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News & Notes: Art and work, Nickel and Dimed, remembering Gary, aiding Profile, Eugene Biennial

Art for Labor Day, remembering writer Barbara Ehrenreich and actor Gary Brickner-Schulz, Profile Theatre's post-theft helping hands, a final week for the biennial.

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Diego Rivera, Detroit Industry Mural, 1932-33, fresco, north wall detail; Detroit Institute of Arts. Gift of Edsel B. Ford.

Today is Labor Day, an annual memorial established as a national holiday in 1894, as the industrial revolution of the late 19th century was transferring wealth upward while workers were enduring long hours, poor pay, and dangerous working conditions. The labor movement was beginning to grow in the wake of events such as Chicago’s Haymarket Riot of 1886 and 1894’s railroad Pullman strike.

Today the labor movement, though weakened by decades of anti-union policies, is growing again, often in such 21st century hot spots as Starbucks and Amazon, and workers’ rights issues are expanding into previously unanticipated areas, including the basic issue of where people work. During the height of the Covid pandemic many workers began to work remotely, from home – and many, now that their employers are calling them back to their offices, would like to keep it that way.

“Strike Pickets,” 1910, Ladies Tailors union on picket line during “Uprising of the 20,000” garment workers strike, New York City; glass negative, 5 x 7 inches or smaller, Bain News Service, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Artists have long taken work as a subject matter, and sometimes labor and the labor movement specifically. Museums in Oregon and elsewhere have a lot of such works in their collections, and in the past few years ArtsWatch has offered selections of them for Labor Day. You can take a virtual tour of our “labor galleries” by looking through our selections from 2020, 2019, and 2018.

Farewell to a voice for the underdog

The scientist-turned-writer Barbara Ehrenreich, who graduated from Reed College in Portland in 1963 and who died on Thursday, Sept. 1, at age 81, understood the implications of Labor Day from the inside. In her best-known book, 2001’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, she wrote about the hardships and indignities she endured while working a series of mostly minimum-wage jobs and trying to survive on what averaged about $7 an hour.

She died at a hospice in Alexandria, Virginia, following a stroke.

“Ms. Ehrenreich’s anger at inequity remained unabated late in life,” her obituary in the New York Times reads in part. “In a 2020 interview with The New Yorker, she said a lack of paid sick leave and the declining well-being of the working class still gave her ‘grim and rageful thoughts.'”

In the 2009 video above she reminisces about her years at Reed, where she chose to go, she says, over Stanford, because she wanted to get as far away from her rah-rah high-school atmosphere as she could. Reed looked right, she declares in the video: “I had an inkling that there was a bohemia out there.”

“Our mother died on September 1, a few days after her 81st birthday,” Ehrenreich’s children said in a Facebook post. “She was, she made clear, ready to go. She was never much for thoughts and prayers, but you can honor her memory by loving one another, and fighting like hell.”

Remembering Gary Brickner-Shulz

Gary Brickner-Shulz, right, with Jay Randall Horenstein in the comedy “Greater Tuna,” at Lakewood Theatre in 2013. Triumph Photography

For years, Gary Brickner-Schulz’s name in a theater program was an announcement of good times to come for Portland audiences. Brickner-Schulz was known and cherished especially for his many comic roles, which he took on with animated brio, exaggerated physical movements, and a captivatingly comic drawl. He performed with bravado and a broad wink, and often with a barely controlled grin that pulled in audiences and fellow actors alike, signaling to one and all that this was a play, people, and we’re here to have fun.

Brickner-Shulz died unexpectedly last month. “According to his wife Elise, he was in the hospital on Thursday, August 11, 2022, after cardiac arrest,” his friend and fellow actor Eric Hull announced in a Facebook post. “He died on Monday, August 15, 2022.” A celebration of his life has been set for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, October 2, at 841 South Gaines Street, Portland.

Among many other roles, Brickner-Shulz shone in a pair of Texas comedies, Lone Star and Greater Tuna, and as a comically messy Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple. As much as audiences adored him, he may have been loved even more by his fellow theater people, several of whom commented on Hull’s announcement.

“Playing opposite of Gary in a comedy was a brilliant out of body experience,” actor and singer Julianne R. Johnson wrote. “I love your nature and will miss your heart.”

“So sorry to say goodbye to sweet Gary,” actor John Steinkamp wrote. “He was part of my theater world since the very beginning, in the late ’70s. We did some of my favorite shows together, especially The Illuminati, when it was just him and me. Oh my gosh, he was hilarious. And kind, and patient, and giving. … I will always laugh when I think of Gary.”

And Raissa Fleming, who performed with him in The Torchbearers and The Majestic Kid: “He could make me laugh with just a twitch of his eyebrows.”

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Profile’s friends step up

A theater company earns its reputation on the basis of what happens on its stage, but what the actors do can’t be done without the behind-the-scenes people, from designers and fabricators to, yes, the people who work in the office, making schedules and raising money and paying bills and dealing with the public and doing all the things that must be done to keep a small business going. To do all of that, the people in the offices need computers.

Sometime during the night of Aug. 1 thieves broke into Profile’s offices in the Pearl District and, among other mischief, stole all of the company’s computers. (They used them to create dozens of fake employees and make fake “payroll” payments to themselves, but Profile’s bank reversed the losses and restored the money to Profile’s account.)

That still left the company with no computers. Profile needed to buy a half-dozen of them, and quickly, to get its season rolling. Mission accomplished, the theater company announced on Saturday: “Thanks to nearly 100 individuals who made a contribution and special emergency funding from CareOregon and the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, we have reached our goal and computers have been purchased!”

Curtains up. First show in the new season is Kristoffer Diaz’s pro wrestling comedy The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, which is set to open Oct. 4.

The days dwindle down for Eugene Biennial

The clock is ticking on the 2022 Eugene Biennial, which opened Aug. 3 at Eugene’s Karin Clarke Gallery and closes on Sunday, Sept. 10. Thirty-three artists were chosen for the fourth and latest edition of the biennial, which Clarke established in 2016. As Randi Bjornstad reports in Eugene Scene, the biennial was born after the longtime annual Eugene Mayor’s Art Show ended with the shutdown of the nonprofit Jacobs Gallery in the city-owned Hult Center for the Performing Arts.

Jurors for the biennial were artist Tallmadge Doyle, collector David Hilton, and gallerist/artist Clarke. They selected 39 works out of 650 submissions from Eugene and environs out to the Oregon coast, from Lane, Linn, Lincoln, Benton, Douglas, and Coos counties. Seeing artworks in person, of course, is always best, and you have the rest of the week to catch the biennial. If you can’t make it, you can view all 39 artworks online.

Next up at the gallery, running Sept. 14-Oct. 22, is The Edge of the Ocean, with works by Craig Spilman and the late Oregon artists Mark Clarke and Nelson Sandgren.

Senior Editor

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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