Photo First: A day with the makers

As the world begins to waken, K.B. Dixon and his camera rediscover the pleasures of wandering among the crowds at an arts & crafts fair


On a bright and sunny Saturday, photographer K.B. Dixon did something he hadn’t done in fifteen or sixteen months: He grabbed his camera and went out to mingle in a crowd. What lured him, besides the weather and sense that the world was waking from its long shutdown, was the gathering of the artists and craftsmakers at the Slabtown Makers Market, a mini-street fair and studio tour at NW Marine Art Works, a warehouse-turned-artists-center in Northwest Portland. The two-day market will also be open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, July 25.

What Dixon discovered was a lot of people rediscovering the pleasure of simply being out and about, admiring row after row of beautiful handmade things, from jewelry to clothing to clayworks to paintings large and small; maybe grabbing a nibble; maybe even buying a thing or three that struck their fancy. For the vendors, it was just as much of a pleasure: showing their works, seeing people, engaging in conversations, maybe selling something.

Dixon’s pleasure came in part from eyeing a scene, framing it and snapping it, and capturing the spirit of the time and place in visual images. Here’s a flavor of the things he saw on Saturday, and that you can see, too, if you venture out on Sunday:

Let there be art: old warehouses have been transformed into artist studios.


A killer of a party on the radio

Imago takes Carol Triffle's newest play offstage and onto the mysteries of radio. Listen up: A cast member explores how and why they dunnit.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: On Monday evening, July 26, Imago Theatre debuts Carol Triffle’s new radio play, “Happy Times,” on Portland’s KBOO-FM 90.7. This time around, Triffle’s quirky, absurdist, and ordinarily highly physical form of theater takes something of a modern-day “Arsenic and Old Lace” twist: Three woman friends throw a party once a year, invite a man to serve as butler, then knock him off and bury him in the back yard. This year, though, something different happens.

How do a playwright and theater company renowned for their physical approach adapt to doing a show on the sightless medium of radio? We asked Imago veteran actor Danielle Vermette, who’s in the show as “a rather maniacal party host with a passion for exceptionalism, a hankering for the ‘butler’ she’s enlisted for nefarious purposes, and a slim grasp on reality,” to give us an inside look at what the process was like. Vermette is also a writer who’s contributed stories to ArtsWatch ranging from profiles of poets Kim Stafford and Leanne Grabel to a look at the life and work of Palestinian American embroidery artist Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim, a literary dive into the global work of Clowns Without Borders, and her own memories of touring the world with Imago in a polar bear costume – all of which help make her an ideal person to tell this tale.)


THE IRONY ISN’T LOST ON ANY THEATER ARTIST that the very medium that so adeptly explores human travails and uncertainty plunged into its own existential crisis when Covid shuttered the world. An art form dependent on close-proximity gatherings found itself in a dire state, given that its value to the community isn’t exactly essential (at least according to Maslow and his hierarchy of needs). The arts tend to breed a resilient bunch, though, and fear at the gut level figures into the whole enterprise in the first place.  

Still, marquees perhaps captured this new, particular fear best—signs of encouragement laden with a shaky subtext that seemed also to say, “What’s next?” and “Guys, this is really, really bad!”  “Take care of each other,” read many. “Stay safe,” read several. Sometimes, humor won the day: “Home Alone,” and “No Close Encounters of Any Kind.”

So, while marquees beamed messages of good will, and ghostlights took center stage, and artists scrambled for emergency funding, and artistic directors contemplated new platforms, and grant writers hustled through applications to plead their case, some theater companies blazed into the great unknown by embracing technologies like Zoom performances. Others, like Imago Theatre in Southeast Portland, took another route and explored the challenges and delights of radio drama.

