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Saturday, September 19, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Robert James Schoppert, 45, Used Tlingit Heritage In His Artwork

Five years ago, Robert James Schoppert, a Tlingit artist, poet and teacher, created the Northwest Coast Indian flat design that decorates the west portal of the Interstate 90 tunnel.

His latest project was working on a major carving for the Port of Seattle for installation at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Mr. Schoppert died of heart failure Sept. 2 in Ojai, Calif. He was 45.

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Sunday at Daybreak Star Center in Seattle's Discovery Park.

Mr. Schoppert's work was prominently featured in "Beyond Blue Mountains," a permanent traveling collection of contemporary Native American artworks commissioned by the Washington State Arts Commission.

He contributed to the show as collector and curator as well as by creating art for it. The exhibition title was taken from one of his many published poems.

Mr. Schoppert was the recipient of numerous art awards and commissions. He sat on the Washington State Arts Commission and on the boards of the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Institute of Alaska Native Arts.

He was a frequent guest lecturer and presented workshops in high schools in Washington and Alaska. He was visiting professor in visual art at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, in 1987.

Mr. Schoppert's art reflected his belief that it was important for Native-American artists to recognize and respect their traditions and equally important to stretch beyond those traditions. His work frequently challenged cultural stereotypes.

Mardonna Austin-McKillop, whose First Avenue gallery, Legacy, Ltd., featured Mr. Schoppert's work, remembers him as a "very smart, very complex" man who often helped others by working in outreach programs.

"He was really interested in people from his own culture and American-Indian culture in general," Austin-McKillop said. His heritage was very important to him and fundamental to working with other Native Americans, she added.

Beyond his artistry, Mr. Schoppert was, "a quiet, gentle kind of person with a good sense of humor," Austin-McKillop said.

Besides Legacy, Mr. Schoppert's work also was featured at the Snow Goose Associates, 4220 N.E. 125th St.

He is survived by two daughters, Shevea, 17, and Sidiya, 15, both of Seattle; two sisters, Jackie Schleifman of Anchorage and Marion Evans of Oregon; and his close companion and confidante, Donette Lee of Ojai, Calif.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Stonefrog Foundation/RJ Schoppert Memorial Fund, in care of Household Bank, 110 S. Ventura St., Ojai, CA 93023.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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