Time in Place: Northwest Art from the Permanent Collection, a genuinely epic show at Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art, has its roots in the pandemic.
The exhibition, which considers “the concept of place in the Northwest through the lens of time,” was conceived about a year and a half ago when COVID was “causing everyone to rethink a lot of things,” said curator Jonathan Bucci. Given that people did that rethinking while feeling increasingly trapped in their homes, it felt like an appropriate time to meditate on the meaning of place.
“Visitors are asked to consider a number of questions,” Bucci writes in the show notes. “How does a place change over time? How do artists’ responses to a specific place change? How do personal experiences affect one’s relationship to a region or place? How does knowledge of history impact depictions of place? How has the idea of place changed in an increasingly interconnected world?”
The 60-plus pieces in the show range from an artifact the size of a deck of cards to a painting that could serve as the wall of a small cabin. In this exploration of “the concept of place in the Northwest through the lens of time,” virtually every region of Oregon (and a few spots in Washington and Canada) is represented. Work by artists who live within a few miles of the museum is alongside pieces from Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts and other Indigenous artists.
The time span? Start at roughly 7,000 years B.C.E. and work your way up to work completed just a couple of years ago.
So far as conveying an Oregon terroir vibe goes, this is the big picture.
“This is the first time that we have curated a large-scale exhibition strictly from our permanent collection,” said Bucci, who has, in his 15 years at the Hallie Ford, developed a keen bird’s-eye view of the roughly 10,000 pieces the 23-year-old institution has in storage.
The only stipulation in pulling together the show was that the museum’s Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery be filled with artwork from storage, and Bucci was given plenty of latitude in how he did it.
“What I kept coming back to was the strength of the collection, which is certainly our regional focus,” he said. “Not just regional artists, but art about Oregon and the Northwest more broadly. That’s what I settled on.” It also gave him a chance to display “a lot of really awesome, amazing pieces that have come in over the last five years that for one reason or another haven’t made it into the gallery.”
Within the parameters of regional art by mostly regional artists, Time in Place then drills down further with six sections that each flow nicely into the next. Two are thematic, looking at the legacy of conquest (which is, pointedly, the first area a visitor walks through) and the effect of humans on the land.
The rest are ordered geographically: the Columbia Gorge, the Oregon Coast, the High Desert, and the Willamette Valley. Each section includes work by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists.
It’s another ambitious presentation in the Willamette University-affiliated museum’s exhibition space, although unfortunately not accompanied by a book or program, as many shows here are. So take care to spend time with the notes Bucci has assembled for each piece, because that’s where the stories are.
Illustrating how the tide of conquest was perceived by those who participated in it, the entrance space includes a preliminary study for the Builders of Salem mural at the Salem Post Office, done by Andrew McDuffie Vincent with graphite, charcoal, and white pigment paper. It’s a decidedly romantic, mid-20th-century Caucasian view of things, as much New Deal-era commissioned art was. Prominent in the drawing is Willamette University founder and missionary Jason Lee standing heroically on the left side of the composition surveying the grand scene, with a hand raised that “conveys a sense of power and entitlement,” according to the notes. The scene also depicts the Oregon Capitol building and a lumber mill.
The rest of the space offers a decidedly different perspective, including Robert McCauley’s 1996 piece When Worlds Collide, an oil painting of an Indigenous longhouse (located on a Canadian archipelago that frames four increasingly large globes made of glass, wood, and copper).
“Someone once said that philosophy will change drastically the day a flying saucer lands on the White House lawn,” the artist mused. “To the tribes of the Pacific Northwest, the European sailing ships were those saucers. The notion of a spherical globe was an alien construct to isolated cultures that faced the sea and never ventured far inland to the east.”
Four prints on the west wall were part of a series published by the Missoula Art Museum in 2008 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark’s arrival in the Northwest. Offering another contrast with Vincent’s drawing, the prints are an interesting mix of abstraction, collage, and imagined scenes, including (speaking of the imagery of colonizers as aliens) Jefferson’s Saints Surveying the Real Estate by Algonquin artist Jason Elliott Clark. The two figures, standing on top of the buried bones of the conquered, have halos evocative of an astronaut’s helmet.
It’s fair to say that each section of Time in Place features at least a few pieces that are astonishing. One is the exhibition’s largest piece of artwork, while another — equally breathtaking in a different way — is the smallest, and they are separated by about 9,000 years.
