In Newport, an art estate sale and Visual Arts Center reopens

Sculptor Sam Briseño's last works are available online, and the city's exhibition space will welcome visitors for the first time since March

Visitors to Newport may not know the late sculptor Sam Briseño by name, but they likely know his work, most notably the larger-than-life Ambassador. Set in Don Davis Park, the sculpture of a godlike figure with arms outstretched welcomes all to the coast and is part of the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail.

Briseño’s work is scattered throughout Newport and Toledo: an octopus at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, a park bench, weathervanes, fences, gates, arbors. Now, the public has the opportunity to purchase the last 40-odd pieces Briseño created before his death in 2015 at age 64. Jen Kent, the niece of Briseño’s life partner, Deanne Dunlap, had a dual purpose in setting up the website that features the pieces.

Sculptor Sam Briseño fashioned this piece out of an old wagon wheel.  The late artist’s friends are selling some of his last pieces; the suggested price on this one is $5,000.
Sculptor Sam Briseño fashioned this piece out of an old wagon wheel. It is among the 40-odd pieces the late artist’s friends are selling online.

“Sam was a part of my family since I was 10,” said Kent, 45. “We wanted to make sure that these were getting into people’s homes where they could be enjoyed the way he intended.”

The money raised by the sales also will help fund Dunlap’s move to California, as well as the brewery Kent plans to open at the Port of Toledo next spring or summer — pandemic depending. The pieces are priced, but negotiable, Kent said.

The work includes coffee tables, frames, sculptures, wine racks, and fireplace tools. Some are sculpted from reclaimed items, including a scene on a hatch cover and Kent’s favorite, a wagon wheel.

“He did this beautiful scene inside an old wagon wheel,” she said. “There is a blue heron in the reeds, trees, and snow-capped mountains. It’s very calming and it’s gorgeous.”

IT’S GOOD NEWS AT LAST FOR NEWPORT’S VISUAL ARTS CENTER, opening to guests on limited basis Oct. 24. The center has been closed since March 21, but plans for the reopening have been in the works for the past four months.

“The idea of us opening has been on the horizon for quite some time, but it keeps getting pushed back and back,” said center Director Tom Webb. “Now that we are finally in phase 2, we’re going to open slowly. In the beginning, just two days a week. We’re confident we’re ready for people, but it will change things once we have live bodies walking in off the street.”


Charles Grant’s Matter at Hand

The Portland actor-writer brings a vivid sense of movement to his play about the ever-present danger of violence that Black Americans face

Matter, conceived, written, and performed by Charles Grant and directed by James Dixon, is a deeply personal portrayal of a young Black man’s quest to find a way to save Black lives by examining police brutality and gun violence. Co-produced by Portland Playhouse and Many Hats Collaboration, the one man, 20-minute, filmed theater piece methodically examines the facts amidst opposing viewpoints, social division, and the constant barrage of news. Grant, frustrated and grieving over the many Black lives that have been lost, becomes aware of his vulnerability as a Black man and the possibility of his death at the hands of the police. While not strictly a dance work, Matter includes a lot of movement, as life should, and includes sections that could be called dances, with movement direction by Many Hats Collaboration’s artistic director, Jessica Wallenfels. Through a combination of camera angles, lighting, sound, text, movement, and the cast’s lived experiences, real emotions and trauma are expressed in the work, framing the complex Black experience. 

Charles Grant in the 2017 version of “Matter.” Photo: Tamera Lyn

“From early conversations with Jessica [Wallenfels], I knew that I wanted to incorporate more dance and movement into this piece,” Grant told me in an email. Grant originally conceived of Matter in 2017 as part of his apprenticeship at Portland Playhouse and is unofficially calling it Matter 2.0 this time around. Sadly, it is still part of our larger cultural conversation because of the disproportionate amount of violence toward Black bodies. He hopes he doesn’t have to keep bringing it back over and over again. 


Not your grandmother’s watercolors

The Watercolor Society of Oregon’s show in Newberg debunks stereotypes that the medium is about wimpy, washed out florals and bowls of fruit

The Watercolor Society of Oregon’s original plan was for members to converge in Newberg this fall for their annual convention, to be held in the Chehalem Cultural Center. As with so many other cultural doings, that was not to be.

But the paintings are there, more than 80 of them filling the center’s largest space along with the spacious lobby. The show runs through Nov. 28, and it easily qualifies as must-see fare, for it opens your eyes to the range of possibilities with a medium that tends to be mistaken for what I suppose one would call the stereotype.

I thought it was just me, but I asked Oregon watercolorist Kristi Grussendorf about it. She juried the show and is active not only in the 800-plus-member state organization, but also in regional groups. She knew what I was talking about.

