james mcquillen

Passages: The ones we lost in 2020

Looking back: Remembering Oregon writers, dancers, musicians, theater artists, and others who died in the past 12 months

The year 2020 included, among its many disruptions, the deaths of several notable arts and cultural figures in Oregon. Here are 15 who we remember in particular for the art they made and the lives they led. Some, like the National Book Award-winning writer Barry Lopez, whose Arctic Dreams is a genuine classic, have international reputations. Some, like contemporary choreographer and dancer Mary Oslund, had outsized and lasting impacts that focused on Oregon but also reached beyond. All deserve our notice and gratitude for helping to shape our notion of culture in the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon’s passages join a long list of national and international cultural figures who died in 2020. Among them are the likes of playwrights Larry Kramer and Terrence McNally; the stage designer Ming Cho Lee; visual artists Christo, Milton Glaser, and Peter Beard; musicians John Prine, Little Richard, Bill Withers, Charlie Pride, Leon Fleisher, and Krysztof Penderecki; novelist John le Carré; dancer/actor Ann Reinking; and actors Chadwick Boseman (brilliant in his final role as the trumpeter Levee in the Netflix film adaptation of August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Olivia de Havilland, Zoe Caldwell, Kirk Douglas, and Diana Rigg.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


A note on Rigg: Many people remember her primarily as the sizzling secret agent Emma Peel in the TV series The Avengers; others for her sterling stage career. I revere her also as the author of the collection No Turn Unstoned: The Worst Ever Theatrical Reviews, an often achingly funny compilation of terrible and frequently wrong-headed notices gathered from historical records and sent her by her friends and fellow performers. It was prompted in part by a 1970 review by the legendarily caustic John Simon of her appearance in the play Abelard and Heloise: “Diana Rigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient buttresses.” Sometimes turnabout is fair play: She showed that she could play the game just as well or better, and her book landed on Simon and his soulmates like a ton of tongue-in-cheek bricks.

The people we lost in Oregon, and will remember:

Sara Waddell and BRAVO’s Seth Truby, passing the torch. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Sara Waddell, teacher and music lover. Sara “Penny” Waddell of Beaverton was a teacher and mother and aspiring cellist who learned, in her early 50s, that she had a fatal cancer. She and frequent ArtsWatch photographer Joe Cantrell had become friends, and when she told him she wanted to pass along her cello and violin to students who could use them, he helped her connect with BRAVO Youth Orchestras, many of whose members can’t afford their own instruments. On Jan. 21 we told her story, with Cantrell’s photographs, in A cello, a violin, a final grace note. On Feb. 23 Waddell died, at age 52 – but her memory, and her musical instruments, play on.

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Music 2020: Streaming through the shutdown

Watching music at the end of the longest year

When the pandemic struck last spring, leaving shuttered venues and canceled tours and performances in its wake, it seemed unlikely that there’d be much news to report about music. Nevertheless, musicians persisted, using their creativity to find though new ways to connect to listeners. As you’ve read in our unabated music coverage, many Oregon musicians and institutions regained their balance after the staggering blows of winter and spring, turning to online presentations–including several embedded in this year-end news wrap–to keep the music flowing. Thanks internet! Remember, we paid for it.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


For me, regular video offerings by 45th Parallel, the Oregon Symphony, Portland Baroque Orchestra (and its Great Arts. Period program that gives other music presenters access to its advanced streaming tech) and more initially kept me feeling connected to our homegrown music scene, albeit at a distance. They were soon joined by Third Angle New Music (whose John Luther Adams show last month might have been my favorite music streaming event of the year), Chamber Music Northwest, and others as the year unfolded. Here, you can watch this year’s version of PBO’s annual Messiah, albeit reduced (to singers, string quartet and organ) and distanced like so much else this year.

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PNCA, Willamette U. will merge

ArtsWatch Weekly: The Portland art school and Salem private university join forces; reading is the new going out; deaths in the arts family

THERE’S A NEW-OLD SCHOOL IN TOWN: Two high-profile Oregon private colleges, Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art and Salem’s Willamette University, have announced plans to merge, The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported Thursday morning. The boards of the two schools approved the merger on Wednesday, and PNCA’s faculty, staff, and students were told in a general announcement at 9:33 Thursday morning. The Oregonian’s Jeff Manning reports that the two schools have been discussing a merger off and on for five years, and the talks turned more serious 18 months ago. The Covid-19 crisis and PNCA’s failure to meet enrollment goals played into the agreement, The Oregonian said. The merger still “needs approval from regulators and the accrediting agencies of the two schools,” which is expected in 2021, Manning reported.

Pacific Northwest College of Art straddles Portland’s Old Town and Pearl District. Photo: PNCA

The two schools will maintain their own campuses and names. It hasn’t been so long since PNCA considered taking over the late Oregon College of Art and Craft, which folded after PNCA and other potential suitors decided against merging. PNCA also, after taking control of  Portland’s venerable Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2009, closed the museum down and took charge of some of its collections in 2016. Willamette University has been expanding quietly, Manning reported, including last year’s addition and move to the Salem campus of California’s Claremont School of Theology with its faculty and 300 students. This week’s announcement doesn’t define what this newest merger might mean to Willamette’s existing art department, or whether it will have any effect on Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art, which comes under the university’s wing.

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