This was Portland on a balmy late-summer Saturday afternoon.
- PICA’s edgy TBA festival of contemporary art and performance was getting into full swing.
- Badass Theatre’s Sans Merci was preparing to rock the house again.
- Artists Rep was getting ready to kick off its season with Lynn Nottage’s beauty of a play Intimate Apparel.
- Milagro’s La Luna Nueva festival was setting up the house for Andean Dreams.
- Dance Naked’s festival Come Inside: A Theatrical Orgy of Intimate Acts was inspiring dreams of a different sort.
- Portland Story Theater was about to open its first show in its new home at the Alberta Abbey, where the line of people waiting to get in would snake out the door and the crowd would be double the capacity in the theater’s old stomping grounds at Hipbone Studio.
- And out on the far stretches of Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, where hipster culture meets old-style working class Portland, a sprawl of little houses on little wheels was smeared across the parking lot of East Portland Eagle Lodge 3256, little works of art crowding their interiors and spilling out of their little doors.
This last roadside attraction was a one-day pop-up festival, Art Carts on Hawthorne, and on a day when the sun shone hot – the thermometer hit 87 at mid-afternoon – the jeans and shorts and T-shirts and halter tops were out in force, along with a scattering of blue balloons. The Eagle Lodge is on the corner of Hawthorne and 50th, where Hawthorne begins to glide uphill toward Mt. Tabor and 50th veers traffic toward the boulevard and eventually downtown.
The sound of revving engines mingled with the chatter of moms and dads and kids and artists and curious pedestrians who happened to stumble across the scene. Around about 3 o’clock on the makeshift bandstand – not a stand, really; just a clearing on the concrete near the food and beer, with some speakers set up – the Mulligan Brothers, up from Mobile, Alabama, picked up their guitars and bass and fiddle and laid down a backbeat.
Out in front of a short and pristine teardrop trailer, silversmith Stephanie Wiarda was chatting with passersby, selling some art and a few of designer Gary Houston’s boldly graphic posters for the event. A former partner in the late Beppu Wiarda Gallery in the Pearl District, which went under during the Great Recession of the late 2000s, Wiarda now operates Little Art in the Trailer with her partner Stan Peterson, an artist who was represented by Beppu Wiarda in its glory days. They keep things small and mobile these days, and they’re the guiding spirits behind Art Carts on Hawthorne. (The event’s main sponsor was PDX Magazine, which had its own tent set up in a far corner, without wheels.)
Wiarda looked around the busy parking lot, a big smile on her face. It had been a busy and, so far, successful day: across the parking lot, more than a few virtual ka-chings had been recorded on credit-card swipers. “I finally figured out what this reminds me of,” she said. “It’s like those ’70s art fairs, back when things just sort of came together.”
Peterson, who among other things makes cunning small wooden sculptures, grinned and nodded. They’d been thinking of circling the wagons, he said, and it sort of happened, but sort of not. “That area over there is pretty free-flow,” he said, pointing to the lot’s south quadrants. “You know artists. Can’t herd ’em. They’re not sheep. They’re goats.”
It was, in truth, a motley crew of carts. There was a blue Volkswagen van that looked as old and traveled as a Jefferson Airplane, and a couple of genuine small Airstreams, and a brightly painted cart that was a rough cross between a cardboard Animal Crackers circus box and a Gypsy caravan, and even a U-Haul truck with its back flung open and a ramp for walking inside. Cape Falcon Kayak splashed in with a cart full of beautiful hulls, their ribbed skeletons standing out like a Japanese maple’s in November. Near the caravan was a big faux-primitive wooden sign that said TRAILER PARK LOVE. In front of it, a couple of people were scanning the scene as they whittled down the frozen orange on their Popsicle sticks.
The art took on all sorts of personalities, but tended toward the bright and whimsical. A lot of it seemed spawned from the sprawling genealogical line of Robert Arneson and California funk. You might recognize a lot of the names of artists whose work showed up: Jennifer Feeney, Karl Kaiser, Jason Brown, Ali Schlicting, Poboy Art, Leah Kohlenberg, more. Plenty of stuff by the ubiquitous Chris Haberman was on hand, which made sense, because he also did the mural that galumphs across the streetside wall of the hosting Eagle Lodge.
Acrylics, encaustics, prints, oil paintings, artisan jewelry, the inevitable T-shirts, and lots of carvings were on display. One of the most popular carts was a vividly painted job overloaded with insouciant pieces by Alea Bone and Stephanie Brockway, who does carved wood and mixed media sculptures, and who oversaw the merchandise with a cowgirl swagger. Brockway had just finished a show at Riversea Gallery in Astoria called Villains, Harpies & Sailors that featured, among other things, a carved Popeye-strong sailor’s arm bulging with brawny tattoos and hoisting a big hook in its fist. Her star attraction at Art Carts on Hawthorne was Juggles the Clown, a slim wooden fellow clicking his heels against a stone perch right outside the cart’s narrow door. Juggles was taking the sun, although he was half in shade, and he was staring straight ahead, but Brockway demonstrated that his head is articulated, which is a fancy way of saying you can swivel it from side to side. “Same with the horse,” she noted, gesturing toward a little rocking horse on the other side of the door. Juggles was sitting next to a carved wooded sign that said in rough-hewn letters, LOVE.
All in all, that pretty much summed things up.