hallie ford museum of art

Clifford Gleason: Early Oregon modernist

Hallie Ford Museum of Art continues its justly celebrated retrospectives of Oregon artists with the late Clifford Gleason

“Painting is hard work. It’s work, sure it’s work. When you are using all your faculties for one thing—standing in front of an easel—you don’t realize it because it is inspiring, but you are exhausted at the end of the day, you are bound to be, because you are using everything.” — Clifford Gleason

If you go to see the Clifford Gleason retrospective at Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, you will be rewarded if you enjoy impressive abstract painting and traveling through an artist’s career. It is ironic that Gleason’s big show, now 42 years after his death, occurs when people hesitate to even leave home (here are the museum’s guidelines for visitors). Gleason (1913-1978) was not one of the big names of mid-century Oregon art—just a well-respected painter. This exhibition demonstrates why he was well-respected and why he should be newly remembered.

Clifford Gleason in his studio, Salem, Oregon. 1960s.
Photo by Bob Crist. Collection of Bob Crist.

Clifford Gleason: The Promise of Paint takes us through Gleason’s roughly 40-year career, beginning in 1938. As we move through the exhibition we can imagine what it might have been like to figure out how to be a painter was in step with his time. As with recent Hallie Ford retrospectives for Louis Bunce and Lucinda Parker, this one has been organized by Roger Hull, and is accompanied by a catalog with a fascinating, detailed essay that weaves Gleason’s life/career with great documentation of the times. 

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The political prints of John Buck

A retrospective of the artist's prints and sculptures at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art


A Klansman posed as the Statue of Liberty holds a burning cross instead of an eternal flame. A breastfeeding mother wears a belt made of sticks of dynamite, the first fuse already lit.  Medusa looks into a mirror to find not the reflection of her serpent hair, but a benign, 1960s-style smiley face. These compelling, imaginative vignettes live in the backgrounds of John Buck’s multivalent prints, which are on view through March 29th in the Hallie Ford Museum of Art’s special exhibiti John Buck: Prints and Sculpture from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation

Installation view of John Buck: Prints and Sculpture from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the author.

Curated by John Olbrantz (who is also the museum’s director), the exhibition features 39 of Buck’s works, a combination of sculptures in the round, relief sculptures, and woodblock prints produced over four decades. In an election year, during a highly contentious presidency, and practically in the shadow of the Oregon State Capitol building and courthouses, Buck’s highly political prints emerge as the clear stars of the show. He draws on a wide range of references, cleverly and seamlessly integrating mythology, art history and popular culture into scenes that are at times as surreal as they are harrowing. While the museum attempts a careful neutrality by balancing the charged prints with less political sculptures and providing general context rather than interpretation in the wall labels, exhibiting this work at this time is inherently political. This is work that needs to be contemplated not in terms of modernist reverence for art as autonomous but in terms of the postmodern understanding of art as part of a broad nexus of social concerns. 

John Buck (American, b. 1946), Heart Mountain, Wyoming, 2000, edition 6/15, seven color woodcut, 62 x 37 in., collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, © 2019 John Buck / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Strode Photographic LLC.

Several of the sculptures echo the bright colors of the prints and at times repeat iconographic elements, but the layered imagery in the prints beckon viewers to come closer. The prints engage with past and present social upheaval, addressing, for example, South African apartheid in Crossroads, immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border in Trails Plowed Under, and the internment of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans during World War II in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. More generally, Buck’s imagery repeatedly and sharply decries greed and its capacity to dehumanize, to corrupt public institutions, and to harm the environment. 

Perhaps the best examples of this focus are found in The Cat and Argosy. In The Cat, a jaguar prowls the foreground, while in the background figures from Sumerian art cart wheelbarrows full of bones, stab Uncle Sam’s hat, and playfully spin a globe on the tip of a sword. Argosy reimagines the all-seeing Greek giant Argus as an eye-covered potato in a jar. Argosy can also mean “bounty” in the sense of a cache or cornucopia. In Buck’s deft hands, the desire for riches takes the form of a blindfolded Mickey Mouse holding a moneybag and stepping on the scales of justice to outweigh a schoolhouse. Bambi is hitched to a cart laden with symbols of the U.S. government, happily walking off with the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. In the lower right corner of Argosy, a slumped figure with a sign that reads “will work for food” holds a palette and paintbrush. A reaper-like figure pushes the Statue of Liberty in a shopping cart, while a smiling skeleton with “ignorance” written across its head rides a pogo stick over tiny, screaming figures. A person with African features eats out of a trash can. Books are discarded, unread, burning. There’s no subtlety here—the absurdity of what’s already happening is precisely the point. 

