From ashes of the Echo Mountain fire, art

The Lincoln City Cultural Center gathers photography and items culled from the rubble of last fall's wildfire near Otis

Photographer Bruce MacGregor waited out wildfire evacuation warnings near his home in Clackamas County for weeks last fall before it felt safe to head to Otis. There, in the tiny town on Oregon 18, he met survivors of the devastating Labor Day wildfire. He didn’t expect anyone to agree to his request for photos, but their responses were a surprise.

Those photos are part of the new Up from the Ashes exhibit in the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s PJ Chessman Gallery. An opening reception, with a live video tour, is planned for 4 p.m. Friday, April 9. The exhibit will run through May 9.

“It’s a pretty special show,” said Krista Eddy, gallery director. “We are trying to share people’s stories and also show that there is this amazing spark of hope and resilience in people. They’ve struggled and there are good things at the end.”

Bruce MacGregor photographed Larry on Sept. 20, after his Otis home was destroyed in the Echo Mountain fire, then looted. Photo by: Bruce MacGregor
Bruce MacGregor photographed Larry, above, on Sept. 20, after his Otis home was destroyed in the Echo Mountain fire, then looted. Below, on March 16, MacGregor met up with Larry (left) at the same site, where he was waiting for a cement truck to lay a sidewalk to go with his new mobile home. Photos by: Bruce MacGregor
On March 16, Bruce MacGregor met up with Larry in Otis. Larry (left) was waiting for a cement truck and crew to lay a sidewalk to go with his new mobile home. Photo by: Bruce MacGregor

The exhibit includes objects pulled from the rubble following the Echo Mountain Complex Fire, which burned 2,500 acres and destroyed about half of the town’s 1,200 buildings, as well as artwork created by community members, and MacGregor’s photos, which were made before he knew of the planned exhibit, and found a home in it after.

“I had become interested in the project and had put out to relatives and friends that if they knew anyone, I would be happy to do some photography, if it would be useful,” MacGregor said. “I got back one request for a GoFundMe site. He was trying to raise money and wanted photography of himself and his wife. That was the first and most poignant.”

In Otis, a town of about 3,500 a few miles in from the coast, MacGregor met Saki and Guy (Eddy has requested last names not be used, out of respect for fire victims’ privacy), the couple who started the GoFundMe site, and their neighbors, including Larry.


Photographing the craft and grit of winemaking

Adrian Chitty's work, in a Chehalem Cultural Center show, celebrates the unseen people who "work so very hard to get that wine in your glass"

A couple of years ago, A to Z Wineworks received an email from someone named Adrian Chitty, who was having a “family adventure” in Bali and wanted to talk about embedding himself in the Newberg-based winery as part of an artistic residency. The proposal, according to Deb Hatcher, one of the winery’s four founders, “seemed incredibly suspicious.”

Nevertheless, the email ultimately led to A to Z launching a residency program with Chitty, an Oxford-educated software engineer retired from 20 years in the fast lanes of London and New York, as its first artist. Chitty moved to Oregon with his wife and children and spent two full seasons with the winery, working various jobs and shooting thousands of photographs depicting every stage of the winemaking process. As it happens, his residency overlapped with both the pandemic and Oregon’s fires, and his digital camera captured evidence of both.

photographer Adrian Chitty
Photographer Adrian Chitty

The best of those images, nearly three dozen of them, compose Transformations: A to Z Wineworks’ Artist-in-Residence — a Year in Review, a new exhibition at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. It runs through Feb. 28.

The photographs, of uniform size and in color (and, adds Chehalem’s Carissa Burkett, for sale), are astonishing and beautiful visions of the grit of winemaking. Prior to the residency, Chitty noted, his experience of wine industry photography was seeing the glamour of wine depicted by professional photographers with an eye to getting customers in tasting rooms: lush, rolling vineyards and sunlight shining through glasses of wine, sipped by smiling, attractive people on patios.

