CULTURE

The Inside Show

An innovative collaboration among Portland artists and prison inmates gives lively, often funny voice to the view from inside the walls


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.”
Angela Y. DavisFreedom is a Constant Struggle – Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of Movements.

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The first time I set foot into an American jail happened in New York City in 1978, while accompanying lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights during a visit to a city jail with their clients. My familiarity with the German prison system had not prepared me for what I encountered on U.S. soil in that and later visits, starting with the physical factors of overcrowding and horrid sanitary conditions alone and amplified by reports of continual violence both among those who were incarcerated and from those who guarded them. The memory was triggered, for one, by the fact that the New York City Council voted this week to close the abominable Rikers Island Jail complex, and secondly, by a visit inside a prison, this time in Oregon, but for all intents and purposes on a different planet from Rikers.

View from the Parking Lot at Columbia River Correctional Institution.

Bureaucratic hurdles to enter the Northeast Portland minimum-security prison were surprisingly few. My pre-approved camera was checked both at entry and upon leaving, and the dress code requirements (no blues allowed, lest you couldn’t be differentiated from the inmates) were minimal. For this one-time visit I did not have to undergo volunteer training, thus being spared the instruction not to be open to manipulation from prisoners, an aspect that always struck me as sowing suspiciousness and bound to instill an us vs them attitude right from the start.

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Finn builds a galaxy… with help from a pro

Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. and 6-year-old Finn Connaughton collaborate on an extraterrestrial installation at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg

The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg features an exhibit, Finn Builds a Galaxy, that was created by two artists whose life experiences could scarcely be more different.

Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. is 32 years old, has studied art at Alfred University School of Art and Design, and is doing graduate work at Portland State University. Stevenson has worked as a figure model, a cook, a grocery store clerk, and a community organizer. Born in Gaithersburg, Md., the artist has traveled to Mexico, Canada, Scotland, Italy, and Germany. For the past 10 years, Stevenson has worked on a variety of projects while also studying.

The exhibit is named after the other artist, Finn Connaughton. He’s 6 and attends first grade at Yamhill-Carlton Elementary School. The son of a pharmacist father, Erin, and Jacki, a stay-at-home mother, he’s fond of Minecraft, building with LEGOS, and Pokémon. And, of course, art. 

Finn Connaughton, 6, and Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr., 32, collaborated on an other-worldly exhibit on display through Oct. 31 at the Chehalem Cultural Center. Photo by: David Bates
Finn Connaughton, 6, and Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr., 32, collaborated on an other-worldly exhibit on display through Oct. 31 at the Chehalem Cultural Center. Photo by: David Bates

At a reception last week, Finn stood on the center’s spacious lobby mezzanine gazing at his galaxy — planets, stars, LEGO spaceships, and a few flying creatures — looking a bit awed by the attention but clearly proud of his galactic creation. Below, his parents and extended family, other visitors, and staff looked up, some taking pictures.

Next to him, Stevenson grinned and offered Finn one of many compliments: “You are even more famous in Newberg than I am!”

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Happy birthday, Street Roots

Portland's weekly newspaper celebrates 20 years as a beacon of advocacy for the city's homeless, and its crew of vendor poets


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


“THERE IS A LOT OF COURAGE OUT HERE,” Kaia Sand, executive director of Street Rootscommented recently when introducing women and men at a poetry reading at Gallery 114 ready to present their writing to the assembled guests. The poets were people who are living, fighting, and surviving houselessness. One should add grit, determination, persistence and talent to the notion of courage – both with regard to the presenting poets and the organization that endeavors to support them.

Symbols of the street: the right to speak out.

Many of us might be buying Street Roots on occasion or on a regular basis. The weekly newspaper is produced to provide income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty, and to act as a catalyst for individual and social change. Vendors pay 25 cents for every paper they sell for $1. For that, they stand days on end on street corners, in all weather, facing who knows how many people who avert their eyes for every one who glances at them, or engages in quick conversation while buying the paper. What stays invisible is the talent and perceptiveness of those vendors trying to connect. What stays hidden is our own timidity to face misery that contrasts with our privilege. Off we rush, having paid a token buck.

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The Artist Series: Writers

In the first of a new series of portraits, K.B. Dixon concentrates his lens on the faces of 10 leading contemporary Oregon writers.


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


This is the first in what I hope will be a long series on local artists—in this case, writers, the unusually talented people who work in words, the most common and most difficult of mediums.

The writers here are some of Oregon’s most accomplished and decorated. Their work offers the reader that unique adventure that only the evolutionary miracle of language allows—access to other worlds, both real and imagined.

The visual approach to this new series of portraits differs greatly from my previous series, In the Frame. Here the environmental details are kept to a minimum. The subjects have the frame to themselves and do not compete with the context for attention. This provides for a simpler, blunter, more intense encounter with character.


KIM STAFFORD


Oregon’s Poet Laureate, and Director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis &Clark College. His latest collection of poems is Wild Honey, Tough Salt.

“Among the many forms of wealth,
in the catalog of luxuries, I choose
the right to be forgotten on a quiet
morning such as this….”