John Buck (American, b. 1946), The Cat, 2016, edition 3/15, nine color woodcut with hand coloring, 37 x 74.25 in., collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer, © 2019 John Buck / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Aaron Wessling.

Buck found his groove as a printmaker between 1980 and 1983, refining his technique and developing a strong graphic style that supports endless experimentation and variation. One unexpected pleasure of the exhibition is the wall text that illuminates Buck’s unusual printmaking process in an accessible fashion. He carves the central image first, often in multiple, interlocking pieces, then shallowly incises the background. Once he has carved the entire design, Buck “cuts the block apart in sections that can be reassembled like a large jigsaw puzzle.” Unlike many traditional woodblock processes that require a separate, carved block for each color, Buck’s “jigsaw” pieces can be lifted out from the block, inked, and set back in place so the entire block “can be printed at one time.”  You can see it for yourself, as the woodblock for Phoenix Rising, a rubbing of its surface, and the finished, seven-color print are on view next to one another. Putting the block itself on display near two other versions of the work invites comparison, allowing viewers to see how materials and process impact the finished work. I found myself counting the pieces and looking to see where edges that weren’t perfectly flush created white spaces between the segments. The “jigsaw” quality of the central images and cartoonish style of the backgrounds call to mind myriad associations with childhood and innocence. The playfulness of Buck’s style is what makes the scenes both engaging and ghastly, and it is that tension that gives his social and political commentary such sharp teeth.

John Buck (American, b. 1946), Phoenix Rising, 2006, edition 1/10, seven color woodcut with pochoir, 50 x 37 in., collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer, © 2019 John Buck / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Strode Photographic LLC.

Phoenix Rising is a tongue-in-cheek title for an image of a dodo that looks like it comes out of an Audubon field guide, but whose habitat teems with imagery of humanity’s historical and current foibles. In the sky, a floating church with a giant human hand pulls on puppet strings, swinging a grouping of the four horsemen of the apocalypse taken directly from Albrecht Dürer’s iconic 15th-century woodcut. The bottom of the church hovers over the Capitol Building, the lack of separation between church and state made evident as the dome of the Capitol nestles tidily into the bottom of the church. A tower with hands dangles hooded marionettes holding warheads from the top of the structure, while armed troops spill out a door at the bottom. The rest of the scene is a melee of warring factions, dressed to suggest religious and nationalist conflicts. I take away a clear sense that humanity’s perpetual fighting has dire consequences and puts us on the path toward our own extinction.

In the tradition of other forms of printmaking and, later, comic books, Buck’s simplified, linear figures are both easily recognizable and punchy. But at times the simplified depictions veer into caricature. In War Eagle, a 2010 work that wall text characterizes as an image of “upheaval in the Middle East,” a figure in the bottom left corner has a pointy beard, bandoliers across his body, and weapons on his back. The figure’s eyebrows are dramatically angled in the classic suggestion of villainy, his lips upturned in a frighteningly gleeful smile as he appears to torture a nearby female figure. He is the embodiment of the West’s idea about Middle Eastern terrorists, but his appearance here seems to reinforce that idea rather than question it. Two larger figures ride camels through a contemporary urban landscape. Appearing in the same work, I wondered if this was simply another kind of stereotype—the romanticized Arab that is not vilified like the terrorist Arab, but a stereotype nonetheless, and one that plays on reductive fantasies about the identities and lives of real people. Perhaps Buck’s goal is satire, as it is in so much of his work; after all, these scenes take place beneath a serene, soaring eagle that dominates the picture plane and stays the course even when crows work together to chase it away. 

Buck’ powerful imagery, underscored by his unusual printmaking technique, prompts viewers to think about their own values, and, by extension, what role they play in these social ills. The “jigsaw puzzle” quality of his prints acts as a metaphor for considering how all the parts fit together: in the imagery, in society, and in terms of the relationship between art and politics. The prints are not a specific call to action, and there are no solutions offered; it is enough to draw viewers into the consideration of unpleasant subjects that some folks would rather ignore. Buck once told interviewer Lynn Matteson, “I don’t think anything I’ve ever done is going to change anybody’s mind. And that is somehow the motive.” Whatever one makes of the works in John Buck: Prints and Sculpture from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, they keep you looking, questioning, and looking again. 

John Buck: Prints and Sculpture from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family is on view at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art through March 29, 2020.


