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Friday, February 3, 2006 - Page updated at 02:04 PM

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Ron Hilbert's stories came to life as art

Times Snohomish County Bureau

Ron Hilbert's carvings, paintings and copper and brass fabrications are seen throughout Seattle, his adopted hometown, in places such as the Daybreak Star Cultural Center at Discovery Park, the Washington State Convention & Trade Center and the University of Washington's Allen Library.

He was also a teacher, retiring last year from the Small Faces Child Development Center in Seattle.

He was an illustrator, doing art for his mother Vi's many published works and such children's books as "The Deetkatoo: Native American Stories About Little People," published in 1998 by William Morrow and Co.

Mr. Hilbert was also known for his storytelling. He and his sister, Lois Schluter, grew up with their mother's stories, which were passed down from grandparents. And the two became storytellers in their own right.

"His storytelling was amazing," Lora Pennington, Vi Hilbert's great-niece and a language teacher, said of Mr. Hilbert. "His singing and his art was amazing. He brought everything to it. If there was pain, he was there 2,000 percent; if there was joy, he was there 2,000 percent.

"He took all of life in large bites; he didn't shy away from it, whether it was pain, joy, love — he took it."

Born on the Tulalip Reservation on March 16, 1943, Mr. Hilbert died Jan. 24 at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle from complications from vascular disease. He was 62.

A two-day memorial held Jan. 29-30 on the Upper Skagit Reservation, near Sedro-Woolley, drew hundreds, Pennington said.

"We had people from the entire span of his life giving tribute, from all the communities," she said. "Upper Skagit, Nooksack, Lummi, Swinomish, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Sauk, Skagit, Tulalip, Muckleshoot, Clallam ... every major tribe in this region, and even Plains people and folks from the Southwest."

Barbara Brotherton, curator of Native American art for the Seattle Art Museum, said Mr. Hilbert's work was "deeply spiritual but accessible to those not of the culture."

The museum featured two of Hilbert's works in a recent exhibition.

Mr. Hilbert was also an important part of "Awakenings," a show of contemporary Coast Salish art at the Stonington Gallery in Seattle last August.

"He was an incredible man, said Rebecca Blanchard, author of "Contemporary Coast Salish Art." "I can't believe we were so fortunate to have the show while Ron was alive, and he could see how his life had impacted the community for the better as a whole."

Mr. Hilbert loved art since childhood. He studied at the Cornish College of the Arts and then at the Burnley School of Art. He later took education classes at the University of Washington and Seattle Central Community College.

He was talented in many disciplines, his family says.

"He was a creative storyteller," said his mother, Vi Taqseblu Hilbert, of Bow, Skagit County, a member of the Upper Skagit tribe and a national authority on Lushootseed language and culture. "He had a beautiful memory; he remembered dates, names, people and the content of each story. He created his own interpretation, and he never let us have an unhappy ending.

"I want his kids at Small Faces to look at Ron's passage this way: Ron knew that his mama easily got lost, so he had to go ahead of me," she said. "He's preparing to be my Indian guide when I go to the other side. Ron's job is not over. He has to be Mama's guide."

Mr. Hilbert is survived by his mother; fiancée Katherine Onieta; sister Lois Schluter of Bow; niece Jill Samson LaPointe of La Conner; nephew Jay Samson of Everson, Whatcom County; and cousins, grand-nephews and grand-nieces. His father, Don Hilbert, preceded him in death.

A brief memorial to Mr. Hilbert will be held at the opening of "The Eagle, the Raven and the Condor," a gallery show, at 6 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Seattle's Discovery Park.

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or dwright@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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