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Dorothy Vandiver, 98, donated large work to recognize tribal purchase of Willamette Falls site

Dorothy Vandiver, 98, died last month after recently fulfilling her wish to donate one of her large-scale paintings to the tribe that purchased the former paper mill property near Willamette Falls.COURTESY PHOTO - Oregon City artist Dorothy Vandiver's 'Flute Player' is a large painting she donated to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Vandiver, who died on Nov. 7 while in hospice care at McLoughlin Place in Oregon City, had her dream fulfilled Feb. 2, 2020, when the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde accepted her donation of "Flute Player," a Native American-inspired diptych painted on two 88-by-82-inch canvases.

During the ceremony, Grand Ronde Tribal Council Vice Chair Chris Mercier gave Vandiver a dentalium shell necklace in appreciation for her donation of "Flute Player." Dentalium shells have been used ornamentally as beads, money and symbols of wealth for thousands of years. PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Oregon City artist Dorothy Vandiver held in late 2019 the flyer from her 1986 solo exhibition of 'The Flute Player and Other Works' in Long Beach, California. 'The Flute Player' is the painting she's donating to the Grand Ronde tribe, but the flyer shows another Native-inspired painting called 'Spirit Messenger,' which sold in California.

Vandiver said she wanted to donate "Flute Player" in honor of the tribe's purchase in August of the 23-acre site in Oregon City. The site is planned for redevelopment, spurred by a new walkway providing public access to the site.

Vandiver painted "Flute Player" in 1986 to help fulfill the requirements of a master's degree in fine art she received from California State University's Long Beach campus. The painting's large scale was necessary to allow for the "wide energetic forms" in its composition.

Grand Ronde spokesperson Sara Thompson said the tribe was honored that Vandiver donated her artwork.

"Our return to Willamette Falls has been very special for us," Thompson said. "However, the fact that our return to Willamette Falls also resonated with Mrs. Vandiver, as demonstrated by her heartfelt donation, makes it that much more significant."

Vandiver grew up in South Dakota and remembers frequently visiting a nearby Indian reservation to take art classes. She said a reason why her mother might have taken her to these classes was revealed by her father on his deathbed in 1986 when he told her that her mother was Native American.

There was no way to verify that her mother, Winnie Fox, who had died in 1973, was a tribal member, but her father's claim seemed true since the Mesquaki people of the Great Lakes region often were called the Fox tribe.

Vandiver's artistic talent drew dozens of invitations to show her works at various art galleries throughout her years in Southern California and later in Oregon.

"Symbolism was extremely prevalent and important in all of Dorothy's art, whether it was working out the aggressions she felt from life's hardships, or an affinity for Native American people," said her daughter Mary Vandiver.

"Flute Player" shows Okaga, the South Wind, according to Lakota legend, playing the instrument. One of the painting's two vanishing points is just above ground level, focused on the night sky, an atomic cloud, a cottonwood tree and a buffalo skull.

"The other focusing point is from overhead, as though seen by an ascending bird approximately 10 feet above the teepee," Vandiver said.

Through painting, Vandiver said she aimed to interpret metaphysical concepts in Native American myths and communicate concerns for natural and environmental issues.

"Ethical issues on a large scale, such as worldwide peace and balance, can provide worthy motivation for a lifetime of painting," she said.

Vandiver came to professional painting late in her life during the late 1980s and early '90s. Previously she worked for the FBI and then became a teacher for over 20 years, leading hundreds of students in painting murals at Vinedale Elementary School in Sun Valley, California. She was an avid church volunteer, and also volunteered at a regional hospital's emergency room.

After surviving the devastating Northridge earthquake, she moved to Oregon City in the 1990s. While in Oregon, she continued to paint in acrylic on a smaller scale and using more familiar themes involving nature. Her love of learning about nature and plants resulted in her obtaining a certificate as a Master Gardner.

Vandiver is survived by three children: retired Macy's fashion buyer Mary Vandiver of Atlanta, retired Dr. Bob (Maria) Vandiver of Tualatin and Gladstone librarian Bonnie (Paul) Espe of Oregon City; and three grandchildren, Christine, Eric and Michael.


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