Shannon M. Lieberman is an art historian whose research focuses on art and gender, exhibition histories, and intersections between art and social justice. She holds a PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara and teaches art history and visual culture at Pacific Northwest College of Art. In addition to her love of visual art, Shannon is an avid reader and passionate audiophile.

Vision 2020: John Olbrantz

The director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art praises Salem's thriving arts community, while noting that proximity to Portland is both a blessing and a curse

For more than two decades, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University has served as an essential artistic, cultural, and intellectual center for both the school and the community. John Olbrantz has been with the Salem museum from the beginning.

Olbrantz, the Maribeth Collins Director of the museum, is a specialist in ancient and American art while also pursuing his interests in Roman art, the history of archaeology, contemporary American art, and the history of museums. He holds a BA from Western Washington University and an MA in the history of art from the University of Washington. He and his wife, Pamela, live in Salem and have two grown children. 


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


During his long career, Olbrantz has helped found two art museums, been involved in numerous capital fund drives for expansion and renovation, organized more than 100 temporary exhibitions of historical and contemporary art, and juried more than 40 art competitions on the West Coast. He also lectures on a wide variety of art topics both at Willamette University and around the country, and is published in the fields of ancient and contemporary art. You can read more of his biography here.

John Olbrantz, Maribeth Collins director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, says his projects this year range from increasing museum staff to doing research on Scottish artist David Roberts for a future exhibition. Photo courtesy: Willamette University
John Olbrantz, Maribeth Collins director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, says his projects this year range from increasing museum staff to doing research on Scottish artist David Roberts for a future exhibition. Photo courtesy: Willamette University

What would you like people to know about the Hallie Ford Museum of Art? What is its role in the community?

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Hallie Ford Fellows explore ‘What Needs to Be Said’

The Salem museum features 13 artists in a traveling exhibit emphasizing the range of visual art

The poster for What Needs to Be Said, an exhibition at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, features an image of a stack five thick hardbound volumes by artist MK Guth, who incorporates participatory engagement into work that includes printmaking. 

These books, bearing the title of the show, are in fact part of the show. Each has a subtitle: Love, Politics, Identity, Ecology, and Art. When the exhibit opened mid-September, most of what must be thousands of pages were blank, but that’s for the viewer to rectify. Those with something to say, something they deem must be said, may say it here (anonymously or not) and know that they’ve contributed to Guth’s vision. She will seal the volumes once they are filled, making them, according to guest curator Diana Nawi, “repositories for inner thoughts, objects that index and contain critical expression without fully revealing it — an apt metaphor for the possibilities of artistic practice.”

"What Needs to Be Said," is a printmaking project by MK Guth, after which the show at Hallie Ford Museum of Art is named. Photo by: David Bates
MK Guth’s project “What Needs to Be Said” shares its title with the name of the show at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Photo by: David Bates

Guth is one of 13 artists whose artistic practice is featured in the show, which runs through Dec. 20 on the Willamette University campus, a few blocks east of downtown. What links them? All were recipients of the Hallie Ford Fellowship between 2014 and 2016, an award that goes to Oregon artists “based on accomplishment, depth of practice, and future potential.”

A variety of work fills the sprawling ground-floor Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery: photography, drawings, installation, sculpture, a soundscape (which I initially thought was the building’s air circulation system), as well as the public engagement invited by Guth’s books. A handsome, 112-page hardcover catalog with short essays by Nawi and a half-dozen arts-and-culture critics can be purchased in the lobby.

What Needs to Be Said is touring Oregon. It opened in the Umpqua Valley Arts Center and Umpqua Community College in Roseburg earlier this year. Early in 2020, it arrives at Disjecta in Portland. The show heads south again in 2021 to the Schneider Museum of Art at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

The diversity of media on display posed, for me, a chicken-egg question. Was the show’s title selected and Guth’s piece adopted it? Or was the piece submitted before the show was named? I asked Nawi, a Los Angeles-based curator. It turns out the book stacks came first; Nawi was already familiar with them.

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Stretching from cultural borders to the state’s borders

In Salem, George Rodriguez's ceramic sculptures comment on community and identity; in Newberg, Brad Isom's watercolors explore the glory of Oregon

We have another gallery show in Newberg this week, but before that, please indulge a brief diversion as we drop in on Salem.

My ArtsWatch colleagues may write more about this later, but for now you should know that the Hallie Ford Museum of Art on the Willamette University campus opened a new show last week that’s worth a visit: Embellished Narratives by Seattle ceramics artist George Rodriguez, a native of El Paso, Texas.

