A program finds its resolution

The last class of OCAC's MFA in Craft exhibits thesis work at Upfor


This past February, when studio visits were still viable, I spent several hours with the last class of students to graduate from the Oregon College of Art and Craft’s MFA in Craft program. Seeing their work, I was impressed by their deeply centered, introspective thesis projects, all very different, but with a common thread of self-reflection. I wrote in a note that it was quiet work for unquiet times, and I was looking forward to what I anticipated would be a coherent, cohesive exhibition of their work at Upfor in April. Then, in March, galleries around Portland closed due to COVID-19 and the thesis exhibition was cancelled. At the end of May, Upfor itself closed, as its owner, Theo LeGuin, had been planning since early this year.

It was not the culmination that Karl Burkheimer, the program chair, had hoped for for his students. “This ending was such not an ending and can be equated to reading a good book and not wanting to get to the end or watching a good movie and not wanting it to be over,” he said when we spoke in May.


It’s over. OCAC is sold.

Catlin Gabel School has bought the Oregon College of Art and Craft campus, and the venerable craft college will cease to exist in May

Oregon College of Art and Craft is history – or will be at the end of May. The beleaguered craft school’s board of directors announced on Monday in a notification to the school community that it has completed its sale agreement to the nearby Catlin Gabel School, a private pre-K through high school institution. OCAC will continue to operate until what has turned out to be its final class of about 140 students graduates in May. Lower-level students will have to transfer elsewhere.

OCAC’s demise is the second major blow to the state’s craft scene in three years. It follows the death of the Museum of Contemporary Craft in February 2016, and even though Oregon has long held a significant position in the American craft movement, it leaves the state’s craft community with no major institutional representation.

Outside the kiln at Oregon College of Art and Craft/Photo courtesy of OCAC

The sale to Catlin Gabel, which emerged early in the year as the site’s main suitor, was expected. OCAC had explored merging with the Pacific Northwest College of Art or Portland State University, but both schools declined, and the OCAC board decided not to pursue some other suggested proposals to save the college at least in some form.