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Exquisite Gorge II: A shoutout to those behind the scenes

In praise of the hands and minds behind a massive museum yarn-bombing, and the parade of poppies that bring light and remembrance.

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STORY and PHOTOGRAPHS by FRIDERIKE HEUER


A shoutout! An accolade! Kudos! Applause! Today’s photographs are dedicated to all who have worked behind the scenes to participate in, prepare for, and support Maryhill Museum of Art’s Exquisite Gorge II project in ways large and small.

Maryhill Museum of Art.

Beyond the involved community partners there are staff, there are people who host artists in residence, there are folks who compute and design the technical specs of the structures under the windy conditions of the bluff, there are drivers willing to transport the frames. Three Cheers!

Their numbers pale, though, in comparison to the number of people who, across the nation, have become involved in contributing to another part of this fiber art celebration: the yarn-bombing of the museum site and creating of remembrance poppies for Stonehenge, a World War I memorial that is part of Maryhill Museum, which sits on a bluff above the Columbia River on the Washington side, about 110 miles east of Portland.

Crafted squares echoing Romanian folk patterns decorate the outside of the museum, repository of many donations from Queen Marie of Romania, delivered during her visit for the inauguration of the museum in 1926. Queen Marie’s gift of Romanian textiles provided the basis for a collection of Romanian folk dress that now includes 400 items. The creation below was still to be hung at the museum entrance when I visited.

I think Queen Marie (second from left, below) would approve!

Yarn-bombing on trees and structures in the surrounding park also pick up the Romanian folk theme, as well as that of poppies, to which I will come shortly.

Louise Palermo, Curator of Education, putting finishing touches on the yarn-bombing.
Traditional Romanian dolls called màrtisors, celebrating spring.

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IMAGINE BEING A COMMITTED PACIFIST, a Quaker, desiring to build a utopian Quaker community in the middle of nowhere, setting a faux French mansion on the top of a windy bluff towering above the river, and not a Quaker shows up. Imagine tearing down an inn you built in a small hamlet that burned, in order to establish a full-sized Stonehenge replica as a memorial to the futility of war. All based on the wrong idea that you somehow took home from a 1915 visit to England, that Britons used Stonehenge as a spot for bloody sacrifice to the Gods of war.

Imagine the realization that local stone is not up to the task and so you improvise with slabs of reinforced concrete, made to look lumpy by lining the wooden forms with crumpled tins. That’s Sam Hill for you, the visionary and founder of Maryhill Museum, a man who promoted modern roads across the Pacific Northwest and who made a fortune with utilities and railroads. Unstoppable in pursuing his dreams, a strange brew of steely pragmatism and utopian ideas. Providing us with a remarkable legacy.

Stonehenge was the very first War Memorial to World War I in the United States, finalized in 1929, with an altar plaque dedicated already in 1918. Hard for me to find echoes of pacifism in the original plaque:

To the memory of the soldiers and sailors of Klickitat County who gave their lives in defense of their country. This monument is erected in hope that others inspired by the example of their valor and their heroism may share in that love of liberty and burn with that fire of patriotism which death alone can quench.

Back to our unsung heroes, though: the nameless volunteers. They have knit and crocheted countless poppies; remembrance symbols for the fallen, poppies which are now attached, sown on by hand(!) by yet another group of supporters onto netting covering the stones around Stonehenge. Needed to defy the harsh winds on top of the promontory.

Vonda Chandler, a longstanding volunteer at Maryhill, was a major support and inspiration for this project, at least one name I was able to glean. Another was Gavin McIlvenna, founding president of the Society of the Honor Guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, who sent an email to the president of the Daughters of the American Revolution, receiving coast-to-coast responses, and some even from Belize.

The museum posted on Facebook, as did Maryhill’s Curator of Education, Queen of the Poppies, Lou Palermo, activating a wide-flung net of contacts in the museum and crafts world. Bravo!

Sponsor
Chamber Music Northwest Lincoln Recital Hall Portland State University Portland Oregon
Lou Palermo, Curator of Education, Maryhill Museum of Art.

This is the current state of affairs, with more packages and boxes arriving daily, a treasure trove of fiber art, poppies filling each parcel. All in need of unpacking and mounting….

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THE SYMBOL OF THE POPPY has its origins in a poem written by one of the soldiers in the Great War, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a brigade surgeon.

The war-ravaged landscape of Western Europe sprouted these flowers, really a plant classified as a weed, red like the blood that had been so senselessly spilled. And the emotional impact of the words, soon published in both Europe and the U.S., had people on both sides of the Atlantic deciding to wear fabricated poppies as a sign that the fallen would not be forgotten.

