As autumn approaches, art finds a way

COVID-19 canceled much of the summer season, but with fall around the corner, arts and culture events are creeping back onto the Yamhill County calendar

Autumn is nearly upon us, and arts and culture are alive, if not exactly well, in Yamhill County. We lost most of Gallery Theater’s 2020 season in McMinnville, along with the Aquilon Music Festival, the UFO Festival, and Walnut City Music Festival. In Newberg, the Camellia Festival and Tunes on Tuesday also fell to COVID-19, along with virtually every small-town summer festival in the county. Linfield College, meanwhile, has welcomed new and returning students, but the public recitals, concerts, guest speakers, and author readings that made the campus a beacon of cultural enrichment in the community… Those are gone.

But as illustrated by the September calendar, art continues to find a way. Here’s what’s happening in Yamhill County, currently and coming soon:

CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER: Two exhibits are continuing through Sept. 19 in the Newberg center. They are Cache Nine: The Hope Material (How to Feel Not Scared in a Pandemic) by Sara Siestreem (Hanis Coos) and Selections From Art Studios of Yamhill County (in lieu of this year’s Art Harvest of Yamhill County Studio Tours). Plus, the Central Gallery contains a nifty surprise in a 2-week pop-up exhibit featuring art posters by Converge 45, nonprofit arts coalition founded in 2016 by influential gallery owner Elizabeth Leach. It opened Tuesday, so the clock’s running. 

George Fox University graduate Joann Boswell of Camas, Wash., will return to Yamhill County on Thursday when the McMinnville Public Library resumes poetry readings and open mic night. Photo by: MPR Photography. Courtesy of Joann Boswell
Joann Boswell will read her poetry Thursday in McMinnville. Photo by: MPR Photography. Courtesy of Joann Boswell

THE RETURN OF POETRY NIGHT: The McMinnville Public Library will resume poetry readings and open mic events this week with poet Joann Boswell, a Washington resident with deep Oregon roots. She grew up in Roseburg and attended George Fox University, where she studied music, theater, writing, and literature, graduating in 2010 with a master’s degree in teaching. Along the way, she started doing natural-light photography and writing poetry, and in June she became the poetry editor for Untold Volumes at Christian Feminism Today. Boswell will read her poetry in McMinnville’s Lower City Park west of the library at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3. Bring chairs or blankets, wear your mask, and bring a poem to share if you like. Sign up for open mic by calling 503-435-5554.

ELIZABETH CHAMBERS CELLAR: With a slew of COVID-19 protocols in place, McMinnville’s storied winery and tasting room on the south end of the Granary District, settled in brick digs that originally housed the local power company, is hosting live music. Friday Fandango events are open to the public (with reservations you can make here) after wine club members pre-reserve tables. Shows, held in a beautiful garden courtyard, start at either 5:30 or 7:30 p.m., so keep that detail in mind when planning. Starting Friday, this month features Jacob Westfall, JoAnna Lee, Ronni Kay, and Britnee Kellog.


Portland theater’s little ‘Black Box’

Gary Cole's online play based on his backstage novel about life, love, and revenge on the theater scene scratches an itch in Covid-19 time

“Theater people are strangely compelled to perform their art… regardless of the obstacles placed in their path, by the empty bank accounts, oppressive landlords, and unflattering critics,” the character Ned Prince observes halfway through the opening scene of CoHo Productions’ online play Black Box: Page to Stage.

I nominate pernicious viruses to be added to Ned’s list of obstacles.

But I suppose that would be a bit of an anachronism, since Black Box – written by CoHo co-founder Gary D. Cole and based on his novel of the same name – isn’t set in 2020. Instead, the virtual work looks back, with a rightful amount of nostalgia, to Portland’s past: a portrait of a theater community in an age when people could actually go to the theater.

Critic and board member, setting the scene: James Luster and Marcella Lasch in “Black Box: Page to Stage.” Photo courtesy CoHo Theatre

Black Box is inspired in part by Cole’s time as a theater producer in Portland. “CoHo Theatre is the center of the novel,” Cole says, although the novel’s plot and characters are mainly fictitious.


Seeing with a ‘backwards brain’

Painter Michael Orwick, whose work will be included in an October show in Astoria, says his dyslexia helped him become an artist

Reading his bio, the first bit of information you learn about artist Michael Orwick is that he nearly died at birth (he’s not entirely sure, but he thinks the umbilical cord was wound around his neck) and that while his mother thought he was perfect, his physician father “knew better.” It’s something of an inside joke, but as it turns out, also true – at least in some eyes. But a learning disorder others might see as a deficit Orwick soon discovered could, in fact, be quite the attribute — one he says he “wouldn’t trade for a minute.”

