Willamette University

PNCA, Willamette U. will merge

ArtsWatch Weekly: The Portland art school and Salem private university join forces; reading is the new going out; deaths in the arts family

THERE’S A NEW-OLD SCHOOL IN TOWN: Two high-profile Oregon private colleges, Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art and Salem’s Willamette University, have announced plans to merge, The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported Thursday morning. The boards of the two schools approved the merger on Wednesday, and PNCA’s faculty, staff, and students were told in a general announcement at 9:33 Thursday morning. The Oregonian’s Jeff Manning reports that the two schools have been discussing a merger off and on for five years, and the talks turned more serious 18 months ago. The Covid-19 crisis and PNCA’s failure to meet enrollment goals played into the agreement, The Oregonian said. The merger still “needs approval from regulators and the accrediting agencies of the two schools,” which is expected in 2021, Manning reported.

Pacific Northwest College of Art straddles Portland’s Old Town and Pearl District. Photo: PNCA

The two schools will maintain their own campuses and names. It hasn’t been so long since PNCA considered taking over the late Oregon College of Art and Craft, which folded after PNCA and other potential suitors decided against merging. PNCA also, after taking control of  Portland’s venerable Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2009, closed the museum down and took charge of some of its collections in 2016. Willamette University has been expanding quietly, Manning reported, including last year’s addition and move to the Salem campus of California’s Claremont School of Theology with its faculty and 300 students. This week’s announcement doesn’t define what this newest merger might mean to Willamette’s existing art department, or whether it will have any effect on Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art, which comes under the university’s wing.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: dark & stormy nights

Frankenstein, Día de Muertos, tribute bands, dinosaurs, warps & wefts, and a Dope Elf: Welcome to the art week.

TODAY IS BOTH HALLOWEEN AND THE BEGINNING OF DÍA DE MUERTOS, two holidays that have distinct backgrounds and meanings but are often linked in the public mind, because they occur each year at about the same time and because they deal, in their own ways, with the souls of the dead. Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which begins today and continues through Saturday, is a celebration that began in central and southern Mexico and has spread broadly from there. It’s a time for remembering friends and family who have died, and helping them along their spiritual journey.

Carlos Manzano as Bombón in the Día de Muertos-inspired play Amor Añejo, at Milagro Theatre through November 10. Photo © Russell J Young 

Milagro Theatre’s current show, Amor Añejo, gives you a good sense of the spirit of Día de Muertos. Bennett Campbell Ferguson, in his review for ArtsWatch, Into the Beyond, with Pain and Laughter, calls it a “tale of bereavement and rebirth.” “It’s an elegy—and more,” he continues. “The story flows from a single death that leaves everything from pain to joy to absurdity in its wake. Amor Añejo’s fullness of spirit makes it an unmissable play. At once profoundly soulful and gloriously silly, it invites us to touch the life of Hector, a painter who refuses to accept the death of his wife, Rosalita.” Naturally, that’s only the beginning.

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James B. Thompson, 1951-2019

Remembering the wide-ranging Oregon artist and Willamette University professor, who has died at 68. A memorial service will be held Nov. 5.

When James B. Thompson was growing up in Chicago in the 1960s he often hopped on the Illinois Central train and headed down to the Loop to spend the day hanging out at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of America’s great museums. What he saw there added to an eclectic list of influences on his own emergence as an artist. “I had the movies and I had TV, and both were important to me,” he said. “And I had books. And radio. Baseball cards. And then, the world of music. It’s a weird world. Forms of entertainment become dominant in our lives.”

As he grew and traveled and established his own distinguished career as an artist and teacher, other experiences and influences added to his broad vision of the world of art: medieval books of hours and their free-floating sense of space, the mysteries of Neolithic stone art, the techniques and possibilities of fused glassmaking, the game of golf, the act of mapping, geological shifts, the ways in which science and nature and human beings interact, the human impact on the changing landscape, the fading of traditional cultures in a modern world, the cultural and artistic implications of the fragmentation of the universe, the liberating breakup of Renaissance perspective in contemporary art.

