LANGUAGE ARTS

Enigmatic “Theory of Nothing” proffers a peaceful place to be

Adam Rupniewski’s installation in the Art Harvest Studio Tour combines sculpture, music, and poetry for a must-see experience

The 26th annual Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County is now live, and for those who missed out on the first weekend, take heart: It goes three more days, and this weekend’s weather looks picture perfect, with sunny days and highs in the low 70s. That means lots of crispy orange and yellow leaves swishing at your feet as you hike through wine country meeting our amazing artists.

These calls are subjective, of course, and while studio tours inevitably feature at least one artist who has “must-see” work on display, Adam Rupniewski’s Theory of Nothing installation, tucked away in a second-floor ballroom in downtown McMinnville, is so wildly unique that you really must see it. Trust me, Mac has more than a dozen artists on this countywide tour, so you can’t go wrong by starting your travels downtown on Third Street, where book artist Marilyn Worrix’s sprawling upstairs apartment hosts several artists, including Rupniewski.

From Adam Rupniewski’s “Physiology of Dreams” collection, “Mona Linda,” oil pastel on paper, is one of many pieces on display as the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County continues Oct. 12-14.

Rupniewski was born in Poland in 1958 and emigrated with his then-wife and baby son after that country’s martial law expired in July 1983. He lived in several European nations before coming to Oregon in 1986, sponsored by the Presbyterian Church in Portland. He earned his MFA in 1998 from Portland State University, which is where he first showed Theory of Nothing.

Before arriving at the exhibit’s latest incarnation, the viewer traverses a long, wide hallway displaying Rupniewski’s Physiology of Dreams cycle (nearly all works in oil pastel on paper). The cycle was inspired by two unusual dreams, one from a period of seclusion in the Massif Central mountains of Ardèche, France, and the second from a week-long film festival featuring work by the remarkable Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Rupniewski elaborates in his artist’s statement:

Continues…

“America’s Librarian” to talk books in Nehalem

Author Nancy Pearl appears Oct. 20 in a fundraiser for the Hoffman Center for the Arts and the North Tillamook Library

I’ve never met Nancy Pearl, best-selling Seattle author, librarian, and literary critic, yet we do have something of a history. I chaired the first Newport Reads (inspired by the internationally recognized program, If All of Seattle Read the Same Book, created by Pearl) and years later my novel, Wander, won the 2017 Nancy Pearl Literary Award for fiction. (A friend also gave me the Deluxe Nancy Pearl Librarian Action Figure at a book signing.)

In June, I was all set to meet Pearl at a fundraising luncheon in La Conner, Wash., but our plans were dashed when Amtrak’s guaranteed connection from Albany to Portland turned out to be not so guaranteed. Still, when I talked with Pearl by phone about her upcoming Oct. 20 appearance in Nehalem as part of the 10th year anniversary celebration of the Manzanita Writers’ Series, it was like chatting with someone I’d known for years. She was friendly, forthcoming, knowledgeable, and clearly a generous spirit.

Nancy Pearl of Seattle considers herself first and foremost a reader.

Pearl, who has been hailed as “America’s Librarian,” is a regular contributor to NPR’s Morning Edition and hosts a monthly Seattle television show called Book Lust, on which she interviews authors, poets and others in the literary world. Book Lust is also the theme of her series of recommended-reading books. Here is an edited version of the conversation she and I had about books, reading, and life in general.

You’ve worn a few hats in your life. Which most defines you these days?

Pearl: I guess “reader,” because reader encompasses all the other things. All the other things wouldn’t have been possible had I not been a reader all my life.

Continues…

Zombies rising at Linfield Theatre

Night of the Living Dead opens a "monstrous" season tying into a campus-wide focus on political and social revolution

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead turns 50 on Oct. 1. This Thursday, the Linfield College drama team raises the curtain on Lori Allen Ohm’s stage version of the 98-minute black-and-white horror flick shot on a shoestring outside Pittsburgh in 1968. While it’s easy to make too much of it, Night of the Living Dead was, as one writer observed in Cineaste a few years ago, “Patient Zero” in a virtual epidemic of zombies in popular culture in the ensuing decades. As much as the genre obviously panders to audiences that, to paraphrase torture-porn king Eli Roth, “want to see people gettin’ messed up — bad,” it’s undeniable that the films occasionally offer flashes of insight into American life.

Therein lies the appeal of Night of the Living Dead to Linfield’s play selection committee. Plays at the McMinnville college traditionally grapple with a campus-wide PLACE theme. PLACE stands for Program for Liberal Arts and Civic Engagement. Piloted in the fall of 2012, PLACE highlights a theme or issue selected by a curriculum committee and voted on by faculty that is intended to serve as a sort of academic muse. Faculty are encouraged to incorporate it into studies and class discussions. This year, it’s political and social revolution.

Barbara (McMinnville’s Elise Martin) and her brother Johnny (Samuel Hannigan of Hood River) are the first victims of the living dead in Linfield Theatre’s production of “Night of the Living Dead.” Photo by: Hanna Trailer

Since the inception of PLACE, the theater department has tried to have at least one show that ties into the theme, said Brenda DeVore Marshall, a professor who chairs the Department of Theatre and Communications Arts. “It’s a way for us to contribute to that ongoing college dialogue through the arts,” she said.

