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Tim & Samie: A rare partnership

ArtsWatch Weekly: An enduring friendship; new opera leader; Ursula K. Le Guin's stamp of approval; 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.

Tim and Samie kept a studio at NW Marine Art Works, creating a series of fresh and vibrant new paintings together, with Samie providing the hands that Tim could no longer use on his own. As Tim’s motor skills deteriorated, his predominantly realist style of painting – often in the form of portraits of the coal miners of his youth – transformed into abstract visions of form and color, streaks of light and life against the darkness. Samie will be showing many of those paintings at the Makers Market, and is especially eager to show the ones she and Tim made together in what they called the “Arizona” series.

“These pieces are particularly incredible to me,” she said. “They felt like a passing of the torch. Tim never touched these pieces himself, but instructed me from his wheelchair to achieve the look he wanted. I will never forget the first stroke I made on them, Tim excitedly hollering ‘Girl, you are fearless!’ We miraculously developed a sort of telepathy through our four years of working together. It was heartbreaking to be witness to the changes that brought restrictions to him making his art, but he never let it stop him. I’m so honored I got to be his hands. Once Covid hit and he couldn’t be in the studio anymore, I would still go in and we would Facetime. I held my phone in one hand and a paintbrush in the other and we continued just as we had before the world ripped apart. We painted together until the very end, when he passed September 7th, 2020.”

Artist, writer, and designer Tim Stapleton, who died in September 2020.  Photo: Owen Carey

At the movies: NW Film Center scripts its return

Northwest Film Center Director Amy Dotson. Photo: Filmmaker Magazine

FILMWATCH WEEKLY: CATCHING UP WITH THE NORTHWEST FILM CENTER. Marc Mohan talks with Amy Dotson, director of the Portland Art Museum’s film arm, about how she’s getting on with the work of refreshing and reshaping the film center, from TikTok to rooftop movie screenings. Indoor screenings in the museum’s Whitsell Auditorium won’t return until fall – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty going on. And “plenty” means all sorts of voices on all sorts of platforms, for all sorts of audiences: Dotson wants to diminish the center’s traditional role as an elite gatekeeper. “You don’t have to be a hardcore cinephile, you don’t have to be an art nerd,” she tells Mohan. “If you are, all the better, but come as you are. You are welcome.” 


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Music: Big opera hire, on the farm, chamber music galore

Priti Gandhi, new artistic director of Portland Opera. Photo: K.C. Alfred

PORTLAND OPERA HIRES NEW ARTISTIC DIRECTOR. The opera company dropped big news Wednesday, announcing that it’s hired a new artistic director: Priti Gandhi, who comes from Minnesota Opera, where she was chief artistic officer. In Portland, an opera press release said, she’ll “work with Sue Dixon, and artistic advisors Karen Slack and Damien Geter, to guide the company as an artistic and strategic leader—in a role that will include artistic and repertoire planning, casting, developing the Portland Opera Resident Artist program, and directing the artistic department, which includes oversight of the company’s community engagement and educational programs.” Gandhi will be one of the few woman artistic leaders in the opera world.

THIRD ANGLE ON THE FARM: IF ELSE, GO OUT. After 16 months of no live performances because of the pandemic, goats, pigs, and people helped the new-music group get back in the swing of things at its Fresh Air Fest on Sauvie Island. The air was fresh (and breezy), the music was invigorating, the gathering was a celebration. Charles Rose was there for ArtsWatch to take it all in and set the scene of real music in real time and real space.

CONCERTS AT THE BARN. In high summer, the rural life is appealing to a lot of musicians and their fans. Niel DePonte, the longtime (and recently retired) principal percussionist of the Oregon Symphony who also leads the Oregon Ballet Theatre orchestra, has begun this new series of concerts in The Butler Barn at Hoffman Farms Store in Beaverton. The two-concert season opens next Thursday, July 29, with Trio Del Mar performing works by Gabriel Cassadó, Yuko Uebayashi, and Carl Maria von Weber. The second concert, Aug. 26, will feature Trio Parallel performing works by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich.

