ARTSWATCH FOCUS

Notes from Eastern Oregon: Art centers keep culture alive

Former Carnegie libraries in Pendleton, La Grande and Baker City house collections ranging from rocks to Lee Marvin's yellow-striped pants.

A road trip to Eastern Oregon late this summer opened my eyes to an error of provincialism on my part. I had regarded Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center as being somehow unique for a small community. Granted, it is one of the largest nonprofit facilities of its kind in Oregon outside of Portland, but it is hardly the only instance of an old building being repurposed to keep arts and culture alive in a small town.

A trip that took us up the Columbia Gorge and into Pendleton, though La Grande, and finally into Baker City yielded a few journalistic snapshots.

The entrance of the Carnegie library that houses the Pendleton Arts Center was designed to resemble the Pazzi Chapel at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. Randy Gundlach’s horse statue lends a western touch. Photo by: David Bates
The entrance of the Carnegie library that houses the Pendleton Center for the Arts was designed to resemble the Pazzi Chapel at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. Randy Gundlach’s horse statue lends a western touch. Photo by: David Bates

The Pendleton Center for the Arts is perched on a hill on the northwest corner of downtown next to the Umatilla River. Like the other art centers we visited in Eastern Oregon, the Pendleton center is a remodeled Carnegie library, this one designed by Portland architect Folger Johnson (1882-1970) and built in 1916 in the style of Italian Renaissance Revival. The entrance was designed to resemble the Pazzi Chapel at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. Near the front steps is an equestrian statue titled Sisters in Spirit by Randy Gundlach, dedicated in October 2004.

On the day I was there, the photographic work of David Webber, an artist/professor from Oklahoma, occupied the main gallery. Trees, gates, fences, sidewalks, and exterior walls were the primary motifs featured in the 15 prints, blown up to enormous size. According to the program, Webber’s “photos confuse the boundaries of their reference and challenge the viewers’ perception of what they are seeing. Superimposing images through layering, he pushes them to varying degrees of density by creating simple composites, fields of color and meshed textures.”

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Exquisite Gorge 11: It’s a print!

On a bright & shining Saturday, it all came together: Maryhill Museum's audacious, 66-foot long print project went to press via steam roller

Woodblock print by Ken Spiering (Detail)

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


“Only in community with others has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible.” Karl Marx The German Ideology (1846)

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It was Print Day at Maryhill Museum of Art. Eleven wondrous woodcuts, each sized 6×4 feet, were inked, aligned in a row, and printed by a steam roller, producing the largest contiguous woodcut print that we know of. They depict the length of the Columbia River flowing through The Gorge, with geographic precision regarding the river, and imaginative representation for everything else.

The scaffold is ready, early morning

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PHAME and friends rock out

PHAME Academy and Portland Opera collaborate on original rock opera

Photos by Friderike Heuer

Two summers ago, Portland Opera Manager of Education and Outreach Alexis Hamilton attended an original musical performed by artists from Portland’s PHAME Academy, which serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She hoped the 35-year-old organization might help her make the Portland Opera To Go program more accessible to people with disabilities. But she was so impressed by PHAME’s 2017 production that she imagined a bigger project.

“After I saw that,” Hamilton recalled, “I was really on fire” to collaborate with PHAME.

PHAME dancers in rehearsal.
PHAME “movers” in rehearsal.

That production coincided with the arrival of PHAME’s new executive director, Jenny Stadler, who was looking for ways “to overcome the invisibility” that separated many people with disabilities from the rest of society. One method: give PHAME students opportunities to tell their own stories to the larger public. After Hamilton approached her about collaborating, Stadler woke up with a “middle-of-the-night epiphany: we help them become inclusive, and they teach our students how to create an opera.” 

This weekend and next, 18 months of groundbreaking work by PHAME and Portland Opera staff — and above all the students themselves — culminate in what Stadler calls ‘the biggest project we’ve ever done.” PHAME’s original new rock opera, The Poet’s Shadow, runs for seven performances this weekend and next at Portland Opera’s Hampton Opera Center. 

