lot of different things,” Siler said. “So when I say ‘survived’ and worked as an artist during those ten years or so, even though I was doing other things for my sustenance, I continued to do my art.”
Siler said while many of the students he met in grad school appeared to disappear, Siler continued to work as an artist. He joined the UC, Berkeley art department and began working with ceramics.
Much of Siler’s ceramic art contains pictures, melding his previous work in drawing and painting with his ceramics.
“(Siler) has a real versatile way of using different mediums and is an innovator of imagery on ceramics,” Kolva said.
Siler moved back to Washington when a teaching job at WSU caught his eye. He stayed in the department for more than thirty years, teaching ceramics and drawing for sixteen years.
“Most of the time when you teach in an art department in a university or a college, it offers you the opportunity to pay your bills, and do some of your own work, and teach. You’re a teacher slash artist,” Siler said.
Kolva became aware of Siler’s work and it piqued his interest. He visited Siler’s studio where he found pieces to add to his collection.
“I thought the imagery had a sense of humor and sarcasm to it. A wry humor about the Inland Northwest, Pullman area,” Kolva said.
Much of Siler’s work depicts everyday scenes and contains humorous or interesting perceptions of life. Siler draws inspiration from German expressionism, comics from the 1930s and 40s and traditional Japanese and Chinese brushstrokes. He ties unlike things together, like the seahorses and small town depicted in his downtown mural.
“I’ve always been interested in drawing and painting, and doing art,” said Siler. “When you start out you don’t know what art is. There is no resemblance to what I do now, none whatsoever.”
Siler’s art is on display at the Museum of Art gallery until March 30.