Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

Henk Pander brings Vanport to Newport


NEWPORT — When celebrated Portland artist Henk Pander opens his show here Friday, July 6, it will mark not only his first exhibit in this coastal town, but also the first time nearly all of the watercolors have been out of his studio.

Times of Our Lives: Selected Watercolors by Henk Pander will run from July 6 through Sept. 2 in the Runyan Gallery at the Newport Visual Arts Center. The show, presented by the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, will feature large-scale watercolors and works from Pander’s recent series, War Memories, Liberty Ships and the Climate Refugees of Vanport.

“Buildings Are Floating” is among Henk Pander’s large scale watercolors on the theme of the Vanport flood.

Pander said he painted the watercolors for the Vanport Mosaic project, which commemorates the city north of Portland that was wiped out on Memorial Day 1948, when a dike broke, flooding the town in less than an hour and displacing 40,000 people. Many of the residents worked in the shipyards and included African Americans who were not welcome in Portland.

The Vanport watercolors were shown briefly this spring as part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival in Portland, Pander noted, but never in a gallery. His previous work on Vanport felt dated, he said.

“When I was invited to participate in the Vanport Mosaic, I decided, let’s look at this again. Maybe I can make some watercolors. All the rest — 11 of 14 paintings — have never been out of the studio at all.”

Pander said he painted eight or nine watercolors within a month. “I have been thinking of making watercolors — usually I work in landscape and still lifes — as a way to get out of the studio, keep my skill level up,” he said. “I’ve been thinking of moving into entirely different realms. So it’s also a breakthrough in that direction. The whole show has a kind of freshness.”

Pander was born in Haarlem, The Netherlands, in 1937. The son of an artist, Pander accompanied his father to draw and paint in the Haarlem Dunes. When he enrolled in Amsterdam’s Rijksakademie in 1956, he was already an accomplished artist. He arrived in Portland in 1965 after marrying an art student from Oregon. Although the marriage didn’t work out, Pander stayed on.


Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

“Portrait of Henk Pander,” Pieter Pander, oil on panel, approx. 15 x 15 inches, 2013

His work is informed by his childhood in occupied Holland, as well as other historical events, and while he is perhaps better known for his oil paintings, he has always worked with watercolors.

“My father was a watercolorist and I’ve been painting with watercolors my entire life,” Pander said. “And they’ve gotten better. They are more imaginary. Ever since I was super young, like 10 years old, I’ve been working outdoors. I do so here. The landscapes here are so incredible. This country is so striking. When I came to Oregon, I thought, I can’t make watercolors the way I did before.”

He challenged himself by making far larger paintings – for example, “Buildings Are Floating,” a Vanport structure adrift on a boiling tide, is 40 by 60 inches – that are what he calls “pure watercolors, no pencil sketches, nothing. They have a fresh spontaneity to them.”

Pander said the head of the department of prints and drawing at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which acquired 27 of the large pieces, said the paintings “give me the cold shivers.”

Tom Webb, director of the Newport Visual Arts Center, invited Pander to bring his work to Newport after seeing an online post about the Portland show. “His stature as an Oregon painter is really pretty incredible,” Webb said.

He added that Pander has “created a body of work that is incredibly substantial. He is known for his historical narrative paintings, where he may paint a landscape, but there is much more behind the painting than the viewer may realize, until they understand the history behind the place or location.”

Stories behind the place echo in the Times of Our Lives show. Pander’s attraction to Liberty ships and the Vanport flood as subject matter provide an opportunity for him to reflect not only on his childhood, but on racism and war.


Chamber Music Northwest Beethoven's Complete Piano Trios The Old Church Portland Oregon

Pander’s “Vanport” is another large-scale watercolor at 40 x 60 inches.

Pander noted that Vanport was constructed in 1942 as part of the war effort. “Hitler was stopping all the cargo, and the war would be lost if there would be no cargo coming across the Atlantic,” he said. In response, the United States started building freighters called Liberty ships. “Without these Liberty ships, I would not be sitting here talking to you, because the war would be lost.

“The sea and ships and sailing have a long history in Dutch art,” he said. “I’ve been working on it for some years. I wanted to do the Liberty ships in the Atlantic.” A number of these watercolors are in the show, he said.

“The flooding of Vanport reminded me of the flooding of the Netherlands and the dikes breaking there,” he said, adding, “Vanport has a poignancy to it. A lot of minorities were moving to find work there. They were working day and night to build ships and when the town flooded, the black population moved to Portland.”

Pander added, “It became a very determining element for the black community here in Portland. It is just an extremely rich subject.”

As part of the Henk Pander exhibition in the Runyan Gallery, documentary films about the artist by his son, Jacob Pander, will screen in the Media Room. A First Friday opening reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. July 6, with a short artist talk at 5:45 p.m. Pander will present an extended artist talk at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, in the Runyan Gallery.

Be part of our
growing success

Join our Stronger Together Campaign and help ensure a thriving creative community. Your support powers our mission to enhance accessibility, expand content, and unify arts groups across the region.

Together we can make a difference. Give today, knowing a donation that supports our work also benefits countless other organizations. When we are stronger, our entire cultural community is stronger.

Donate Today

Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.


2 Responses

  1. Would love to be there my friend. Miss you and our times in PDX. If you’re ever inclined, please click on my website. As you will see I’m among the millions who can’t draw. That said, at 72, I’m gaining on making a image that will inspire in me a sigh and relaxation. You could have a look at http://www.reb-arts.com

  2. I enjoyed looking at your paintings, Ren. I especially liked “Ring of Fire,” and the idea that you might have made this outdoors.
    From Leslie, a Landscape Painter in Sausalito, CA

Triangle Productions presents Eleanor starring Margie Boule Portland Oregon
Pacific Maritime Heritage Center Prosperity of the Sea Lincoln County Historical Society Newport Oregon Coast
Newport Performance and Visual Arts Centers Newport Oregon Coast
Chamber Music Northwest Beethoven's Complete Piano Trios The Old Church Portland Oregon
City of Hillsboro Walters Cultural Arts Center She's Speaking Live! Hillsboro Oregon
Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series Willamette University Salem Oregon
Portland State University College of Arts William Shakespeare Measure for Measure PSU Portland Oregon
Portland Chamber Orchestra Young Artist Competition University of Portland Free Event Portland Oregon
Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon
Portland Art Museum Virtual Sneakers to Cutting Edge Kicks Portland Oregon
Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon
Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
White Bird Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon
Northwest Dance Project Sarah Slipper Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
Corrib Theatre Contemporary Irish Theatre Portland Oregon
Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington
High Desert Museum Sasquatch Central Oregon
Oregon Cultural Trust donate
We do this work for you.

Give to our GROW FUND.