OREGON

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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Coast calendar: a little dancing, a little strumming

BodyVox visits the forest near Astoria, plein air painting in Cannon Beach, and Appalachian fiddle tunes in Manzanita are among upcoming offerings

Dance, music, art – there’s a bit of everything happening on the North Coast in coming weeks. 

In Astoria, Portland’s BodyVox will combine dance and theater on Saturday, Sept. 14, in a typically Oregon setting: the forest.  With the roaring Columbia River providing the backdrop, BodyVox@Big Creek performers will share their awarding-winning dance under the open skies. 

poster for BodyVox at Big Creek

In its 22nd season, the company founded by Emmy Award-winning choreographers Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland is known, according to its website, for its “visual virtuosity, distinctive wit and unique ability to combine dance, theater and film into breathtaking productions rich in imagery, athleticism and humor. … The company has a tradition of excellence with a unique voice that is equally influenced by its Northwest roots and world view.”

Bear in mind that the unique working-forest setting comes with conditions. Private vehicles are not permitted on the property, so shuttle buses will pick up ticket holders at the Knappa High School parking lot and deliver them to Hampton Lumber’s Big Creek Forest property about 13 miles east of Astoria. Best to arrive early for the 15-20 minute ride over logging roads. Shuttles will run about every 20 minutes from 4 to 5:30 p.m. You’ll be dropped off less than 100 feet from the performance area so “walking will be minimal, however, be advised that gravel roads and the natural characteristics of the landscape might present challenges for those with mobility issues,” organizers warn. 

Tickets are $20. You’ll find more details on tickets and what to and not to bring here.

ALSO IN ASTORIA, the 45th Parallel Universe chamber music collective joins with the historic Liberty Theatre in presenting a series of five musical performances, beginning Oct. 11 with Primordial Swamp. The performance features flutist Martha Conwell Long and cellist Marilyn de Oliveira performing Reza Vali’s vivid Folk Songs. 45th Parallel players complete the program with Dohnanyi’s Sextet and Martinu’s brilliant Nonet. For more on the 2019-20 lineup, and prices for individual or season tickets, go here.

CANNON BEACH DEBUTS its newest festival, the Earth & Ocean Arts Festival, Sept. 20-22. It takes the best of the former Plein Air & More Arts Festival, which ended a 10-year run in 2018, and adds a few environmentally themed twists.  Leading up to it, landscape oil painters Michael Orwick and Anton Pavlenko offer a five-day plein air workshop, beginning Sept. 16.

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Portraits of everyday humanity and Lisbon in transition

Jessica Holder’s photo exhibit features images of her co-workers; Liz Obert's work explores the Portuguese city, from its medieval past to its vibrant present

More often than not, the Community Gallery in Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center leans toward work by extremely local artists (i.e., from Newberg or Yamhill County), and that’s the case with A Glimpse at Humanity, a new photographic show by Jessica Holder.

My personal take-away from viewing the work, which consists entirely of large, black-and-white digital portraits of young men and women, was that it was produced by a photographer who had been doing this for many years. That may speak to my relative newness to visual art, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that Holder, a recent George Fox University graduate, has a remarkable talent for enabling moments that result in portraiture where the subjects appear very much at ease in their own skin. As far as this show is concerned, it may also have something to do with the fact that most of her subjects are fellow co-workers at the local Dutch Bros. Coffee — which famously hires young people who wear their extrovertism on their sleeves.

"Fate's Home" by Jessica Holder
“Fate’s Home” by Jessica Holder

“I was at Dutch Brothers one day, and honestly, I just said to my friend, ‘Would you ever want me to take photos of you?’,” Holder recalled. “And she said, ‘I’ve been wanting to get photos done for over a year!’ That’s what ignited it. I was inspired by the fact that she felt honored by it.”

A Glimpse at Humanity is Holder’s first show and will be on display through Nov. 2. On Sept. 14, there’s something special, particularly for those who might not be fans of posing for a camera: a community portrait event, enabling Holder to stretch beyond the drive-thru and get a broader picture of Newberg and its culture.

