Exploring the epistolary art

Participants in a Sitka Center workshop may discover how letter-writing can survive the digital age, keep people connected, and restore deep focus

Tucked in the back of my closet is a small, blue suitcase I’ve hauled around with me since I was 18. Inside are bundles of letters, handwritten to me in the first years after I moved from Pennsylvania to Alaska.

Letters from my mom address my plans to move to France (“I don’t think France cares for us right now,” she wrote in 1979 on lined legal-pad paper) and eventually to study for my real-estate license. Letters from the musician I’d agreed to marry seem aimed at inspiring guilt, as in “I thought you were coming back.” Letters from my older sister detail, in her near-perfect penmanship, the mundanity of our small town – whom she ran into, where she applied for a job, how her daughter was (or was not) behaving.

Back then, unless you could afford the long-distance bills (my phone was frequently disconnected, thanks to my inability to keep-it-short), letters were how you kept in touch.

Laura Moulton will teach a workshop Aug. 17 and 18 on "The Art of the Letter" that will include making collage envelopes to deliver students' missives into the world.
Laura Moulton will teach a workshop Aug. 17 and 18 on “The Art of the Letter” that will include making collage envelopes to deliver students’ missives into the world. Photo courtesy: Laura Moulton

In recent years, I realized how much I missed writing – and receiving – personal letters, and I decided I was going to start writing them again. I even bought “fine parchment paper” and matching envelopes found on a clearance rack.

But after years of hurriedly filling reporters’ notebooks day after day after day after month after year, my  handwriting is illegible. It takes huge concentration for me to form an “ing” — the three letters have morphed into a hump with a loop. Likewise, the word “every” looks like an e with a wave and a loop. So while I was drawn to the idea of handwriting letters, I never quite got there. Sure, I could probably sit myself down and write a bit more nicely, but frankly, I’m not sure I have the patience.

Then, I saw the description for the upcoming class on The Art of the Letter: Writing, Collage & Mail Art at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology:


The hot days, long nights, and spontaneous trips to the river are here. It’s summer in Portland, no doubt about it. As is tradition, everything happens all at once and there’s no time for anything. First Thursday falls on the first of the month, so why not start your busy summer schedule with an art crawl? If you can’t make it out then, there are a few good shows opening later this month, particularly Stephanie Simek at Melanie Flood.

image courtesy of Private Places

Eclipse: Kelly Akashi and Cayetano Ferrer

July 26 2019 – September 14 2019
Private Places
2400 NE Holladay Street Portland OR 97232

Private Places, a small gallery in the Broadway district known for innovative shows featuring early and mid-career contemporary artists from beyond Portland as well as local talent, describes this show with a sort of poetic materials list:

Terrestrial epiphyte sprouts, screen negative. Steel roots, planular log, silicate stems.
Interlocked breath and pressure—molten glass conformed to a heat-shocked mold of sand and lime. Fissures recomposed under weight of a reclining bell bubble.
Folded furniture and mimetic prosthetic. Compartments and platforms for pattern-impressed vessels, located and rotated, inset and offset.
Orbiting lights, bell body lens, refracting an envelope of rays.

All the pieces in the show are collaborations between artists Kelly Akashi and Cayetano Ferrer. An undisclosed, offsite location houses the second, appointment-only half of the show. Eclipse looks to be both intriguing and cerebral.

Brandi Kruse, File Bluff White

Flat Out: Brandi Kruse

July 20 – August 10
Book launch + poetry reading August 10, 2019 from 6 – 8 PM
Fuller / Rosen Gallery
2505 SE 11th Ave Suite 106

Brandi Kruse’s exhibition is preoccupied with imagined spaces, physical absence, and a unique observation: very few things are actually, truly, flat. Her sculpture and poetry are filled with “compressed and expanded” light, memory, and reflections. Kruse says:

I flatten things every day: my face in mirror images, my body in the shadows, the world through photographs. I have flattened ideas by recording them on pages, in words made of letters, made of lines, shapes without form; seemingly non-dimensional. But they are not formless and they are not without dimension.

The exhibition includes the launch of Kruse’s book of poetry from the show, flat out. You can pre-order the book from Fuller/Rosen now or get a copy at the launch where Kruse will be reading on August 10 from 6 – 8 pm.

