Christmas music

Coast calendar: Holiday shows, music — and whale-watching

It seems dark and stormy at the end of December, but upcoming events promise a lot of merry and bright

Things can get awfully quiet on the coast in late December. Black Friday has come and gone, the holiday visitors haven’t yet arrived, and dark and stormy nights are not the exception but something of a rule. Despite all that, there’s quite a bit going on. 

In Newport, Saturday is “The most wonderful night of the year…” as Red Octopus Theatre Company presents, one night only, The Christmas Show in the Performing Arts Center’s Alice Silverman Theatre.

This year’s performance features The Lutz Radio Theater Christmas Show (of 1947). The story line:  “It’s Christmas Eve 1947 and the final radio broadcast for station KMAS in Hollywood, California. After this, they’ll be converted to a television studio… and not everyone’s happy about it. When the writer throws a fit and the professional actors and musicians don’t arrive, the station workers must scramble to save the broadcast (after all, the show must go on!)” 

Hosted by the music-comedy duo The Tequila Mockingbirds, the Dec. 21 show is also a food drive for Food Share of Lincoln County. Attendees who donate two or more items of food receive a raffle ticket for a chance to win two tickets to Red Octopus Theatre Company’s four 2020 shows. The winner will be announced during the show and must be present to win. 

Get your tickets to the performance here.

DOWN THE STREET, THE NEWPORT VISUAL ARTS CENTER is hosting several shows, including Gourd Play, an exhibition by Newport-based artist Louise Hemphill, through Jan. 25 in the Coastal Oregon Visual Artists Showcase.

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The medium is the mask

The Chehalem Cultural Center fills its galleries with masks by Tony Fuemmeler and others depicting human emotions, anthropomorphic animals, and one evil bunny

The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg is closing out the year with an extraordinary exhibit (four exhibits, actually, it just feels like one) that virtually anyone – even those who don’t usually visit galleries — will find intriguing.

The subject is the human face and the oceans of meaning the face either reveals or conceals. The medium is the mask — hundreds of them.

Tony Fuemmeler’s Evil Bunny is a character from Grand Guignol, the Paris theater famous for staging horror stories (paper-mache, acrylic, fleece, fabric, wire). Photo by: David Bates
Tony Fuemmeler’s “Evil Bunny” is a character from Grand Guignol, the Paris theater famous for staging horror stories (papier-mâché, acrylic, fleece, fabric, wire). Photo by: David Bates

More than two years in the making, A Universal Feeling is a collaborative effort spearheaded by Portland mask-maker and theater artist Tony Fuemmeler and featuring work by more than 60 artists from around the United States and the world. The intellectual seeds of the project go back to the 1960s, when a group of psychologists suggested that a few universal facial expressions convey emotions understood across the entirety of human culture: fear, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, and disgust.

Fuemmeler, whose masks have appeared on stages up and down the West Coast and around the country, gave around 70 fellow mask-makers a task. He sent them a papier-mâché mask based on one of the six expressions and asked them to complete it, drawing (consciously or otherwise) on whatever identity, styles, experiences, and cultures inform their work.

The results are stunning, fascinating, playful, and occasionally disturbing. “It was an experiment,” he told me as we strolled through the exhibit recently. “I had no idea what would happen. I was very curious how people would respond.”

Respond they did, and alongside three other mask-themed exhibits that fill the center until Jan. 3, the exhibit is a riveting exploration of inner life as conveyed by the simultaneously simple and complex image of the face as rendered by a mask — an art form that goes back to ancient times.

Beth Bondy created Surprise 07: Paper Insect from cardstock scraps. Photo by: David Bates
Beth Bondy created “Surprise 07: Paper Insect” from cardstock scraps. Photo by: David Bates

“I have long admired Tony’s work, and have had the pleasure of playing his masks onstage in several settings,” said Sean Andries, executive director of Chehalem Cultural Center, in the press materials. “The ability of a well-crafted mask, full of life, to reveal the true sense of the performer who wears it has always transfixed me. When I heard about Tony’s vision for A Universal Feeling, coupled with an exhibit of his mask-making journey with Reveal/Conceal, I was immediately intrigued. By collaborating with artists from many cultures and backgrounds to ‘finish’ the masks he created for this special project, Tony has found a new way to reveal the nature of the artist within.”

Andries refers to Fuemmeler’s other exhibit, Reveal/Conceal: The Transformative Masks of Tony Fuemmeler, a selection of his own work, including some of his earliest pieces. Most are human, but some are not, and one is, arguably, both: Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream makes an appearance. All, he points out, were made for and used on the stage. This is the first time Fuemmeler has shown his masks in a gallery exhibit. It is a welcome debut.

