portland art museum

Tim & Samie: A rare partnership

ArtsWatch Weekly: An enduring friendship in art; a new opera leader; Ursula K. Le Guin's stamp of approval; performance & music & more

PORTLAND’S LONG BEEN A MAKERS SORT OF TOWN – a do-it-yourself, homespun, Saturday Market, farmers’ market, craft-centric, street-art, life-as-art kind of place, spinning its populist creativity from handmade craft to handmade food to handmade clothing and jewelry, and reaching its tentacles upward into fine art, whether it’s found in museums or galleries or home studios or among the booths and displays of street fairs. Not unlike the centers of the Arts & Crafts Movement that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s a place that believes art and artisanship fit together in a heightened, rounded, everyday way. As the city and state slowly waken from the pandemic shutdown, people are beginning to gather again – to see things and maybe buy things, and to rekindle the lost pleasure of being together, shoulder to shoulder (or maybe a little more distanced, and maybe still wearing masks) in a public place, simply celebrating the joy of being alive.

Left: “Arizona #2,” Timothy Wayne Stapleton, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 36 inches. Right: “Harmonic Memories,” Timothy Wayne Stapleton and Samie Jo Pfeifer, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 30 inches.

One of those revived gatherings, the Slabtown Makers Market, will be hosting visitors this weekend, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 24-25, at NW Marine Art Works, 2516 N.W. 29th Ave., Portland, a haven of artists studios amid a sprawl of former heavy-industry buildings. More than 40 artists and crafters will be showing and selling their goods, and giving back a little, too: 5 percent of sales will be donated to local nonprofits.

Amid the clayworks and macrame and baked goods and clothing and artworks by the likes of painters Daniel Duford and Chinese American artist Clement Lee, one booth leaps out: the one being operated by Samie Jo Pfeifer, friend and assistant to Tim Stapleton for four years before he died in September 2020 from the effects of ALS, or Lou Gherig’s Disease. Tim was a beloved and multitalented artist in Portland for many years, known in varying circles as a theatrical stage designer of uncommon creativity, a graceful writer whose stories often looped back to his early life in the coal-mining regions of Kentucky, an actor, a teacher at various colleges, and a visual artist whose paintings also regularly took their inspiration from the people and culture of the Coal Belt. You can read much more about Tim and his life in Farewell to the Tangerine Window, Marty Hughley’s heartfelt ArtsWatch memorial to him from last October.


FilmWatch Weekly: Catching up with the Northwest Film Center

Director Amy Dotson gets on with the work of refreshing and reshaping the art museum's movie program, from Tik-Tok to rooftop screenings

As Portland’s movie theaters have reopened over the last couple of months, one screen has remained dark: that of the Whitsell Auditorium, home base of the Portland Art Museum’s Northwest Film Center.

The Film Center was impacted in a unique way when the coronavirus pandemic exploded in March of 2020, causing an immediate truncation of its signature event, the Portland International Film Festival. The last public event that yours truly attended before the shutdown was the inaugural Cinema Unbound award ceremony held during PIFF 43, days before the festival came to an abrupt halt. Those awards were the brainchild of the Film Center’s then-new director, Amy Dotson, who had stepped into the shoes of longtime head Bill Foster only months earlier, bringing with her an ambitious agenda to reshape and reimagine the mission of the organization.

I spoke with Dotson recently about how the pandemic affected those plans and what to expect from the Film Center now that an opportunity to implement them has re-emerged. “In fact,” she says, “it allowed us to do some of the things we wanted even earlier. First and foremost, we got real comfortable with being unbound from the physical theater space.” The Film Center had been a pioneer of the recent resurgence in drive-in movies even before the pandemic, and part of the mission of PIFF 43 had been to incorporate events, such as live podcasts, that depart from the traditional definition of cinema. The 2021 edition of PIFF, like many film festivals around the country, was held online this year, and the Cinema Unbound awards were presented in a socially distanced, drive-in-style event at Zidell Yards.

Bill Murray as Steve Zissou in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Those events were rewarding, Dotson says, but “we have had so much more fun on the top of the Lloyd Center,” where the Film Center has held a round of outdoor screenings this summer. “The first night, when we showed The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, we must have had 350 people on the roof of the mall, and about half of them were dressed as Steve Zissou! We’re also going to continue through September with our drive-in series down at OMSI, where someone showed up in a dinosaur skull outfit for Jurassic Park.”


