Maryhill Museum

ArtsWatch Weekly: A world on fire

Trees in Trouble. Farewell, Tim Stapleton. Maryhill finally opens. Lots of music. Women in film. Pop-up posters. TBA, Street Roots & more.

NOTHING I CAN WRITE ON A DAY LIKE THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT than the story sweeping across Oregon and the West, where high winds and wildfires and crackling-dry conditions have unleashed historic devastation. Whole communities have been erased. Main highways are blocked off; others have been bumper-to-bumper crawling with people fleeing danger zones. Hundreds of people have been burned out of house and home. Complex ecosystems have been uprooted; wildlife flee with no sure place to go. In Oregon as of Thursday afternoon at least 800 square miles of land was burning, much of it out of control. 

Amid the chaos I’ve seen many small tales of courage, generosity, and resourcefulness. People in the country offering refuge for horses, livestock, pets. Parking lots and driveways offered for people escaping in their trucks or campers. Neighbors helping clear downed trees. Medical and utility and emergency workers, already stretched by the mounting catastrophes of this most extraordinary year, laboring overtime under daunting and exhausting circumstances. As I sit at my desk at 10 in the morning and look out the window the sky has turned from blood-orange to a pink-tinged gray. The acrid smell of smoke seeps through the cracks and into my nostrils. And I am deeply aware, and immensely grateful, that I am one of the fortunate ones, sitting in a stretch of Portland that’s been spared the worst of these multiple conflagrations, and that, barring a radical shift in weather patterns, is likely to remain a safe shelter. 

How did we get here? Where are we heading? In search of some answers ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson talked with Portland writer Daniel Mathews, author of the recent book Trees in Trouble: Wildfires, Infestations, and Climate Change. Mathews takes a long view of the state of the forests, the destabilizing effects of climate change, the role of public policy, and other factors contributing to the chaos of the land. “I’m heartbroken looking at the maps and seeing so many towns and forests I visited just in reporting for this book,” Mathews tells Johnson. “This week’s fires are shocking and truly historic: it’s likely that more acres burned in the West than in any 48-hour period in written history, including the Big Blow-up of 1910. … I  guess there are a lot of disconnects between science and policy in this country, but forest fire policy is one of the most stubborn.”


TIM STAPLETON: FAREWELL TO A GREAT SPIRIT


The much loved Tim Stapleton, in transition. Photo courtesy Gary Norman

TIM STAPLETON, THE LONGTIME PORTLAND set designer, visual artist, writer of uncommonly good memoirs, and occasional actor, died at a hospice care center on Labor Day morning, Sept. 7, from the effects of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He leaves legions of friends and admirers, and an enormous hole in Portland’s artistic community. Tim, born in Kentucky coal country in 1949, constantly called in his work on memories of those days and that culture, and before he had to move to hospice care he made his home in The Holler, a stretch of country-in-the-city in a tucked-away part of northern Portland, which is where photographer Gary Norman took the portrait above. In it, Tim seems to be simply walking away, toward something, taking his soft wry voice and sometimes jagged laughter and passion and wit with him, but leaving a trail of memories behind. 

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Living in a world of upside down

ArtsWatch Weekly: The pandemic is the puzzle. Adaptability is the key. Unlocking the cultural world's path to the future is the challenge.

SUDDENLY EVERYTHING’S TOPSY TURVY, and it’s seeming more and more like a mistake to think that things are going to get back to “normal” even after the health threat has ended, whenever that might happen. In the cultural world, the economic effect of the coronavirus shutdown is going to be hard on everyone and catastrophic for some. And by “everyone” I mean not just arts groups themselves but also the artists and staffers who’ve made their livings working for them, and the funders who keep them going, and the audiences who may understandably be reluctant to flock back to theaters and concert halls and museums as if social distancing were just some crazy blip that’s done and gone. Some groups, even if they do everything “right,” aren’t going to survive.
 
Barry Johnson, ArtsWatch’s executive editor, has started writing a column he calls “Starting Over,” which is about exactly those issues. How do we start over? How do we reinvent? What do we return to, and what do we move beyond? In his most recent “Starting Over,” Masks and democracy, he talks about some of the political failures that have made things worse in the United States than they needed to be, and reports on his conversation with the veteran arts consultant George Thorn, who suggests that the sort of creative, step-by-step problem-solving artists engage in every day might be a model for the society as a whole. In an earlier column, Point to point, Johnson talked with Portland Center Stage at the Armory’s Cynthia Fuhrman about practical adaptability. 

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Friderike Heuer, “The Strikers,” montage, from her series “Fluchtgedanken,” 2020. In her visual essay “Fluchtgedanken: Thoughts of Escape,” Heuer writes about manipulating images of paintings by the mid-20th century painter George Tooker, and how her adaptation of his work is a response to such disturbing issues of the Covid-19 crisis as the return of eugenics to public discussion and practice: “Took us what, only 75 years to get around to it again? What are expendable lives? The old? The diseased? The incarcerated? The poor?”