Ryan Whelan, Life the Sky soft pastel, acrylic, and casein, 20 x 24 inches

Summer Collective Group Exhibit

July 27 – August 24
Stephanie Chefas Projects
305 SE 3rd Avenue, Suite 202

This group exhibition features new work from nine contemporary artists: Ben Willis, Carissa Potter, Jeffrey Cheung, Laura Berger, Leslie Vigeant, Mako Miyamoto, Maxwell McMaster, Mia Farrington, and Ryan Whelan. Vibrant, sometimes breezy, sometimes funny pieces that overlap with the sensibilities of the design world fill this show. Mako Miyamoto’s photos of a dirtbiker wearing a wookie mask play well with Maxwell McMaster’s LA-sunset-pallette acrylic paintings on found record covers. Meanwhile, Laura Berger’s cut-out style figures and Carissa Potter’s sumi ink paintings accompany the humbly small but beautiful paintings by Ryan Whelan and minimalist abstractions by Mia Farrington.

Tangle by Myra Clark

My Word is Hard to Hear: Mami Takahashi | Pilgrimage: Myra Clark 

July 30 – August 31
Blackfish Gallery
420 NW 9th Ave

Takahashi describes her current project as part of an “ongoing investigation of veiled communication within public space.” “Listening circles” on the floor delinate spaces where listeners to can hear a voice reading poetry in hushed tones that might otherwise be lost among the hubub of a busy gallery. Two different voices read the same poem in different listening circles inviting careful attention from the listeners.

New Blackfish Member Myra Clark will be exhibiting work at the same time. Clark draws on Byzantine icon painting methods, contemporary styles, and found objects to engage with the stories her mother has recounted as she develops dementia. This intimate show reflects on family, spirituality, and aging through its eclectic materials and methods.

One Afternoon in Your Next Reincarnation

Aug 1 6:00 PM – Aug 16 4:00 PM
Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA)
511 NW Broadway

PNCA’s low-residency MFA program is something of a hybrid between a residency program and a traditional MFA. Combining distance-learning and a flexible schedule with intensive residency periods, the program is a different take on the often-costly Master in Fine Arts programs (MFAs) that drive the art world today. Portland artist and curator Srijon Chowdhury has curated the thesis work of the 2019 class for this show. It should be an interesting chance to see work made with Portland in mind while carrying the imprint of sensibilities from beyond the city.

Anne W. Brigman, Infinitude, (1915) platinum print

Toughened to Wind and Sun: Women Photographing the Landscape

Aug 10, 2019 – Mar 8, 2020
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue

Drawn almost entirely from the Museum’s permanent collection, this exhibition celebrates an exceptional and underrepresented part of photographic history: nature photography by early-twentieth century women. Pictoralist Anne Brigman regularly hiked into the Sierra Nevada mountain range with her medium-format camera to produce some of the most haunting images of the show. “I slowly found my power with the camera among the junipers and tamarack pines of the high, storm-swept altitudes,” said Brigman.
PAM notes that “although women were active in photography from the medium’s earliest period, the terrain beyond the home was the purview of male photographers. Images of hard-to-reach scenic wonders made by men continue to influence our understanding of landscape photography and punctuate its history.” The photographs in this show reveal an important, broader history of outdoor photography. Sara Cwynar, Wendy Red Star, and Penelope Umbrico’s contributions to the exhibition show how women continue to push the boundaries in this field.

Artist Jessi Queen

La Strada dei Pastelli

Saturday, August 10 and Sunday, August 11 from 11:00 am-6:00 pm
Cedar Hills Crossing Shopping Complex
3205 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, Beaverton, OR 97005

This is the inaugural event in what the 2D4D arts organization plans to be an annual outdoor chalk drawing festival. With a mission statement that specifically calls out the importance of “bridging interaction between the arts and non-arts communities.” The August event, La Strada Dei Pastelli or “Street of Pastels” is named in honor of the 500-year old tradition of Italian street painting and features fifteen professional chalk artists drawn from around the country who were invited to complete large-scale drawings on the street in 48 hours or less. Free and open to the public, the festival also features musical performances including Portland Opera A La Cart. This is sure to be a family-friendly, fun outdoor event full of art and music.

