WESTAF Shoebox Arts

Farmers in the lumber room

The gallery's painting and photography show "Inheritance" spotlights agricultural workers in Ghana and Black farmers in America.

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Ivan McClellan, “Margey Givings,” Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 2022. Photo courtesy of the lumber room and the artist.

Portland’s lumber room gallery flies under the radar. It has no obvious sign identifying its second-floor showroom, its website is overlooked in Google searches, and it is open only on Friday and Saturday afternoons (except by appointment). This is not a conventional art gallery. And that is good. Free of commercial constraints, the lumber room does whatever it wants with its expansive space at 419 N.W. 9th Ave., often showing exceptional art that would otherwise struggle to find an audience.

Lumber room’s current show, Inheritance, spotlights agricultural workers in Ghana (in the vivid paintings of Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe) and Black farmers in America. The vulnerability of African farm labor is no secret, although mentioned only in a whisper: We all know, if we pay attention, that much of the chocolate and coffee we relish (as only two examples) depend on an often-exploited Black workforce.

Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, “Fragments of Me,” 2022, acrylic, oil, fabric applique, 36” x 48”. Photo courtesy of the lumber room and the artist.

Black American farmers and cattle ranchers labor in a different shadow of invisibility. Even when they husband land that has been in their families since Emancipation (or before), they are invisible to most of us, their presence erased by assumptions ingrained in American history.

Ivan McClellan, “Rodney and Rhonda,” McCalla, Alabama, 2021. Photo courtesy of the lumber room and the artist.

That is the rich branch of African American culture that photographer Ivan McClellan has explored in depth. These are not portraits in the usual sense—the fleeting meeting of a subject and a camera—but intimate images of familiarity and revelation. They are examples of that marriage of documentation and art that photography does best (think Walker Evans, Robert Frank, or Margaret Bourke-White), with each image telling an individual’s tender story, anchored by a historical narrative. But most of all, these photographs subtly reveal an amazed and joyous artist, delighting in his new relations and celebrating his skill at sharing them. They are self-portraits of the best kind.

The show, curated by the gallery’s director, Libby Werbel, runs through January 14 at Portland’s lumber room.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

David Slader is an Oregon painter, digital artist, sculptor, and photographer. His youthful art ambitions were detoured by an almost forty-year career as a litigator, child-advocate, and attorney for survivors of sexual abuse. Although a Portland resident, David's studio is in the Coast Range foothills, along an oxbow of the Upper Nehalem River, where he alternates making art with efforts to reforest his land. In the Fall, a run of Chinook salmon spawn outside his studio door.

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