“Chrome of Fire II,” by Sandra Wood (38 by 30 inches , watercolor)
“Chrome of Fire III,” by Sandra Wood (38 by 30 inches )

“Yes, it’s not your typical, wimpy, washed out florals that little old ladies did,” she said. I actually did not cite “old ladies,” but I knew what she was talking about. It’s part of the stereotype, maybe at a subconscious level, but it’s there: this image of aging women using watercolors to produce flowers, pastures, and bowls of fruit. “Watercolor is a powerful and versatile medium,” Grussendorf said. “It’s also archival. It’s past time for the old stereotypes to be discarded.”

The Chehalem show smashes through this stereotype powerfully. Indeed, the first impression a few of the pieces made was that they weren’t in watercolor. Dona White’s enchanting Play Time on first glance looks like it might have been done with acrylic. Doyle Leek’s Olive Oil from a distance vaguely resembles a graphite drawing. Sandra Wood’s Chrome of Fire III briefly appears almost like it was “painted” digitally, but no. I’m not sure what I thought upon first seeing Marjett Schille’s Slipping Into Darkness, which hauntingly depicts a surreal exodus of butterflies leaving Earth, but it definitely was not “watercolor.”


Horatio Law’s Urban Studies

When the Portland artist walks around the city, he takes his iPhone camera with him. With it, he creates a portrait of a cityscape in flux.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A few months ago we started following Portland artist Horatio Hung-Yan Law’s “Urban Studies” series on his Instagram and Facebook accounts. Ambling around the city, he’s created and shared roughly 1,400 images of Portland as observed from the streets. They make up a fascinating collective portrait of Portland as a lived-in, ever-evolving architectural space. We don’t see many people in these photos, but we see evidence of their presence everywhere: The images convey a sense of stillness, but with marks of action either recent or imminent. And almost inevitably, Law frames his scenes in ways that help us see things we might otherwise not have noticed.

We asked him if he’d answer a few questions about the project and create a small portfolio of his Urban Studies photographs to share. Here’s what he gave us. – Bob Hicks


Tell us how you got started on this series. Did you know it was going to become a series, or did it evolve into that? How many photos does it include now?

Urban Studies was actually a byproduct of trying to entertain myself while performing my daily walking exercise by photographing my surroundings and the places I passed through during my five-mile walk every other day. No, I did not intend them to become a series, but when I tried to put a framework around these seemingly random snapshots, the title “Urban Studies” took hold. Suddenly, grouping these snapshots under this title made sense, and it in turn motivated me to do more and post these photographs on social media as a group. So far, I have posted almost 1,400 entries on Instagram and Facebook.

Urban Studies #947: Tricycle vs. ?. North Williams Street District.

How do you decide which images to include? When you go out, are you looking for something in particular, or just waiting for something to hit you?


Tumbling statues, voices heard

ArtsWatch Weekly: A culture in crisis clashes over the past; a museum reopens; photos & films; singing amid the vines; a bookstore steps out

THE BIG NEWS IN PORTLAND THIS WEEK has been Sunday night’s downtown rumble through the cultural district, a highly focused and rigorously carried out protest – declared by its organizers to be an Indigenous People’s Day of Rage – in which activists toppled public statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, vandalized the Oregon Historical Society to the tune of an estimated $25,000 or more, did lesser damage outside the Portland Art Museum and at Portland State University, smashed store windows, and shot bullets inside an empty restaurant. Police declared the protest a riot, but took no action until after the damage was done. And the story was immediately picked up by President Donald Trump, who tweeted his desire to rush federal officers into the Portland fray. “Put these animals in jail, now,” he tweeted, referring to the protesters, and quickly followed up: “Law & Order! Portland, call in the Feds!”

David Manuel’s “The Promised Land” was controversial when it was installed in 1993 and is even more controversial now after months of racial and political unrest. It was removed for safekeeping from downtown Portland’s Chapman Square in July.

ArtsWatch’s Laurel Reed Pavic was working on a story about the issue of politically and mythologically charged public monuments and how to deal with them when cultural values and understandings of history shift. She quickly updated her analysis after Lincoln and Roosevelt – not the most obvious of targets, although each had specific issues about Indigenous rights – came tumbling down. The symbolic overthrow of monuments, she notes in her essay After the Statues Come Down, is nothing new: “Defacing or damaging public art has always gone hand-in-hand with putting it up in the first place. It happened in the city-states of ancient Mesopotamia and continues to happen today. The visual impact of a former leader face-down on the pavement hasn’t lessened over the past 5,000 years.”


