MEDIA

The family that vanished

Author JB Fisher talks about a 61-year-old Portland mystery, this week at Third Street Books in McMinnville

On Thursday evening, Portland author JB Fisher will return to his one-time home of McMinnville to read from and discuss his latest book, Echo of Distant Water: The 1958 Disappearance of Portland’s Martin Family. You’ll find him downtown at Third Street Books, which has proved over the years that small-town indie bookstores can not only survive, but thrive. The Sept. 26 event begins at 6:30 p.m., and the store has a plentiful supply of copies for purchase.

Fisher is the author of another Portland true-crime book, Portland on the Take: Mid-Century Crime Bosses, Civic Corruption & Forgotten Murders, written with JD Chandler and published in 2014. That volume tells the tale of how gangsters gained control of some of the city’s unions during the Red Scare that followed the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike.

It turns out his new book was born right under my nose.

The author, teacher, and historian and his family used to live around the corner from us in McMinnville before they moved to Portland about six years ago. Our kids played together occasionally, so it turns out that I’ve actually visited the house where Echo of Distant Water has its origins.

Portland author JB Fisher came to true-crime via a background in Shakespeare and English Renaissance literature. He notes that popular literature of that time is “full of sensational stories: infanticides and hangings and the seedy underworld of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.’”
Portland author JB Fisher came to true-crime via a background in Shakespeare and English Renaissance literature. He notes that popular literature of that time is “full of sensational stories: infanticides and hangings and the seedy underworld of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.’” Photo by: Robert Delahanty

Digging through boxes in the garage of the ranch-style home, Fisher found a stack of newspapers left behind by the previous owner, and that was where he first learned about the Martin family. That story goes back to 1958, and boiled down to the most basic facts, it goes like this:

A few days before Christmas of that year, Ken and Barbara Martin of Portland and their three daughters climbed into their 1954 Ford station wagon and headed up the Columbia Gorge to find a Christmas tree. (Their 28-year-old son was stationed in New York with the Navy.) They had lunch at a Hood River diner, then apparently headed back to Portland.

Then they vanished.

Evidence emerged about a month later suggesting that the car had plunged off a cliff into the Columbia River near The Dalles. Early in May 1959, the bodies of the two youngest girls were discovered — one in the Columbia Slough near Camas, Wash., and the other near the Bonneville Dam spillway. The car was never found.

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Ed Asner: On politics and performing

The actor, who will perform in Newport next month, talks about the political environment, favorite roles and what it's like to be working at 89 years old

In about 10 days, Ed Asner will take the stage at the Newport Performing Arts Center in the play God Help Us!  The 90-minute show is described as “a political comedy for our times, and centers on two opposite-leaning pundits who are transported to purgatory by the Supreme Being himself for the purpose of debating today’s political and social issues.”

Asner, as God, will be joined on stage by four local actors for the two-night run, Aug. 10-11. Performances will benefit the performing arts center’s capital campaign. Tickets are available here.

Ed Asner, who says a real Democrat is a euphemism for socialist, characterizes the current political environment as “like the monkeys escaped the zoo.” Photo by: Tim Leyes
Ed Asner, who says a real Democrat is a euphemism for socialist, characterizes the current political environment as “like the monkeys escaped the zoo.” Photo by: Tim Leyes

I spoke with the seven-time Emmy-award winner by phone from his California home.  We talked about the play, politics, favorite roles and what it’s like to be working at 89 years old.

I’ve heard you described as the last real Democrat. How did you earn that title and can you talk about how God Help Us! relates to the current political scene?

Asner: I was born in 1929, so it was good year to be christened a Democrat. I come from Kansas City, Kansas, so we were vastly outnumbered. You had to learn to fight dirty and fight hard. I felt like the last living Democrat. A real Democrat is a euphemism for socialist. I like it. I think Americans were shucked into equating socialism with communism. People have been placed badly by that equation. They’ve screwed themselves. Until they get over that prejudice, our social progress will be slow.

How do you feel about the current political environment?

It’s like the monkeys escaped the zoo.

Can you share your thoughts on art/theater as a medium for resistance?

I’m delighted that artists have played a prominent role in creating resistance and continue to do so.