“I wanted to show the mechanics of how wine is made and I wanted to celebrate the people who work so very hard to get that wine in your glass,” he said during an online artist’s reception last week. “They are a dedicated army of people who put care and attention into these labor-intensive processes. I wanted to celebrate these unseen people.”  

What struck me about the exhibition was the technical depth of the text that accompanies each photograph. Exhibitions like this traditionally roll out an “artist’s statement” as a welcome mat, which is where you’re most likely to gain some insight into the genesis of the project, what they were trying to do, their emotional trajectory during the creative process, etc.

This show has that, but much more. Chitty continues the discussion with each image. Viewers get not only a detailed description of what they’re looking at (because it’s not necessarily clear what the subjects are actually doing) but also why he shot that photo and why he likes it. Consider, for example, the text for the image titled Preparing:

The weather in October 2019 gave us cold, clear days, and the steam from the hot water cleaning processes would billow around and catch the sunlight. These steel barrels get used for short-term operations at the winery such as temporary storage of wine, smaller fermentations, and catching runoff juice from the sorting table. Cleaning them is a daily occurrence during harvest. There is visual balance here, with the weight of the two barrels balanced by Cynthia and the hose.

Photographer Adrian Chitty documented the winemaking process over two seasons at A to Z Wineworks in Newberg. “Preparing” (October 2019) captures cleaning steel barrels used for temporary storage of wine or short fermentations. (All images are giclée prints from digital camera, 18 by 12 inches.)
Photographer Adrian Chitty documented the winemaking process over two seasons at A to Z Wineworks in Newberg. “Preparing” (October 2019) captures cleaning steel barrels used for temporary storage of wine or short fermentations. (All images are giclée prints from digital camera, 18 by 12 inches.)

You get stuff like that throughout the show, illustrating the artist’s mind at work: “Ana’s arms create a strong symmetry, and the splashes of color from the hi-visibility vest and nitrile glove contrast with an otherwise largely monochrome palette,” he writes for one. Another: “It’s the gesture that makes this image work for me. This is a simple composition, with the color contrast drawing the viewer to the subject.” It’s like dollops from a course in photography.


Private lives of the trees

September's Holiday Farm Fire decimated some areas of forest while others escaped relatively unscathed. Photographer David Paul Bayles lovingly documents the surviving trees.

It’s a chilly December morning when I pull into the parking lot tucked along the McKenzie Highway. David Paul Bayles is already here, sorting camera equipment in his truck for our upcoming exploration. We are soon joined by Fred Swanson, who will be our guide and mentor today. A retired Forest Service scientist, Swanson has been working on local forest issues since the 1970s, as a field scientist and research leader in the Long-Term Ecological Reflections (LTER) program at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest near Blue River (where he and Bayles collaborated in 2018). He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Northwest ecosystems, and the McKenzie corridor in particular. Now in his mid-70s Swanson is as spry and curious as ever. As he begins tromping through the forest, Bayles and I must double our step to keep up. 

We are in the heart of the McKenzie valley, and nothing looks like it did earlier this year: September’s Holiday Farm Fire laid a path of destruction right down the valley’s gut, starting at the eponymous Holiday Farm Resort, then sweeping downwind to eventually incinerate over 170,000 acres. The damage was not uniform. Instead, the fire burned in patchwork fashion depending on forest type, density, grade, defensibility, and a degree of cruel luck. In the communities nestled along highway 126, intact homes sit adjacent to charred waste lots. From our meeting point along the river we can see huge swaths of blackened hillside. But there are also many nearby groves which appear largely intact, at least in their upper stories above the scorch line. 


Smoke on the water

Photographer Benjie King captures haunting images of Newport’s bayfront and Yaquina Bay Bridge in the orange glow cast by wildfires

The morning after a historic windstorm swept over the central Oregon coast, igniting the Echo Mountain fire in Lincoln County and stoking the flames of other fires already burning, Benjie King was out looking for oxygen for his dad. As he usually does, King, 45, took his camera with him and soon found himself shooting photos of scenes around Newport he knew he was unlikely to experience again.