“Indisputably beautiful”: Taking ‘The Magic Flute’ outdoors

Local singers deliver an unconventional take on Mozart’s classic

The last six months have left us starved for live music, with the country kinda-but-not-really shutting down to handle the pandemic. Luckily for us, last month a cohort of young singers took it upon themselves to stage the first full opera production in Oregon since March. These singers, collectively known as Lark Opera, started with the obvious first task: finding and securing a performance venue. The task became even more complicated when their first scheduled performance, set for September 19th at Utopia Vineyard in Newberg, was smoked out by the fires rampaging through the state that week.

But the smoke cleared, and the second-now-first performance went forward on the 27th at Lady Hill Winery in St. Paul, another of the many small vineyard towns south of Portland. Watching a performance of The Magic Flute lit by the dimming sunset over the Willamette valley, sitting on the lawn and drinking a light, tart, sour-cherry wine seemed a distinctly Oregon way to experience opera. 

Soprano Angelica Hesse, who spearheaded the production, played Pamina, a role she told ArtsWatch she’s wanted to play since her earliest dreams of becoming an opera singer at thirteen. She said that the last few months “have made it clear to me that I can’t go a year without this, that [opera] is something that really matters–and I had the feeling that is the case for audiences too.” 

The eleven singers had earlier taken a Zoom course on The Magic Flute, and like all musicians they were already familiar with the music. With funding from an ongoing Indiegogo campaign and a series of backyard rehearsals (with masks on), they put their new skills to use in an unconventional way. Hesse asked herself, “how do we make this happen?”–and her answer runs through the whole production.

One part of that was to make the problem-solving a collaborative effort: although Hesse was the driving force getting the production rolling, there was no musical director. All major artistic decisions were made by committee, and reflect the limitations given to artists working during this time of crisis. 

'The Magic Flute' outdoors in St. Paul, OR, September 2020. Photo by Catherine Oldham Bell.
‘The Magic Flute’ outdoors in St. Paul, OR, September 2020. Photo by Catherine Oldham Bell.

The production was far from a typical opera performance. This was partially due to the aesthetic considerations of the young performers, and partially from the circumstances of its staging. There was almost a Shakespeare-in-the-Park feeling, a communal gathering of art sans air conditioning (but with the language difference, maybe it’s more like Schiller-in-the-park? How about Goethe-im-Park?) The blankets and benches certainly played a part, as did the cherry wine, but I think the experience goes a bit deeper than that.

Nature itself became part of the stage. By the end of act two the sun had disappeared over the coast range, the moon taking its place in the center of the sky. Swallows darting overhead gave way to fruit bats as crickets began their evening song. During Papageno’s entrance, he was literally singing to the birds.

There were few props and no set pieces; costumes were simple but effective. Aside from a few small lights, an electric piano and some mics, this was about as minimal as opera can be. As with Shakespeare-in-the-Park, all pretense and extravagance disappears, leaving behind only what’s most important: words, music, and acting.

The plot of The Magic Flute is your typical story of love, magic, trials of character––it all seems old-fashioned, though there are parallels to the current moment to be gleaned. In particular, Papageno–the Falstaffian man of simple pleasures–contrasts with the hero Tamino, who is motivated by big ideas of love and wisdom. Papageno’s arc is one that should be familiar to us, especially in 2020: the realization that there’s more to life than bread and wine, that we need to feel connections with other people, with art, with opera.

'The Magic Flute' outdoors in St. Paul, OR, September 2020. Photo by Carolina Allen.
‘The Magic Flute’ outdoors in St. Paul, OR, September 2020. Photo by Carolina Allen.

It’s important to contextualize this performance within the broader scope of what’s presently happening within opera, a realm which–like all the arts–has been engaging with questions of identity and representation. The Met Opera in New York will cancel this upcoming season and return with their first ever opera by a Black composer: a new work by award-winning trumpeter and longtime Spike Lee collaborator Terrence Blanchard (whose BlacKkKlansman score earned him an well-deserved Oscar nomination)

We should also note that the Met has only staged two operas by women in its 137-year history: Der Wald by Dame Ethel Smyth, and L’amour De Loin by Kaija Saariaho a century later. The Met is at least starting to grapple with these questions, even if there is so much more they could be doing to catch up with the more progressive Pulitzer-Prize winning operas that living composers have been creating. Progress can be frustrating and slow, however, and it seems it will be a while before the canon of eight or so operas that are regularly performed becomes more diverse, at least among the major companies.

Back in Oregon, the vineyard Magic Flute dared change a few lines, editing the German libretto to remove some of the more sexist and racist elements of the original. While some may consider it blasphemous to sully the immaculate beauty of the original, others see it as a welcome change. I grew up in a generation of sampling, Spotify, remixes and mash-ups, so I’m one who welcomes the change: no piece of music is beyond re-contextualization, and all is endlessly mutable to the desires of artists and audiences. If it supports the performers and audience being comfortable with the material, I’m all for it. Besides, in all likelihood most of the audience wouldn’t have picked up on that minor textual change anyway.

