August 4, 2021

Fun Girls

Shopping & Women Not Included

A century of Oregon painters

12 min read

THIS CORNER OF THE VAST ARTSWATCH CULTURAL COMPLEX has moved its desk north for a few days to the Olympic Peninsula – to Port Angeles, the seaport on the strait, where you can amble out The Hook and look in one direction across the waters at the hills and lights of Canada and the passing crawl of tankers and freighters heading for Seattle and Tacoma and Vancouver, and back the other direction at the spike of Hurricane Ridge, where the winds blow wild and the ravens roost, swooping close now and again to nab a stray sandwich crumb or three. This is what’s loosely called a vacation – I’ve even browsed a while in the excellent downtown bookstore Port Book and News, picking up an old Ivan Doig and an Agatha Christie I haven’t read since the receding depths of a previous century – but the desk, in the form of my laptop computer and the oddment of information it brings with it, has come with me.
 

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Of course I’ve brought a bit of Oregon to the northlands. Two or three weeks ago a surprisingly big box landed on my front porch – or maybe not so surprising, considering that it contained a solid century’s worth of Oregon art. Inside was the new second edition of Ginny Allen and Jody Klevit’s book Oregon Painters: Landscape to Modernism, 1859-1959, and the title pretty much tells the tale.

Since its arrival I’ve found myself starting at the beginning, opening it in the middle, flipping back and forth and back again at random, or following a lead to an artist or mini-movement I hadn’t known about. The book’s first edition was a landmark when it was published in 1999 by the late Oregon Historical Society Press. This beautifully illustrated and much expanded new edition from Oregon State University Press is as welcoming to casual readers as to art historians, and the art history covers a lot of territory.

“Late Afternoon, California,” by Maude Kerns, the essential Eugene artist and chair of the University of Oregon art department for many years. 1935, oil on canvas, 15 3/4 x 18 5/8, gift of Dorothy S. Berg, Portland Art Museum. 

Left: Thelma Streat, “The Black Virgin,” no date, oil on canvas, 20 x 14 inches, Reed College Art Collection, courtesy of Thelma Johnson Streat Project. Streat gained fame as a singer, dancer, and designer as well as a painter. Right: Dora Erikson, “Dakota Hotel,” 1933-34, oil on canvas, 35 7/8 x 29 1/2 inches, courtesy of the Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project; Portland Art Museum.
Sally Haley, “Interior,” © 1958 Sally Haley. Egg tempera on Masonite, 23 3/4 x 47 1/2 inches, museum purchase: Caroline Ladd Pratt Fund; Portland Art Museum. Haley and her husband, fellow painter Michele Russo, arrived in Portland in 1947, and she was a leading Oregon arts figure until her death 60 years later.
C.S. Price,”Indian Woman and Children,” 1938, oil on canvas, 35 3/8 x 34 1/2 inches, courtesy of the Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project; Portland Art Museum.
Left: “The Party,” by the key 20th century artist Amanda Snyder, 1943, watercolor on paper, 22 7/8 x 18 3/8 inches, gift of Eugene E. Snyder, Portland Art Museum. Right: Snyder posing with one of her papier-mâché dolls for a painting, 1953, Oregon Historical Society Research Library. “Oregon Painters” includes an excellent section of photographs of artists, among them one of Louis Bunce posing with his mural at Portland International Airport, one from 1905 of painter Eliza Barchus surrounded by frames and paintings in her home studio, and one of Murray Wade bouncing across a downtown Portland street on a pogo stick.
Charles Heaney, “Woodcutter,” 1939, tempera on panel, 23 x 29 inches, courtesy of the Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project; Portland Art Museum. Many of the paintings in “Oregon Painters” take the work life of the young state as their subject matter.

Oregon Painters begins with the early works of white visitors and settlers, including the likes of Henry Warre and William Parrott and Peter Toft and Clyde Cooke and eventually Albert Bierstadt and Childe Hassam, most of whom concentrated on the physical grandeur of what they considered a “new” land. Over the course of a century the state’s art scene grew up, linking to national and international movements while maintaining its regional identity, and eventually embracing abstraction, although it never lost its connection to the land. Allen and Klevit’s book is part history, part mini-profiles, part picture book, and part encyclopedia, with listings including a history of early visiting artists who worked here, art schools and teaching studios, and biographies of about 600 Oregon artists, plus very brief listings of about 3,500 others.

Cover of the new second edition of “Oregon Painters.” The cover image is Charles Erskine Scott Wood’s “Steens Mountains,” 1912, oil on canvas, 23 5/8 x 26 7/16 inches, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Orville N. Jones, Portland Art Museum.

