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)
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.
August 24, 2019 turned out to be a memorable day beyond creating a gigantic work of art: It was proof positive that institutions like this museum (under the direction of Colleen Schafroth, who was a happy woman greeting the hundreds of attendees) enrich our civic lives.
It was proof positive that initiatives of individuals can blossom into something larger. (Louise Palermo, curator of education, was the driving force behind the project, both figuratively and literally.)
And, importantly, it was proof positive that collective actions both create and benefit community. Institution, artists, community partners, sponsors, volunteers and those of us observing from the periphery all gained from each others’ engagement, enriched the creative output and – ideally – will carry something into the future that will be decisively constructive.
THE EXQUISITE GORGE PROJECT
“…a collaborative printmaking project featuring 11 artists working with communities along a 220-mile stretch of the Columbia River from the Willamette River confluence to the Snake River confluence to create a massive 66-foot steamrolled print. The unique project takes inspiration from the Surrealist art practice known as exquisite corpse. In the most well-known exquisite corpse drawing game, participants took turns creating sections of a body on a piece of paper folded to hide each successive contribution. When unfolded, the whole body is revealed. In the case of The Exquisite Gorge Project, the Columbia River will become the ‘body’ that unifies the collaboration between artists and communities, revealing a flowing 66-foot work that tells 10 conceptual stories of the Columbia River and its people.”
– Louise Palermo, Curator of Education at Maryhill Museum
There was a lot of work to prepare for the printing itself. The boards came out, tools were readied, ink and rollers saw action, paper was aligned.
In a group effort, the boards were aligned, nailed down, the felt or other covers applied, the paper affixed.
And then: the run!
People worked hand in hand, got to know each other, and improvised, cheered on by the many spectators who had come, filled with curiosity.
Press was there, drones and all.
Kids could make art and get involved themselves.
Others explored better viewing opportunities:
The enthusiasm and joy were palpable and evenly distributed.
The “common good” refers to those facilities—whether material, cultural or institutional—that the members of a community provide to all members in order to fulfill a relational obligation they all have to care for certain interests that they have in common. – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Maryhill Museum is an institution that preserves the past, educates about the present and works to provide access to art for future generations. The artists’ wood blocks, as different as they were stylistically, shared with the institution and among each other a similar commitment to the common good. They focused, in varying degrees of explicitness, on the obligations that we have toward the community at large: to protect and preserve the environment, to honor the lessons of the past, and to use art as a vehicle to reach hearts, brains, and souls of all who can help with these tasks.
Here are the boards, not necessarily in the order they were aligned to represent contiguous parts of the Gorge:
And this is how the prints unfolded after the paper was peeled off the boards:
The project reminds us that we need institutions like Maryhill Museum to initiate efforts on this scale and see them through, being uniquely placed to access both the world of artists and the people in the region, who benefit from the resulting vision. These institutions cannot go it alone, however. They need our renewed or continuing support, our advocacy and commitment, even or particularly if they are located in remote areas that deprive them of walk-in visitors and hamper visibility of their continual accomplishments. Lend them a hand.
The project also makes clear that small regional studios – like LittleBearHill under the tutelage of Dylan McManus, artistic director of the Exquisite Gorge project – provide an important hub for regional and national artists with residencies and opportunities for creative exchange, much of which affected the final artworks.
The project as a whole, made possible by Maryhill, produced more than an unusual piece of art. Importantly, it brought people together who had not known each other before, bridged divides among groups that had often contradictory views, and created a national network of artists who now consider themselves part of a team. It brought attention to the issues of environmental decline, economic hazards, climate disaster, and, above all, a sense of shared love and admiration of this precious piece of land we inhabit, understanding that we cannot delegate its protection, no matter where we come from or how we relate to it.
Let me end with a quote from another Northwest treasure, the late author Ursula LeGuin:
We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art – the art of words.”
— Speech at the National Book Awards upon receiving the U.S. National Book Foundation’s media for distinguished contribution to American Letters on 19 November 2014.
Join me in cheering the museum, the arts, courageous words, and all those who stand up, as a community, for change necessary to serve the common good.
The print will be open for viewing September 3-25, 2019, at Maryhill Museum. Maybe by then I will have learned to drive this thing…..
This is the eleventh and final chapter in a series of stories and photographs by Friderike Heuer, published on Oregon ArtsWatch in collaboration with Heuer and her web site YDP – Your Daily Picture. It is also published on YDP, on Wednesday, August 28, 2019, under the heading “This Is Maryhill Museum: The Exquisite Gorge Project.”
- Exquisite Gorge 1: Getting Started. Introduction to the project, and meeting with artist and master printmaker Jane Pagliarulo of Portland’s Atelier Meridian.
- Exquisite Gorge 2: The Witness. Printmaker and muralist Roger Peet conducts a community woodblock-carving session in the courtyard of the Goldendale Public Library.
- Exquisite Gorge 3: The Listener. Arkansas printmaker Neal Harrington mixes ospreys and computer mice in The Dalles.
- Exquisite Gorge 4: The Bee Maven. In White Salmon, artist Steven Muñoz engages a hive of community creativity to make art highlighting the danger of ecological collapse.
- Exquisite Gorge 5: The Alchemist. In snippets of words, sounds, slivers, shreds, scraps, slices, and fragments, artist Mike McGovern transforms a stretch of the Columbia.
- Exquisite Gorge 6: The Guardian. Greg Archuleta, artist and cultural policy analyst for the Grand Ronde tribes, links past and future in the print project.
- Exquisite Gorge 7: The Explorer. Printmaker and teacher Molly Gaston Johnson follows Lewis & Clark’s westward path to make her mark on Maryhill’s Columbia River project.
- Exquisite Gorge 8 & 9: The Map Makers. Two teams – Matthew Johnston and Tammy Jo Wilson, from Troutdale to the Bridge of the Gods; Sarah Finger and Nicole Pietrantoni, from Hat Rock to the Snake River confluence – consider the differences between maps and territories.
- Exquisite Gorge 10: The Truth-Teller. As Saturday’s finale of Maryhill’s print project approached, artist and Iraq War veteran Drew Cameron talked about art and war.