CHAMBER MUSIC NORTHWEST, meanwhile, is steaming forward in its fourth and final week of live performances, concluding with festival finale shows on Saturday and Sunday, July 24-25. But that’s not the end. It’s a hybrid season: Each live program is being videotaped and edited, and streaming versions, in what’s called the AT-HOME series, are made available two weeks after the end of each live show. The AT-HOME season continues through Aug. 31, which means that if you want to, you can watch the entire festival from home. In the meantime, ArtsWatch’s Angela Allen explores a pair of live performances:

  • AT CMNW, AN EVER-FLOWING ‘SPRING.‘  Earl Lee conducted a “magical” performance of Aaron Copland’s American classic Appalachian Spring, Allen writes, using the 13-instrument chamber version of the piece and bringing out its nuance and flow. The piece “is a journey,” Lee comments, “and it’s important to make the transitions smoothly.’’ 
  • CMNW: KENJI BUNCH TAKES FLIGHT. Allen writes about the making and brilliant performance of the Portland composer’s fine new piece Vesper Flight for Flute and Piano, written for flutist Tara O’Connor and inspired by a sense of loss and the soar of Vaux swifts, who alight at Northwest Portland’s Chapman School every year.

Seeing inside, where the soul is light

Stacy Jo Scott, “Tenders Scans 4,”  2021. Archival print, Edition of 5, 24 x 18 inches. Photo: Mario Gallucci.

NATURE AND NURTURE: STACY JO SCOTT AT HOLDING CONTEMPORARY. Scott’s new show explores the potential of technology to help us understand our past, present, and future selves, Ashley Gifford writes: “I imagine Scott’s work in this show as a personal archeological site — her ceramic sculptures are the relics, and the archival prints are the photographs that archive these finds. However, in the case of Scott’s work they are closely intertwined. Both sculpture and prints memorialize her own personal history that is at once inherited and generated.”

For an Oregon legend, a stamp of approval

The U.S. Postal Service’s new stamp honoring writer Ursula K. Le Guin will be dedicated in Portland on Tuesday, July 27.

URSULA K. LE GUIN GETS A STAMP OF HER OWN. Let the billionaire boys shoot themselves into space in their billionaire rockets. By next week the late, great Portland speculative writer Ursula K. Le Guin will be flying around the world wherever anyone wants to send her. On Tuesday, July 27, the United States Postal Service will dedicate a new stamp in her name – a three-ounce denomination that’s the 33rd issued in the post office’s literary arts series. Le Guin, who died in 2018, knew a thing or twelve about other planets and other realities, and spent decades taking her readers to strange places that somehow echoed what was happening, or might happen, in our own small corner of the universe. The new stamp features a background scene from her 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness. At 11 a.m. on Tuesday the 27th in the sculpture garden of the Portland Art Museum, the Postal Service will have a day-of-issue dedication ceremony for the stamp; if you’d like to attend you can reserve a slot here. One of the speakers at the ceremony will be Le Guin’s longtime close friend Martha Ullman West, a regular contributor to ArtsWatch of stories and reviews about dance.


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Onstage (and a little offstage, too)

Marissa Rae Niederhauser’s “Here Not Here”  at Performance Works NW. Photo: Diego G. Diaz

HERE NOR THERE. Performance Works NW’s always interesting Alembic Artist Series, in its small performance space off Southeast Foster Road in Portland, features this work by Marissa Rae Niederhauser about dancing and shadows: “Observe the artist ‘Here’, dancing in the theater space live while casting sharp shadows on the wall behind her, or ‘There’ in the back garden where the shadow play is projected from a live feed in an intimate open air cinema … The audience can move between the two spaces as they like.” 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, July 23-24; the Saturday performance will also be livestreamed.

JAW NEW PLAY FESTIVAL. Portland Center Stage’s annual showcase of new plays and plays in development happens this weekend, Friday through Sunday, July 23-25. It’s free, and you can see what’s up either live at The Armory or by viewing online. This year’s festival features new plays by Inda Craig-Galván, Ty Defoe, Rinne Groff, and Kate Hamill, plus short works by five Portland area teen playwrights. There’ll be dance and music, too, and writers’ labs.

