NEWS & NOTES

Singing composer Ernest Bloch’s praises in Newport

A wayside dedication will recall the artist -- known during his lifetime as the fourth B -- with "Bloch Talks" and a musical performance

NEWPORT — He’s one of Newport’s most famous former residents, but unless you’re a classical music buff, odds are you haven’t heard of him.

Composer Ernest Bloch spent the last 18 years of his life living in Newport’s Agate Beach neighborhood. Photo courtesy Frank Geltner

That would be Ernest Bloch, the composer known in his day as the fourth B, after Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, and who composed one-third of his world-renowned compositions in an oceanfront home in Newport’s Agate Beach neighborhood.

Thanks to the efforts of Frank Geltner and a group of volunteers, Bloch’s legacy will shine more brightly. The new Ernest Bloch Memorial Wayside, located next to the street where Bloch lived from 1941 to his death in 1959 at age 79, will be dedicated Wednesday, July 18, with events continuing through the weekend.

Bloch discovered Newport while traveling from his son’s home in Portland to the University of California-Berkeley, where he was delivering a series of lectures.

“He arrived at the height of his career,” said Geltner, who is the “flamekeeper” of the Ernest Bloch Legacy Project. “All metrics which can be mustered give testimony to the impact this composer has had on his profession. Perhaps the number of recordings give the scope: about 850 CDs and 400 LPs. Perhaps the number of major awards. Perhaps when you search the name Ernest Bloch online to discover nearly 600,000 hits.”

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A life, stitched in time

Oregon's new national folk art fellow, Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim, embroiders her Palestinian heritage and refugee past into a living art

I had the great pleasure recently to meet with Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim, the master traditional embroiderer and newly named national folk art fellow, to discuss her life and work. Feryal, who was born in Palestine and lives in Milwaukie, Oregon, is one of nine artists named last month as winners of the 2018 National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship, the highest form of recognition for folk and traditional artists by the United States government. She received this tremendous distinction for her lifetime of work in the centuries-old art form of Palestinian traditional embroidery, or tatreez, which features detailed cross-stitch designs and adorns clothing, pillows, and wall hangings.

Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim, in her Milwaukie home, with memories on the wall. Photo: Danielle Vermette

When I arrived at her home I was unsure of which entrance to use, and my misstep left me a little jangled. But once ushered inside by Carrie Kikel from the Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Cultural Trust, who joined us for our conversation, I quickly fell under Feryal’s spell. Soft-spoken, thoughtful, exceedingly kind, and with an uncanny ability to hear the questions within a question, Feryal offered a master class in her fascinating and endangered folk art form and a generous and moving look at her history and culture.

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Henk Pander brings Vanport to Newport

In his first show in Newport, the celebrated Portland painter reflects not only on the devastating 1948 flood, but also on his childhood, racism and war.

NEWPORT — When celebrated Portland artist Henk Pander opens his show here Friday, July 6, it will mark not only his first exhibit in this coastal town, but also the first time nearly all of the watercolors have been out of his studio.

Times of Our Lives: Selected Watercolors by Henk Pander will run from July 6 through Sept. 2 in the Runyan Gallery at the Newport Visual Arts Center. The show, presented by the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, will feature large-scale watercolors and works from Pander’s recent series, War Memories, Liberty Ships and the Climate Refugees of Vanport.

“Buildings Are Floating” is among Henk Pander’s large scale watercolors on the theme of the Vanport flood.

Pander said he painted the watercolors for the Vanport Mosaic project, which commemorates the city north of Portland that was wiped out on Memorial Day 1948, when a dike broke, flooding the town in less than an hour and displacing 40,000 people. Many of the residents worked in the shipyards and included African Americans who were not welcome in Portland.

The Vanport watercolors were shown briefly this spring as part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival in Portland, Pander noted, but never in a gallery. His previous work on Vanport felt dated, he said.

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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.”

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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.” 

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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.

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Spotlight On: The Portland Horror Film Festival

In its third year, the Portland Horror Film Festival and founders Gwen and Brian Callahan continue to subvert the dominant Hollywood Horror Paradigm

This weekend, the Portland Horror Film Festival once again will turn the Hollywood Theatre into a morass of thrills and chills and spills of blood. This is only the third year of the festival, but in that time it has grown from two nights to four days, showing more than 40 short films (varying from one to 24 minutes), five feature-length films, guests, shwag, awards and an ever-expanding audience of ghoul-and-ghost seekers.

It’s fun, but more than that, the Portland Horror Film Festival is a bastion of art, of independent spirit, of resistance to the corporate construct that dominates the American landscape. At the PHFF, you won’t find examples of what founders Brian and Gwen Callahan call Hollywood-style “committee filmmaking.” Instead, you’ll see the singular visions of auteurs, “pure” and unadulterated, without the the greatest common denominator or the almighty bottom-line hovering above it all.

In their mind, they’re providing a “service to the audience by exposing them to movies they might not otherwise see; and serving the filmmakers by putting them in front of audiences they wouldn’t be able to reach on their own.”

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