“I was actually working the night I realized things were going down,” King recalled. “You could look straight at the sun that evening and I knew it was going to be a gorgeous sunset, but I didn’t get a chance to go out that night. The next morning, there was just a gorgeous orange glow — almost like an unusual, beautiful sunset all day.”

It wasn’t a sunset, of course, but the light from fires miles away.

Benjie King shot the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the smoky glow caused by wildfire. "You won’t see the sky like that again, hopefully, ever again,” he says. Photo by: Benjie King, Out West Photography
Benjie King shot the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the smoky glow caused by wildfire. “You won’t see the sky like that again, hopefully, ever again,” he says. Photo by: Benjie King, Out West Photography

I first saw King’s photos on the internet 150-odd miles from home, where I was stranded after Labor Day weekend. Driving toward home from Central Oregon on Sept. 8, we knew of the windstorm that had struck the coast the previous evening, closing U.S. 101, and of the fire raging in Otis and Rose Lodge.

It was sunny and clear in the mountains — though the evening before had been heavy with smoke — but we soon noticed a strange wind, not one direction or another, but swirling and oddly foreboding. And then we came to the turnoff for home and discovered the highways were closed. We could drive dozens of miles out of our way to take an alternate route through a landscape that might or might not be safe, or we could wait it out.


Saturday in Newport: One site, four shows, five artists speak

Opening receptions March 14 at the Visual Arts Center include subjects ranging from high-country landscapes and Dutch whalers to glass jewelry and wet crows

This Saturday would be an excellent day to visit the Newport Visual Arts Center, as four new exhibitions host opening receptions from 2 to 5 p.m. Featured artists will be present to talk about their work, with times staggered so viewers can hear all presentations.

In the Runyan Gallery, the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts presents A Sense of Place in the Pacific Northwest by Corvallis artist Greg Pfarr. The exhibit features large-scale paintings, prints, and drawings “reflecting on the high-country drama of the Cascades mountain range and Alaska.” The show runs through March 29. Pfarr will talk about his work at 3 p.m. March 14.

“South Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm, Alaska,” by Greg Pfarr (etching and woodcut, 24 by 36 inches)
“South Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm, Alaska,” by Greg Pfarr (etching and woodcut, 24 by 36 inches)

“I like to witness severe climate and landscapes, around 6,000 to 8,000 feet,” Pfarr said on a recent KLCC radio podcast. “It’s almost a spiritual exploration. The forms of nature at that level can be quite varied, and they can be both abstract and realistic. I like to play off that tension.”

Pfarr’s work recently was honored by the Oregon Arts Commission with an exhibit in the Oregon Governor’s Office, and the Newport show includes some of that work.

In the Upstairs Gallery, an exhibit of photomontages, Postcards from Nineveh, by Portland artist Friderike Heuer continues through April 25. Heuer speaks at 4 p.m.


‘Their art is my work now’

Jennifer DeCarlo, owner of a new gallery at Salishan, talks about transitioning from artist to art dealer, the rise of art fairs, and the place of visual art

Art dealer Jennifer DeCarlo hadn’t planned to move to the Oregon Coast, but when a job in the hospitality industry beckoned her husband north from California, DeCarlo packed up her gallery in San Diego and moved with him. She’s opened a new gallery specializing in photography, jdc Fine Art, in the Marketplace at Salishan. DeCarlo calls it an “offbeat spot” for art, but not without its unique merits — sort of like the “Hamptons of the Pacific Northwest,” she said. I talked with DeCarlo about art, her move, and her future in Gleneden Beach.

How difficult is it to move an art gallery?

