YAMHILL

The medium is the mask

The Chehalem Cultural Center fills its galleries with masks by Tony Fuemmeler and others depicting human emotions, anthropomorphic animals, and one evil bunny

The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg is closing out the year with an extraordinary exhibit (four exhibits, actually, it just feels like one) that virtually anyone – even those who don’t usually visit galleries — will find intriguing.

The subject is the human face and the oceans of meaning the face either reveals or conceals. The medium is the mask — hundreds of them.

Tony Fuemmeler’s Evil Bunny is a character from Grand Guignol, the Paris theater famous for staging horror stories (paper-mache, acrylic, fleece, fabric, wire). Photo by: David Bates
Tony Fuemmeler’s “Evil Bunny” is a character from Grand Guignol, the Paris theater famous for staging horror stories (papier-mâché, acrylic, fleece, fabric, wire). Photo by: David Bates

More than two years in the making, A Universal Feeling is a collaborative effort spearheaded by Portland mask-maker and theater artist Tony Fuemmeler and featuring work by more than 60 artists from around the United States and the world. The intellectual seeds of the project go back to the 1960s, when a group of psychologists suggested that a few universal facial expressions convey emotions understood across the entirety of human culture: fear, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, and disgust.

Fuemmeler, whose masks have appeared on stages up and down the West Coast and around the country, gave around 70 fellow mask-makers a task. He sent them a papier-mâché mask based on one of the six expressions and asked them to complete it, drawing (consciously or otherwise) on whatever identity, styles, experiences, and cultures inform their work.

The results are stunning, fascinating, playful, and occasionally disturbing. “It was an experiment,” he told me as we strolled through the exhibit recently. “I had no idea what would happen. I was very curious how people would respond.”

Respond they did, and alongside three other mask-themed exhibits that fill the center until Jan. 3, the exhibit is a riveting exploration of inner life as conveyed by the simultaneously simple and complex image of the face as rendered by a mask — an art form that goes back to ancient times.

Beth Bondy created Surprise 07: Paper Insect from cardstock scraps. Photo by: David Bates
Beth Bondy created “Surprise 07: Paper Insect” from cardstock scraps. Photo by: David Bates

“I have long admired Tony’s work, and have had the pleasure of playing his masks onstage in several settings,” said Sean Andries, executive director of Chehalem Cultural Center, in the press materials. “The ability of a well-crafted mask, full of life, to reveal the true sense of the performer who wears it has always transfixed me. When I heard about Tony’s vision for A Universal Feeling, coupled with an exhibit of his mask-making journey with Reveal/Conceal, I was immediately intrigued. By collaborating with artists from many cultures and backgrounds to ‘finish’ the masks he created for this special project, Tony has found a new way to reveal the nature of the artist within.”

Andries refers to Fuemmeler’s other exhibit, Reveal/Conceal: The Transformative Masks of Tony Fuemmeler, a selection of his own work, including some of his earliest pieces. Most are human, but some are not, and one is, arguably, both: Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream makes an appearance. All, he points out, were made for and used on the stage. This is the first time Fuemmeler has shown his masks in a gallery exhibit. It is a welcome debut.

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‘Caught up in the riptide’: ‘Sweat’ at Linfield Theatre

Lynn Nottage's drama of working-class life is difficult and ambitious -- and Linfield College is putting on a production that leaves the audience gobsmacked

You might be forgiven lowered expectations when a college theater launches a production of a work as ambitious and difficult as Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which opened last week at Linfield College in McMinnville and continues this weekend. Actors lack the experience generally seen on a professional stage; some may not have had theater training beyond the rehearsals. Young people who perhaps haven’t even thought of having children play parents, etc. It’s not ideal.

All that said, Linfield’s Sweat, which I saw on opening night, is a triumph and reminder that local theater can leave you as gobsmacked as anything you might see in Portland or Ashland. After the heartbreaking final scene, there were tears in the audience. During a talkback session, one audience member quietly noted that she couldn’t talk about it; she needed some time. One man said, “I’ve lived that.” I saw the play in 2015 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so I knew how it ends. And I was gobsmacked all over again.