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Poetry, painting, and polemics: ‘The Zine Show’ has it all

A show at Salem's Bush Barn Art Center & Annex demonstrates Oregon's zine scene is alive and well

If one were taking the vital signs of a region’s cultural life, the vitality of the local zine scene, it seems to me, would be a key indicator. It’s part of the fabric of an area’s DIY culture that can include (but is hardly limited to) a broad range of artistic forms: bookmaking, paper arts, collage, comics, drawing, photography, poetry, prose and polemics.

Based on The Zine Show, an exhibition at the Bush Barn Art Center & Annex in Salem, I’d venture that the state’s zine scene is alive and well. The exhibition, which  features zines from around Oregon, closes July 10, and a reception for the artists will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 5. Admission is free.

Bush Barn Art Center & Annex in Salem has opened one of its galleries to a selection of 'zines by Oregon artists, along with work by Salem artists Miranda Abrams and Eilish Gormley.
Bush Barn Art Center & Annex in Salem has opened one of its galleries to a selection of zines by Oregon artists, along with work by Salem artists Miranda Abrams and Eilish Gormley. Photo by: David Bates

Bush Barn really packed the gallery for this one. More than 70 zines are displayed, and artwork by Miranda Abrams and Eilish Gormley adorns the walls. The gallery space is relatively small, but there’s a lot to look at. Visitors should plan on spending at least a half-hour to take it all in. There’s plenty to read; it’s like folding a leisurely bookstore visit into an art-gallery trip.

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An academic conference for Schemers, Scammers, and Subverters

Artists Ralph Pugay and Roz Crews have designed a conference for our times

“I think a lot has changed for the project since we talked last,” says Ralph Pugay (he/him) as I caught up with him and Roz Crews (she/her) over coffee two weeks ago. I have been following these two artists as they have collaborated on the Schemers, Scammers, and Subverters Symposium , aka SSSS, since early last year.

“We’re not going to have Tonya Harding,” continued Pugay.

“Sadly,” added Crews.

Originally slated to take place in December 2018, SSSS was envisioned as an academic conference that would feature presentations by schemers, scammers, and subverters from a wide array of backgrounds. The aforementioned Olympian was high on the list of desirable presenters. However, Crews and Pugay have since shifted their timeline and programmatic vision, instead reaching out to locally-based artists, creatives, and cultural workers through their networks. The event will now take place February 23, from 10am-6pm at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Portland.

Living School of Art poster for the SSSS’s TOTALLY HONEST BARTER BAZAAR

The conceptual framework of the symposium carries layers of nuance underneath that sensationalist title. “The title of the project is a big part of the project…It’s totally critical, as is true with lots of conceptual art projects,” said Crews of its multiple meanings. “I think those words [scheme, scam, subvert] have negative connotations,” reflected Pugay, “but then I can also imagine, coming from my background, my experience of being a Filipino immigrant, those are also tools for survival for people.”

On the one hand, SSSS has been shaped by a dialogue between Crews and Pugay about this fraught historical moment. They began asking themselves what it would be like, in Crews words, “to make a project that’s about scheming and scamming and subverting systems, when we have a President who is just straight up scamming us all.”

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McMinnville’s gallery scene primed to expand

An old house gets new life as a destination for arts immersion; plus, on the arts calendar: gallery shows, arts walk, a film festival, and poetry on the radio

There’s a buzz in McMinnville concerning an 84-year-old house on the corner of Baker and Northeast Seventh Streets, which marks almost the exact center of town. In the last decade or so, it’s functioned as a florist, a salon and a home-goods store. Now, there’s great news for art fans. Come spring, it will reopen as the McMinnville Event Center for the Arts.

Holli and Mick Wagner will open the McMinnville Event Center for the Arts at 636 N.E. Baker St. in March. Photo by: David Bates

MECA is owned by Holli and Mick Wagner, who also run nearby vacation rentals. They will open the gallery at 636 N.E. Baker St., a few blocks north of the city’s downtown district, as a home for visual art, as well as readings, live music, and classes. I got a sneak peek behind the papered-over windows last week as they prepare 2,500 square feet of space for a stage and works from more than two dozen artists.

“The mission here is really to create a destination space for people to come and immerse themselves in the arts,” Holli Wagner told me. In recent years, Yamhill County’s wine industry has exploded, with one result being a downtown district that is thick with restaurants and tasting rooms. Wagner sees a future with an equally active gallery scene. Already, more than a dozen can be found just in McMinnville.