Next month, the Beaverton painter will lead his usual plein air workshop in Cannon Beach, albeit with a very limited number of participants, thanks to the you-know-what. In October, he and his 16-year-old daughter, Elena, will participate in the Sins of the Father show at The Secret Gallery in Astoria, which will feature artists and their fathers. We talked with Orwick about his life as an artist and the imperfection that helped shape him. His comments have been edited for clarity.

Artist Elena Orwick, 16, and her father Michael Orwick will have their work included in the October "Sins of the Father" show at The Secret Gallery in Astoria.
Michael Orwick and his 16-year-old daughter, Elena, will have their work included in the October “Sins of the Father” show at The Secret Gallery in Astoria.

On your webpage, you mention that your parents realized early on that you were dyslexic and saw things differently. How did that affect you?

Orwick: I could tell early on I was meant to understand things that I wasn’t understanding. Things weren’t supposed to be as hard as that. But I was able to put disparate things together to make something really creative. I just had a different way of seeing things.

In a thank you letter you sent to the “people that shaped me,” you wrote: “You should understand, growing up dyslexic, school was hard. Any subject with letters, or numbers, or dates or facts — they seemed harder for me than most kids. Although, if the assignment was visual, or creative — AHHHHH, it was like the clouds parting and angels singing! I felt like saying, “Step back citizens, I have this, everything is under control.”

Did being dyslexic make it hard on you as kid?


Roll on, Columbia, roll on

ArtsWatch Weekly: An expansive exhibit looks at the lives and issues along the great river. Plus: Splendid music, home cinema, comics, more

RIVERS RUN THROUGH US. We all have our list. I’ve lived by or near the Nooksack, Chenango, Susquehanna, Danvers, Cowlitz, Willamette, and Columbia, and had my dealings with many others, among them the Skagit, Mackenzie, Siletz, Hood, Sol Duc, Russian, Rogue. The attraction is complex and simple. We’re liquid creatures, made up of roughly 60 percent water, and we require water, for survival and sustenance. Water feeds us, transports us, gives us trade routes and energy, and for many of us, simply feels like home.

In the Pacific Northwest, the greatest of these rivers is the Columbia, a 1,243-mile behemoth that begins in British Columbia and runs through Washington and along the Oregon border until it tumbles into the Pacific Ocean. For 10,000 years or more of human history the river and its tributaries have been the region’s source of life – and for just as long, a source of cultural and artistic inspiration. It’s also the focus of a large group exhibit, Knowing the Columbia, continuing through Sept. 20 in the Elisabeth Jones Art Center, on the western edge of Portland’s Pearl District. 

The exhibition began with a series of prints by Erik Sandgren and expanded from there into a broad exploration of “the river that shaped the Northwest,” says Inga Hazen, the art center’s director of exhibitions and the show’s curator, with center director John Teply. It includes a crackerjack collection of artists: Sandgren, Lillian Pitt, Sara Siestreem, Jonnel Covault, video artist Genevieve Robertson, and the team of Fred Wah, Rita Wong, Nick Conbere, Santigie Fofana-Dura, and Sapata Fofana-Dura. Together they’ve created an expansive look at the history, cultures, economy, and challenges of the great river. As Hazen and Teply put it in their exhibition statement: “The artwork in this show aims to celebrate the beauty, abundance, and cultural significance of the Columbia River, as well as to document the effects of industrialization on the ecology and the culture of the surrounding region.”

Elisabeth Jones opened a little over two years ago with The Condor and the Eagle, a nationally significant exhibit of art that grew out of the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and a little like that show, Knowing the Columbia represents a couple of the art center’s core goals: representing art that addresses environmental and human-rights issues. It also follows last summer’s extraordinary Exquisite Gorge group project by Maryhill Museum of Art that culminated in the creation of a 66-foot-long steamrolled print representing a 220-mile stretch of the Columbia, a project that Friderike Heuer documented in an 11-part series for ArtsWatch. The river creates a lasting and ever-evolving mythology of its own.