DeCarlo: I’ve owned a gallery for about 10 years and have worked in Chicago and San Diego.  No doubt it is challenging to uproot, especially considering how the typical gallery model is anchored to place. I’m trying to see the positives and benefits of these family moves.  With the advent of the internet and rise of art fairs, the desire of reaching everyone, everywhere has never been more true, or more difficult.  There is so much intangibility and noise, contact without connection.

Though atypical, I’m trying to see our transience more like ephemerality. Here or there, I’m always working, and these moves put me in a unique position to make more connections and more discoveries.  I have the unique opportunity to engage new communities in meaningful ways, find new patrons and artists, and carry and cross-pollinate contacts. 

Jennifer DeCarlo launches jdc Fine Art in San Diego in 2011.  She recently moved her gallery, dedicated to content-driven contemporary art by photographers, to the Marketplace at Salishan. Photo courtesy: Jennifer DeCarlo
Jennifer DeCarlo launched jdc Fine Art in San Diego in 2011. She recently moved her gallery, dedicated to content-driven contemporary art by photographers, to the Marketplace at Salishan. Photo courtesy: Jennifer DeCarlo

What led you to a career as an art dealer?

I am trained as an artist. When I got out of grad school, I started working at an art gallery and really liked the work. I realized the work by the artists represented in the gallery was better than mine. This was better suited to my skill set, so I decided, I’m going to be an art dealer. You get to be creative; you get to work with the artists and their ideas. You get to help shape the ideas and explore the ideas with them.

Do you still create your own art?

No, I don’t. Their art is my work now. I get to help them position it. I get to help them frame it. Visual art is the first language I understood. Visual language. That’s what I mean, too, when I say being an art dealer brings all of my skills together. I am dyslexic. It was hard for me to learn language. It’s very tricky. Written language is weird. It reduces things. Visual language is very palpable, emotional, immediate. It hits you and you think about it. I like the ability to have this long looking with people. Look at things, think about them together.


Portraits of everyday humanity and Lisbon in transition

Jessica Holder’s photo exhibit features images of her co-workers; Liz Obert's work explores the Portuguese city, from its medieval past to its vibrant present

More often than not, the Community Gallery in Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center leans toward work by extremely local artists (i.e., from Newberg or Yamhill County), and that’s the case with A Glimpse at Humanity, a new photographic show by Jessica Holder.

My personal take-away from viewing the work, which consists entirely of large, black-and-white digital portraits of young men and women, was that it was produced by a photographer who had been doing this for many years. That may speak to my relative newness to visual art, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that Holder, a recent George Fox University graduate, has a remarkable talent for enabling moments that result in portraiture where the subjects appear very much at ease in their own skin. As far as this show is concerned, it may also have something to do with the fact that most of her subjects are fellow co-workers at the local Dutch Bros. Coffee — which famously hires young people who wear their extrovertism on their sleeves.

"Fate's Home" by Jessica Holder
“Fate’s Home” by Jessica Holder

“I was at Dutch Brothers one day, and honestly, I just said to my friend, ‘Would you ever want me to take photos of you?’,” Holder recalled. “And she said, ‘I’ve been wanting to get photos done for over a year!’ That’s what ignited it. I was inspired by the fact that she felt honored by it.”

A Glimpse at Humanity is Holder’s first show and will be on display through Nov. 2. On Sept. 14, there’s something special, particularly for those who might not be fans of posing for a camera: a community portrait event, enabling Holder to stretch beyond the drive-thru and get a broader picture of Newberg and its culture.

Here’s her artist’s statement:

“My artwork in style is very simplistic and consists of a short depth-of-focus and a vision between abstract and personal.  I am inspired to photograph people by each of their unique stories and the challenge of interpreting them visually.  The concept of this series is to find the Beauty in Everyday.  I search for a story behind every face, thus began the journey of photographing the people closest to me: to create something more out of the people I interact with.  What I found was differences, laughter and a whole lot of heart and part of my dream is showcasing it to a wider audience.”