A party to die for: Laura Loy (left) and Amy Katrina Bryan in Carol Triffle’s “Happy Times,” an Imago Theate radio play premiering on KBOO-FM 90.7. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

I’ve been a company member since 1999, and when I learned that Imago had paired with KBOO radio to create a series of radio plays, I felt fairly certain the venture would yield interesting results. In “ordinary” times Imago’s artists are masters of movement, and highly reliant on the whole architecture of a space and all its elements. I wondered what the strictures of radio would inspire in Artistic Directors Carol Triffle and Jerry Mouawad. 


Rosetta: The making of a musical

Composer Jenn Grinels and director Merideth Kaye Clark discuss the concert version of a musical about a woman who fought in the Civil War

Of the 2.27 million soldiers who fought in the American Civil War, an estimated 400 were women. They bound their breasts and cut their hair, claiming their right to fight and die alongside their male counterparts.

“The notion of a woman in pants was not only illegal, but just so foreign that all women had to do was put on pants and they would register as male to other men,” says singer-songwriter Jenn Grinels, who is the composer of The Rosetta Project, a folk-rock musical about a Union soldier named Sarah Rosetta Wakeman.

A period photograph of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman in her Union army uniform.

Wakeman enlisted when she was 19 and was killed in 1864, but her experiences were immortalized in the book An Uncommon Soldier, a collection of the letters she wrote during the war. “She felt like a badass and I think that’s what I loved most about the letters,” Grinels says. “She wasn’t ever nervous. She never expressed worry about being found out.”

On the eve of the concert version of The Rosetta Project—which will lay the groundwork for a hoped-for Broadway premiere—Grinels and director Meredith Kaye Clark spoke to Arts Watch about Wakeman’s legacy, the complexities of writing about a trailblazing teenager, and their collaboration with Jenna Tamimi, a gender and identity dramaturg who helped them investigate the ambiguities that reverberate through Wakeman’s story.


Tim & Samie: A rare partnership

ArtsWatch Weekly: An enduring friendship in art; a new opera leader; Ursula K. Le Guin's stamp of approval; performance & music & more

PORTLAND’S LONG BEEN A MAKERS SORT OF TOWN – a do-it-yourself, homespun, Saturday Market, farmers’ market, craft-centric, street-art, life-as-art kind of place, spinning its populist creativity from handmade craft to handmade food to handmade clothing and jewelry, and reaching its tentacles upward into fine art, whether it’s found in museums or galleries or home studios or among the booths and displays of street fairs. Not unlike the centers of the Arts & Crafts Movement that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s a place that believes art and artisanship fit together in a heightened, rounded, everyday way. As the city and state slowly waken from the pandemic shutdown, people are beginning to gather again – to see things and maybe buy things, and to rekindle the lost pleasure of being together, shoulder to shoulder (or maybe a little more distanced, and maybe still wearing masks) in a public place, simply celebrating the joy of being alive.

Left: “Arizona #2,” Timothy Wayne Stapleton, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 36 inches. Right: “Harmonic Memories,” Timothy Wayne Stapleton and Samie Jo Pfeifer, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 30 inches.

One of those revived gatherings, the Slabtown Makers Market, will be hosting visitors this weekend, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 24-25, at NW Marine Art Works, 2516 N.W. 29th Ave., Portland, a haven of artists studios amid a sprawl of former heavy-industry buildings. More than 40 artists and crafters will be showing and selling their goods, and giving back a little, too: 5 percent of sales will be donated to local nonprofits.

Amid the clayworks and macrame and baked goods and clothing and artworks by the likes of painters Daniel Duford and Chinese American artist Clement Lee, one booth leaps out: the one being operated by Samie Jo Pfeifer, friend and assistant to Tim Stapleton for four years before he died in September 2020 from the effects of ALS, or Lou Gherig’s Disease. Tim was a beloved and multitalented artist in Portland for many years, known in varying circles as a theatrical stage designer of uncommon creativity, a graceful writer whose stories often looped back to his early life in the coal-mining regions of Kentucky, an actor, a teacher at various colleges, and a visual artist whose paintings also regularly took their inspiration from the people and culture of the Coal Belt. You can read much more about Tim and his life in Farewell to the Tangerine Window, Marty Hughley’s heartfelt ArtsWatch memorial to him from last October.