The Elisabeth Jones Art Center reopened early this month, under strict distancing precautions, giving Knowing the Columbia a chance to be seen (it had originally been scheduled to open in the spring, right about the time that Covid-19 shut most places down). If you’re not ready to reenter public spaces – a lot of people aren’t – the art center is working on providing a fuller virtual experience of its exhibitions on its web site. In the meantime, the web site includes a lot of images from the show. And here’s a selection from the exhibition, with commentary mostly from the arists themselves:

Lillian Pitt, “Sturgeon Design,” monotype. Pitt, a revered Northwest artist, was born and raised on the Warm Springs Reservation, and her ancestors, she says, have lived “in and near the Columbia River Gorge for over 10,000 years.” Her prints and tapestries follow the tradition of “thousands upon thousands of pictographs and petroglyphs up and down the Big River. Most of them are underwater now, on account of the dams that were built, but many of them are still visible today.”


Graphic voices of Guantanamo

Portland writer Sarah Mirk's new illustrated book delves deep to tell the tales of lives in limbo at the prison built on the War on Terror

Forty prisoners of the “War on Terror” are still held in the United States prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Out of the 779 prisoners who’ve entered the military prison following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., they are the last ones left. Most of the others were released or transferred to other countries. A few died, having never left the prison. Some of these men were picked up off battlefields, or captured by intelligence officials. But most were turned in for lucrative bounties offered by the United States.

The 40 who remain exist in a dystopian legal limbo, not charged with a crime but unable to return home. The George W. Bush Administration insisted the Geneva Convention did not apply to these men, and over the years a confusing bureaucracy has sprung up that keeps them in this limbo. While protests against police brutality erupt nightly in cities across the U.S., those men go to bed unsure if they will ever be released. Portland writer Sarah Mirk’s new graphic book Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts From the World’s Most Infamous Prison asks us to consider the lives of those men who were released after years of imprisonment, and those who still remain.

The dilemmas of observing. Illustrator: Hazel Newlevant

Mirk might be best known for her work as a former online editor for Bitch Media and her reporting for The Portland Mercury. She now spends most of her time in comics, as an editor on The Nib and through publishing comic zines daily on her Instagram. In Guantanamo Voices she’s stepped back into the role of journalist, employing an international lineup of artists to bring her reporting to life.


Streamers: Hot docs and cool jazz

A guide to stuck-at-home cinema for the discerning viewer

As the months roll by with no indication of when it will be possible once again to gather together in darkened rooms with strangers to gaze at projected images, film fans have at least been able to take some solace in the extravagant buffet of options for home viewing. In fact, the menu of such offerings is vast enough to be overwhelming, especially for those of us who enjoy exploring what lies beyond the multiplex. With that in mind, we hope this column can serve as a road map for the scenic route through the universe of online arthouse cinema.

Obviously, it’s crucial to do everything we can to ensure that, once we have stopped living in such interesting times, the independent theaters that fertilize our collective cinephilia will still be around to welcome us back into their comfortable embrace. Many of Portland’s indie stalwarts have partnered with film distributors, such that a portion of one’s rental fee goes to support the business.

Louis Armstrong in “Jazz on a Summer’s Day”

For instance, both the Hollywood Theatre and the Clinton Street Theater are hosting virtual screenings of the classic concert film “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” which chronicles the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. It’s a perfect opportunity to bask in sumptuous color cinematography and timeless tunes, and yet it’s also almost a little cruel to witness all these performers and music fans, gathered together (sometimes less than six feet apart!) in an America that was near the top of its stylistic game and blissfully ignorant of the tragedies and turmoil that were to come over the next several decades. Of course, that ignorance does not excuse the inequalities and injustices that were invisible in their ubiquity, but within the closed universe of Newport, you can squint at the illusion of American exceptionalism as long as you don’t look too long or too hard.

If all you’re after is Thelonious Monk, Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, and many more in top form, there’s plenty of that. But director Bert Stern (best known for being the photographer who took some of the last pictures of Marilyn Monroe) spends as much time showcasing audience members, local beachgoers, and competitors in the 1958 America’s Cup yacht race. It’s a sparkling moment from a time that feels almost mythical now.

If you’re looking for something more in tune with our current predicament, the Hollywood is also offering Luis Bunuel’s 1962 surrealist masterpiece “The Exterminating Angel.” This is the one about a group of rich folks who gather for a dinner party one night and find themselves inexplicably unable to leave once the meal has concluded. Trapped in their host’s mansion for days and weeks on end, they slowly lose their minds and devolve into uncivilized savages. Sound familiar?