I found myself sitting almost dead center, next to Ronni LaCroute, whose sponsorship helped make the production — and the hiring of guest director Adleane Hunter — possible. Behind me was Miles Davis, the college’s president. He’d brought with him a young man from McMinnville High School who had, apparently, never seen a play before. I can’t even. Talk about setting the bar high! Who knows what seed that experience planted? All told, it was a memorable evening.

Nicole Tigner (left) plays Jessie and Elise Martin plays Tracey in a scene from Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat,” which continues its run at Linfield College Theater in McMinnville 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Photo courtesy: Linfield College Theatre
Nicole Tigner (left) plays Jessie and Elise Martin plays Tracey in a scene from Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat,” which continues at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at Linfield College Theatre. Photo courtesy: Linfield College Theatre

Sweat opens with two tense exchanges. A parole officer (Linfield junior Robert Santos, lending solid credibility to the play’s smallest role) interviews two parolees: Jason (Sam Hannigan, a junior from Hood River) is an angry young man sporting white supremacist tattoos who seems coiled to strike at any moment, and Chris, a young black man (played by Isaiah Alexander, one of three guest artists featured in the cast) who is more subdued and defeated. We learn that they’ve been in prison several years and recently met for the first time since an incident that got them locked up. Yes, the audience eventually sees what the incident was, and yes, it’s horrible.

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This is America: Linfield stages working-class epic ‘Sweat’

Adleane Hunter of California directs a cast of students and others in Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of identity, economics, and race

Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat brilliantly, humanely, and powerfully depicts what the playwright terms “spaces that are under-illuminated” — those spaces occupied by millions of working-class Americans whose lives are a daily struggle even if they have a job.

I saw it at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, and of all the plays I’ve seen there since the early 2000s, it ranks high in my top ten. The final exchange of dialogue and, particularly, the last line, is one of the most powerful I’ve heard in an American play.

This month in McMinnville, Linfield College’s theater department tackles the play, led by guest director and producer Adleane Hunter, who has been doing theater in Southern California and elsewhere since the 1980s. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Nov. 7-9 and 14-16, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10. A series of special events, including an opening night talkback, accompanies the production.

I sat down with Hunter, who first visited Linfield a couple of years ago because her granddaughter is a student there. She’s familiar with Nottage, one of the best playwrights in American theater today. I asked her about that last line — and don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you.  

“I was so moved by it, I actually felt manipulated, because I didn’t see it coming,” she laughed as we had coffee at the campus Starbucks. Unlike many playgoers, Hunter strives for as spoiler-free an experience as possible. She does not read reviews or even the program notes before the lights go down. Even so, Hunter says, she can usually chart a play’s trajectory early on.

Adleane Hunter has come from Southern California to be guest director of Linfield College's production of "Sweat." Photo by: David Bates
Adleane Hunter of Southern California is guest director of Linfield College’s production of “Sweat.” Photo courtesy: Linfield College

Not with Sweat.

“I was drawn into this play in a way that I wasn’t projecting what was going to happen,” she said. “Often I’ll see plays and I can pretty much guess how it’s going to end, but I couldn’t with this play. I was very emotional. It’s so humanistic, it’s so profound. But it’s real, it’s organic.” 

Sweat explores the world of eight characters of various ages, genders, and ethnicities whose lives are bound up with a factory in Reading, Pa. Nottage was drawn to Reading — literally so; she spent more than a year there doing research — because she saw in the 2010 Census that it had the highest share of citizens living in poverty in the nation. According to notes for the show compiled by OSF, Reading’s unemployment in May 2010 was 14.7 percent. By way of comparison, Yamhill County’s hovers around 4 percent. The writing is exquisite, both in terms of plotting and dialogue. Yet, despite the poetry and emotional content of the piece, it functions not only as art but also (it seems to me) as an act of journalism. Bearing witness to life in the United States.