Live shows & Hunter Biden’s art

ArtsWatch Weekly: Performances break out all over; a presidential son and the art market; a hoop star's big art gift; photo giants; art outdoors

THE GRAND REOPENING CONTINUES, inside, outside, sometimes in a park. After almost a year and a half of coronavirus shutdowns and occasional virtual productions, Oregon’s performing arts world is climbing back on the boards and putting on a show. Several shows, in fact. Here are just a few that might nudge you out of your home bunker and back into the semi-bustling crowd:

  • Westside Shakespeare Festival. Experience Theatre Project is back in Elizabethan action with a free outdoor festival this weekend – Friday-Sunday, July 16-18 – on the south lawn of  Beaverton Library. There’ll be Renaissance dancers, wandering minstrels, a 1591-style cursing contest (!), sword-fighting demonstrations, general Shagspurian frolicking, and performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday of the amusingly irreverent yet oddly affectionate comic theatrical riff The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). Beyond the free stuff, you can plop down a few shillings and chow down like Sir John Falstaff and Sir Toby Belch at Saturday’s Queen’s Feast. Later in July and August, the festival’s Complete Works will tour to a trio of Oregon wineries.
  • Bag&Baggage goes Elizabethan. Hillsboro’s adventurous theater company gets back into the live-performance saddle by going one step beyond in the Shakespeare sweepstakes with a fresh production of The Complete Works of Willam Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised]! (Note the addition of that [Revised].) The free shows began last week and will continue tonight, July 15, at Shute Park, then Saturday-Sunday at Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza, and July 22-25 at Hidden Creek Community Center.
  • Ashland swings back into action. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, birth mother of all things Shakespearean in Oregon, is finally back on stage with a live show – but it’s not by Shakespeare. Instead, the reopener in the open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre is Cheryl L. West’s Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a celebration of the leading civil rights activist and one of the organizers of the Freedom Summer of 1964. The show continues through Oct. 9.
  • Lots at The Lot at Zidell Yards. The new outdoor performance spot on Portland’s Southwest Waterfront continues with a round of live shows this weekend: veteran soul outfit Ural Thomas and the Pain on Friday the 16th; the popular Y La Bamba for a pair of shows on Saturday the 17th; Portland Cello Project and the Extreme Cello Summer Dance Party Extravaganza (yes, cellos can be taken to extremes) on Sunday the 18th.
  • MOMENTUM & Old Moody Stages. Next Wednesday, July 21, DanceWire kicks off a mini-festival of performances and classes by a broad variety of dancers in a broad variety of styles at Zidell Yards. Check the link for details on who, what, and when: The dancing continues through Saturday, July 24.
  • Analog & Vinyl at Broadway Rose. The musical-theater experts at Tigard’s Broadway Rose continue their live production (you can also see it via stream) through Aug. 1 of Analog & Vinyl, an upbeat musical comedy with a twist about a vintage record shop owner who “is obsessed with LPs while hipster Rodeo Girl is obsessed with him,” and the mysterious stranger who drops in on them with a devilish proposition.
Alec Cameron Lugo, Molly Duddlesten, and Jessica Brandes in “Analog & Vinyl” at Broadway Rose Theatre Company. Photo: Mark Daniels


Adams & Levy ~ In Their Time

Ansel Adams and his influence on Portland photographer Stu Levy

The American photographer Paul Strand once said, “I think of myself as an explorer who has spent his life on a long voyage of discovery.” Strand, considered one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, influenced many of the great masters of the craft, including Walker Evans, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, each of whom lived a fascinating life of discovery in his own explorations with photography. Adams in particular credits Strand with his decision to give up a promising career as a concert pianist in favor of a life in photography. When the two photographers were introduced by chance in Taos, New Mexico, Strand invited the young Adams to view some of his negatives, as the seasoned photographer had no prints with him to show. For Adams the negatives proved to be a tremendous epiphany. In his autobiography Adams writes, “My understanding of photography was crystalized that afternoon as I realized the great potential of the medium as an expressive art. I returned to San Francisco resolved that the camera, not the piano, would shape my destiny.” In turn, Adams was to influence a generation of young photographers as they embarked on their own photographic journeys. Among them was Portland photographer Stu Levy.  

This story coincides with the Ansel Adams in Our Time exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, which remains open until August 1. See Updating Ansel Adams, Laurel Reed Pavic’s ArtsWatch review of the museum show, here.

When Adams was approaching the end of his long photographic life, Stu Levy was just beginning to find a direction for his own. The two would first cross paths in the summer of 1979, when Levy attended an Ansel Adams Workshop in Yosemite National Park. Levy later became an instructor at the workshops for several years, starting in 1981, three years before Adams died at the age of 82. Although the two men lived in very different times and grew up in very different places, they shared some important common interests that influenced the direction of their lives. Aside from their mutual passion for photography, they both loved music and became accomplished musicians. They also shared a deep love of nature and spent much of their time hiking and exploring the magnificent landscapes they photographed.

