For her thesis, art major Leila Pyle ’17 made a series of artist books about salmon and its role in the culture of the Pacific Northwest.
For her thesis, art major Leila Pyle ’17 made a series of artist books about salmon and its role in the culture of the Pacific Northwest.

Leila Pyle ’17

Studio art major examined the role of salmon in the culture of the Pacific Northwest.

August 28, 2017

Hometown: Kodiak, Alaska

Adviser: Prof. Gerri Ondrizek [art 1994–]

Thesis: “‘I’m a Salmon:’ The Role of Oncorhynchus ssp. in Storytelling and Place-Making in the Pacific Northwest and Implications in a Changing Climate”

What it’s about: Salmon are an important symbol of life in the Pacific Northwest, and yet are incredibly threatened by dams and warming waters. My thesis explores how and why people here identify with salmon and the role this can play in bringing communities together to fight climate change. In addition to the written part of the thesis, I made a series of artist books about salmon, illustrated with metal-plate etchings.

What it’s really about: Making art about salmon and hoping this can make a difference.

Who I was when I got to Reed: I was a passionate learner, ready to get off Kodiak Island and explore the world. I was excited to embrace creative thinking and about the idea of living in an honorable community.

Influential book: The Wild Trees by Richard Preston is an incredible true story about a group of scientists (including Reed alum Stephen Sillett ’89) who explore and research the canopy ecosystem in redwood forests.

A concept that blew my mind: Using art and culture to communicate really hard issues is important. Making beautiful things—even if they are beautiful things about really terrible things—adds something interesting to a world that is ugly in a lot of places.

Favorite class: Introduction to Art History with Prof. Dana Katz  [art 1994–] expanded what I saw as art to include things like architecture and spaces, and made me know I wanted to be an art major. I was fascinated by the idea that you could read an object—that it has more to say than just being a thing in space.

Cool stuff: I led outdoor odysseys, got certified as a Wilderness First Responder, volunteered with a local Girl Scout troop, and was a leader of Greenboard, Reed’s environmental club. I also taught with the Science Outreach program, where Reed students teach classes at a local elementary school.

How Reed changed me: Reed is a place where people are deeply committed to having hard conversations and are not afraid to show a lot of vulnerability and trust. This taught me to be a better listener as well as to initiate those hard conversations myself. At Reed, I learned to be a more understanding and compassionate human.

What’s next: I’ll continue to follow my passions of art and education and am excited to see where that leads me!

Financial aid: I was awarded a Udall Scholarship for my environmental work and am very grateful for all of the support I received that helped make Reed possible for me.