The most striking recent example I recall was a 2015 production of The Tempest. The PLACE theme was Air, Water, Earth and Fire: The ancient elements on a changing planet. In the production directed by Professor Janet Gupton and designed by Professor Ty Marshall (who retired last year after 31 years), Prospero used his magic to harness the elements for himself and daughter Miranda, leaving Caliban and Ariel to fend for themselves on an island strewn with garbage.

In November 2015, Janet Gupton incorporated Linfield College’s PLACE theme of “Air, Water, Earth and Fire: The ancient elements on a changing planet” by setting “The Tempest” on a man-made island of trash. The scenic design was by then-Professor Ty Marshall. Photo by: Ty Marshall

The theater’s 2018-19 season (the 99th at Linfield College) is headlined Monsters and the Monstrous. After a single-weekend run of Night of the Living Dead, Marshall Theatre will dish up two weekends of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel. In the spring, we’ll see Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters, and the season closes with the alarmingly appropriate choice of Cabaret, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb.

Night of the Living Dead is directed by Melory Mirashrafi, a Hillsboro theater arts major in her senior year at Linfield. I was treated to a peek at the set last week, a monochrome ramshackle of an isolated farmhouse (to capture the look of Romero’s use of black-and-white) where seven people find themselves besieged by zombies. Visiting Professor Derek Lane handled the scenic and lighting design, and Gupton is mentoring Mirashrafi. Part of the production includes video, which was shot and edited by sophomores Alexandria Hunter and Hannah Curry.

Continues…

Connecting art to activism

Besides Whitney Jayne's mixed-media show, Yamhill County eases toward fall with poetry readings, Footloose, and a film about minority winemakers

Something about autumn makes the arts seem an integral part of the season. I’m not sure how or why that happened, but I do know my calendar through November is packed with opportunities — theater, concerts, readings, shows, films. In coming weeks, we’ll get to author Reese Kwon in McMinnville; Metropolis at the Elsinore Theater in Salem; not one, but two, Yamhill County art harvest tours; and a live theater scene that includes Miss Julie, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Night of the Living Dead. Let’s go.

This week, I want to spotlight a young artist who caught the attention of McMinnville’s Dan and Nancy Morrow of The Gallery at Ten Oaks a while back and who has her first show there. Whitney Jayne’s mixed media is on display in the gallery on Oregon 99W across from Linfield College. A reception will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, with the exhibit continuing through Nov. 4.

Whitney Jayne

I had coffee with Jayne last month, but before her story, a quick entry from my Department of Full Disclosure (the third in as many weeks): I’ve known the Morrows for many years, and I wrote weekly film reviews for them when they owned and operated a terrific video store, the closest thing to Movie Madness a small town can have. After closing the store in April 2016, they remodeled the 110-year-old, two-story house at 801 S.W. Baker St., and within two months transformed the video store into an art gallery, showcasing both locally produced art and wine.

Jayne’s roots are in the Pacific Northwest. She was born in Seattle, but spent most of her life from age 9 in Utah, where she considered several areas of study that had little to do with art before finally embracing what she loved. She received her Bachelor’s in Fine Art in 2010 with a minor in Women and Gender studies and Psychology from Utah State University, where she had one of those incredible discoveries that artists make when something goes wrong.

Continues…

Brian Doyle and the language of the stage

The late Oregon writer's novel "Mink River" is a sinuous stream of words as music. Can its lush language be adapted for the theater?

Language, says Portland director Jane Unger to explain why she spent two years pursuing the stage rights to Brian Doyle’s loquacious and widely beloved Mink River, a summary-defying novel stuffed with plotlines, descriptions, lists and riffs on everything from the different types of Northwest wood to the nature and location of time.

Language, says Seattle playwright Myra Platt to explain why she agreed, on spec, to adapt a book that features a talking crow, a bear that rescues an injured boy, a seemingly inexhaustible cast of major and minor characters, and even a miscarried fetus riding a river to the sea.

Language, say reviewers on Amazon and GoodReads to explain why a nonfiction writer’s first novel—an episodic, and at times essayistic, attempt to render in prose the moment-by-moment life of an entire coastal Oregon town—thrilled them more than other books.

“Mink River” author Brian Doyle. Photo courtesy Mary Miller Doyle.

Language, said Doyle himself in numerous interviews to explain what he loved most about writing essays and stories. “I sometimes think there is no writer as addicted to music and swing and rhythm and cadence in prose as me,” he once told Ruminate magazine. “I really do want to push prose as close to music as I can, and play with tone and timbre in my work, play with the sinuous riverine lewd amused pop and song of the American language.”