“Not only are we a destination for agriculture and wine,” she said, “but now we have an opportunity to set ourselves another goal and become a destination for art.”

They’ve set a March 9 opening date, and they’re dishing out teasers on the usual social media. Check them out here.

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Have an old-fashioned Dia de Muertos — with Aztec dancing

In Newberg, the Mexican holiday is greeted with dance and a memorial offering. Meanwhile, Linfield College welcomes two authors and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

When Jose Carlos came to Oregon in the mid-1990s, he didn’t see much of his own Mexican culture in the community. Other Latinos attended his Woodburn high school, but public displays of culture from south of the border? No. “I didn’t see those things here,” Carlos told me recently. “I didn’t see celebrations of Day of the Dead, I didn’t see marches or Mexican celebrations, and now I see a lot. A lot of people are learning, sharing, teaching, and doing.”

Carlos and his wife, Kelly, are doing all four of those things with their Woodburn-based Aztec dance group, which increasingly finds itself in demand around Mexican holidays, particularly the annual Day of the Dead celebration. They’ve been regulars for the Chehalem Cultural Center’s Dia de Muertos celebration in Newberg the past few years, although they missed 2017 because they were in The Dalles with their company of more than a dozen dancers, helping with that community’s first public celebration.

Jose and Kelly Carlos of Woodburn will bring Aztec dancing to the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg for a free performance at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2.

They return Friday, Nov. 2, for a 5:30 p.m. performance that’s free and open to the public.

Jose started the group and is lead dance captain, while Kelly is executive director for Ritual Azteca Huitzilopochtli (pronounced wee-chee-zo-polsh-tlee), which does educational outreach and performances around the Willamette Valley and Southwest Washington. Jose credits Rigoberto Hernandez, a Chemeketa Community College teacher whom he met when Jose was a Woodburn High School junior yearning both for his own culture and fellowship. He and Hernandez started doing Chicano theater and Aztec dancing.

“In the beginning, I was shy,” he said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to wear those kinds of clothes, I don’t want people to see my stomach.’” Today, Jose is the teacher. While you probably wouldn’t have found Aztec dancing in Oregon when he started learning it in the 1990s, now, at pow-wows, he’s accustomed to seeing nearly a hundred participants, including his group of about 17.

“Every dance we do has a meaning for the time,” he said. “We have dances that are only for the Day of the Dead, and we have dances for other holidays. These dances have been passed on to us from teachers who learned from their families.” Who, he added, have been passing dances and other traditions down through hundreds of years.

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Hispanic Heritage Month, Russian theater and music, and more

Upcoming Yamhill County events range from Aztec dancers and Day of the Dead celebrations to Gogol and the Hermitage Piano Trio

Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, is designated as a time to celebrate the contributions — not just in arts and culture, but in all human endeavors — of Hispanic and Latino Americans. It started as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 under President Johnson and, thanks to legislation by U.S. Rep. Esteban Edward Torres, a California Democrat, was expanded by President Reagan to a month-long observance in 1988.

Perhaps due to the proximity of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations as October turns into November, public events fill out the calendar during this month. That, at least, is true in Yamhill County, where — no surprise here — the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg has packed October full of Hispanic theater, music, and dance. Linfield College in McMinnville and George Fox University in Newberg are also getting into the act, so let’s take them in chronological order.

Curtis Acosta speaks Oct. 15 in Newberg on defending the rights and education of Chicanx/Latinx youth.

Oct. 15: PROFESSOR CURTIS ACOSTA is a teacher with a story to tell, one that has made the pages of Yes! magazine and was the subject of the documentary Precious Knowledge. He was among those who developed a Mexican Studies program serving 1,500 high school students in Tucson, Arizona, in 1998. Although it was successful by a number of measures, it generated a politically motivated backlash in 2010, culminating in a law that banned the class. Long story short: Teachers, parents, and students got mad, got organized, and filed a legal challenge that was ultimately successful, with the curriculum being reinstated three years later.

Acosta, who is on the University of Arizona faculty, will speak Oct. 15 in the Canyon Commons of George Fox University in a presentation titled Victory in Arizona: Defending the Rights and Education of Chicanx/Latinx Youth in an Era of Hate and Anti-Intellectualism. Seems like a timely topic. The talk is scheduled for 7 to 8 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

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