public art

Putting a new face on Newport’s ‘Ambassador’

Time and the elements have taken a toll on Sam Briseño’s welcoming sculpture, which is undergoing restoration to its rusty metalwork and broken glass face

It’s been a beloved Newport icon for 16 years, a welcoming vision on the edge of Nye Beach, towering 21 feet tall, arms outstretched in greeting. Its image can be seen in brochures, magazines, and on the camera rolls of countless photographers from all over the world. But now, The Ambassador, the metal-and-glass sculpture by late artist Sam Briseño, is in trouble.

In healthier days, Sam Briseño’s sculpture, “The Ambassador,” greets visitors to Newport’s Nye Beach with a wide embrace.
In better days, Sam Briseño’s sculpture, “The Ambassador,” greets visitor to Newport’s Nye Beach with a wide embrace.

The glass face is broken, passers-by report seeing chunks of metal on the ground, and one dog walker confessed he no longer felt safe walking the pups beneath those winged arms, rickety with rust. That’s why visitors to Don & Ann Davis Park won’t see The Ambassador for at least a few months. The Ambassador is in rehab. 

“We have been aware for some time that The Ambassador needed help,” said Catherine Rickbone, chairwoman of the Newport Public Arts Committee, explaining that heavy rust is weakening the sculpture. “We decided the best thing to do was to get it down, so that, number one, it wouldn’t deteriorate any further, and number two, it wouldn’t inadvertently harm someone.”

The Ambassador was designed as a sentinel of welcome, Rickbone recalled Briseño telling her. But while it is one of Newport’s most readily recognized pieces of public art, the coastal town wasn’t its first home. It was initially installed at the Port of Toledo, where it was given a sendoff with belly dancing and fire when Briseño accepted the opportunity to place the sculpture in the Newport oceanfront park, said Bud Shoemake, former director of the Port of Toledo.

Newport’s ATLAS Fabrication dismantled the sculpture last month and is doing the repair work to make it whole and safe again. While they’re at it, Newport glass artist Teresa Kowalski will be remaking the face she created all those years ago with Briseño, who died in 2015 at age 64.


Hitting the coastal arts trail

Lincoln City Cultural Center’s Niki Price plans to create a series of web-based itineraries for people who like to hike and “to tour art and see beautiful things”

When Niki Price sets out to explore art on the Oregon Coast, she’ll need to pack hiking boots, a tide book, and, of course, rain gear, but exhibit hours, ticket costs, and museum reservations — not necessary.

Price, executive director of the Lincoln City Cultural Center, is about to embark on an adventure with a dual mission — a hike on along the Oregon Coast Trail while visiting some of the more than 800 pieces on the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail.

Her hike, dubbed “On the Path of Public Art,” is sponsored by the cultural center and the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, developer of the art trail. She plans to break it up into 10 segments, which will become, in turn, itineraries for public use. A website and blog following Price’s progress and her thoughts about the trek is in the works. The hope is that the project will not only raise awareness for public art, but also raise money for it.    

With her series of hikes, Niki Price hopes to raise awareness both of the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail and the fundraising campaign for the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s plaza.
With her series of hikes, Niki Price hopes to raise awareness both of the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail and the fundraising campaign for the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s plaza. Photo courtesy: Niki Price

The innovation, Price said, is that the coordinates of each piece will be available on a Google map. “For the most part, they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a really good complement to be walking down the Oregon Coast Trail and then take side excursions and check out the art. You don’t need to worry about the museum being open or arriving too late or having someone let you in. These are things you can enjoy any time.”

The visitors association signed on to the project with an eye toward helping people find the art along the 360-odd mile trail. Some of it has been on display for years, some is newer, and all has been placed by a variety of sponsors, including businesses, cities, and community colleges, said Arica Sears, spokeswoman for the association. The art might be in any number of forms — a mural, a statue, an abstract, or a big painting — but it has to be public, accessible 24/7, and at a spot where it can be viewed safely.


After the statues come down

What to do with monuments that celebrate people and stories we'd rather forget?

On October 5, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced the Monuments Project, a $250 million commitment to overhaul public art in the United States over the course of the next five years. The project promises to “transform the way our country’s histories are told in public spaces and ensure that future generations inherit a commemorative landscape that venerates and reflects the vast, rich complexity of the American story.”

There are three categories of grants associated with the project: (1) to fund new works; (2) to contextualize existing works through “installations, research, and education” and; (3) to “relocate existing monuments or memorials.”

The first category will likely garner the most excitement: The possibility of that kind of funding for new public artworks that could tell underrepresented stories is almost dizzying. It could be a much-needed chance to showcase new artists, new populations, new voices. The other two categories don’t have the gravitational pull of the first. If the work is already here, it is probably already known, and there’s probably something wrong with it. It may be problematic in any number of capacities—subject, voice, intention, location, etc.. Wouldn’t it be better to move on and create new fanfare, the kind of enthusiasm that only something shiny and new can generate? Not so fast.