Even at that, it’s far from the full story of Oregon art. “The subject at hand is painting,” Roger Hull writes in his foreword. “Sculpture, printmaking, photography, and other media warrant their own ‘first hundred years,’ while painting eventually will need its ‘second hundred years.’” Nor is there much about the brilliant artistic traditions of the tribes that had been here for at least 10,000 years, most of their art in other forms but also including many outstanding pictographic rock paintings completed long before 1859: A new essay by Tracy J. Prince addresses that, and the dynamic growth of vivid and exciting contemporary Indigenous painting in the Northwest in the decades since 1959. Few Black artists are included: Thelma Streat and Robert Colescott are perhaps the most prominent. (Ralph Chessé, for instance, who created a wealth of fascinating paintings, many of everyday Black life, gets just a two-line entry – but he didn’t move to Oregon until 1983.) Given its parameters of the years 1859 to 1959, Oregon Painters could hardly help being essentially a history of white painting: It reflects its time and place. Hull’s proposed second-century volume would record an explosion of cultural artmaking from a broad mix of communities and in a dizzying variety of styles.

In the areas where Oregon Painters is strong, it’s very strong. It’s excellent on the crucial roles played by art schools and universities, and the growth of museums. Reading it gave me a renewed appreciation for the vital role of the Depression-era federal New Deal Art Project, from public-building murals to paintings of working and everyday life. And in pictorials of such artists as Carl Morris, you get a sense of how the New Deal programs, by keeping some artists fully employed in realist-style work, made it possible for them to develop fully personal and highly abstract or modern styles as their careers progressed.

Oregon Painters: 1960-2060? This corner of the vast ArtsWatch complex is highly unlikely to be around to see it. If you make it that far, what a lively and surprising companion volume it’s likely to be.



Carlton Jackson: Farewell to a giant

Carlton Jackson, the brilliant Portland percussionist and radio host, has died at 60. Photo via Facebook.

CARLTON JACKSON, KMHD HOST, DRUMMER AND ADVOCATE FOR NORTHWEST JAZZ AND BLUES, HAS DIED. News of the outstanding drummer and Oregon musical figure’s death rippled across social media on Monday, indicating shock, anguish, and love. Fellow musicians and longstanding fans told their tales of how Jackson and his meticulous musicianship had touched their lives. The messages conveyed a sense of deep respect and affection for a man whose presence was felt widely. Jackson was 60 years old, and cause of death was not immediately released. Matt Fleeger’s story for OPB, linked above, provides some of the basics. Carlton hosted “The Message,” a regular show on KMHD jazz radio, and was in constant demand as a drummer, known for his impeccable timing and creativity. He toured with the likes of the late, great bassist Leroy Vinnegar and saxophonist Jim Pepper; singer Billy Ekstine, Bo Diddley, Diane Schuur, Esther Phillips, Booker T. Jones, Lloyd Jones, and others. As Fleeger notes: “Jackson possessed a natural gift on the drum kit; he was a drummer who could maintain ‘perfect time,’ which made him an in-demand musician both inside and outside the Portland music scene.” Farewell and good passage to a giant.  



Music: Grit, guts, and the glory of opera

Composer and mezzo soprano Lisa Neher in a clip from her short filmed opera “Momentum,” in which she stars as Kathrine Switzer, who in 1967 became the first woman to officially run in the Boston Marathon. As she was running, Switzer was physically attacked by the race director, who screamed, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!” 

BRINGING GRIT AND GUTS TO OPERA. Bennett Campbell Ferguson profiles Portland composer and mezzo soprano Lisa Neher, whose adventurous approach to music includes co-creating the One Voice Project Virtual Micro Opera Festival. “There’s a comic book quote from Captain America: ‘When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world, ‘No, you move,’” Lexie Briggs, who was Neher’s roommate at Lewis & Clark College, tells Ferguson. “That’s what I think of when I think of Lisa.”

  • CATCHING UP WITH: THIRD ANGLE NEW MUSIC. In his continuing series of check-ins with Oregon music groups, Matthew Neil Andrews catches up with Third Angle’s artistic director Sarah Tiedemann and executive director Lisa Volle about what’s up in the new-music world. First up: How about a little music on the farm? That’ll be Topaz Farms, on Sauvie Island – or, as Andrews puts it, the “historic Wappatoo Island in the wobbly waters where the Willamette exhausts itself into the Columbia and starts its home stretch seaward.” It’s live, it’s outdoors, it’s 3A’s Fresh Air Fest, it’s this Sunday, July 11.


In high-profile Academia, an emphatic turnaround

Left: Nikole Hannah-Jones, 2016. Photo: Sarah E. Freeman/Grady College, via Wikimedia Commons. Right: The New York Times logo for “The 1619 Project.”

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES TURNS DOWN UNC, GOES TO HOWARD UNIVERSITY. Here at ArtsWatch we’ve been following the story of Hannah-Jones, the New York Times journalist who created and led the paper’s 1619 Project, which took as the essential date in the nation’s history the arrival of the first slave ship in Virginia. She was offered a tenured teaching position at her alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, only to have tenure denied by a board of trustees laced with political appointees and influenced by a wealthy donor who vigorously opposed her appointment. Later, after much public uproar, her tenure was reluctantly approved.