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Falling in love with movies and film festivals

Justin Zimmerman of the McMinnville Short Film Festival talks about his gateway films, the festival life, and this weekend's mini-fest fundraiser

The hottest movie ticket in Yamhill County this weekend isn’t at a theater. That distinction belongs to the Ice Auditorium on the Linfield College campus, where the McMinnville Short Film Festival will hold a sneak preview.

Eight films will be screened Saturday night (including one of last year’s crowd favorites, the hilarious I Will Not Write Unless I Am Swaddled in Furs). Afterward, audience members will meet some of the filmmakers and players behind the ninth annual event, scheduled for Feb. 21-23. Tickets are only $5, and Linfield students with ID get in free. The mini film fest runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Proceeds will be split between the  McMinnville Short Film Festival and scholarships for immigrant students in Yamhill County.

Justin Zimmerman was involved in the McMinnville Short Film Festival as a filmmaker and a judge before becoming executive director last spring. Photo by: David Bates
Justin Zimmerman was involved in the McMinnville Short Film Festival as an entrant and a judge before being named executive director last spring. Photo by: David Bates

One guy who will be in the audience and working the crowd afterward will be filmmaker Justin Zimmerman, who last spring was brought aboard as the festival’s executive director.

Zimmerman’s Portland-based Bricker-Down Productions has had films in more than 150 international festivals and won in dozens of them. Zimmerman also contributed a story to the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel Love Is Love. His connection with the McMinnville festival, founded by Dan and Nancy Morrow nearly a decade ago, goes back several years — first as an entrant and later as a judge.

I sat down a few weeks ago with Zimmerman during one of his visits to McMinnville, where he’s been discovering our restaurants and shops as he meets with the festival’s growing roster of partners (Linfield College among them) in preparation for February’s event. The festival has expanded to three days, entries are up, and it’s booked the largest auditorium at the local Coming Attractions multiplex for the entire weekend. “I have peers and friends in the world of film festivals, film programmers, executive directors, etc.,” he told me, “who, if they saw the budget of what we’re doing, they would be astounded.”

Zimmerman and I talked for about 90 minutes in a conversation that veered from his background and experiences and the festival to a few geek-out moments over movies we have both seen and loved. The following exchange has been edited for length and clarity.

What was your first movie memory growing up?

Zimmerman: I was fortunate enough to see Return of the Jedi, Gremlins, and Ghostbusters in a theater. Those really hit me. I remember those having a visceral effect. I remember seeing E.T. at a drive-in theater, that one blew me away. Movies really spoke to me. I was pretty young when I realized how powerful a movie could be. I didn’t have the training to contextualize it — the cinematography, the score, the acting, etc. — but it was very early on that I fell in love with movies.

What did you study in college?

Ohio State didn’t have a film production program, so I studied English and film criticism. I was fortunate to have a professor who taught the history of art named Ron Green, who was one of the most amazing film voices you could ever hope to find. I was studying Milton and Shakespeare and comparative world religions. I studied abroad in England and Ireland. Being in Scotland when Trainspotting hit was incredible. I took these courses in English where professors would teach what they were interested in: Feminism in horror movies; Orson Welles into Kubrick; and looking at the films of these wide-angle auteurs. It was remarkable.

Any particular film leap out, get inside your head?

