children’s books

Children, meet Charlotte’s dad

Newport author Barbara Herkert's picture-book biography of E.B. White is a finalist for the 2019 Oregon Book Award in children's literature

Barbara Herkert’s story is the classic tale of the would-be artist who shelves her dreams to pursue a more practical path. Starting out as an art major in the 1970s, Herkert switched to nursing at her parent’s urging.

Ten years later, she followed her heart, pursuing an MFA. The Newport resident has written picture-book biographies on artists Mary Cassatt and Harriet Powers and is an 2019 Oregon Book Awards finalist in the children’s literature category for her third one, “A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White.” The book awards ceremony will be held April 22 in the Gerding Theater at the Armory in Portland.

Newport writer Barbara Herkert has written three picture-book biographies for children.

Newport writer Barbara Herkert has written three picture-book biographies for children.

White is well known as the author of three classic children’s books — Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. He wrote for The New Yorker magazine from 1927 until his death in 1985, and his revision of William Strunk Jr.’s writer’s handbook, The Elements of Style, is known to legions of college students and writers.

We talked to Herkert about her craft and admiration for White.

What led you to picture-book biographies?

Barbara Herkert: When I was at Hamline University, I had the great good fortune of working with Jacqueline Briggs Martin, who wrote the picture-book biography Snowflake Bentley and many others since then. She was my mentor and I fell in love with the genre. I started out illustrating my biographies. Then my editor asked how I felt about using an illustrator. So I’ve had three different illustrators for the three biographies. It brought a whole new level to my words and was very exciting. I’ve been very pleased.

Continues…

Recognizing the artist’s journey

A show at Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center by developmentally disabled adults illuminates the idea that all art is art therapy

As the curtain opens on 2019, I’m reflecting on an unexpected awakening of sorts that has played out several times now in my encounters with visual and sculptural art around Yamhill County.

Let me explain.

When Oregon ArtsWatch brought me aboard last summer, I made it clear to the editors that theater and film were my specialties (to the extent I have any), but I lacked the training, experience, and even the language to “review” exhibitions of painting, drawing, and sculpture effectively and intelligently. That was OK, they replied. I wasn’t expected to produce criticism with a capital “C,” and I surely never will. I was relieved that the mission was simply to report.

The “Histories Take Form” show includes Marc Roder’s untitled acrylic-on-paper painting.

So it’s odd that visual art has spoken to me most meaningfully in the past six months or so. I’ve been fortunate enough to drop by shows alone when the exhibition space is empty, or nearly so, and discovered that if one spends even a few minutes of quiet time with a painting or sculptural piece — if you simply let yourself be with it — it will open up to you in some fashion. Regardless of the artist’s intentions, the thoughts and feelings you bring to the experience settle and coalesce as you let the image or sculpture into your head. Given the right conditions and the proper frame of mind, epiphanies can happen.

That’s what happened a few days ago when I found myself alone at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. HEATWAVE still occupied the Parrish Gallery. That was a terrific exhibition of fiber art made by artists who obviously have spent many years at their craft, perfecting their skills and techniques to a point where they are arguably among the best at what they do.

The Parrish Gallery is what you see straight ahead when you walk in. At the west end of the sprawling lobby you’ll find another, smaller installation. It’s called Histories Take Form, and it features drawings, paintings, and mixed media created by artists who do not have same level of training and skill as the HEATWAVE artists.

Yet this show helped me understand that even making that distinction — creating categories for art based on objective criteria — is to miss the point of what art is, what it’s for, and whom it’s for.

Continues…

Gallery Theater: 50 years, 340 plays, thousands of stories

McMinnville's community theater celebrates a half-century partnership between actors and audiences

Gallery Players of Oregon has been cranking out plays in downtown McMinnville since 1968, which means we’ve arrived at the 50th anniversary. That kind of endurance for any artistic project is worth celebrating.

I cannot hide my enthusiasm about it, and you ought to know why: For many of the past 20 years, I’ve acted on Gallery’s stage. Candidly, this is a bit weird for me. I’ve been a journalist since moving to McMinnville in the mid-1990s, and I’ve been involved at Gallery (both as an actor and a director) for most of that time. But those two lives haven’t intersected — until now.

Like many who will attend Saturday’s 50th anniversary gala, which will include a catered dinner and an evening program, I was introduced to theater in high school. Instead of letting it become just another memory from my youth, I remained active in theater and, more than three decades later, have accumulated a wealth of memories, characters, thrills, laughs, life lessons, friendships and stories.

Seth Renne, who has managed Gallery Theater since 2014, considers the
perils of growing carnivorous plants in 2013’s production of “Little Shop
of Horrors.” Photo: Gallery Theater

I’ve worn suits, ties, armor, stars and stripes, pajamas, a bathrobe, a dress, fake breasts, tighty-whities, and a burlap sack while smeared with mud. Actual, homemade mud, because I learned that mud washes off faster for a quick scene change than oil-based makeup. I also learned, over the course of that production, that dirt is alive and, if allowed to sit in a jar with just enough water, will grow things that smell awful.

I’ve learned the hardest thing to do onstage is not to cry, laugh or even passionately kiss a friend while your spouse (and hers) watches from the audience, but to eat. Appearing in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I had in my field of vision one evening Dr. Dean Brooks, who headed the Oregon State Hospital for 27 years and played a character similar to himself in the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson; he was seated in the first row. Having played Col. Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men, I’ve found myself in the absurd position of being compared to Jack Nicholson.

I’ve been killed by and slain good friends, then gone out drinking with them afterward. I’ve come to understand how and why the show must and ultimately does go on, even when the director walks out, or when an actor vanishes on the eve of opening night or — for any number of reasons I’ll not get into here — in the middle of a show’s run. As an audience member, I broke down at Atticus Finch’s “Thank you for my children, Arthur.” And I’ll never forget the stunned silence at the end of a fantastic Cabaret, where the biggest Nazi flag I’ve ever seen unfurled over the stage for the final scene.

But the most important thing I’ve come away with is an appreciation of the audience – both as an actor and director and as a theatergoer.

Here’s the thing: The audience wants you to succeed.

Continues…