The second two categories are less immediately appealing, but I would argue as important, if not more important, to the larger project of public art. This is especially true since the Mellon Project is an initiative that is supposed to happen in the next five years. Removing works is a first step, but removal must be followed by relocation and contextualization. 

Portland is facing its own public art reckoning. On Sunday, October 11th, protestors toppled statues of Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln (in addition to damaging the Oregon Historical Society) as part of the “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage” on the eve of Columbus Day (still a federally observed holiday). Defacing or damaging public art has always gone hand-in-hand with putting it up in the first place. It happened in the city-states of ancient Mesopotamia and continues to happen today. The visual impact of a former leader face-down on the pavement hasn’t lessened over the past 5000 years. 

The 1928 Abraham Lincoln sculpture at Southwest Main and Madison was toppled on October 11, 2020. Photo credit: Brittany Peterson.

The response to defacement has been far more varied and depends on the relationship between the protestors and the guardians of public art. When the people who put the sculptures up are vanquished, conquered, otherwise removed – the question is less urgent. But what happens when the people who put the sculptures up are still around and still “in power” but have had a change of heart? What happens then?


Farewell to a free spirit

Newport's Juergen Eckstein -- painter, sculptor, traveler, and community presence -- died Oct. 31 following a stroke

My first encounter with Juergen Eckstein came not long after I moved to the Coast. I was attempting to learn the art of pottery at a little do-it-yourself pottery shop in Nye Beach. Most of us were making rudimentary bowls or mugs or whatever was the latest trend in Pottery 101. In strolled Eckstein, balancing a large piece of plywood with a handful of ceramic faces gazing skyward. Even unfinished, those faces had a soulfulness that made them seem more than art.

Juergen Eckstein carved “Absence of Emptiness” out of a 16-foot chunk of redwood that had washed up on the beach years previously.  He worked on the sculpture from 2007 to 2012, when it was dedicated outside the Newport Visual Arts Center.  Photo by: Karen Pate
Juergen Eckstein carved “Absence of Emptiness” out of a 16-foot chunk of redwood that had washed up on the beach years previously. He worked on the sculpture from 2007 to 2012, when it was dedicated outside the Newport Visual Arts Center. Photo by: Karen Pate

Eckstein died Oct. 31 due to complications following a stroke. He was 77. His death has shadowed the Newport community accustomed to seeing him and his work around town — the driftwood sculptures outside the Performing Arts Center and Visual Arts Center, the paintings in shops and restaurants, the various pieces at For Artsake, the local artist co-op he co-founded. He’ll be remembered for his art, but equally so for the way he lived.

The German native liked beer, was passionate about the environment, eschewed medicine, and traveled the world with his family. He settled with his wife, Dianne, in Newport in 2000.

“I think he was just a really free spirit,” said Cynthia Jacobi, friend and fellow artist. “He always liked to say he was an unschooled autodidact. He had a unique way of looking at things.”

Jacobi isn’t sure when she met Eckstein, only that he’s one of those friends who seems to have always been part of her life. She does recall when she first got to know him. In 2004, Eckstein launched The Yellow Umbrella Project.

Juergen Eckstein invited all of Newport to join “The Yellow Umbrella Project” in 2004. “First individuals, forming trickles as others join creating streams of yellow umbrellas as they move closer towards the center of Nye Beach where they gather as a sea of yellow,” he wrote on his website. Photo courtesy: Gary Lahman
In 2004, Juergen Eckstein invited all of Newport to join “The Yellow Umbrella Project,” to create what he described as “streams of yellow umbrellas as they move closer towards the center of Nye Beach where they gather as a sea of yellow.” Photo courtesy: Gary Lahman

“Juergen’s idea was that people would get yellow umbrellas and start walking from wherever they lived or different places in Nye Beach and meet on the beach at a certain  time. And if you were looking from above, you would see all these rays of yellow all converging onto Nye Beach. All these people … just went to the beach with their umbrellas and said hello and went home. Everybody loved it.”

So much so, they urged Eckstein to make it an annual tradition.

“He said, ‘I only do things once. I don’t repeat,’” Jacobi recalled.

In 2013, Eckstein drove with friends to Burning Man, a temporary city dedicated to art and community that sets up annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. He took with him a 20-foot sculpture dubbed the Wolkenkuckkucksheim. In a feature in the Newport News-Times, Eckstein described Wolkenkuckkucksheim variously as “a place in the clouds where you feel at home, or it can refer to a place in the clouds where the world is at peace, or it can mean a man has his head in the clouds, meaning he’s a little bit nuts.”

