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Arts champion Jim Winkler, 72, dies

The Portland developer was a longtime trustee of the Portland Art Museum and a key figure in transforming the North Park Blocks into a gallery and museum district.

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Jim Winkler, who was key to creating a new gallery and museum space in Portland.

James H. “Jim” Winkler, the Portland developer who was a champion of photography and other visual arts, died on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, from complications related to an infection. He was 72.

Winkler was president of the real estate development firm Winkler Development Corporation, which among other projects created Portland’s Adidas Village corporate headquarters complex, the Platinum-certified One Waterfront Place residential building, and The Headwaters mixed affordable and market-rate residential complex.

But in the city’s arts community he was most known and admired for his key role in the DeSoto Project, which in 2007 transformed the former Daisy Kingdom fabric building and warehouse on Portland’s North Park Blocks into the thriving center of an art gallery and museum district. The redevelopment became a crucial factor in the revival of the North Park Blocks, buttressed by its proximity to nearby galleries such as Elizabeth Leach and Blackfish, and the move in 2015 of the Pacific Northwest College of Art to a campus just a couple of blocks away.

Winkler’s interest in the Daisy Kingdom space was prompted by his love for photography and the nonprofit photo center Blue Sky Gallery, as D.K. Row wrote in an excellent 2007 interview with and profile of Winkler for The Oregonian.

“[O]ne day I was looking at art at Blue Sky when I was approached by Bruce Guenther (the Portland Art Museum’s chief curator), who asked: ‘What are we going to do about Blue Sky?’,” Winkler told Row. “What he meant was: What happens to Blue Sky if its rent escalates or if it experiences some financial stress – Blue Sky is, of course, a nonprofit art gallery, not a commercial one.

“That caused me to think about the galleries in general: What would happen if they had ownership options as opposed to just rental options? At that time, few galleries owned their spaces. Then I made a comment to Bruce: We ought to generalize the idea, take it to a certain scale, see how many galleries can take advantage of a critical mass. So, the notion was: Could we create an opportunity for the galleries, and could we do it in a location that was interesting, that could, perhaps, catalyze a neighborhood? And could we do it in a way to make purchasing or financing somewhat easy?”

What emerged was an art district that included Augen Gallery, Blue Sky Gallery, Charles Hartman Fine Art, Froelick Gallery, and the Museum of Contemporary Craft. There has been some turnover in the years since, most notably from the death of the Museum of Contemporary Craft, which had held the development’s most prominent space. The craft museum was soon replaced as a centerpiece by the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.

Winkler, whose Polish parents survived the Holocaust and came to Portland when he was a child, was active in the city’s Jewish community; in 2013 he received the 14th Annual Rabbi Joshua Stampfer Community Enrichment Award.

Among his many public roles, Winkler was a trustee of the Portland Art Museum. “Jim was steadfast in his support of this institution and our city’s arts ecosystem, and his leadership is unmatched,” museum Director Brian Ferriso said in a memoriam statement. “He served as trustee for over twenty-five years, as Chair of the Board from 2012 to 2013, and as chair of numerous committees, most recently the building committee that led to the successful signing of the Rothko Pavilion Guaranteed Maximum Price agreement.

“… Jim’s biggest motivation was the presentation of important works of art and the support for artists in our city, creating deep friendships with many. ‘Art will be central to our community’s transformation, and the Museum’s project is really our bridge to connect us from our past to our future,’ Jim once said at a Board meeting, speaking about the importance of the Connection Campaign [to connect the museum’s two buildings]. ‘We are about making a big change for Portland. We can’t lose hope or conviction.’”

Winkler is survived by his wife, Susan Winkler; children Jordan Winkler (Crstin Campbell), Julia Winkler (Jonas Jacobson) and Jacob Winkler (Edith); grandchildren Maxwell Jacobson, Miriam Winkler, Margo Winkler, and Talia Winkler; siblings Victor Winkler (Korina), Bernice Skoro (Carl), Beverly Greenfield (Chuck), and Fern Schlesinger; and many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his sister Velma Almo.

Donations in his memory can be made to Cedar Sinai Park, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, or a charity of your choosing.

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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5 Responses

  1. We have all heard that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. That means that a tiny camel and a huge needle must have had a very successful rendezvous this week. Jim Winkler didn’t have his eye on a personal heaven for himself, though. He was always on the lookout for ways to make this wonderful imperfect city of ours a bit more heavenly. I’ve heard Jim referred to as the smartest person in the room, but that’s only one third of the package. Combine that with his big Heart and his confidence to roll up his sleeves and Start – now you really have something! He didn’t just make things happen – he made GOOD things happen. My life has been greatly enriched by Jim and so has yours.

    1. Beautifully articulated, Christopher. You have written a fitting tribute to a remarkably caring, unselfish man. He was that unusual mix of genuine concern for his fellow man and his community with the ability and motivation, both personal and financial, to act on that compassion.

  2. I met Jim through his brother , Victor who was my classmate and friend. May his soul rest in peace

  3. My encounter with Jim was through a development project off Barbur Boulevard in which he daylighted and restored a long buried stream, even locating the buildings and connecting between them with a skybridge to minimize impacts. To him it was normal to restore what had been lost.

  4. I had the honor of working with Jim in the course of his volunteer service to OHSU Foundation. He was most definitely the smartest person in the room when we evaluated complex gifts of real property. He was always willing to help in any way to advance our mission of health to this region. We will miss his warm presence, encouragement, and thoughtful feedback. May his memory be a blessing.

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