If there’s one genre that generally suffers the least from a small-screen treatment, it’s the documentary. (There are, of course, exceptions where visual sophistication and/or unblinking immediacy create unforgettable theatrical experiences.) And, anecdotally at least, the most common subject for 2020 documentaries is, unsurprisingly, politics. Three recent releases provide portraits of energetic personalities from the left, from the right, and from the youth of America—or, at least, Texas.

“The Fight” follows lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union as they pursue four of the seemingly countless legal battles the organization has waged against the Trump Administration over the last couple of years.

The cases involve: the administration’s family separation policy for undocumented immigrants at the Mexican border; its efforts to place a question regarding citizenship on the 2020 census; its denial of the right to an abortion to a teenaged undocumented immigrant; and its attempts to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military. In each, we get to meet the dedicated, harried, sometimes overwhelmed lawyers trying to keep their fingers in the dike as the forces of intolerance and fascism surge on the other side. There’s plenty of education on the legal issues at hand, but the main takeaway is the human face given to these (almost literal) social justice warriors.

While the movie can feel at times like an informercial for the ACLU, it does take a worthy detour about halfway in to confront the sometimes problematic consequences of protecting the constitutional rights of people with odious beliefs, including the infamous American Nazi Party’s attempts to march through Skokie, Illinois, in the late 1970s. More recently and relevantly, the ACLU fought for the free speech rights of the “Unite the Right” marchers who descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, an event that turned deadly, prompting some intense soul-searching at the organization.

Only one of these cases gets to the Supreme Court (the census one), and it ends up being the most satisfying resolution of the four. But each is an empowering David-and-Goliath saga in its own right, a reminder of the importance of treasuring small victories these days.

Stephen Garza, one of the subjects of the documentary “Boys State”

“The Fight” won a prize at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival (yes, there was one, back in January), and so did “Boys State”, an intimate investigation into an annual event sponsored by the American Legion in which a group of high school juniors are selected to participate in a mock political convention.

The opening credits of the documentary spotlight some of the notable individuals who participated in Boys State in their youth, a list that spans the political spectrum from Michael Dukakis to Dick Cheney and from Bill Clinton to Rush Limbaugh. (A glance at the Wikipedia page for the event reveals that famous non-politicians such as Michael Jordan, Jon Bon Jovi, and Roger Ebert attended in their day.) Each state holds its own Boys State (and its own Girls State, too, though that fact is hardly mentioned here), and the makers of this documentary were granted access to the 2018 Texas edition.

The vast majority of attendees, who are divided into two parties, Nationalists and Federalists for the weeklong duration of the camp, are conservative and white. (Oddly, neither the American Legion nor the filmmakers explicitly note the awkwardness of “Nationalists” as a party name.) But the film follows three teens who don’t quite fit the mold. One, Ben Feinstein, is a double amputee whose political perspective rejects identity politics for a Reaganite libertarianism. Another, Rene Otero, is Black, verbally dexterous, and a relative newcomer to the Lone Star State. The third, and for my money the star of the show, is Steven Garza, an unprepossessing Hispanic kid who radiates unabashed big-hearted liberalism. He seems like a bit of a softie at first, at least until you notice that he had the temerity to wear a Beto O’Rourke t-shirt on the first day of camp. Alternating between rowdy scenes of platform debates and introspective interviews with its leads, “Boys State” has some moments that will make you fear for the country’s future, and others that might provoke a strange, almost alien sensation that starts in your chest and makes its way to the back of your throat. I think we used to call it hope.

A third nonfiction meal for political junkies recently debuted on HBO. “The Swamp” follows three Republican members of Congress who claim to share a frustration with the relentless infiltration of lobbyists and fundraising into the political system. The most fascinating of the trio is also the one you are most likely to recognize. Florida Representative Matt Gaetz is a 38-year-old, fierce supporter of Donald Trump, his Ken-doll looks and venomously chipper demeanor combining to create the paragon of a made-for-TV, soulless sycophant. He’s a walking example of everything wrong with image-obsessed, attack-dog politics. And yet, when he talks about how demoralizing it is to spend so much of his time on the phone with potential campaign contributors, it really seems like he has a genuine disdain for D.C.’s culture of corruption. And he also makes a decent poster boy for bipartisanship, teaming up with Silicon Valley Democrat Ro Khanna in an attempt to place limits on a President’s frequently unfettered war-making powers. I always find it interesting to see the human side of characters like Gaetz, but with someone who’s always aware of the camera’s presence, it’s hard to know if what we get in “The Swamp” is just another performance.