Continues…

State of the poet laureate

A conversation with Kim Stafford, Oregon's new laureate, who carries on a family tradition of spreading the word and its power to all corners

Broadway Books, the lively literary-oriented bookstore in Northeast Portland, recently hosted a celebration for Kim Stafford, Oregon’s ninth, and newly appointed, poet laureate, who succeeds Elizabeth Woody for a two-year term. We met for a bite close to the venue beforehand, joined by his longtime friend and fellow poet and teacher, Tim Gillespie. The conversation clocked in at under two hours and meandered with gusto and ease. We spoke on subjects ranging from his views on teaching, to the perils of writing programs, to the wonder of Verslandia, Literary Arts’ citywide youth poetry slam, and even to the late Irish mystic and poet, John O’Donohue (Kim brings him to mind in so many important ways), but it was truly Stafford’s way of seeing–and his friend’s way of seeing him–that left echoes for days and also sent me home celebrating Governor Kate Brown’s auspicious appointment.

Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford at Eagle Creek.

Chatting with Kim Stafford is a bit like stepping out of time. There’s something both ageless and perennial about him. He possesses a sort of egalitarian everyperson quality and inspires the feeling that he has always existed somewhere, that you could run into him anywhere, from a muddy river bank to a fancy lecture hall — that he’s spent a hundred lifetimes cultivating just the skills that make a great poet. His roots are deeply Midwestern, with a father (the poet William Stafford, who also served as Oregon’s poet laureate) from Hutchinson, Kansas, and a mother whose family hails from Beatrice, Nebraska — both quaint, conservative towns. But his parents met and fell in love in California, perhaps recognizing “each other’s homesick Midwest ways,” Kim wrote in his riveting book, Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford.

Kim has lived in Oregon for most of his adult life despite early years that found the family trailing behind his “gypsy scholar father.” By Kim’s eighth year of life, he had moved eight times. His father was “always looking for a different job. California, Iowa, Indiana, Alaska, from the Midwest to the West Coast. We did that several times,” the younger Stafford said. Even though there’s a hint of the way-back Midwest to him (a practicality, maybe, or a certain restraint and graciousness I always associate with some folks from my own birth region of Missouri) Kim belongs to Oregon as surely as rain belongs to the valley, a fact he seems proud of, and one that seems fitting for our new poet laureate. He relishes the diversity of our great state. “Having coast, mountains, Eastern Oregon, enables us to have different powers of thought than other, more homogenized environments,” he said. He also sees the benefit of connecting all of our disparate parts: “I am hoping that poetry can make the cultures of communities more diverse, the emotionally informed communities deepen, and make communities more curious about themselves and each other.” 

Continues…

Backstage at the Big Stage

New York City Journal: From ballet to theater to taxis to an open book of biographers, ArtsWatch's Martha Ullman West takes the city's pulse

NEW YORK – All New York’s a stage, and there is nothing “merely” about its citizens as players. I witnessed the following players make their exits and entrances in a packed visit to my hometown last month, in no particular order:

  • Taxi drivers muttering imprecations against the President for snarling up traffic with a brief visit to midtown Manhattan;
  • Writers and academics performing at a biography conference;
  • An anthropologist and an innovative (very) executive coach holding a public dialogue about using improvisation to cope with change;
  • Actors of varying ages in a production of Dan Cody’s Yacht at the Manhattan Theatre Club;
  • American Ballet Theatre’s dancers giving their all to fine choreography and not-so-fine in an all-Stravinsky program at the Metropolitan Opera House;
  • And New York City Ballet’s dancers, fleet of foot, airborne, and miming like mad in Balanchine and Danilova’s Coppélia.

I arrived in the city close to midnight on Friday, May 18, and at 8:30 the following morning, bleary-eyed and not exactly bushy-tailed, scampered into a building I will always think of as Altman’s department store on Fifth Avenue and 35th Street (it is now the Graduate Center of the City University of New York). I had paid big bucks to attend the second day of the Biographers International Organization’s ninth annual conference on the writing of, and – it almost goes without saying in these Mammonite times — the marketing of biography. I was headed to four sessions, the first on Writing Multiple Lives, the second on Resurrecting Forgotten Figures, the third on Biography and the Arts, the fourth on What to Leave Out. Each panel bore some relevance, I hoped, to the dual biography I’ve been working on for more years than I wish to admit to, Dancing American Character: Todd Bolender, Janet Reed and the Flowering of American Ballet.

Iceberg Slim, a.k.a. Robert Beck, subject of two biographies by Justin Gifford. Photo: Phase4 Films, for the documentary “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp,” produced by Ice-T.

And yes, there were performers on each panel, the most interesting of whom was Justin Gifford, an associate professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno, who was on the one on Resurrecting Forgotten Figures. A lanky figure in full hipster costume, jeans, stubble, and long hair, he was bare-headed for the conference yet unabashedly wearing two hats: writer of a trade book and author of a scholarly one, both about the same subject, Iceberg Slim, who wrote and was the publisher of black pulp fiction. The self-styled Marxist (an ideology not perceptible from the language he used in his presentation) summed up succinctly and well the difference between writing for the academy and the marketplace: for the first you are argumentative, the second narrative. Nobody throughout the conference mentioned the word readable, at least in my presence.

Continues…