– Excerpt from the poem “The Right to Be Forgotten,”
in the collection Wild Honey, Tough Salt

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The family that vanished

Author JB Fisher talks about a 61-year-old Portland mystery, this week at Third Street Books in McMinnville

On Thursday evening, Portland author JB Fisher will return to his one-time home of McMinnville to read from and discuss his latest book, Echo of Distant Water: The 1958 Disappearance of Portland’s Martin Family. You’ll find him downtown at Third Street Books, which has proved over the years that small-town indie bookstores can not only survive, but thrive. The Sept. 26 event begins at 6:30 p.m., and the store has a plentiful supply of copies for purchase.

Fisher is the author of another Portland true-crime book, Portland on the Take: Mid-Century Crime Bosses, Civic Corruption & Forgotten Murders, written with JD Chandler and published in 2014. That volume tells the tale of how gangsters gained control of some of the city’s unions during the Red Scare that followed the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike.

It turns out his new book was born right under my nose.

The author, teacher, and historian and his family used to live around the corner from us in McMinnville before they moved to Portland about six years ago. Our kids played together occasionally, so it turns out that I’ve actually visited the house where Echo of Distant Water has its origins.

Portland author JB Fisher came to true-crime via a background in Shakespeare and English Renaissance literature. He notes that popular literature of that time is “full of sensational stories: infanticides and hangings and the seedy underworld of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.’”
Portland author JB Fisher came to true-crime via a background in Shakespeare and English Renaissance literature. He notes that popular literature of that time is “full of sensational stories: infanticides and hangings and the seedy underworld of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.’” Photo by: Robert Delahanty

Digging through boxes in the garage of the ranch-style home, Fisher found a stack of newspapers left behind by the previous owner, and that was where he first learned about the Martin family. That story goes back to 1958, and boiled down to the most basic facts, it goes like this:

A few days before Christmas of that year, Ken and Barbara Martin of Portland and their three daughters climbed into their 1954 Ford station wagon and headed up the Columbia Gorge to find a Christmas tree. (Their 28-year-old son was stationed in New York with the Navy.) They had lunch at a Hood River diner, then apparently headed back to Portland.

Then they vanished.

Evidence emerged about a month later suggesting that the car had plunged off a cliff into the Columbia River near The Dalles. Early in May 1959, the bodies of the two youngest girls were discovered — one in the Columbia Slough near Camas, Wash., and the other near the Bonneville Dam spillway. The car was never found.

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Art review: Through the pinhole, vastly

Julia Bradshaw’s "Survey" at Truckenbrod Pop-Up Gallery imagines new planets from a long way up

In 1920 Marcel Duchamp invited his friend Man Ray over to his studio to practice documenting artwork with his large format camera. Instead, Man Ray photographed dust that had accumulated on the glass backside of Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915-23). To look at the image, one doesn’t immediately think of a dusty surface but of a barren landscape photographed from miles above. In fact, Man Ray said as much after he published the image two years later, describing it as a “view from an aeroplane.” Eventually given the title, Dust Breeding (1), the photograph has been a residual inspiration for generations of artists thereafter.

Not that Dust Breeding is a starting point for Julia Bradshaw’s exhibition, Survey, at Truckenbrod Pop-Up Gallery in Corvallis through September 29. It is merely my unavoidable point of reference. Instead, Bradshaw credits an oversight—not unlike Duchamp’s neglect in keeping a clean studio—for this series of photographs. Discovering an underused darkroom at a residency she was attending, Bradshaw regretted not bringing an analog 35mm camera along. Fortuitously, she had brought along her pinhole camera. She started a project by taking her own advice to students when teaching the use of a pinhole camera: take an image of a concrete sidewalk.

Still, one can readily see a direct link to Man Ray’s photograph. The grittiness of the concrete taken out of its original context suggests a larger landscape, and perhaps one that is otherworldly. For Bradshaw, she found herself thinking about the long history that photography has with astronomy, particularly James Nasmyth’s 19th century photographs of the moon’s topography. At the time, photographs of the night skies did not work well with telescopes because of an inability to track the movement of planets. Instead, Nasmyth built and photographed models of the moon’s surface. It was this fiction that brought Bradshaw to create her own silver-gelatin prints of interstellar and planetary surface fictions.(2)

Julia Bradshaw, Sinuous Rille from 2671 Altitude Kilometers

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‘In the Heights’: A transportive musical time capsule

Portland Center Stage takes you to Washington Heights in the early aughts with a grand, energetic production

By SHAWNA LIPTON

The majority of new Broadway musicals are jukebox compilations of pop and rock hits, restagings of campy Hollywood films, and reimaginings of Disney animated blockbusters. Among these iterative rehashings of popular culture, Lin-Manuel Miranda has innovated with his musical mashups and compelling original stories.

Portland Center Stage’s “In the Heights”/Photo by Owen Carey

Miranda is known for being a fresh voice in a medium prone to pandering to tourists rather than pushing artistic boundaries, infusing the mainstream musical theatre world with hip hop and Latin musical influences, and creating dynamic and varied roles for people of color, most famously with Hamilton: An American Musical.

Before he created Hamilton, there was In the Heights, now playing at Portland Center Stage, a high-energy entertainment with an impressive ensemble cast.

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