Sam Briseño

Book ’em, Dano. (Online, of course.)

ArtsWatch Weekly: Portland Book Festival is virtually yours; art around the state; dance on film; October musical surprise; two remembrances

A BIG SLICK BROCHURE FROM LITERARY ARTS PLOPPED INTO MY MAILBOX a day or two ago, announcing the imminent arrival of this year’s Portland Book Festival (the festival formerly known as Wordstock). The good news is that what has traditionally been a one-day event cramming Taylor Swift-sized crowds into the streets of Portland’s downtown Cultural District will now spawl across two weeks, Nov. 5-21. The expected news is that, of course, all of the events will be online. Portland’s long been a hotbed of live literary celebrations, from poetry slams and open mics in bars to celebrity author talks in bookstores to this great big annual bash that lures the devotees of a solitary artistic passion – reading – into a cultural swarm of conviviality. The necessity of making this year’s festival virtual puts a new twist on the oddity of an extroverted event for introverts, which will now by an introverted event for introverts, simulating extroversion.

Intro- or extro-, it’s a good-looking festival, with more than a hundred authors, a full table of contents of classes and events, and some top-of-the-line featured speakers. Maybe the biggest current-events voice among those will belong to Isabel Wilkerson, author of Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents, which argues that America’s race problem is more accurately a matter of caste, to be compared with India’s caste system and Nazi Germany’s hierarchy of citizens. A key aspect of caste is that people can’t escape the caste into which they were born, meaning that in the United States, the conflation of caste and race both muddies the distinction and makes it all the more indelible. It’s a book that clearly and potently summarizes current research, and gains much of its power from Wilkerson’s impassioned observations and retellings of encounters in her own life. The featured fiction speaker will be Jess Walter, the best-selling novelist who lives in Spokane, author of Beautiful RuinsThe Financial Lives of the Poets, and the new The Cold Millions. And it’s quite wonderful and lovely that Margaret Atwood, the great Canadian writer and author of The Handmaid’s Tale, an essential novel of the 20th century that remains unnervingly pertinent in the 2020s, is being featured in conversation about her poetry. Writers’ worlds are often more complex, and therefore interesting, than their greatest hits.
 



CHARLES GRANT, MOVING TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER


Charles Grant collaborates with Jessica Wallenfels to add a vivid sense of movement to his performance in his short play-turned-film “Matter.” Photo: Tamera Lyn

CHARLES GRANT’S MATTER AT HAND. The Portland actor/writer’s new version of his 2017 short play Matter (he now refers to it as Matter 2.0) takes it off the stage and into streamable movie form with the aid of videographer and editor Tamera Lyn, director James Dixon, sound designer Sharath Patel, and lighting designer Thyra Hartshorn. One other crucial collaborator – movement director Jessica Wallenfels, of co-producer (with Portland Playhouse) Many Hats Collaboration, helped Grant create a vivid sense of motion in his solo show, Jamuna Chiarini writes. Chiarini talks with Grant and Wallenfels about how the movement and the script work together to amplify Grant’s story of the constant threat of police brutality and gun violence that Black Americans face. 
 

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In Newport, an art estate sale and Visual Arts Center reopens

Sculptor Sam Briseño's last works are available online, and the city's exhibition space will welcome visitors for the first time since March

Visitors to Newport may not know the late sculptor Sam Briseño by name, but they likely know his work, most notably the larger-than-life Ambassador. Set in Don Davis Park, the sculpture of a godlike figure with arms outstretched welcomes all to the coast and is part of the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail.

Briseño’s work is scattered throughout Newport and Toledo: an octopus at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, a park bench, weathervanes, fences, gates, arbors. Now, the public has the opportunity to purchase the last 40-odd pieces Briseño created before his death in 2015 at age 64. Jen Kent, the niece of Briseño’s life partner, Deanne Dunlap, had a dual purpose in setting up the website that features the pieces.

Sculptor Sam Briseño fashioned this piece out of an old wagon wheel.  The late artist’s friends are selling some of his last pieces; the suggested price on this one is $5,000.
Sculptor Sam Briseño fashioned this piece out of an old wagon wheel. It is among the 40-odd pieces the late artist’s friends are selling online.

“Sam was a part of my family since I was 10,” said Kent, 45. “We wanted to make sure that these were getting into people’s homes where they could be enjoyed the way he intended.”

The money raised by the sales also will help fund Dunlap’s move to California, as well as the brewery Kent plans to open at the Port of Toledo next spring or summer — pandemic depending. The pieces are priced, but negotiable, Kent said.

The work includes coffee tables, frames, sculptures, wine racks, and fireplace tools. Some are sculpted from reclaimed items, including a scene on a hatch cover and Kent’s favorite, a wagon wheel.

“He did this beautiful scene inside an old wagon wheel,” she said. “There is a blue heron in the reeds, trees, and snow-capped mountains. It’s very calming and it’s gorgeous.”

IT’S GOOD NEWS AT LAST FOR NEWPORT’S VISUAL ARTS CENTER, opening to guests on limited basis Oct. 24. The center has been closed since March 21, but plans for the reopening have been in the works for the past four months.

“The idea of us opening has been on the horizon for quite some time, but it keeps getting pushed back and back,” said center Director Tom Webb. “Now that we are finally in phase 2, we’re going to open slowly. In the beginning, just two days a week. We’re confident we’re ready for people, but it will change things once we have live bodies walking in off the street.”

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