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ADAPTABILITY IS GOING TO BE CRUCIAL, and in a lot of cases, also not sufficient. Because the situation will be different for everyone, which means that while there may be smart overall strategies, they’ll have to be adapted to specific situations. And the ground keeps shifting.

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Exquisite Gorge 11: It’s a print!

On a bright & shining Saturday, it all came together: Maryhill Museum's audacious, 66-foot long print project went to press via steam roller

Woodblock print by Ken Spiering (Detail)

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


“Only in community with others has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible.” Karl Marx The German Ideology (1846)

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It was Print Day at Maryhill Museum of Art. Eleven wondrous woodcuts, each sized 6×4 feet, were inked, aligned in a row, and printed by a steam roller, producing the largest contiguous woodcut print that we know of. They depict the length of the Columbia River flowing through The Gorge, with geographic precision regarding the river, and imaginative representation for everything else.

The scaffold is ready, early morning

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Exquisite Gorge 10: The Truth-Teller

As Saturday's finale of Maryhill Museum's Columbia Gorge print project approaches, artist and veteran Drew Cameron talks about art and war.


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


“Truth-telling is often very unpleasant when it contradicts the opinion of the majority. Telling the truth can easily lead to a minority position and exposes the truth-teller to the pressure of the majority. To resist this pressure demands courage. Therefore, courage is not only the virtue of political action par excellence, but also quite evidently the virtue of truth-telling. To tell an inconvenient truth is not only a statement, but also an action.”

From: When Telling the Truth Demands Courage Volume 1 of HA: The Journal of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities at Bard College. (2018)

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Courage was visible all around me during my recent visit to the Columbia Gorge Veterans Museum in The Dalles, right next to American Legion Post 19. It was documented in displays about those who have served our country, both on active duty and back home supporting the soldiers during the many wars in recent history, displays that recalled stories of loyalty and sacrifice.

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Exquisite Gorge 8 & 9: The Map Makers

As the Aug. 24 print date for Maryhill Museum's Columbia River project fast approaches, its artists think about the mix of maps and territory


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively. – Wikipedia

Maps. You know, those paper things that half of us can read and half of us cannot; they pointed the way to our destinations before the arrival of talking machines that tell us how to proceed – and then reroute. Maps that were, in theory, supposed to adhere to “the empiricist paradigm of cartography”—that cartography’s only ethic is to be accurate, precise, and complete. Of course, that’s not what many maps are about – instead they often serve as a tool for persuading us to accept a particular view of the world, and not just geographically.

Mapping the territory.

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Exquisite Gorge 7: The Explorer

Printmaker and teacher Molly Gaston Johnson follows Lewis & Clark's westward path to make her mark on Maryhill's Columbia River project

Molly Gaston Johnson and her river of wood.

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


Maryhill Museum of Art’s planned print day of its Exquisite Gorge project is approaching fast. Hopefully there is a chance to portray each of the participating artists and their work before August 24. Let me introduce today another one of the print makers who I had a chance to talk to in the last several days.

Molly Gaston Johnson, Printmaker and Educator

THE EXQUISITE GORGE PROJECT

“…a collaborative printmaking project featuring 11 artists working with communities along a 220-mile stretch of the Columbia River from the Willamette River confluence to the Snake River confluence to create a massive 66-foot steamrolled print. The unique project takes inspiration from the Surrealist art practice known as exquisite corpse. In the most well-known exquisite corpse drawing game, participants took turns creating sections of a body on a piece of paper folded to hide each successive contribution. When unfolded, the whole body is revealed. In the case of The Exquisite Gorge Project, the Columbia River will become the ‘body’ that unifies the collaboration between artists and communities, revealing a flowing 66-foot work that tells 10 conceptual stories of the Columbia River and its people.”


 Louise Palermo, Curator of Education at Maryhill Museum


Imagine being told since the time you sat on your father’s knees that you are a descendant of Lewis & Clark. Lewis AND Clark! Being regaled with lively tales of hardship and adventure, what is a little girl to do but fall in love with the outdoors and embrace most forms of risk-seeking ventures – it is practically written into your DNA. Well, perhaps not practically, but theoretically. Who knows about the factual truth of the family lore?

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Exquisite Gorge 6: The Guardian

Greg Archuleta, artist and cultural policy analyst for the Grand Ronde tribes, links past and future in Maryhill's Columbia Gorge print project


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


Last week I met a guardian of both the past and the future.

Greg Archuleta, Artist and Cultural Policy Analyst for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde

A conversation with Greg Archuleta, artist, educator, and now Cultural Policy Analyst for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, made his calling abundantly clear. On the one hand, as an artist and educator, he is focused on preserving the traditions and knowledge of the past. On the other hand, he is also intensely engaged, both as an educator and a community activist, in protecting conditions needed to extend that past into the future.

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