Gail Owen, Print Artist

Dear Liza,

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Gail Owen and her Flying Hearts

One of the artists that is showing at SideStreet Arts along with Auntie Bridgett is Gail Owen. Gail had her home studio open Saturday as part of Portland Open Studio Tour, and we went by to visit. I always love to see how artists make their magic, and print making, with its steps which must happen in reverse, has always fascinated me.

Gail came to print making after a career in aerospace, working for the Boeing Corporation. We talked about the different aircraft plants in California. My dad worked for Douglas Aircraft for many years and she had almost worked at ‘his’ Long Beach plant. Finding commonality with new people is always a treat. Her experience with parts and engineering gave her a leg-up on printmaking, she said. It made sense to her.

A self-taught printer, Gail began with small format prints with just a few colors, and worked her way up to much larger pieces, some of which are two by three feet. These larger pieces are made up of sections, each one designed and printed on its own and then sewn together, matted, and framed. The accuracy needed at every stage is amazing and intimidating.

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Onion by Gail Owen

Gail walked us through her process, which starts with taking black and white photos of flowers in her neighborhood. Then she chooses her color palette, working with up to eight colors on one print. She cuts into linoleum sheets to make her pattern, cutting away each section as she gets it the way she likes it. Once she is finished, that piece of linoleum is a mess, with sections gouged away, and can never be used again.

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Hollyhocks by Gail Owen

When Gail only wants to use a few colors, or make many more prints, she uses a process where she has different stamps for each color. Each stamp has only the part of the picture that will be in that color. This process makes more sense to me, but is still incredibly precise.

 

Gail also uses her printing to decorate wooden toys worked with strings, such as her Flying Hearts and Climbing Bears. There is a simplicity and whimsy in all her work which is very endearing.

I am grateful that Gail took the time to show us her art and her process, and happy that I get to see her work at SideStreet Arts!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Spooky Jazz

Dear Liza,

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Auntie Bridgett looking Creeeepy

Portland is getting ready for Halloween! Houses are getting decorated, shops are selling costumes, and entertainment is taking on a decidedly eerie feel.

Last Friday, we all went down to the Clinton Street Theater, a movie house built in 1915 at SE Clinton and 26th, for a “Ghostly Gala” put on by the Ne Plus Ultra Jass Orchestra.

Before we even got into the show, we knew it was going to be fun. We had dressed up, and others had, as well. The poster was old-timey spooky and looked like someone with a sense of humor had designed it.

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A Fellow Costume wearer

The Ne Plus Ultra Jass Orchestra is a band of ten, plus a visiting violinist. There was a drummer, pianist, banjo, three reed players, a coronet, trumpet, and trombone. This group, with band leader Samuel Murray Hawkins, brought the creepy popular music from the early twentieth century to life. Hawkins was dressed as Gomez Addams, and brought that sense of style and irony to the whole show.

Some of the tunes were very old, such as “At the Devil’s Ball”, an early Irving Berlin tune from 1913, and “Spooky Spooks” from 1916.  But a common musical motif in the tunes was even older. Chopin’s “Funeral March”, written in 1839, has that ominous phrase that all cartoons play when Death enters the picture.

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Band Leader Samuel Murray Hawkins, with the Phantom of the Opera on piano

The show also featured dancers of the Washington Dance Collective, two young people who moved to the bouncy music while dressed as Pugsley and Wednesday Addams. During the evening there was a costume contest, where Grandpa Nelson, as Napoleon, stood between a flapper and Ra, the God of Egypt. Ra won, maybe because he was a tiny cute boy, and maybe because no one wants to irritate an ancient God.

The last song of the evening was one of Auntie Bridgett’s favorites, “Mysterious Mose”, so we left on a high note, caught a Lyft car home, and fell into bed. I wonder if I have energy for two and a half more weeks of pre-Halloween activities!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Home of Peace

Dear Liza,

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Walking with Zavta, 2017

As you know, I love visiting cemeteries. They are peaceful, historic, and give me a sense of perspective. The other day, Auntie Katie and I visited the Home of Peace Cemetery in Tacoma, Washington, a few hours north of Portland. We weren’t there for perspective or history, but to say goodbye to our dear friend Barbara Binder Kadden.