This production also took a loose approach to gender roles, with Katherine Goforth and Allison Knotts playing Tamino and Monostatos respectively. Women in traditionally male roles are nothing new, especially for audiences in Portland. The Queer Opera Experience at Portland State similarly opens any role for any gender (read about them at ArtsWatch here and here). While the “queering” of opera didn’t seem like an overriding concern for this production, that is in itself a notable fact: both performers and audiences accepted it as perfectly normal.

And, despite the haphazard circumstances surrounding the staging, the cast showed their exceptional talents well. Of particular note was soprano (and director of Renegade Opera) Madeline Ross as the Queen of the Night, effortlessly nailing the character’s famous high staccato arpeggios.

In this political climate, I have to ask the question, “Why Mozart?” This comic opera is over two centuries old, written in an era of powdered wigs, Habsburg Archdukes and the moral degradation of the latest dance craze, the waltz. In doing some research on the opera I was interested to learn that the original librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, was a Freemason, as of course was Mozart.

Nowadays when we hear the word “Freemason” and either think of a global conspiracy seeking a New World Order (which it is not) or an organization for men who want to drink and discuss ideas with each other (which it actually is). Another theme lost on modern audiences–but obvious to Mozart’s–is the Queen of the Night as a stand-in for Habsburg ruler Maria Theresa, who banned Freemasonry from Austria in 1743.

Contemporary America and nineteenth-century Austria are very different places politically, of course, and I don’t want to imply any hidden agenda behind this staging of The Magic Flute. I bring all this up only because art is shaped by the world of its creation and renewal; just as Mozart couldn’t resist allusions to his moment in the music and libretto, this performance in its staging alludes to our moment.

'The Magic Flute' outdoors in St. Paul, OR, September 2020. Photo by Marissa Shaver.
‘The Magic Flute’ outdoors in St. Paul, OR, September 2020. Photo by Marissa Shaver.

The most overt difference is that outdoor setting. Inside a theater there is a separation from reality. We experience the opera as a pure escape from the world outside, engrossed in the costumes, drama, vocal acrobatics and catchy tunes–except for those fleeting moments when tardy audience members sneak by or the streetcar rumbles outside.

I couldn’t help but feel that this façade was entirely eliminated when I could see, in plain sight behind the performers, land that had been engulfed in yellow smoke a few weeks ago. This space of tension is what particularly fascinated me about this production: the tension between fantasy and reality, between art as escape and art as reality.

But above all else, I enjoyed the excuse to leave the Metro area in favor of Oregon’s beautiful wine country, to wind through back roads and escape the city for a few hours. And Hesse’s answer to “why Mozart?”–she told me, “Mozart is indisputably beautiful, and right now that’s what we need more than anything.”

In moments of tumult, returning to old favorites is a good way to cope. For the right audience, the light fun of The Magic Flute is exactly the sort of experience necessary in this moment.

'The Magic Flute' outdoors in St. Paul, OR, September 2020. Photo by Catherine Oldham Bell.
‘The Magic Flute’ outdoors in St. Paul, OR, September 2020. Photo by Catherine Oldham Bell.

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch

‘Silent Voices’: A movie for Moose

Quanice Hayes was killed by Portland police in 2017. His grandmother's film gives voice to him and 8 other victims of police fatal force.

Quanice Hayes was his name, but no one ever called him that. His grandmother, Donna Hayes, says that to friends and family, the seventeen-year-old boy was known as “Moose.” Moose, among other things, was a basketball player and had NBA aspirations. “He was short but he thought he could do it,” Moose’s grandmother laughs. Moose was fun-loving and outgoing. “Moose loved music,” Hayes says, “and he loved to dance and he loved his little siblings and he would take anyone under his wing as a friend.”  On February 9, 2017, Moose was gunned down by Portland police officer Andrew Hearst. “He was seventeen,” recounts Donna Hayes. “My grandson. He was on his knees when the police decided to shoot him.” 

Venus Hayes (left), mother of Moose Quanice Hayes, holding the rose; Donna Hayes (center), grandmother and now playwright; right and behind, supporters from Don’t Shoot Portland. At the first press conference before the family addressed the mayor and City Council, weeks after the murder of Moose Hayes, March 1, 2017. Photo: Kathryn Kendall

That was more than three years ago. Now, Donna Hayes has written a film, Silent Voices, being screened through the community media center Open Signal, wrought out of her grief over her grandson’s death. “At first,” remembers Hayes, “it started out I was just writing because I couldn’t tell anyone everything that was going on in my head.” But there was more to it than that.