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ArtsWatch Weekly: A world on fire

Trees in Trouble. Pop-up posters. Farewell, Tim Stapleton. Maryhill opens. Women in film. TBA, Street Roots, more.


NOTHING I CAN WRITE ON A DAY LIKE THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT than the story sweeping across Oregon and the West, where high winds and wildfires and crackling-dry conditions have unleashed historic devastation. Whole communities have been erased. Main highways are blocked off; others have been bumper-to-bumper crawling with people fleeing danger zones. Hundreds of people have been burned out of house and home. Complex ecosystems have been uprooted; wildlife flee with no sure place to go. In Oregon as of Thursday afternoon at least 800 square miles of land was burning, much of it out of control. 

Amid the chaos I’ve seen many small tales of courage, generosity, and resourcefulness. People in the country offering refuge for horses, livestock, pets. Parking lots and driveways offered for people escaping in their trucks or campers. Neighbors helping clear downed trees. Medical and utility and emergency workers, already stretched by the mounting catastrophes of this most extraordinary year, laboring overtime under daunting and exhausting circumstances. As I sit at my desk at 10 in the morning and look out the window the sky has turned from blood-orange to a pink-tinged gray. The acrid smell of smoke seeps through the cracks and into my nostrils. And I am deeply aware, and immensely grateful, that I am one of the fortunate ones, sitting in a stretch of Portland that’s been spared the worst of these multiple conflagrations, and that, barring a radical shift in weather patterns, is likely to remain a safe shelter. 

How did we get here? Where are we heading? In search of some answers ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson talked with Portland writer Daniel Mathews, author of the recent book Trees in Trouble: Wildfires, Infestations, and Climate Change. Mathews takes a long view of the state of the forests, the destabilizing effects of climate change, the role of public policy, and other factors contributing to the chaos of the land. “I’m heartbroken looking at the maps and seeing so many towns and forests I visited just in reporting for this book,” Mathews tells Johnson. “This week’s fires are shocking and truly historic: it’s likely that more acres burned in the West than in any 48-hour period in written history, including the Big Blow-up of 1910. … I  guess there are a lot of disconnects between science and policy in this country, but forest fire policy is one of the most stubborn.”


The much loved Tim Stapleton, in transition. Photo courtesy Gary Norman

TIM STAPLETON, THE LONGTIME PORTLAND set designer, visual artist, writer of uncommonly good memoirs, and occasional actor, died at a hospice care center on Labor Day morning, Sept. 7, from the effects of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He leaves legions of friends and admirers, and an enormous hole in Portland’s artistic community. Tim, born in Kentucky coal country in 1949, constantly called in his work on memories of those days and that culture, and before he had to move to hospice care he made his home in The Holler, a stretch of country-in-the-city in a tucked-away part of northern Portland, which is where photographer Gary Norman took the portrait above. In it, Tim seems to be simply walking away, toward something, taking his soft wry voice and sometimes jagged laughter and passion and wit with him, but leaving a trail of memories behind. 

A couple of years ago, under the headline Tim Stapleton: Call and response with paint, Marty Hughley profiled Stapleton for ArtsWatch. We’ve republished and slightly updated that piece, under the title Tim Stapleton: A good man passes on.


Théâtre de la Mode: “La Grotto Enchantée” (The Enchanted Grotto), original 1946 fashions and mannequins from set by André Beaurepaire (recreated by Anne Surgers); Collection of Maryhill Museum of Art

MARYHILL MUSEUM OF ART, which rises on a steep hillside above the Columbia River Gorge a little more than a hundred miles east of Portland on the Washington side of the river, is an unusual museum in a lot of ways. To begin, it operates not year-round but seasonally, generally from mid-March to mid-November, because in the winter months the weather’s just too tough for large numbers of visitors to get there. Then there’s its creation story: It was built from the never-lived-in mansion of road builder and entrepreneur Samuel Hill, whose dream of a 5,300-acre Quaker farming community failed, after which a trio of woman friends – the pioneering modern dancer Loie Fuller, Queen Marie of Romania, and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, wife of a San Francisco sugar magnate – took it upon themselves to transform the place into a museum in the middle of nowhere. It eventually opened in 1940. 

Those beginnings in turn have led to a highly unusual and quirkily beguiling collection, ranging from material on Hill’s road projects to furniture designed by Queen Marie to Rodin sculptures, Eastern European and Russian icons, a historical Indigenous art collection, Loie Fuller material, post-World War II Paris fashion dioramas, and a fascinating collection of world chess sets, in addition to European and American historical and contemporary artworks.

Now, after being shuttered through almost all of its 2020 season because of Covid-19 restrictions, Maryhill is about to open its doors again. This weekend has members-only hours. Then, beginning Sept. 18 and continuing through Nov. 15, it’ll be open to all, with timed tickets, restricted numbers of visitors, and strict health requirements: Click the link above for details. It also goes almost, but not quite, without saying: Before you jump in the car, check the weather and fire conditions along the route. 