Here’s her artist’s statement:

“My artwork in style is very simplistic and consists of a short depth-of-focus and a vision between abstract and personal.  I am inspired to photograph people by each of their unique stories and the challenge of interpreting them visually.  The concept of this series is to find the Beauty in Everyday.  I search for a story behind every face, thus began the journey of photographing the people closest to me: to create something more out of the people I interact with.  What I found was differences, laughter and a whole lot of heart and part of my dream is showcasing it to a wider audience.”

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40 years and 363 miles along the Oregon Coast

A show at the Newport Visual Arts Center celebrates the rambling stretch from Astoria to Brookings in a variety of media including painting, woodwork and film

Some 360-odd miles of the Oregon Coast are condensed this late summer into one modest building set just a hop above Nye Beach. Art 363: Representing the Oregon Coast, on display throughout the Newport Visual Arts Center’s galleries, features work depicting the rambling length of the Oregon Coast, from Brookings to Astoria. I talked with three of the artists involved for a look behind the pieces.

Erik Sandgren (left) and his father, Nelson Sandgren, paint at Bandon in 2004, two years before the elder Sandgren’s death. The Sandgren Coast PaintOut began in 1978 as an OSU summer watercolor course taught by Nelson Sandgren. Photo by: Kathryn Cotnoir
Erik Sandgren (left) and his father, Nelson Sandgren, paint at Bandon in 2004, two years before the elder Sandgren’s death. The Sandgren Coast PaintOut began in 1978 as an OSU summer watercolor course taught by Nelson Sandgren. Photo by: Kathryn Cotnoir

The Sandgren Coast PaintOut Project celebrated 40 years this summer. More than 40 artists who have taken part in the plein air paintout over that time share an exhibit in the Runyon Gallery.

Artist Nelson Sandgren (1917-2006) started PaintOut as an extension class through Oregon State University, where he taught for 38 years. It has evolved under his son, Erik Sandgren, into a two-week, informal summer gathering where subject matter varies from sea to forest, headlands to harbors, streams and rivers, beaches and boats, wave-swept rocks, seabirds, and lighthouses.

"Newport Bridge," by Bets Cole, is one of the paintings produced during the Sandgren Coast PaintOut.
“Newport Bridge,” by Bets Cole, is a product of the Sandgren Coast PaintOut.

“It’s a select group of people who are interested in learning,” Erik Sandgren said. “We welcome people who are serious about painting and of all levels of experience. We have professional painters and artists, skilled amateurs, newbies. They offer camaraderie, critique, and opportunities to see how other serious painters handle their gear and painting problems on site, sometimes in adverse conditions created by sun, rain, or wind. I would describe them all as intrepid.”

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Jerome Blankenship: ‘I catered my life to fit into music’

The founder of Ships to Roam, which opens McMinnville's Walnut City Music Festival on Friday, says his musical influences range from yodelers to grunge

We’ve arrived at summer’s end and Labor Day draws near, which means the Walnut City Music Festival is primed for launch this weekend.

The seventh-annual family-friendly musical event fills two days with a blast of indie, folk, and pop rock in McMinnville’s Lower City Park, at the west end of the restaurant- and tasting-room-packed downtown. Ossie Bladine started the event with just a few bands in 2013 in the Granary District at the other end of town. Since then, it has evolved into something more substantial.  Audiences can fill up on a dozen bands, both local and out-of-state. It’s a lawn-chairs-and-blankets affair, with kids 12 and under admitted free. Food carts (which in McMinnville is, increasingly, a thing) will be nearby, ready to serve. Tickets for adults are $25 and $35. Be sure to check the website for details on what you can and can’t bring.

It begins at 4:30 p.m. Friday with the homegrown Ships to Roam, which cites among its influences Rogue Wave, Old ‘97s, The War on Drugs, and the Jayhawks. I sat down recently with the band’s founder, Jerome Blankenship, to talk about his life and work. He’s a 1999 graduate of Yamhill-Carlton High School who went on to study music in Portland before hitting the road with a punk band. Along the way, he married and had children, and even gave up music for a while until he had an epiphany: “Rather than having music fit into my life,” he said, “I catered my life to fit into music.”

The following interview was edited for length and clarity.

How did you first encounter music?