Eckstein was also a painter, mixing paints from his own recipe, including gold flake, and painting with a small brush, Jacobi said.


Coast calendar: Calling all artists, and arts lovers

Lincoln City seeks new public art; Sitka Center holds a fundraiser; Floyd Skloot reads from his new book; and Cannon Beach celebrates stormy weather

If you’ve ever driven through Lincoln City on a summer day, it will come as no surprise that every year 8.8 million vehicles travel that stretch of U.S. 101. While that may be discouraging news if you’re sitting in traffic, it’s no doubt heartening to artists who’d like their roadside work to be seen. That the opportunity to do so comes with a commission of up to $120,000 only sweetens the prize.

Lincoln City’s roster of public art includes the Community Center’s swimming tile mural by Ted and Judith Schlicting. The city is seeking proposals from artists to craft a piece for the new Cultural Plaza.
Lincoln City’s roster of public art includes the Community Center’s tile mural by Ted and Judith Schlicting. The city is seeking proposals from artists to craft a piece for the new Cultural Plaza.

Lincoln City is offering one artist the chance to craft the first major piece of art to be installed in the new Lincoln City Cultural Plaza. But don’t spend too much time thinking about it. The deadline for proposals is Nov. 1. Get your request for qualifications (RFQ) here.  


Shoring up Toledo’s Centennial Celebration Mural

Nature has taken its toll on the 13-year-old public artwork commemorating 100 years of the city's history

This seems to be the season for kids and art — a topic that naturally came up earlier this month when the Newport Performing Arts Center celebrated its 30th anniversary. Talk of old times (and new) called to mind for many all the students of dance, music and theater who benefited from the PAC. I’m no expert, but it seems obvious that art opens doors, expands horizons and stretches imaginations. Art, like kids themselves, is about possibility — for everyone.

Thirteen years ago, then Toledo Mayor Sharon Brandstiter saw the possibility for honoring Toledo’s 100 years of history by creating a public work of art. Lawrence Adrian, the artistic director and founder of the Oregon Coast Children’s Theatre and Oregon Coast Children’s Center for the Arts, designed the project and lead the charge to build it. Local residents and companies pitched in, raising something over $10,000 for the project, Adrian said. Students from every school in Toledo had the opportunity to share their creative spirit in what would become the largest mosaic mural in the state.

The Centennial Celebration Mural stretches 96 feet long and stands more than 15 feet high on a stepped retaining wall at the Toledo City Hall parking lot. The design was inspired by more than 100 photos from a century-plus of Toledo history.

The mosaics of the Toledo Centennial Celebration Mural record memorable events of the city’s past 100 years, such as the 1970 filming of scenes for “Sometimes a Great Notion,” based on Ken Kesey’s novel. Photo courtesy: Oregon Coast Children’s Theater and Oregon Coast Children’s Center for the Arts

“One great aspect of the project was meeting many of the people pictured on the mural, or the children or grandchildren of those same individuals,” Adrian said. The mural and the community support it garnered were among reasons Adrian moved the OCCT/OCCCA from Lincoln City to Toledo, he said.

But the years have taken their toll on the mosaic mural. Mud, rocks and debris fall from above, chipping and otherwise damaging tiles. There’s been some vandalism, too, Adrian said. But mostly the problems come from nature — albeit exacerbated by folks climbing on the structure.


Painting the town in Newberg

George Fox students lend their hands and paintbrushes to increasing Yamhill County's mural inventory

Those of you in Portland lucky enough to live within a few blocks of an awesome mural have to understand: We don’t have as many artists in Yamhill County as you do. Or as many walls. But give us some credit; we have people working on it.

One of the most important is Luke Zimmerman, a classically trained painter who teaches at George Fox University in Newberg. A few years ago, he started looking around and realized that the community had a serious mural deficit. That’s true of much of Yamhill County, but more on that later. Zimmerman had both students who had mural experience and others who wanted to give it a try, so they all put their heads together, and art happened.

The first of what organizers hope will be several murals by the Yamhill County
Mural Project is visible driving into Newberg on Oregon 99W. Photo by: David Bates

You can see the result as you head into downtown from the north. After you come down the hill on Oregon 99W and hit the curve, you can see the mural on the left side of the road: three pairs of colorful hands in various poses splashed on the east-facing wall of Steve’s Auto Service. It faces a parking lot, so parked vehicles sometimes block the lower section, but most of it is impossible to miss.

Benjamin Cahoon, a 19-year-old second-year George Fox student from Florence, lives across the street and has a 24/7 view from his window. That’s fine with him — he helped paint it, after all.

“It is incredibly fulfilling,” said Cahoon, who also worked on a mural in Albany for BJ’s Ice Cream. “It was an amazing experience.”