Ansel Adams, “The Tetons and the Snake River,” Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942, gelatin silver print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Lane Collection, © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Updating Ansel Adams

A review of the exhibition "Ansel Adams in Our Time" now on view at the Portland Art Museum

I associate Ansel Adams’ photographs with posters hung by people with a different sense of the potential for joy in damp technical fabric than I have. I’m all for nature but I want the day’s expedition to end in a warm shower, a glass of wine, and an actual bed. Ansel Adams poster people find bliss in dehydrated casseroles and sleeping amidst the aforementioned technical fabrics. 

I admit that I have conflated the photographs of Ansel Adams with the predilections of the people I know who buy and display reproductions of his work. Like many artworks that can be labeled “iconic,” Ansel Adams reproductions are so ubiquitous that they become part of the background, something that I don’t really look at because I think I’ve seen them before. 

Ansel Adams, Monolith–The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park (1927, printed 1950-1960). Gelatin silver print. Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Portland Art Museum.

Ansel Adams is an extraordinarily popular figure in the world of photography. All variations of the search “most popular photographer in America” that I ran on Google (an extremely scientific study) returned Adams as the first choice. Mounting the show Ansel Adams in Our Time, organized by Karen Haas, the Senior Curator of Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, was, therefore, an easy choice for the Portland Art Museum. It was always bound to be a big win with a large and receptive audience, but given my general indifference to Adams, I didn’t expect to be among the thronging fans.

Thanks to a well-curated show that then was augmented by the Minor White Curator of Photography Julia Dolan for exhibition in Portland, I’m happy to join the masses. 


Vanport Mosaic’s flood of memories

ArtsWatch Weekly: A festival to remember, theater heats up, All Classical's leap forward, whither Europe, Chachalu steps up, more

MONDAY IS MEMORIAL DAY, a national remembering of soldiers who have died while on duty, and this is a week for other meaningful anniversaries, too. Tuesday marked a full year since George Floyd was murdered at the knee of a Minneapolis policeman, setting off national protests, accelerating a nationwide battle over race and cultural and political life, and reverberating through the presidential election and the failed Capitol takeover of January 6.

And Sunday will be the 73rd anniversary of the Vanport Flood, which on May 30, 1948, burst through a a 200-foot section of railroad berm just north of Portland on land where Delta Park and its surrounds now sit. Floodwaters from the Columbia River poured in, inundating the wartime city of Vanport, sweeping away its infrastructure, killing at least 15 people, and leaving 18,500 homeless. It was a sudden cultural reshaping with historic consequences. Built in 1942 to house workers at the Portland and Vancouver Kaiser shipyards and their families, Vanport had a population of 40,000 at its height, making it the second-largest city in Oregon at the time. It was also, for its few years, the most racially and ethnically diverse city in Oregon: Wartime workers came from all over, creating an instant city that looked and acted very differently from the Oregon of its time, and more like the multicultural nation that the United States is becoming in the 21st century.

A few of the faces of Vanport, Oregon’s most racially diverse city before floodwaters washed it away in 1948. Photo: City of Portland Archives

SIX YEARS AGO THE VANPORT MOSAIC FESTIVAL sprang into being, building on the memories of Vanport to expand upon its meanings in contemporary life. Created by Laura Lo Forti and Damaris Webb, it began as a Memorial Day Weekend event at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, with a historical display, play productions, and other events. It’s grown since into a citywide event lasting several weeks in various venues, including online. This year’s festival, which involves about 200 artists, activists, historians, collaborating groups, and others, began Wednesday and continues with both virtual and in-person events through June 30. 


European art and the baggage claim

The Portland Art Museum has always had a European art collection. Where did this collection come from? What does it mean to exhibit European art in Portland in 2021?

As of April 30, the Portland Art Museum is without a curator of European Art. I conducted an exit interview with the previous curator, Dawson Carr, in late March and wrote up a farewell article. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, which ranged from the history of the Portland Art Museum’s collections to the future fate of the display of European art in Portland. I have great respect for Carr, and I’ve been thinking about our conversation ever since. 

My conversation with Carr highlighted two things about European art that had been bumbling around in my mind half-formed for a while but hadn’t fully formulated: (1) the history of European art in Portland is tied to a narrative of white superiority; and (2) the contemporary display of historical European art in Portland is complicated by that legacy. 

The subject of European art is one that is particularly dear to me. I love European art. I spent seven years of my life completing a Ph.D. in European art history. I have spent countless hours teaching other people about European art. I’ve read so many student papers on the European collections in the Portland Art Museum that I have certain wall tags memorized because I’ve read so many paraphrased (and, let’s be honest, a few plagiarized) versions.