Stephanie Simek

Stephanie Simek, Installation Detail

August 17- September 14
Melanie Flood Projects
420 SW Washington St., #301

Portland- and Seattle-based artist Stephanie Simek brings her multidisciplinary, sculptural, and scientific experimentation to Melanie Flood Projects later this month. Magnetic phenomena, holograms, lasers, growing cystals, and handmade sound devices are just as likely to appear in Simeks’s shows as are intricate sculptures or succulent plants. Astute gallery-goers might recall her delightful urn that held a crystallized key that could only be viewed in hologram via a convex mirror at the recent PDX Contemporary group show, Speculative Frictions. Don’t miss this chance to see more new work by this talented Northwest artist.

Improvisation and displacement: the ceramics of Hans Coper

Craft returns to the Park Blocks with Less is More at the Oregon Jewish Museum


Hans Coper’s vessels use silence like gravity. Coper, the British ceramicist who died in 1981, is having a resurgence. He is often associated with his mentor and friend British artist Lucie Rie but an exquisite new exhibition of Coper’s work at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, organized by guest curator Sandra Percival, seeks to reveal Coper’s influence on contemporary makers and to allow viewers to see his work independently of his collaborations with Rie. Chosen from the vast collection of the York Art Gallery in England and Portland collector John Shipley with additions from other West Coast collections, Less Means More teases out the connective tissue within Coper’s work. Percival chose to show Coper’s work as a gesamtkunstwerk or total work of art. This allows sympathies and formal rhythms to weave throughout the display. This is the first collection of this scale to be displayed on the West Coast.

Hans Coper, Disc form with cylindrical base and neck, stoneware, 1959. Courtesy of York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery), York, England.

Coper, like Rie, fled Nazi occupation to eventually settle in Britain. Rie left Austria in 1938 and Coper left Germany in 1939. Coper arrived in England as a Jewish refugee only to be sent to an enemy alien camp in Canada; after joining the Pioneer Corps of the British Army he returned to England in 1941. It was there he met Rie in 1946 and the two worked side by side making ceramic buttons and tableware. This experience led Coper to develop an ethos of a whole work, one that braids art, craft and life and is central to Coper’s staying power and enduring freshness. The contemporary art and craft worlds have caught up with his blurred lines between functional ware and sculpture. Coper has always been associated with the modernist wing of studio pottery, but his presence in the Oregon Jewish Museum allows for a more nuanced reading of his work. 

Displacement haunts Coper’s pots. The sculpturalness of Coper’s work is often privileged over the vesselness. He allowed his work to exist in between. Large spade form with vertical grooves from 1968 can be seen as being in dialogue with minimalist sculpture. One can stick to formalist terminology to describe its flattened uplifted disc or remark that its surface suggests metal or stone. But the spade has a void and the void is the soul of a vessel rather than a sculpture. The space within the spade’s walls could hold flowers, or equally, a metaphor. 

Hans Coper Large Spade
Hans Coper, Large spade form with vertical grooves, 1968. Courtesy American Muse-um of Ceramic Art, Gift of Bill Burke

As a teacher Coper was known for his stressing of improvisation and humor. He would just as soon take his students to a jazz club than lecture about form. He didn’t have the luxury of American post-war counterparts who used improvisation wildly and with abandon. On the West Coast, artists like Peter Voulkos and Paul Soldner used jazz to express wildness and machismo but Coper tapped into jazz’s improvization to explore classical forms. For American ceramic artists the war scarred them but they returned to a booming, spacious country in which victory was an adventure and the homeland was restored and triumphant. Coper never returned to Germany leaving a permanent rupture with his homeland. He remained a British citizen his entire life. His was a discipline, a full-life fling in which improvisation was tender and guarded fiercely. As a result if you give them the time, Coper’s pots pulse with an unyielding joy — the kind tinged by melancholy. He was not averse to a bright, impermanent flower to poke out of one of his austere bottle forms. 

The reticent surfaces and the singular focus on a handful of forms throughout his career can sometimes seem funereal. One of the centerpieces, Disc-shaped bottle on foot with indented front neck from 1959 can at one moment seem like a grave marker, but “with a certain slant of light,” to quote Emily Dickinson, the object becomes a neolithic gear or a rotund figure. I don’t mention Emily Dickinson lightly. There is a formal corollary between Dickinson’s spry, evergreen poems birthed from isolation and Coper’s abraded black, gray and white surfaces. Both ask patience and attention from the viewer and reader. Both also continue to yield illumination long after the hot light of more frantic and showy works have passed into obsolescence. The energy is under the surface. 