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Calendar: Fiber arts, author talks, musical theater and whimsical cello

It's a busy month in Yamhill County, with art openings, open mics, author readings, romantic comedy, and music ranging from chamber to Latin jazz

It’s one of those weeks that illustrates the rich artistic and cultural opportunities that abound even in small Oregon towns — a reminder that one need not live in Portland to see good shows and films or hear authors speak. Let’s get to it, in more or less chronological order:

CURRENTS GALLERY IN DOWNTOWN McMINNVILLE just closed a show displaying the work of many fiber artists, only to follow it with another featuring the work of a single artist. Marlene Eichner, one of the gallery’s many owners, unveiled Just Say Sew on Monday, featuring one-of-a-kind wall hangings, pillows, purses, and screens. Stylistically, the collection is all over the map, ranging from the extremes of abstract and realism, and made using an equally diverse range of techniques. I popped in briefly during the installation and was struck by the painterly look of the pieces. The show runs through Nov. 10. A reception is scheduled during McMinnville’s 3rd on 3rd art and wine walk.

"Happy Place," by Marlene Eichner, was made with mosaic and applique techniques and is based on a watercolor by an artist friend, Joan Weins. Eichner calls it a "stylized representational landscape." Photo courtesy: Marlene Eichner
“Happy Place,” by Marlene Eichner, is made with mosaic and applique techniques and is based on a watercolor by an artist friend, Joan Weins. Eichner calls it a “stylized representational landscape.” Photo courtesy: Marlene Eichner

Eichner has been working with fabrics most of her life. Her mother made all her clothes through high school, and she made her own clothes and dolls in junior high home-economics classes. She has a degree in English literature and worked in California’s public sector after her daughter was born, while continuing to dabble in various artistic forms.

“When I retired at 54, I returned to my sewing roots and started a serious cottage industry, merging art and fabric,” she said. “I have made everything conceivable with fabric, including purses, pillows, banners, room screens, etc., starting with traditional projects and styles and gradually gaining confidence to evolve into serious fine art.”

Marlene Eichner unveiled her new fabric show at Currents Gallery in McMinnville this week. The show runs through Nov. 10. Photo by: David Bates
Marlene Eichner unveiled her new fabric show at Currents Gallery in McMinnville this week. The show runs through Nov. 10. Photo by: David Bates

She focuses on wall pieces using not only traditional quilting/piecing techniques, applique, and mosaic, but also incorporating free-style, free-motion machine thread-painting, and embroidery.  “My interest is in the interplay of light and color when using disparate fabrics to form a cohesive finished product,” she said. “So I play with many genres, from very abstract pieces, to both stylized and detailed representational pieces.”

Eichner said she uses either the highest quality fabric she can find, or she makes it herself in one of three ways: She’ll photocopy items such as textured paper and plant material, scan, and even manipulate them digitally, and then print on treated fabric.

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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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Wine country’s art cup overflows with studio tours

Nearly 40 artists open their studios for Art Harvest tours, Currents Gallery showcases fiber art, and a print show comments on the political/cultural moment

Before we get into the most politically incendiary and mesmerizing gallery exhibition in Yamhill County, first things first: The 2019 Art Harvest Studio Tour is upon us, so for those who have never been, here’s how it works.

Starting Friday and running all this weekend and next, nearly 40 artists from one end of Yamhill County to the other will throw open their studio doors to show their work, and in many instances, where and how they work.

The 27th annual event features artists working in a variety of media. Roughly half are painters and illustrators in oil, watercolor, acrylic, pastels, and egg tempura. Among the other half, you’ll find sculptors, potters, photographers, beaders, jewelry-makers, and more. They’re heavily concentrated and split evenly between McMinnville and Newberg, although this year there’s also a sizable showing in the vineyard-draped hills around Amity and in that city’s bustling downtown.

"Young Buck," a bronze by Steve Tyree, is part of the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County exhibit at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. Photo by: David Bates
“Young Buck,” a bronze by Steve Tyree, is part of the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County exhibit in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. Photo by: David Bates

The show runs Oct. 4-6 and 11-13. Tour buttons good for the entire run cost $8 and are available at all studio locations, which are listed on the website. A good way to start is swinging by the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, where the main gallery features work by all of this year’s artists.

Kathleen Buck, who lives and works in the hills north of Newberg, is a long-time local artist who has participated in the tour for 25 years.

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