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Chalk up another win for art

In Beaverton, the two-day La Strada dei Pastelli Chalk Art Festival draws evanescent images and crowds to a place where the people are

Look down. No, really. On the pavement. Suddenly that big gray sea of asphalt and concrete connecting parking lots and buildings is a free-flowing splendor of shape and color, a vibrant surface of spectacle, an instant outdoor gallery of art – in, of all places, a shopping mall. And why not? Art for the people ought to go where the people are.

On Saturday and Sunday at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton, chalk art arrived big-time in greater Portland in the form of the first La Strada dei Pastelli Chalk Art Festival, organized by the Beaverton art producers 2D4D (whose board president, Raziah Roushan, is herself a chalk artist) and continuing an Oregon mini-season of sidewalk artistry: Next up, the Valley Art Association will throw its 29th annual Sidewalk Chalk Art Festival in Forest Grove on Sept. 21.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


It’s all part of a worldwide movement: You can find chalk-art festivals all across Europe, from Germany to England to Italy (where they’re purported to have begun in the 16th century, outside cathedrals, as sketches for the curious crowds of the frescoes and murals being painted inside); in Canada, Australia, and Asia. In the United States they happen from Knoxville to Baltimore to Denver to San Diego to Georgia to Florida and beyond.

Part art and part event, chalk art has family ties to mural painting and graffiti art, decorative bike-lane paintings at street intersections in urban neighborhoods, and also, in festivals like these, to performance art: Crowds gather to watch the artists create their pastel drawings on the spot. It offers the thrill of creation and the bittersweet knowledge of impermanence: Chalk artists usually plan their designs well in advance, often even making small studies in anticipation of hitting the streets, yet street chalking is a fleeting art, fading and disappearing with the scuffle of feet and the inevitability of rain. At Cedar Hills Crossing, the street sweepers are due to wipe away the evidence on Wednesday, so catch it while you can.

Sarah Flores sitting and chalking, in the midst of it all.

Photographer Joe Cantrell took his cameras and his curiosity to La Strada dei Pastelli to check out the action as a talented group of professional chalk artists, several of whom travel from chalk festival to chalk festival creating fresh art, gathered to transform Cedar Hills Crossing’s pavement. It was a big undertaking – an $80,000 event, said Roushan, with significant contributions from the mall, other Beaverton businesses, and government cultural underwriting – and plans already are being made for a 2020 festival. “It was fantastic,” Roushan said. “A great turnout.”

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West Coast Woodcut: edges of life

In Maryhill Museum's Year of the Print, an exhibition of contemporary printmaking cuts from urban realism to the rhythms of the natural world

Man at Work, a 2014 linoleum block print by Ronnie Goodman in the exhibition West Coast Woodcut: Contemporary Relief Prints by Regional Artists at Maryhill Museum of Art, fits a classic role of printmaking: It’s a quiet provocation, surprising the viewer with a sudden twist on familiarity. An image of a man standing on a street corner in San Francisco with two huge bags filled with cans and bottles slung over his shoulders, it fits securely into a social-realist tradition that also embraces the likes of Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, and the American regionalists of the 1930s.

Ronnie Goodman, Man at Work, 2014, linoleum block print. Edition 9/16.

Stylistically it could be from the 1930s, and with a little jolt you realize looking at it that in a way it is, or at least it’s a contemporary echo of the Depression years. Man at Work is an image of down-and-outness, of the outsider, the possibly homeless guy sidling against the crowd, and when you see the title the whole little drama expands: Whatever you might have thought on first glance, the man’s no bum. He’s working, gathering the trash, doing a job that other people don’t want to do, scraping by with a quiet dignity that most people never take the time to see. The capper comes when you look at the wall plaque and discover that Goodman himself has led a hard-knock life: He’s homeless, and learned to make art in prison while serving a six-year sentence for burglary. “I have had my belongings confiscated ten times,” Goodman is quoted. “The city has taken my original irreplaceable linocuts – over fifty plates, all of my original artwork.” The explanatory plaque continues: “This includes works that were included in a temporary exhibition in the office of San Francisco mayor, London Breed.”

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