Hans Coper Cycladic
Hans Coper, Footed vase, Cycladic form, ca. 1975. Courtesy Crocker Art Museum

Percival does a wonderful job grouping of objects to show how form could be both archetype and brand new being. Coper visited the British Museum frequently. His love for Cycladic art is evident in his Cycladic vase forms. He dialogues with Constantin Brancusi, Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti, all artists who also dug deep into the archeological record for inspiration. What we call modernism is often a reassessment of the Neolithic. But Coper had his own names for his stable of forms. Bottoms looked like, well, bottoms, there are spades and a diablo hourglass. These forms dance through influences of various times and cultures. 

The installation of the pots reminds me of a quote that the American sculptor Charles Ray once said of Giacometti, “Great sculptures, like some of Giacometti’s, have no scale. Rather, scale becomes one of the tools he uses to carve his work into our present space and time. It’s never big or small, it’s always simply the right scale.” There is a photo included in the exhibition of a small, egg-shaped, Egyptian vessel in Coper’s studio. Coper kept the pot as a lodestar. It fit perfectly in his hands. It was in that very human humility of form and material across time that motivates the vessels on view.

Percival added what would seem to be a wild card into the exhibition. The Minimalist artist Dan Flavin is represented by a fluorescent light sculpture titled Untitled for Robert Ryman It is one artist’s homage to a compatriot. Flavin was an avid collector of both Coper and Rie’s work. He created two florescent sculptures Untitled for Lucie Rie, Master Potter and Untitled for Hans Coper Master Potter. We tend to think of influence within boxes, but clearly a minimalist sculptor who uses fluorescent tubes found something  enduring in the warmth of another artist’s use of wheel thrown clay. Coper’s influence only spreads to new generations of artists and makers. 

Collection is part of the story for this exhibition. The bulk of the exhibition comes from the vast collection of W.A. Ismay which is now part of the York Museum in the UK. Ismay was an early and ardent enthusiast for Coper’s work. Like the American collectors the Vogels, he did not collect from deep pockets and assumed prestige but instead because of an abiding respect and love for the work. The collecting that is represented here in Less Means More reflects a generosity of spirit. 

Hans Coper Hourglass
Hans Coper, Hourglass pot, stoneware, 1970. Courtesy of York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery), York, England.

One of the standout pieces of the show Large ovoid form with vertical grooves from 1975 is from the Shipley collection in Portland. I have brought students to visit the collection at their home and the Coper pot is always a favorite. I remember the delight on the face of a student who was allowed to cradle the vessel in his arms. The ovoid with its cleft down the shoulder and dark void of a mouth shares a pedestal with Digswell composite form from 1964, also from the Shipley collection. One is large, broad, and sensually round, while the other is small with a disc shaped belly and beaker shaped neck. One is black and one is white. The confréres are joined by the collector’s eye and the artist’s studio practice.

Earlier I mentioned the context of the Oregon Jewish Museum as significant. OJMCME moved into this new space on NW Davis two years ago. The programming has been dynamic and it has become a bright spot in the cultural scene of Portland. The space, however, is not without baggage; it was formerly occupied by the Museum of Contemporary Craft which closed its doors in 2016, a devastating loss for craft-centered spaces in the Pacific Northwest. The May 2019 closure of Oregon College of Art and Craft was yet another blow. This exhibition is a sort of homecoming then, and a regeneration of some of the ideals of MoCC. In Less Means More, Coper’s very human studio practice is seen through its quiet influence on collectors and contemporary artists alike. The stories these vessels have to tell, of minimalism, of displacement and a very human studio practice is there for you. You just need to listen closely.

Daniel Duford is an artist, writer and teacher. His work tells stories drawn from North American history and mythology. He is a 2019 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, a 2010 Hallie Ford Fellow and a recipient of a 2012 Art Matters Grant. His murals and public art can be found throughout Portland.

Exquisite Gorge 5: The Alchemist

Snippets of words, sounds, slivers, shreds, scraps, slices, morsels and fragments: Artist Mike McGovern transforms a stretch of the Columbia


Alchemy – noun : a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way.” (Merriam-Webster) 


THE ENGLISH WORD ALCHEMY has its historical roots in the Greek term chēmeia (the Arabic article al was added later when the word traveled across the Mediterranean world), referring to fluids and pouring. Long before the science of chemistry entered the scene, alchemists mixed liquids to create gold or cure diseases, seeking some sort of transformative power.