I was in the museum (to see the Claudia Cave exhibition upstairs, which runs through Dec. 2) when Time in Place was being installed, and that too was an epic production, as workers were busy framing the late Oregon artist Carl Hall’s monumental painting Willamette River in the Environs of Salem — the largest he ever created. Given the effort involved installing it, one can only imagine the painstaking work required to remove it from the dining room wall in the physician’s home it was made for. The mural was not a canvas on the wall, but the wall itself. The notes tell the rest of the story:
“In 2006, the owners of the house, David and Jody Rowell, offered the murals to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Painting conservator Nina Olsson removed the murals and they have been in storage for the past 15 years. This past summer Olsson completed the conservation treatment of this largest mural from the group. This is the first public exhibition of what is one of the most significant examples of mid-century landscape painting created.”
Before moving on to the smallest item, it’s worth noting that Hall’s mural speaks nicely to the painting on the opposite wall, also of the Willamette River — possibly in the environs of Salem, though it’s difficult to tell, because it’s flooded. Water Reaching for Itself, Willamette Flood, by April Waters, is based on aerial photographs taken during the 2006 flood. It is a fascinating image of water that, lacking any contextual background, resembles neither a river nor a lake.
Both Hall and Waters were well aware that their works would be seen and admired in regional galleries, but the maker of the smallest item surely would never have fathomed such a notion. The Fort Rock sandal fragment was excavated in Central Oregon in the 1930s, one of several worn by the region’s earliest inhabitants more than 9,000 years ago. According to the notes, carbon-dating analysis has found these sandals to be among the oldest shoes in the world.
The sandal points toward the area of the exhibit that deals with considerably larger human imprints on the land, the most spectacular of which is Henk Pander’s 2000 oil painting, The Burning of the New Carissa, which ranks among the exhibition’s brightest and most arresting images.
Also, you’ll find here a startling photograph from Washington: Peter de Lory’s 1996 gelatin silver print of Penstock, Cedar Falls Watershed. It depicts an enormous water pipe snaking through the forests of the Cascade Mountains and was commissioned by the Seattle water department through that city’s arts commission to illustrate how drinking water is transported to the Pacific Northwest’s largest city.
All this is but a glimpse of what’s to be found on the walls, but there are (along with the sandal fragment) plenty of other objects to take in as well. Each section features at least one three-dimensional item: a dance skirt and apron, baskets and other woven items, etc. A couple of pieces are by Elizabeth Conrad Hickox, considered one of the finest basketmakers of the early 20th century, who made a name for herself in the Arts and Crafts movement.
One of Bucci’s favorite pieces is by an unknown artist, a wallet basket made by someone from the Lower Columbia River, Clatsop, or Tillamook in the early 1800s. Made with beargrass and maidenhair fern, it’s one of the earliest documented baskets from the Oregon Coast. It’s in the “Legacy of Conquest” section and deliberately angled in such a way that the eye is drawn to it immediately.
“Historically, the artists of the Northwest have had a strong connection to place in their work, drawing inspiration from it, and interpreting it freely,” Bucci writes in the notes. “Their individual expressions help us better understand our shared past, who we are today, and what connects all within the Northwest.”
Obviously, seeing all this in person is ideal, but a word about the online virtual tour — it’s fantastic. Sometimes these museum virtual walk-throughs disappoint; navigation is difficult, you can’t get close to each piece, they’re not complete. For such a sprawling exhibition, this virtual tour is as accessible and thorough as one could hope for.
But the museum is open! COVID protocols remain in effect and include providing proof of vaccination, valid ID, and wearing a mask covering nose and mouth. The museum is operating at reduced capacity with timed-entry that allows visitors to relax, although walk-ins may be accommodated based on how busy they are. Tickets can be purchased online.
YAMHILL COUNTY NEWS AND NOTES: The Linfield Theatre scene continues to pop, with a production of Bryony Lavery’s stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, directed by Janet Gupton. “We decided to come back with ‘swords’ ablazing and reignite everyone’s passion for live theatre,” she said in the press notes. The show runs through Nov. 20 in the Marshall Theatre in Ford Hall. Tickets are available online.
In the visual arts scene, some excellent shows (which we reported on here) continue at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, and The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville has welcomed Joan Pechanec into their artist stable.
Finally, if you’ve been following the struggle in Newberg’s schools over the display of Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ imagery, you might not be aware of this artistic component: local musicians Erin McCarthy and Bethany Lee (interviewed here recently) performing The Rainbow Connection on YouTube.