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End of the trail

After 27 years and hundreds of shows, The Oregon Trail Band has decided to hang up its violins and pennywhistles after a final performance in Cannon Beach

It’s sure to be a bittersweet night at the Coaster Theatre Playhouse in Cannon Beach when The Trail Band takes the stage Dec. 26. It’s the last performance of the eight-piece ensemble, which has been together since 1991, when it formed at the request of the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the trail in 1993.

“It’s going to be a crying session,” said Robert Necker, co-owner of North by Northwest Gallery in Cannon Beach and a longtime fan of the musicians. “They are amazing musicians. It is going to be a wonderful but sad event.”

Members of The Trail Band include (back row, from left) Marv Ross, Eddie Parente, Phil Neuman, Mick Doherty, (front row, from left) Dan Stueber, Rindy Ross, Cal Scott, and Gayle Neuman. Photo: Keith Buckley

The band, which has been compared to town-square brass bands of the last century, decided to end it now largely because the members are all of a certain age, and it’s time to slow down, said Marv Ross, co-founder with his wife, Rindy, of both The Trail Band and nationally famous Portland rock band Quarterflash.

“The best way to put it is we are just exhausted from producing 13 Christmas shows over two-and-a-half-weeks,” Marv Ross said. “It’s sort of like running a marathon. As the years pass, it just gets harder to run that marathon. It was just time, both physically and mentally, to make our life simpler and have more relaxing time.”

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Craft or art? Who cares? HEATWAVE fiber art is amazing

The show at Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center demonstrates that fabric art is so much more than "just quilts"

I have an embarrassing confession, but that’s actually a good thing, because it goes straight to the heart of an important artistic question that is raised — or perhaps I should say, is powerfully answered — by an exhibition at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

It’s an occasion for a teachable moment.

“Hot Flash!” A collaboration by Sherri Culver and Mary McLaughlin. Commercial cotton and silk fabrics, threads. Raw edge, fused, machine appliqué; machine quilting; hand embroidery; fabric paint and inks (for eyes). 37 x 35.5 inches. Photo by: Hoddick Photography

HEATWAVE is a themed exhibit produced by High Fiber Diet of the Columbia FiberArts Guild, which has been around for nearly half a century in the Portland area. What I must confess is that when I clicked my way to the page for this exhibition on the center’s website and saw that it’s a show of “art quilts,” I felt … well, a little underwhelmed.

“Oh,” I thought. “Quilts.” A bias that I wasn’t really conscious of was triggered, one perhaps based on distant, faded memories of being bored as a child while my mom took forever in a fabric store. I was mildly disappointed that this exhibition in the Parrish Gallery was just quilts — not painting, or sculpture. Not, well, art.

Sheryl LeBlanc’s “Fire in the Log Yard.” Disperse dyed polyesters, silk chiffon, trupunto. 29.5 x 32.5 inches. “Like a storage of ordinance, I have often wondered what a fire in a full log yard would look like on an extremely hot and dry day … perhaps during a severe drought, when the logs have not been recently sprayed with water.” Photo by: David Bates

Then I went and saw it.

I’ve seen it three or four times now, marching in on each occasion to look specifically at that exhibition, to spend a few more minutes with this piece or that. I am repeatedly drawn to the intense crimson, yellow, and green in Diane English’s Remembrance, which uses the imagery of blooming poppies as a “symbol of remembering those who have passed in the heat of wars.” Sheryl LeBlanc’s Fire in the Log Yard is, quite simply, one of the most extraordinary images I’ve seen in any medium recently.

Detail from “Fire in the Log Yard.” Photo by: Jon Christopher Meyers

The work is astonishing and beautiful and, occasionally, mysterious. One afternoon mid-November I had my 9-year-old son with me. Anything but bored, he ran around the Parrish Gallery, exclaiming, “Look at this one, Daddy!” Then, darting around a corner, “Look at this one!”

Back at home, I dived into a study of the Arts and Crafts movement and, specifically, an inquiry into what I quickly came to regard as an artificial and mostly semantic divide between art and craft, this idea that the two are somehow separate, that “craft” does not rise to the level of “art”. When I suggested to an ArtsWatch editor that he dispatch someone with a deeper background in visual arts to cover the show, which runs through Jan. 5, he kindly advised, basically, I do my job.

“I think there’s some explaining to be done about how people approach it, how it fits into the world of ‘fine’ art, which so often treats it like a stepchild,” he said. He pointed to the historically sexist and even classist attitude about this — one that I, perhaps, had at some level internalized, one that was surely at the root of my “Oh … quilts?” moment. Fabric and other non-painting and sculptural forms are too often seen, somewhat dismissively, he added, as “women’s art” or “folk art.” Or a “craft.”

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