The truncated 2020 season includes several special exhibitions, including shows of sculpture by Théodore Rivière, Orthodox icons, Romanian folk clothing, and art by women celebrating the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, under which women won the right to vote. A few pieces from those shows:

Unknown Russian artists, Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign (Platytera) with beaded riza, c. 1800–1850, tempera on wood panel and glass beads, 9” x 8”; Collection of Maryhill Museum of Art
Romanian Newlyweds from Vâlcea or Oltenia, photo from Les 32 Mariages Roumains, 1893, 5⅝” x 3¾”; Collection of Maryhill Museum of Art
Katja Oxman (American [b. Germany], b. 1942), “Most Practiced Distance,” 1990, color etching, 32” x 24”; Collection of Maryhill Museum of Art


Musical Movement Minute at Raleigh Hills Elementary School, from the story “Music Workshop: filling a void.” Photo: Michael Ingram

MUSIC WORKSHOP: FILLING A VOID. Brett Campbell profiles Music Workshop, a Portland-based nonprofit organization that, Campbell writes, “augment(s) music education by supplying music programs offering online music programming to K-8 schools completely free of charge.” As money-pinched schools cut music and arts programs to the bone, Music Workshop helps not by replacing staff teachers but by augmenting what they do. In the eight years since it began, the program has grown to reach more than 3,600 schools (about a tenth of them in Oregon) and 1.5 million students in 60 nations.

MUSICWATCH MONTHLY: LABORS OF LOVE. Matthew Neil Andrews covers the musical waterfront, from “an outdoor opera in Newberg to a sci-fi surf bunker in McMinnville” to an impassioned defense by FearNoMusic’s Kenji Bunch of the City of Roses against partisan political attacks. A little Mozart, a little Resonance, a little Canticle of the Black Madonna, a litttle Mel Brown B3 Organ Group, a little more: Listen up. It’s a world of sound out there.

THE ADVENTURES OF FRED AND AURORE. Stuck at home with nowhere to go? Kids bored with nothing to do? Looking for a little light break from your routine? Let Joseph Albert take you on this historical musical jaunt involving mules, trolls, a bumblebee, a dog, a cat, a composer and a writer – the latter two, Fred and Aurore, more commonly known as Frederic Chopin and George Sand.

An animation from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” from “The Adventures of Fred and Aurore.”


“Women Make Film”: A drive through movie history.

STREAMERS: WOMEN MAKE FILM. ALSO MEN. In his newest column spotlighting movies and documentaries that are available for streaming, Marc Mohan introduces the British documentarian Mark Cousins’ series Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. “Is there something slightly disconcerting about a man employing women to voice his thoughts on the work of female filmmakers? In the abstract, surely,” Mohan writes. “But Cousins’ approach doesn’t involve any attempt to explore these directors as ‘women directors’ per se. Rather, Women Make Film (I keep wanting to append a ‘Too, You Know’ to the end of the title) positions itself as, despite its title, a survey of 120 years of movies that just happens to use only female-directed work to make its points.”


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Left: “The freedom of Mom’s love,” by 8-year-old Jamal Smith of Portland. 2020, graphite on paper. 11″ x 8.5.” Right: Ariana Jacob, “Redistribute Joyfully,” 2020 archival digital print, 30″ x 24″, courtesy of the artist.

CONVERGE 45: POPPING UP WITH THE TIMES. Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center, rolling with the punches of Our Covid Times, has been putting on “pop-up” shows reflecting contemporary issues and circumstances. Through this Saturday, Sept. 12, that includes #ACTforART, an exhibition of posters created by a dozen Portland artists. Most of the posters have been put up in public spaces around Portland; this show brings copies together in a single space. It’s a project of Converge 45, and as David Bates writes for ArtsWatch, they’re meant for right here, right now. They are, he writes, “a series of commissioned posters for public spaces that share the artists’ vision during this new, weird normal. Yes, theaters are shut down and concert halls are closed, but windows and fences and walls provide space for art, so the group has been spreading the love in lieu of its traditional programs, which typically involve exhibitions and gatherings where the six-foot rule wouldn’t work. The work is also being shared on social media platforms.”


Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, at PICA’s 2020 TBA Festival. Photo courtesy Jaamil Olawale Kosoko and EMPAC

2020 TIME BASED ART FESTIVAL. TBA, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art‘s annual fall fest of out-of-the-mainstream performing and visual art from here, there, and everywhere, kicks off its 25th season today. It’ll keep at it through Sept. 30; click the link for a schedule and details. A lot of offerings will be virtual; a few will be live (and masked, of course).

FROM THESE STREETS I RISE. As a longtime buyer and reader of Street Roots, Portland’s weekly newspaper about and often by precariously or un-housed Portlanders, I’m more than a little intrigued by this project from CoHo Productions. Created by Mikki Jordan and directed by Chris Harder with music by Samie Jo Pfiefer, it’s a story of “love and compassion” interweaving tales of Street Roots’ vendors. CoHo will donate 75 percent of ticket income to Street Roots. It’ll be live-streaming this weekend, Friday through Sunday; click the link for details.

SEQUESTERED SOLILOQUIES IV: SPECIAL DELIVERY. In shutdown time, Hillsboro’s Bag & Baggage Productions has been doing a series of sequestered soliloquies – say that swiftly seven times – delivered virtually via the theater company’s Facebook page (and available on the company’s home page afterwards). Next one up is 7 p.m. this Sunday, Sept. 13. Ten teams of playwright, actor, and director will create new monologues, each one containing a line from a famous piece of correspondence. As Lewis Carroll put it, “The proper definition of a man is an animal that writes letters.”

DREAMS DEFERRED LIVE. The group The Immigrant Story does a remarkable job of telling the tales of newcomers to Oregon and their journeys between cultures, helping to reshape their new place in the world with traditions from the places they left. At 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, five undocumented or formerly undocumented immigrants will tell their stories in a livestream from St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Beaverton. At 7 p.m. the following Thursday, Sept. 17, the company will livestream a concert of music from Mexico and Central America by Gerardo Calderon and his ensemble. Both events are free.

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Senior Editor

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."