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Art notes: Happy birthday, Hallie


Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art has had such an impact on art and artists in the Pacific Northwest that it’s a bit of a surprise to remember it’s only twenty years old. But that’s the case: Its official birthday was Wednesday, October 3, and to celebrate (modestly) it extended its hours for the day and served cake and refreshments to visitors.


John Olbrantz, who’s directed the museum since it opened and set it on its course to becoming a model of a small art museum, gave a lecture on the museum’s birthday, looking back on its beginnings and forward to what’s ahead. In his twenty years in Salem he’s helped build the Hallie Ford into not just an art center for Willamette University, its parent institution, but also the museum for its city and a vital arts player in its region.

More talks are to come:


Rebecca Dobkins, the museum’s energetic and innovative curator of Native American art and an anthropology professor at Willamette, will lecture on Wednesday, October 10, on the museum’s longstanding relationship with contemporary indigenous artists, one of its great strengths: In addition to building an excellent small permanent collection of Native American art, Dobkins and the museum routinely assemble special exhibitions on indigenous art and artists.


The following day – Thursday, the 11th – James Cuno, president and chief executive officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, will lecture on the role of university museums. For Cuno, it’s a homecoming of sorts: He’s a 1973 graduate from Willamette, with a degree in history.

Both lectures are free.

The Hallie Ford is known for its adventurous special exhibitions, including the current Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, which ArtsWatch wrote about here. The museum’s collections cover the world, but its focuses have been on historical and contemporary art of the Pacific Northwest, and indigenous art and artists, also mostly contemporary and mostly from the Northwest. It has also distinguished itself for its many expansive and important catalogs of its exhibitions – close to thirty major books in its twenty-year lifetime, many on the careers of major Northwest artists and many written by art historian Roger Hull, a Willamette emeritus professor.

Happy birthday, Hallie – and many more to come.


David Eckard’s “Deployment,” at The Art Gym in 2011.

THE ART GYM IS UNMOORED AGAIN. The important center for contemporary art lost its home when its sponsoring organization, Marylhurst University, shut its doors for good, with scant warning, at the end of summer. Marylhurst and the Oregon College of Art and Craft announced in July that The Art Gym and its programs would transfer to OCAC. But last week Melody Rose, Marylhurst’s president, sent a note that the transfer, which was to have taken effect October 1, was off. Like the Hallie Ford, The Art Gym has been distinguished partly by its rigorous documentation of its exhibitions by Northwest artists, creating a valuable historical record in the process. ArtsWatch will have more on the situation as it develops, and will also keep an eye on what merger talks between OCAC and the Pacific Northwest College of Art might bring.


©Jim Lommasson, Teddy Bear (Bremen, Germany, ca. 1925). “With storm clouds gathering on the horizon, my aunt’s teddy bear was buried in the backyard for safekeeping. My aunt and grandfather weathered the torrent and returned to Germany after three years in Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. After learning of the damage caused by the deluge, my aunt and grandfather wrote to my mother in America informing her that Tante Regine, Onkel Siegfried, Georg, Tante Toni, Hugo and his two sisters and Onkel Moritz and his family had been engulfed by the surge. In the aftermath of the storm, my aunt was reunited with her childhood teddy bear.” –Marianne Hesse

JIM LOMMASSON, the Portland photographer whose documentary work Exit Wounds, about the lives of American soldiers after their return from Afghanistan and Iraq, has traveled all over, has a new project and exhibit, Stories of Survival: Object, Image, Memory at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, in Skokie, through January 13. Lommasson spent two years traveling, talking with people, and photographing more than sixty personal items brought by genocide survivors to America—objects, in the museum web site’s words, “as everyday as a baby doll and a black suitcase and as symbolic as a young mother’s cookbook and a wedding announcement—saved by local survivors from genocides around the world, including Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Iraq, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Syria.”

Megan Ross has a good interview with Lommasson about Stories of Survival in Lens/cratch. In it, Lommasson explains the project: “We often think about war and its aftermath, as though there were a clear demarcation between the two. Few ponder the tectonic forces, the signs and omens that portend the end of an era. … [The project is] a collaborative photography and storytelling project with Holocaust and genocide survivors who fled to safety in America. It centers on objects they were able to carry with them on perilous journeys. From my photograph of the object, the participant responded with a story, a memory, a poem or a drawing. Their stories speak to the luminous inner life of these ordinary things and testify to the unspeakable anguish of a life forever left behind. … It’s clear to me that the currents of hate and bigotry still run strong. Stories of Survival memorializes those lost and those who survived, but it is also a call to action. We need to listen, and act.”


Chamber Music Northwest Lincoln Recital Hall Portland State University Portland Oregon
Benz and Chang, “Nothing New Under the Sun.” Community 3, Studio No. 26, 2018 Portland Open Studios.

PORTLAND OPEN STUDIOS, the annual metropolitan area studio crawl, is a little like a treasure hunt: Choose as many artists as you like, from in the neighborhood or way across town. Walk into their studios – often inside their garages or homes – and see their setup. There might be coffee brewing or munchies set out. The artist will be there, probably working on a project, but happy to take the time to talk about what she’s doing and how she’s going about it. If you like a piece, you can probably buy it on the spot, directly from the artist. About a hundred artists, many with familiar names and many who might be new to you, are taking part.

This year’s self-guided tours are Saturday and Sunday the next two weekends, October 13-14 and 20-21. Get an app, find the map, make your plans: Information’s in the link above.


Ceramic artist Hiroshi Ogawa. Photo: Amy Fields

HIROSHI OGAWA HAS BEEN MAKING POTTERY for almost sixty years, and since 1981 in the small Southern Oregon foothills town of Elkton, where he eventually built one of America’s handful of anagama kilns, an ancient and rudimentary kind of wood-fired furnace that has its roots in China and Japan, and which has both the drawback and the great advantage of being unpredictable: the flames, reaching temperatures as high as 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, lick around the clay vessels being fired in ways that can’t be fully anticipated, sometimes creating failures and sometimes marvelous accidents. The potter and the furnace learn each other, each coming to understand how the other thinks and works. Ogawa calls his kiln “Hikarigama,” or the illuminated kiln.

Now Ogawa has decided that he won’t be making any new work, which means that what’s out there is what’s out there. You can see several of his ceramic pieces from his final firing, in June of this year, through November 10 at Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art, in the four-person show Pretty Not Pretty (Again), along with works by fellow ceramic artists Amy Fields and Brad Mildrexler, and paintings by the late Mary Henry. Ogawa has also had his work at Eutectic Gallery in Portland.

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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