Thompson died on October 27, 2019,at his home in Salem, Oregon, from effects of the cancer mesothelioma. He was surrounded by his loving and supportive family. He was 68.

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Hallie Ford Fellows explore ‘What Needs to Be Said’

The Salem museum features 13 artists in a traveling exhibit emphasizing the range of visual art

The poster for What Needs to Be Said, an exhibition at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, features an image of a stack five thick hardbound volumes by artist MK Guth, who incorporates participatory engagement into work that includes printmaking. 

These books, bearing the title of the show, are in fact part of the show. Each has a subtitle: Love, Politics, Identity, Ecology, and Art. When the exhibit opened mid-September, most of what must be thousands of pages were blank, but that’s for the viewer to rectify. Those with something to say, something they deem must be said, may say it here (anonymously or not) and know that they’ve contributed to Guth’s vision. She will seal the volumes once they are filled, making them, according to guest curator Diana Nawi, “repositories for inner thoughts, objects that index and contain critical expression without fully revealing it — an apt metaphor for the possibilities of artistic practice.”

"What Needs to Be Said," is a printmaking project by MK Guth, after which the show at Hallie Ford Museum of Art is named. Photo by: David Bates
MK Guth’s project “What Needs to Be Said” shares its title with the name of the show at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Photo by: David Bates

Guth is one of 13 artists whose artistic practice is featured in the show, which runs through Dec. 20 on the Willamette University campus, a few blocks east of downtown. What links them? All were recipients of the Hallie Ford Fellowship between 2014 and 2016, an award that goes to Oregon artists “based on accomplishment, depth of practice, and future potential.”

A variety of work fills the sprawling ground-floor Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery: photography, drawings, installation, sculpture, a soundscape (which I initially thought was the building’s air circulation system), as well as the public engagement invited by Guth’s books. A handsome, 112-page hardcover catalog with short essays by Nawi and a half-dozen arts-and-culture critics can be purchased in the lobby.

What Needs to Be Said is touring Oregon. It opened in the Umpqua Valley Arts Center and Umpqua Community College in Roseburg earlier this year. Early in 2020, it arrives at Disjecta in Portland. The show heads south again in 2021 to the Schneider Museum of Art at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

The diversity of media on display posed, for me, a chicken-egg question. Was the show’s title selected and Guth’s piece adopted it? Or was the piece submitted before the show was named? I asked Nawi, a Los Angeles-based curator. It turns out the book stacks came first; Nawi was already familiar with them.

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Out & About: Twice the party

The crowds mingle as Willamette University's Senior Art Majors show and James B. Thompson's endangered-water exhibit open. Party on.

SALEM – It was two parties for the price of one at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art three Friday nights ago, and if at first they seemed an unlikely fit, the partygoers almost immediately mingled and merged until you really couldn’t tell who was here for what, because everybody was taking in both scenes, and having a grand old time of it.

The occasion was the opening celebrations for two new exhibits, both of which continue at the Salem museum through May 13: the annual Senior Art Majors show from Willamette University, with which the Hallie Ford is affiliated, and which drew a young and brash and demonstrably exuberant crowd; and Water Is Sacred: Water Is Life, the latest solo show by James B. Thompson, a longtime Willamette art-faculty member and a mature artist at the height of his career. It was a bit of a time warp, but a satisfying one – young artists on the verge, trying things out; a master craftsman and broad artistic thinker exploring terrain he knows intimately, and still making discoveries in it.

Peri I. Hildum’s “Shattered New Surface” (foreground) and Miles Solomon MacClure’s “Growing Up, Growing Away (Not What It Looks Like)” on the wall on opening night.

All the accouterments of an opening party were here, and then some: the long table overflowing with free munchies (deeply appreciated by the students there to see their friends’ work); the bustle of people attired variously in student funky, old beatnik artist, Northwest casual, and Friday-night-out-on-the-town; the museum guards keeping a friendly but practiced eye on the proceedings to make sure nothing went bump in the night. Artist friends of the artists were on hand, among them Thompson’s fellow veteran Salem artist D.E. May, one of whose precise template paintings hangs just through a doorway into the museum’s Carl Hall Gallery and its fine collection of Pacific Northwest art.

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