The show, which occupies several rooms in the Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery, is an exploration of the artist’s Chicano heritage and the myriad of political and social issues bound up with the U.S.-Mexico border — both metaphorically and literally. The largest single piece, Instrumental Divide, is a row of nine larger-than-life musicians, sculpted with glaze, steel, and vinyl, lined up in such a way that they form a wall cutting across the room.

"Instrumental Divide" by George Rodriguez (2009, stoneware with glaze, steel, and vinyl). Photo by: David Bates
In “Instrumental Divide,” artist George Rodriguez turns a group of musicians into a wall (2009, stoneware with glaze, steel, and vinyl). Photo by: David Bates

Organized by curator Jonathan Bucci, this is a major exhibition. There is much to take in, and the detail work invites close scrutiny. From the program notes:

“Ideas of ceremony, ritual, and cross-cultural mythology all combine in Rodriguez’s bold yet whimsical artwork. Inspired by childhood memories, international travel, border politics, and the history of art, his richly decorated and tactile sculptures draw the viewer in with a mixture of humor and gravity to address concepts of community and identity in our global culture.

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A long and inimitable painting career

Lucinda Parker's Force Fields at Hallie Ford Museum

Lucinda Parker is the premier Portland painter of her generation. Lucinda Parker—Force Fields is a 50+ year retrospective at the Hallie Ford Museum in Salem through March 31. Though the year has just started, there is unlikely to be a better or more important painting show in Oregon in 2019.

The show begins with two of the artist’s early works. Self-Portrait was painted around 1957 or 1958 when the artist was only 16. A serious looking young woman looks out at the viewer. The brushwork is surprisingly sophisticated for such a young artist but Parker had been taking art lessons since she was in elementary school. In Waterfall at Garland Pond, Putney, Vermont from 1959-1960, actively brushed flowing water foreshadows the dynamism of Parker’s works in the decades to come. The bold colors, dynamic paint (flowing, knifed, brushed), and aggressive scale will come later; these early works are dark, closed, in, and mysterious.

Lucinda Parker, “Waterfall at Garland Point, Putney, Vermont,” (1959-1960), oil on Masonite, with modern frame (acrylic), 30 x 42 in., courtesy of the the artist. Photo: Jim Lommasson.

Parker came to Portland in 1960, right after high school at Putney School in Vermont. She was attracted to a combined Reed College/Museum Art School (now PNCA) program. At Reed she, “took my humanities, my chemistry, my French and all that. I got [to the Museum Art School] and I thought it was the best thing in the world to be in a school like that—six hours a day in the studio every day. At night you’re tired. You can’t stay up all night.” She studied with (among others) Mike Russo, Mel Katz, Harry Widman, George Johanson, Dorothy Yezerski, and Louis Bunce. After completing her undergraduate degree program, she went on to get an MFA at Pratt Institute in New York, returning to Portland in 1969.

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McMinnville’s gallery scene primed to expand

An old house gets new life as a destination for arts immersion; plus, on the arts calendar: gallery shows, arts walk, a film festival, and poetry on the radio

There’s a buzz in McMinnville concerning an 84-year-old house on the corner of Baker and Northeast Seventh Streets, which marks almost the exact center of town. In the last decade or so, it’s functioned as a florist, a salon and a home-goods store. Now, there’s great news for art fans. Come spring, it will reopen as the McMinnville Event Center for the Arts.

Holli and Mick Wagner will open the McMinnville Event Center for the Arts at 636 N.E. Baker St. in March. Photo by: David Bates

MECA is owned by Holli and Mick Wagner, who also run nearby vacation rentals. They will open the gallery at 636 N.E. Baker St., a few blocks north of the city’s downtown district, as a home for visual art, as well as readings, live music, and classes. I got a sneak peek behind the papered-over windows last week as they prepare 2,500 square feet of space for a stage and works from more than two dozen artists.

“The mission here is really to create a destination space for people to come and immerse themselves in the arts,” Holli Wagner told me. In recent years, Yamhill County’s wine industry has exploded, with one result being a downtown district that is thick with restaurants and tasting rooms. Wagner sees a future with an equally active gallery scene. Already, more than a dozen can be found just in McMinnville.

“Not only are we a destination for agriculture and wine,” she said, “but now we have an opportunity to set ourselves another goal and become a destination for art.”

They’ve set a March 9 opening date, and they’re dishing out teasers on the usual social media. Check them out here.

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