Jerome Blankenship: I grew up in a musical family, some of them Irish-American immigrants. On my mom’s side, it was people from Oklahoma who used to yodel competitively. [Blues guitarist] Roy Buchanan is a distant relative, so it’s in my blood. My uncles and cousins had a band in the 1970s and 1980s, and they toured around the Northwest. So at family get-togethers, there were always 10 guitars, a bass, and an accordion, and sometimes even a flute. It got pretty interesting. The people I looked up to all played music, and that’s going to plant a seed.

As you saw all this going on, did you want to sing or play?

I remember having a little-kid guitar and just letting my imagination go. I always wanted to be a bass player because four strings was easier to master than six, and that was the route I took by the time I was 11. Uncles gave me pointers, but then my dad got me lessons in junior high. I took lessons for two or three years, and [the instructor] said, “I can’t teach you anything else.”

Did it come easily?

Not the music theory part. I still struggle with that. As an ear musician, I’ve always been pretty good, being able to pick out where we’re at in the song and how to key things in. But I definitely knew at a young age that I wanted to be a part of it.

What about influences outside your family? What musical cultures were you tuned into?

Growing up, the big thing was grunge. I’d been to a couple concerts when I was younger, but it was everything from Christian rock to bluegrass. I started really going to shows in high school, and that was during the grunge and punk era. Punk was still happening in the ‘90s. Idolizing bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam. Nirvana, of course. The Seattle scene was going to inspire anybody. It wasn’t just a music thing. It was like, it’s cool to feel depressed and wear flannel and grow your hair long and not do well in school. It was fashionable.

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Exquisite Gorge 10: The Truth-Teller

As Saturday's finale of Maryhill Museum's Columbia Gorge print project approaches, artist and veteran Drew Cameron talks about art and war.


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


“Truth-telling is often very unpleasant when it contradicts the opinion of the majority. Telling the truth can easily lead to a minority position and exposes the truth-teller to the pressure of the majority. To resist this pressure demands courage. Therefore, courage is not only the virtue of political action par excellence, but also quite evidently the virtue of truth-telling. To tell an inconvenient truth is not only a statement, but also an action.”

From: When Telling the Truth Demands Courage Volume 1 of HA: The Journal of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities at Bard College. (2018)

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Courage was visible all around me during my recent visit to the Columbia Gorge Veterans Museum in The Dalles, right next to American Legion Post 19. It was documented in displays about those who have served our country, both on active duty and back home supporting the soldiers during the many wars in recent history, displays that recalled stories of loyalty and sacrifice.

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Art as ‘telling your own story’

Artist Samyak Yamauchi, whose work is displayed in Manzanita's Hoffman Gallery, says painting can be as simple as playing with paint on a surface

I’ve been saying for years that I’m going to take a painting class, but no sooner do I check out my options than I am reminded of the litany of doubts. And, of course, I never do enroll in a class.

So when I read the description of Samyak Yamauchi’s upcoming class at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, it was like someone calling my name. She got it. Lack of experience, of formal education, of thinking there was a right way – none of it mattered.

Yamauchi’s workshop is full, but her paintings are on display in the Hoffman Gallery through Sept. 1. The Portland artist has a second home on the Nehalem River, so don’t be surprised if she offers the workshop on the Coast again.

I talked with Yamauchi about her process and those things that hold us back. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Neahkahnie Mountain is the backdrop for “Meet Me at the Beach in Manzanita,” by Samyak Yamauchi (acrylic on wood, 24 by 24 inches), on display at the Hoffman Gallery in Manzanita.
“Meet Me at the Beach in Manzanita,” by Samyak Yamauchi (acrylic on wood, 24 x 24 inches), is part of a show in Manzanita’s Hoffman Gallery. Yamauchi’s advice to aspiring painters: Just do it.

What is your medium?

Yamauchi:  Acrylic and mixed-media painting. I started painting in 2013. I’d been a glass-mosaic artist; I’d always wanted to paint, but I was always afraid, because I wouldn’t know how to do it. So I went to a Portland Open Studios tour and saw what Jesse Reno was doing, and I was like, oh my gosh, this all you need to do. I realized that painting could be about telling your own story.

What exactly was he doing?

He was painting these really big, kind of narrative, sort of symbolic, dream-like paintings. He showed how he keeps transforming his painting. He changes them. What I saw was, there was just this real intuitive way of painting that didn’t depend on having a formal background in technique. A light went on. I was like, I could do this.

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