Namita Gupta Wiggers

SALT on America’s wounds

Inspired by Gandhi's Salt March of resistance, Shaking the Tree's new venture blends art, theater, and dance in a collective raised voice

Shaking the Tree Theatre, under the artistic direction of the imaginative Samantha Van Der Merwe, incorporates visual art into each of its theatrical performances. With SALT, opening Tuesday for an all-too-brief six-day run, Shaking the Tree is flipping that concept on its head. SALT is the first of Shaking the Tree’s acts of resistance – “in direct response,” according to the SALT program, “to a Trump presidency and its implications of hate, exclusion, bigotry, and fear.”

Van Der Merwe was inspired to create this first act in Shaking the Tree’s four-year project by Gandhi’s speech on the eve of the 1930 Salt March (or Dandi March). In that speech, he famously encouraged his followers to resist peacefully. “We have resolved to utilize all our resources in the pursuit of an exclusively nonviolent struggle, he said. “Let no one commit a wrong in anger. This is my hope and prayer. I wish these words of mine reached every nook and corner of the land.” Van Der Merwe asked a cross-section of the city’s finest artists — from many cultures, genres, and backgrounds — to use Gandhi’s speech as a jumping-off point.

SALT teams around Samantha Van Der Merwe’s “Thread.” Photo: Meg Nanna

The Shaking the Tree space is divided into eight 8×8 boxes, and each artist (with Van Der Merwe’s piece, created out of salt, in the center) was given that space to create something, anything. Some artists will be performing as part of their piece, or have others performing. Some is visual art. Some have video. Some are interactive.

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Round-up: Wiggers steps down and a choir’s missing records

An eventful day in Portland arts: Namita Gupta Wiggers won't head the Museum of Contemporary Craft and Oregon Repertory Singers' case of the missing money data

Oregon Repertory Singers is missing its financial records.

Oregon Repertory Singers is missing its financial records.

Yesterday in the arts was “eventful,” though most of the events we heard about aren’t complete and certainly not our understanding of them.

OK, that’s not very concrete. How about: In Portland yesterday, we learned that Namita Gupta Wiggers was leaving her dual posts of chief curator and director of the Museum of Contemporary Craft, and that the Oregon Repertory Singers couldn’t find its financial records or some of the money it thought it had.

Eyes at the Oregon Repertory Singers turned toward to Jed Shay, former executive director, who left the choir in January to lead the Portland Youth Philharmonic, though no charges have been filed and it may all be a big misunderstanding. Or not. The investigation is just starting.

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Namita Gupta Wiggers, new director of the Museum of Contemporary Craft

The Museum of Contemporary Craft in partnership with Pacific Northwest College of Art has found its new director, and she was close at hand. The new director and chief curator at the museum will be Namita Gupta Wiggers, the museums current chief curator. She will start her new position July 1, according to Tom Manley, president of PNCA and CEO of the museum

Wiggers has worked as head curator at MoCC since 2004, when the craft museum was transitioning from a community-based, workshop, gallery and shop on Southwest Corbett to full-fledged museum in the Pearl district. When financial troubles threatened to sink it, she was there for the rescue by PNCA and she’s helped the museum find its feet since then. Her success as a curator is on display right now at the museum in Betty Feves: Generations, a gorgeous show that uncovers an important part of Oregon’s craft history (the career and art of Pendleton ceramic artist Feves), links it today and then project it forward into the future.

Wiggers has curated important shows on other Northwest masters (Ken Shores and Laurie Herrick) as well as international figures (Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn), and she’s been important in the integration of PNCA and its educational mission into the museum.

In the press release announcing the hire, Manley explained the decision: “Namita is a very gifted curator with a world-class reputation. She is also a thought leader on craft and design and an effective administrator with the strategic thinking skills and day-to-day savvy to realize an ambitious vision for the Museum. Her appointment is effective July 1 and coincides with the arrival of PNCA’s new Academic Dean, Mark Takiguchi (coming from California College of the Arts). This brings the College a new opportunity to strengthen the ties between the Museum and PNCA curricula and thus enhances curatorial studies opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students.”

Wiggers, who was a studio jeweler who once sold work at the museum,  currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Craft Council and has served on review panels   for the Pew Charitable Trust, the Bush Foundation, and Oregon Art Commission. She has  lectured at colleges and universities throughout the United States, and will be the keynote speaker for zimmerhoff, 2012 in Germany.

More from the press release: “With Elisabeth Agro, Wiggers is co-founder of Critical Craft Forum which connects artists, academics, and museum professionals through annual programs at College Art Association, an open Facebook page connected with The Journal of Modern Craft, and forthcoming publications. Wiggers currently serves on the Board of Trustees, American Craft Council, and the curatorial board of accessceramics, an online clay-focused database.”

We’ll be delving into the hire and what it means in future posts.

"Six Figures," date unknown. Raku on wooden base. Collection of Feves Family. Photo: Dan Kvitka

“I was too much the farmer’s daughter, in a sense. You know, that marvelous dirt out there that gets turned over with a plow and getting my hands dirty in the clay was the thing that turned me on.”

Betty Feves, the pioneering modernist ceramic artist who flourished for many years in the Oregon desert town of Pendleton, had a habit of explaining herself very well. So when you sit down to write about her, the temptation is just to let her talk. And Namita Gupta Wiggers, curator of the just-opened retrospective exhibition Generations: Betty Feves at Portland’s Museum of Contemporary Craft, does a lot of that in her illuminating catalog essay, Betty Feves: Setting the Stage for Clay, which kicks off with the quote above.

Walking into the exhibit the other day and almost immediately standing before a handsome longitudinal sculpture called Garden Wall, I discovered another of Feves’ plain-spun self-descriptions on the explanatory label. “I always have difficulty putting titles on things,” the label reads. “ ‘Figure Group,’ ‘Figure da da da …’ and you always have to have them for the exhibitions. Once in a while, it’s easy, for instance, ‘The Cliff-Dwellers.’ But the literary connection has never been an important element for me.”

Betty Whiteman Feves’ bare-bones biography is this: born into a Northwest wheat-farming family in 1918, died in 1985, studied art at Washington State College (now University) in the late ’30s under the young Clyfford Still and others, spent a few years in New York studying at the Art Students League and working before returning in 1945 to Pendleton, where she remained the rest of her life.

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