ROSETTA PROJECT. An early look at a promising folk rock musical-theater project arrives this weekend, spearheaded by performers Jenn Grinels and Merideth Kaye Clark. It’s based on the life of 19-year-old Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, who fought in the American Civil War. The book’s still being developed, but the music’s ready for a trial run with audience. It’ll be Friday and Saturday at Bridgetown Conservatory of Musical Theatre, which is run by musical theater veteran Rick Lewis, who’s one of the project’s musical consultants.

THE BROKEN HEART SPREAD. A new play by Portland writer Claire Willett, from the newish troupe The Theatre Company, sounds like a potential hoot. Brandon Woolley directs DeLanna Studi in a solo show about a modern witch and tarot cards, a combo that may or may not go together like a horse and carriage. It’s a filmed play, shot in an Alberta District shop called Psychic Sister, and available to watch from Friday, July 23, through Aug. 22. 

HAPPY TIMES. Another potential hoot, from the quirkily creative Carol Triffle, from Imago Theatre, with just a hint of Arsenic and Old Lace. Old pals Trudy, Judy, and Gladys get together once a year for a party – and to murder someone and bury him in the backyard. This year, though, the “victim” seems a little too desirable. It’s a radio play, premiering at 10 p.m. Monday, July 26, on community radio KBOO 90.7 FM, and also available to stream.

Art beyond: By the sea (and a paper garden too)

Austin Dwyer, “Hurricane Sandy, Ships of Wood Men of Steel,” oil painting, in the Maritime Art Exhibit, at the Coos Art Museum through Sept. 25.

IN COOS BAY, ARTISTS GOING TO SEA. A longstanding annual tradition continues at the Coos Art Museum on the southern Oregon coast with the 27th annual edition of the Maritime Art Exhibit, which opened last weekend and continues through Sept. 25. The artwork, mostly paintings and mostly in a realist manner, ranges from sand dunes to tidepools to moorages to storms at sea, keeping alive a tradition of maritime art that goes back centuries.


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PAPER GARDENS OF POETRY AND PROSE. “Reading Paper Gardens each spring provides cause for optimism and hope, particularly in the young writers categories,” David Bates writes. “It’s a window into interiority, a glimpse of the hearts and minds of children. Clearly, these young people are paying attention to life; it’s common to find in their work references to homelessness, ecological problems, consumerism, and artifice.” Bates writes about the newest, 28th edition of the annual anthology – “a snapshot of local poetry, nonfiction, and fiction by students and adults” – published by the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County.

EUGENE BIENNIAL WINNERS, A YEAR LATER. Eugene’s Karin Clarke Gallery is offering a look through Aug. 21 at work in the past year by the eight winners of the 2020 Eugene Biennial awards: Zoe Cohen, Tallmadge Doyle, Heather Jacks, Margot Lovinger, Satoko Motouji, Christopher St. John, Andrea Schwartz-Feit, and Marjorie Taylor. It’s a lot of firepower in a single space. 

ASTORIA OPEN STUDIOS TOUR. The Pacific Northwest has eagerly adopted the open-studios movement, and this weekend it’s Astoria’s turn: 55 artists in 27 locations (and a few showing their studios online only), Saturday and Sunday, July 24-25. It’s a self-guided tour: Click the link, see what looks intriguing, mask up, hit some studios, talk with some artists, maybe even buy something, direct from the source.

GRANTS TOTALING $10 MILLION SHINE A LIGHT FOR OREGON COAST AQUARIUM. A pair of large and unexpected grants help one of the state’s prime cultural and scientific destinations make some much-needed improvements, Lori Tobias reports. Tobias also gets the word on the For the Seventh Generation exhibit of paintings of the Pacific coastline – including works by about 400 artists – that’s stretching for about a third of a mile in Lincoln City, though Saturday.

The marine rehabilitation center to be built at the Oregon Coast Aquarium will include spaces for coastal animals of the air, sea, and land.
A new marine rehabilitation center to be built at the Oregon Coast Aquarium is one of several major improvements made possible by a pair of recent large grants. The rehab center will include spaces for coastal animals of the air, sea, and land. Artist’s rendering courtesy Oregon Coast Aquarium

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."


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