Mike McGovern, printmaker and professor in the art department at PCC Rock Creek Campus.

The term came to mind when I visited with Mike McGovern, yet another artist selected by the curatorial committee at Maryhill Museum for the Exquisite Gorge project, tasked with providing a wood block print representing a particular part of the Columbia Gorge. He will be among all those who gather on August 24 at the museum for the public printing of the aligned 8×6-foot blocks by means of a steamroller.


‘It takes a lot of patience and a good seam ripper’

The 29th annual Quilts by the Sea show will draw nearly 300 quilts -- and some of the best quilters in Oregon -- to Newport

Twenty-odd years ago, Cindy McEntee found herself with a sewing machine she had no interest in, but that a well-meaning aunt thought she should have. There it sat in its cabinet, unwanted and taking up space in McEntee’s living room.

One gray Sunday, McEntee fell asleep in that room and awoke just as OPB’s Sewing With Nancy was going off the air. Not long after, McEntee found herself in the local craft store looking for something that might occupy her hands. She left with two quilt projects.

“Heading Home,” a joint effort by members of the Oregon Coastal Quilters Guild, will be raffled off at the Quilts by the Sea show.
“Heading Home,” a joint effort by members of the Oregon Coastal Quilters Guild, will be raffled off at the Quilts by the Sea show.

“I ripped them right out,” McEntee recalled. “I made two large quilts in like two weeks. I thought, this is really fun. I took them to Craft Warehouse and I said, ‘Did I do this right?’ She said, ‘You finished them already?’

“That’s how it started. It was just a fluke. Nancy was talking to me in my sleep. I was just glad I wasn’t sleeping to This Old House; I’d have a pickup truck with a  bunch of tools.”

These days, McEntee is one of two certified professional Quiltworx instructors in Oregon, past president of the Oregon Coastal Quilters Guild and winner of 18 ribbons – including two best of show – at the annual Quilts by the Sea. McEntee, along with most every other serious quilter in Lincoln County and beyond, is gearing up for the 2019 festival, Aug. 2 and 3.


Art on the road: Circus in Montréal

From the Big Top to radical, utopian, emancipating dreams, the circus world is on the rise – and this Canadian city's in the center ring


IN THE STAUNCHLY CONSERVATIVE, predominantly Catholic German village of my childhood, we children eagerly anticipated three occasions each year. Carnival came around in February, an affair that allowed the entire population to break the social rules and party to the point of excess. Kids collected massive amounts of candy thrown during the parade of the few floats the village could muster, and adults knew that all would be forgiven come confession on Ash Wednesday.

In November we jumped around the bonfires of St. Martin’s Day, with paper- lantern processions illuminating the dark streets at night. Your kindergarten teacher, wearing a ratty red velvet cape that the saintly knight was said to have shared with a beggar, handed out hot cross buns to all. Both occasions were goose-bump territory: being around unrecognizable, disinhibited adults at the beginning of the year could be mystifying. Being allowed out into the cold night at the end of the year, with fires reflected in the silver helmet of St. Martin’s apparition, could be overwhelming.

Neither, however, compared to the emotions riled up when the circus arrived each summer. This was in the 1950s, over half a century ago, mind you, and circus was still a rather modest affair. They’d pitch a tent on an empty field between the diocese and the fire station, with bleachers in the round close enough to the small arena that you could see the sweat on the acrobats’ faces and smell the cheap brown stage makeup of grown men playing, I shudder to say, cowboys and Indians while performing tricks on the backs of some exhausted ponies. And always, always, a ravishing maiden with a trained poodle. Poor poodle.

Circus School students and acrobats performing on the streets of Montreal during Montréal Complètement Cirque festival


Portland artist John Gnorski’s exhibition Like a Train in the Sky at Stumptown Coffee celebrates the Portland artist’s Stumptown Artist Fellowship award. It was curated by May Barruel, the proprietor of Nationale, and features a suite of woodblock prints and tenuously representational sculptures-as-drawings that readily communicate forms without being didactic. The forms aren’t fixed; they don’t always represent, say, humans, herons, or trains—but they’re also not nothing, far from it. In fact, “far from nothing” would be a good subtitle for a show that announces its attachment to, among other things, dusk and clouds. The fourteen works all involve wood, a material with which Gnorski, a carpenter by trade, is intimately familiar and they refer loosely to the visual world.