Samuel Hobbs’ push/FOLD dance company prepares for a Mexico City festival

After months of hibernation, push/FOLD bounds into action with a restaging of an recent work

It’s been a quiet year for most Portland dance companies. With performance venues shut down and studio rental capacity for dancers often capped around 5 or 6 people, the conditions for gathering—let alone thriving creatively—have been far from ideal.

For local choreographer Samuel Hobbs and their company push/FOLD, the aftereffects of the past 16 months are very much real. Hobbs named the challenges for the company of six: “Time constraints caused by earlier shutdowns, dancers coming out of hibernation, and all of us trying to rediscover what dance means while doing it with even fewer resources.” Despite the obstacles, push/FOLD is emerging from the whirlwind performance ready and on the verge of a huge leap. The 5-year-old company makes its international debut at two renowned festivals this July and August. 

Before heading to Mexico City to share Early, push/FOLD is scheduled to perform the work locally at Old Moody Stages at Zidell Yards on July 30-31 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available here. After their international debut, the company returns to Portland to prepare for their third annual Union PDXFestival of Contemporary Dance at the Hampton Opera Center this November 4-7. 


Third Angle on the farm: If else, go out

Goats, pigs, and people help the new-music group get back in the swing of live performance at its Fresh Air Fest on Sauvie Island

Third Angle is coming out swinging for the return to live music, kicking off on July 11 at Topaz Farm with the three mini concerts of Fresh Air Fest. It was a much-needed retreat up to Sauvie Island for a midsummer Sunday afternoon, taking in the island’s pastoral hills and cool breeze, meeting the Farm’s goats and pigs, and listening to New Music.

Third Angle New Music Fresh Air Fest at Topaz Farm. Photo by Sara Wright.
Third Angle New Music’s Fresh Air Fest at Topaz Farm. Photo by Sara Wright.


FilmWatch Weekly: Catching up with the Northwest Film Center

Director Amy Dotson gets on with the work of refreshing and reshaping the art museum's movie program, from Tik-Tok to rooftop screenings

As Portland’s movie theaters have reopened over the last couple of months, one screen has remained dark: that of the Whitsell Auditorium, home base of the Portland Art Museum’s Northwest Film Center.

The Film Center was impacted in a unique way when the coronavirus pandemic exploded in March of 2020, causing an immediate truncation of its signature event, the Portland International Film Festival. The last public event that yours truly attended before the shutdown was the inaugural Cinema Unbound award ceremony held during PIFF 43, days before the festival came to an abrupt halt. Those awards were the brainchild of the Film Center’s then-new director, Amy Dotson, who had stepped into the shoes of longtime head Bill Foster only months earlier, bringing with her an ambitious agenda to reshape and reimagine the mission of the organization.

I spoke with Dotson recently about how the pandemic affected those plans and what to expect from the Film Center now that an opportunity to implement them has re-emerged. “In fact,” she says, “it allowed us to do some of the things we wanted even earlier. First and foremost, we got real comfortable with being unbound from the physical theater space.” The Film Center had been a pioneer of the recent resurgence in drive-in movies even before the pandemic, and part of the mission of PIFF 43 had been to incorporate events, such as live podcasts, that depart from the traditional definition of cinema. The 2021 edition of PIFF, like many film festivals around the country, was held online this year, and the Cinema Unbound awards were presented in a socially distanced, drive-in-style event at Zidell Yards.

Bill Murray as Steve Zissou in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Those events were rewarding, Dotson says, but “we have had so much more fun on the top of the Lloyd Center,” where the Film Center has held a round of outdoor screenings this summer. “The first night, when we showed The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, we must have had 350 people on the roof of the mall, and about half of them were dressed as Steve Zissou! We’re also going to continue through September with our drive-in series down at OMSI, where someone showed up in a dinosaur skull outfit for Jurassic Park.”