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‘The Ship Show’: A see-worthy exhibition at Astoria’s Royal Nebeker Art Gallery

Henk Pander and Noel Thomas are among the 20 artists celebrating ships, which “speak to an earlier time and a slower pace of travel,” the curator says.

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Henk Pander’s watercolor of a ship next to an abandoned car speaks to our times, says “Ship Show” curator Ben Killen Rosenberg. “Here is the ship that’s not in the water. Not in its place,” he says. “And here is this car that’s not in its place and being used for a home. I like pieces where it is left for the viewer to figure out what is going on.”
Henk Pander’s watercolor of a ship next to an abandoned car speaks to our times, says “Ship Show” curator Ben Killen Rosenberg. “Here is the ship that’s not in the water. Not in its place,” he says. “And here is this car that’s not in its place and being used for a home. I like pieces where it is left for the viewer to figure out what is going on.”

If you’ve ever stood on the banks of the Columbia and watched the ships move along the Astoria waterfront, you know those vessels put on quite a show.  Now the same can be said for the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery, where The Ship Show runs through Jan. 26.

An exhibit on ships in Astoria might seem a natural, but the idea wasn’t as obvious as you might think. Rather, it was born out of a wee bit of desperation as the date for the opening of the 2022-23 exhibition season neared and gallery director Kristin Shauck still didn’t have a theme for the first show. (No, she wasn’t procrastinating, she’d just lost her mom.) So, she turned to curator Ben Killen Rosenberg, who recalled, “I was just thinking OK, a theme for the show… Where are we? Boats, ocean. And then I thought ships and I said, ‘The ship show.’”

Rosenberg traces his fascination with ships to the U.S. Bicentennial celebration, when he watched the tall ships of 1776 sail into Boston Harbor. He recalls being captivated by their “sky-high masts” and “beautiful rigging.”  In Astoria, he makes a point of stopping to watch the ships carrying goods and passengers up the Columbia River. “Ships are mysterious and romantic,” he says in the show notes. “They speak to an earlier time and a slower pace of travel as they pass through vast bodies of waters.”

Sally Cleveland’s “Ship Sketch” (2021, oil on paper) is a pocket-sized 5.5 by 3 inches. “I prefer subject matter that is lacking in apparent grace or easy description,” she says of her work.
Sally Cleveland’s “Ship Sketch” (2021, oil on paper) is a pocket-sized 5.5 by 3 inches. “I prefer subject matter that is lacking in apparent grace or easy description,” she says of her work.

The Ship Show features 20 Oregon artists working in mediums including watercolor, sculpture, ceramics, and printmaking.  A free public reception with the artists will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, in the gallery on the Clatsop Community College campus.

“Group shows are always really fun,” Shauck said. “I am so excited. We’re lucky to have two huge Henk Pander watercolors, both painted on location — one in Homer (Alaska) and one in Astoria. Another thing that excites me is that there are quite a few local artists.”

One of those locals is Noel Thomas, “famous” for painting ships on location. “You can’t have a ship show without Noel,” Shauck said.

In putting the show together, Rosenberg wanted to include artists he hadn’t worked with before, ensure a balance of female and male artists, and show only one or two pieces per artist, so everyone could be “the star of the show.” That wasn’t always easy, certainly not when it came to Pander.

“For me, he’s one of the old guards of the classical way of painting,” Rosenberg said. “He makes these grand pieces, and he sent me a whole bunch of works.”

So, Rosenberg made a list of the pieces he was most drawn to, initially putting one of the paintings near the bottom, then having a change of heart.

The painting, he said, spoke to the times. “There’s an abandoned car. You look at it and wonder, well, maybe someone is living out of it. Then, you see this ship, kind of elevated out of the water. The more I looked at it I thought here is the ship that’s not in the water. Not in its place. And here is this car that’s not in its place and being used for a home. I like pieces where it is left for the viewer to figure out what is going on. I had chosen another piece over that, and then I put it back in. I’m glad I did.”

On his website, artist Mark Andres calls Astoria “a unique town of scrappy beauty, working class and Cubist. With its unusual topography and proximity to water, the vistas of Astoria become compressed, making spatial planes parallel to the observer…. At night the tankers appear to float like zeppelins above the town as in a dream. Astoria is like an enormous still life set up by a genius.”
On his website, artist Mark Andres calls Astoria “a unique town of scrappy beauty, working class and Cubist. With its unusual topography and proximity to water, the vistas of Astoria become compressed, making spatial planes parallel to the observer…. At night the tankers appear to float like zeppelins above the town as in a dream. Astoria is like an enormous still life set up by a genius.”

Shauck and Rosenberg also have paintings in the show. Shauck’s, of the tall ship Lady Washington, is a departure from her usual subject of figures.

Rosenberg painted a ship he’s long kayaked around on a coastal bay.

“I see these beautiful rust colors that have been happening over the years,” he said. “I keep telling myself made-up stories about it.” When he was painting the ship, he said, the owner’s son pulled over, “and he started telling me he worked with his dad on the ship, and they took it all over the world. I love history and just hearing all these stories.”

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pups Luna and Monkey.

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