Molly Cliff Hilts

 

Perhaps you look at Molly Cliff-Hilts’ paintings and think, how intricate, how delicate. Perhaps you think of a woman living on a hill overlooking Portland, Oregon surrounded by flowers and natural light quietly brushing flowers onto a canvas. That’s when you have to remind yourself that this work is done with a blow torch, late into the night, after a full day of being a wife and a mother to two children. The work is done on huge wood panels that have to be wrestled around. All of Molly’s tools have to be lit or plugged in. There are more things to burn yourself on than a welding shop. Encaustic technique was not invented by fragile nuns, it was invented by ancient Greek fisherman to seal their boats against the harsh storms of the Mediterranean.

When you first meet Molly you feel like she has been your best friend your whole life. She is one of those rare people who make you feel instantly welcome. I wondered long about how she achieves this, but I think it’s the hours she spends in the studio working with fire and wax. There’s an honesty to her life and work that can rarely be found elsewhere. Because of this, you don’t feel Molly is in a competition with other artists. The demanding nature of her medium is all the competition she needs. It’s through this spirit that Molly’s work has flourished as well as the work of any artist she invites to join her.

In 2000, Molly and her husband Dave began hosting salons* in their restored 19th century home. She invites musicians, poets, writers to join her on a stage especially built by her husband Dave who also generously contributes his own incredible home brewed stouts and ales. Such guests have included the NW band Amelia, poet Scott Poole, authors Marc Acito, Cai Emmons, and Michael Rips. When Molly was invited to show in New York, she brought a poet and the band, Amelia, with her. Her work has been featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon ArtBeat and she is the sole artist in the Pendleton Woolen Mills Contemporary Artist Series, where her imagery is woven into the limited edition tapestries. Her paintings can be found in collections around the world.

Molly is a social alchemist, someone who doesn’t mind doing the hard work, clearing the path, then inviting others to join her, someone who believes in bringing people together to create a greater good. On any given day Molly can be found at art events all over Portland, promoting the works of others. Just look at her encaustic paintings long enough, you’ll notice under the first layer of wax are endless shifting sub layers that subtlety contribute to the whole. Each piece is like a whole gallery of translucent paintings laid on top of each other that all have to get along. So it is with Molly’s belief in daily generosity, layers upon layers of collaborative friendships go into creating her work, the work of others and the substance of her life.

*There is a rich family history of hosting salons. It was a surprise to Molly when she discovered, after several years of hosting these gatherings, that her great grandmother, Mary Porter Sesnon, was devoted to the same practice. Mary kept a scrapbook filled with poems, drawings, and paintings which revealed that she had also hosted artists’ salons, in Monterey Bay, California in the early 1900’s. The guests included notable California Bohemians, patrons, and dignitaries (Herbert Hoover was in attendance) who took part in festive parties that went on for days, celebrating both art and community.

 
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