In Europe, Anna Guérin organized French women, children, and veterans to make and sell artificial poppies as a way to fund the restoration of war-torn France. Here is a detailed, moving description of her single-minded efforts, with archival photographs of many of the original creations. Millions of people in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Belgium, Australia, and New Zealand don the red flowers every November 11 (known as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day) to commemorate the anniversary of the 1918 armistice.

On this side of the Atlantic we had calls for remembrance as well, although people wear the poppies on Memorial Day, the last Monday in May. Moina Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia at the time the war broke out, vowed to wear red poppies and to produce and sell them for proceeds supporting returning war veterans. Michael’s autobiographic writings and a time line of the adoption of the symbol across the world can be found here.

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I WAS LOOKING AROUND AT THE LANDSCAPE so beloved by Sam Hill, Mt. Hood visible from Hill’s last resting place slightly below Stonehenge. Thinking about the fact that wars, and the horrors and loss they inflicted, are not a thing of the past. They have continued across the world, often in places foreign to us and thus more easily ignored but for the soldiers and their families who fought them. Got physically or psychologically maimed in them. Died in them.

We now see a war again, on Eastern European fields that sprout poppies, in Ukraine. Even that war, just a few months old, has already slipped from our attentional radar, as much as we are preoccupied with political upheaval and judicial assaults closer to home.

As the outpouring of fiber art poppies for the museum project confirms, that is not the case for the many volunteers for whom these symbols likely have personal significance. They honor the dead. They miss the dead. They cannot escape the trauma instilled by war that trickles down across generations. Louis Menand’s words come to mind, describing what significant memorial art does:

“It doesn’t say that death is noble, which is what supporters of the war might like it to say, and it doesn’t say that death is absurd, which is what critics of the war might like it to say. It only says that death is real, and that in a war, no matter what else it is about, people die.”

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ON THE WALKWAY LEADING UP to Maryhill Museum’s front doors you can spot a sculpture by James Lee Hansen. The bronze is part of his Missive series, which depicts tektites, small meteors, on the front, with some abstract embryonic form on the back. The series incorporated ideas from a book, Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision (1950), which advanced the theory (scientifically debunked since) that cataclysmic events in our solar system changed Earth’s orbit and axis and caused numerous catastrophes that were recounted worldwide in mythology and religion. The sculptor himself wrote the stanza above, talking about a missile. (He has a book, New Totems and Old Gods, aS well as another one, Missive Poems, related to this series.)

James Lee Hansen, “Missive” (1976).

I don’t know about missiles bringing life. Perhaps they might, if arriving from outer space. Seems to me they bring death, and death only, when launched by our own planet’s warmongers. The many, many contributors to the poppy project for this year’s Exquisite Gorge II project remind us of this.

Let their remembrance be a force for peace.

Let the rememberers be recognized.

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THE EXQUISITE GORGE PROJECT II

“…a collaborative fiber arts project featuring 13 artists working with communities along a 220-mile stretch of the Columbia River from the Willamette River confluence to the Snake River confluence. The project, again initiated by Maryhill Museum of Art and following the original one by printmakers in 2019, 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 II, 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.”

Section One: Oregon Society of Artists–Artist: Lynn Deal
Section Two: Lewis and Clark College–Artist: Amanda Triplett
Section Three: Columbia Center for the Arts, The History Museum of Hood River County and Arts in Education of the Gorge–Artist: Chloë Hight
Section Four: White Salmon Arts Council and Fort Vancouver Regional Library–Artist: Xavier Griffith
Section Five: The Dalles Arts Center and The Dalles-Wasco County Library–Artists: Francisco and Laura Bautista
Section Six: The Fort Vancouver Regional Library at Goldendale Community Library–Artist: Carolyn Hazel Drake
Section Seven: The American-Romanian Cultural Society and Maryhill Museum of Art–Artist: Magda Nica
Section Eight: Desert Fiber Arts–Artist: Ophir El-Boher
Section Nine: The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation–Artist: Bonnie Meltzer
Section Ten: ArtWalla–Artist: Kristy Kún
Frontispiece: Tammy Jo Wilson (project artistic director) and Owen Premore

Friderike Heuer is a photographer and photomontage artist. Trained as an experimental psychologist at the New School for Social Research, she taught at Lewis & Clark College until she retired to pursue art full time. Her cultural blog www.heuermontage.com explores art and politics on a daily basis through photography and commentary. She has exhibited most recently at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and Camerawork Gallery, on issues concerning migrants and refugees. She frequently volunteers as a photographer for small, local arts non-profits. For more information, visit www.friderikeheuer.online.

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One Response

  1. Children in Connecticut elementary school wore paper poppies and painfully drew pictures of them while memorizing and reciting McCrae’s poem In Flanders Field. I’ve not forgotten a word.

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