This week Hannah-Jones turned down UNC and instead accepted a tenured position at Howard University, a prominent, traditionally Black school. Hannah-Jones has an Oregon connection: She was a reporter for several years for The Oregonian. Her time at the paper overlapped briefly with my own, though we worked in different departments and I didn’t know her. But it was evident she was highly talented, and going places. That’s not the only reason we’ve been following her career and the flareup in North Carolina: Academic freedom, freedom of the press, and freedom of artistic expression are deeply interwoven, with similar stakes in their erosion or guarantee.

Hannah-Jones’ statement in the link above about her decision to turn down UNC is both graceful and  adamant, and well worth reading. One key passage: 

“Many people, all with the best of intentions, have said that if I walk away from UNC, I will have let those who opposed me win. But I do not want to win someone else’s game. It is not my job to heal this university, to force the reforms necessary to ensure the Board of Trustees reflects the actual population of the school and the state, or to ensure that the university leadership lives up to the promises it made to reckon with its legacy of racism and injustice.

“For too long, powerful people have expected the people they have mistreated and marginalized to sacrifice themselves to make things whole. The burden of working for racial justice is laid on the very people bearing the brunt of the injustice, and not the powerful people who maintain it. I say to you: I refuse.”

Meanwhile, considering the case of the fired-without-process Shakespearean scholar and whistleblower (and occasional ArtsWatch contributor) Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, we can’t help wondering whether Oregon’s Linfield University is paying attention to the UNC case.
 



Here, there & everywhere: Arts from all over

Amy Anderson, vice president of Alsea Bay Center for the Arts, prepares banners in her home studio for hanging in downtown Waldport. Photo: Cheri Brubaker/YachatsNews.com

WALDPORT BANNERS BUILD COMMUNITY. Art takes many forms and purposes, and in the town of Waldport on the Oregon Coast one of them is to help create a sense of community. In a piece first published by Yachatsnews.com, Cheri Brubaker writes about the close-knit Alsea Bay Center for the Arts, whose downtown-banner project brought together many aspects of the city’s cultural life to create something together: “The banners are a partnership with 4-H, which sewed the banners, and Waldport High School’s career and technical education class, which silkscreened the backs. There were both artists and novices decorating the 32 banners. Ages of the artists ranged from 11 to 80.”

INTERSECTIONS: TELLING FUTURE TALES. In a time of cultural and climate meltdown, are literary artists predicting the history of what’s to come? In a fascinating essay, Friderike Heuer explores the areas in which fiction, science, and even military analysis are crossing one another’s paths.

SMALL BUT MIGHTY WORKS OF ART. Lori Tobias tells the tale of some fascinating tiny outdoor galleries at Manzanita’s Hoffman Center for the Arts. “When you look into these tiny galleries, the quality is marvelous,” former Portland Art Museum curator Bonnie Laing-Malcolmson tells Tobias. “You can imagine them being huge. They look like they could be 8 by 10 feet or bigger, and yet they are minuscule.”

HISTORY RECORDED: HOW ARTISTS RESPONDED TO “2020.” In an ordinary year, ArtsWatch makes it a point to scoot out the Columbia Gorge shortly after the mid-April opening of the Maryhill Museum of Art to see what the new season’s brought to the castle-like museum overlooking the river near Goldendale, Wash. But as you may have noticed, 2020 and 2021 haven’t been ordinary years. Here it is July and one of the season’s attractions is almost over already. Searching For Beauty: Artists Views through the Lens of 2020/2021, a collaboration between the museum and Seattle’s Juliette Aristides Atelier, closes July 18. Fortunately, Louise A. Palermo, Maryhill’s curator of education, wrote about it for the magazine site Realism Today, and you can read it at the link above – and then hop out the Gorge to see it in the flesh if you’re so moved. (The museum has a lot of other good-looking special exhibits, too, most running through mid-November.) The group show is about, loosely, “the COVID pandemic’s icy fingers,” and how people have responded to it. It’s a topic as wide as the world itself.

FILM WATCH WEEKLY: HOLLYWOOD AT HOME WITH “NO SUDDEN MOVE” AND “THE TOMORROW WAR.” Marc Mohan at the movies: As the movie world opens up, a couple of made-for-big-screen features wind up on home screens instead. 

ABUNDANCE UNDER BLACKLIGHTS. “Imagine an empty nightclub,” Lindsay Costello begins her review of Color Burn, Morgan Rosskopf and Manu Torres’s recent show at Well Well Projects. “It’s three a.m., and a long celebration has just ended. The DJ has left, so the room is silent, but blacklights still cast an eerie glow on the objects around you. Markers of festivity remain—flowers, draped fabric, feathers.” The exhibition, in a purple haze, “celebrates maximalism and artificiality.” 

Morgan Rosskopf, “In the Realm of Jealous Gods” (2020). Mixed media and collage on hand-cut paper. 26 x 40 inches.


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Senior Editor

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

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