(“The Fight” is available on demand through various outlets; “Boys State” is on Apple TV; “The Swamp” is on HBO.)

“The Ren and Stimpy Story”

Short Takes

“Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story”: I happened to fall right in the demographic wheelhouse for the mercurial 1990s cartoon sensation “Ren & Stimpy,” which is to say extended post-collegiate adolescence and an appreciation for the depraved animated adventures of an antisocial chihuahua and his moronic feline best friend. “Happy Happy Joy Joy” became the bizarre duo’s catch phrase of sorts, and it’s also the title of a new documentary that explores the cult phenomenon, including the tyrannical, dysfunctional, and eventually extremely creepy behavior of the mad genius behind the show, John Kricfalusi. It’s frustratingly familiar, this tale of an artist whose monomania made his unique creation possible, but whose egomania ends up sabotaging the whole enterprise. Kudos to Kricfalusi for being willing to be interviewed on camera, even if he still doesn’t seem to get how badly he screwed up. Don’t meet your idols, kids. (Available on demand through various outlets.)

Lucía”: Considered by some to be the pinnacle of Cuban cinema, this 1968 epic depicts three tumultuous eras in the island’s history through the experiences of three woman, each from a different social class, who share the same name. The first section, set in 1895 during the Cuban War of Independence, focuses on an aristocratic Lucía carrying on a secret affair with a Spanish soldier. The second Lucía is a middle-class woman who falls for a radical intellectual during a 1930s revolt against the repressive regime of Gerardo Machado. The third is a peasant who rebels against her chauvinistic, violently jealous husband in the post-revolutionary 1960s. While it’s a tad retrograde to define each of these protagonists by her relationship to a man, director Humberto Solás expertly combines melodrama and political consciousness. The film won the grand prize at the 1969 Moscow Film Festival, but a trade embargo against Cuba kept it from opening in the U.S. until 1974. It is scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection as part of the third volume of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project at the end of September, but it’s currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.

“An American Pickle”: Well, here’s an odd little number. Seth Rogen pulls a double act as an early 20th-century Jewish immigrant in New York City who ends up trapped in a barrel of pickle brine AND his present-day descendant. When Herschel Greenbaum (Rogan with beard) is freed, perfectly preserved, he goes to live with his great-grandson Ben (clean-shaven Rogen), an app designer who is alienated from his heritage and his labor. A predictable amount of culture-clash confusion ensues, and eventually Herschel parlays his artisanal pickling talents into a certain level of celebrity. Meanwhile, Ben is prompted to get back in touch with his cultural and familial identity. Kudos for being less than 90 minutes long, but the movie never really finds a fertile path between its goofy social satire and its more lachrymose “remember where you came from” moral. And the title is a shameful waste: “A Pickle in Time”? “Rip van Pickle”? There were so many better options. (HBO)

Chamber Music NW: never waste a good crisis

Forced to quickly shift from live to virtual performances, the venerable Portland institution achieves surprising intimacy and success

By the middle of March, Chamber Music Northwest’s leaders knew their upcoming summer festival would have to change. The spreading pandemic was clearly going to make the kind of crowded concert halls common in the annual summer festival dangerous at best, illegal at worst. How could the festival, approaching its 50th anniversary, respond? 

I know a lot of folks enjoy classical music performance precisely for the sense of grandeur and occasion and the chance to dress up. But for me, CMNW — except for the performers’ dorky, ill-fitting ‘50s-style white dinner jackets that no one looks good in — has always been about casual informality. From its earliest days with audience members sweating on cushions in a Reed College cafeteria to today’s college and club concert halls, CMNW’s relaxed atmosphere contributes to that feeling of accessibility. How would the festival be able to recapture it on screen instead of in person?  

(L-R) Incoming Chamber Music Northwest Artistic Directors Gloria Chien and Soovin Kim played Bartok with their predecessor, David Shifrin. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Like every other festival and performing arts organization, CMNW was entering uncertain territory. But unlike other summer festivals, which mostly happen in July and August, CMNW wanted to stick to its June opening, when performers and listeners would presumably have already blocked out. So it would have no examples to guide its response. “We’d been talking weekly with similar organizations around the country since the pandemic began,” Executive Director Peter Bilotta remembers. “We realized no one had a model for doing this. Being one of the first festivals occurring this summer, we essentially pioneered the model.”

That model turned out to be a surprising success — and it’s influencing other music festivals beyond Oregon.