Barbara died last week, the day after her 64th birthday. The Home of Peace, besides being beautiful and historic, was filled with love and a sad awareness that Matan and Liav, Barbara’s grandchildren, will grow up without her joy and generosity and her gift for bringing organization and beauty to the world.

In her talk about Barbara at the graveside service, her friend Debbie spoke of Barbara’s dedication to Jewish education and her talent for feeding other Jewish students good meals. She told of Barbara’s last words to her husband, Rabbi Bruce Kadden, as he left her hospital room to go to work at Temple Beth El. “You teach them Jews,” she said, as she usually did when they parted. Barbara’s list of teaching posts, published works and leadership positions is long and impressive, but that’s not why she was my friend.

We met in 1984 in Salinas, California. Bruce had been hired as the Rabbi for our tiny congregation in a predominantly Catholic farm town. I had just converted to Judaism and was trying to raise my two kids in this new tradition, finding my way through Sabbath, Hebrew and graduate school all at once. Barbara was a different sort of woman than I had ever met.  She didn’t couch her comments in the niceties I had grown up with, and for many years, she intimidated the heck out of me.

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Barbara Kadden’s Quilted Megillat Esther

But she was early for every celebration to help set up, bringing food and much needed advice. She made me smarter and stronger than I thought I could be. She taught me how to organize a Kosher Luncheon for 3,000 people and Rummage Sale that filled the social hall. Her confidence and willingness to work was contagious.

For a few brief months in 1989, I knew something she didn’t, when the two of us started making a quilt to memorialize the Refusenik Jews the Kaddens had visited in the Soviet Union. It was Barbara’s first quilt and I was more experienced, but her drive for excellence took the project to a whole new level for me. That quilt was just the beginning of scores of incredibly beautiful quilts she made, finishing up some just months before she passed away.

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Refuseniks Visited in the U.S.S.R. 1989

Our daughters, my Katie and her Alana, were within a few weeks of the same age, and grew up together. They remained friends and have run a business together. I regret that Barbara and I didn’t stay as close. The Kaddens moved to Tacoma and we lost touch.

Only after I moved up to Portland last year did we get back together, and by that time she had her diagnosis of glioblastoma. We met up at Kenny and Zuke’s Deli last year when she and Bruce were in Portland for their wedding anniversary. Barbara was using a walker but she was opinionated as ever, and surprisingly cheerful, stating that every time she stood up it was another victory over gravity.

At her funeral luncheon, the walls of the social hall were decorated with just a few of her quilts, including the first Refusenik quilt we made together and her last one, a fabric and photo collage of Barbara and her grandson Matan walking on the beach. Standing in the bright room with a plate of bagel, lox and kugel, I had to shake myself when I realized I was scanning the room for Barbara, as I had at hundreds of  Onegs, High Holidays, and B’nai Mitzvot. What was there of her were her family, friends, quilts and books, which will carry her intelligence and love forward.

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Detail of Megillat Esther

I know that someday I will have perspective about this. For now, all I know is that the world will miss Barbara Binder Kadden.  And selfishly speaking, so will I.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

New Bookstores!!

Dear Liza,

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The Front of Backstory Books and Yarn

You know how much I love books. The hardest things we gave away when we were moving were all those old friends between covers. But now I can see all my old friends and even make new ones: There are two new bookshops in the neighborhood!

I’ve mentioned Backstory Books and Yarn, on Hawthorne. This is a bookshop which has recently changed hands and re-opened. The former owner is in her 80s and has retired, selling the shop to Amanda, the new owner. The former owner still lives in the house in back of the shop, though. It must be rewarding to see the business she built with her late husband continue to grow and thrive.

I hope she can make it happen, since she is just a few blocks away from Powell’s Books on Hawthorne, which is a branch of the bigger Powell’s  store downtown and very strong competition.

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Joe of Belmont Books

Closer to our house is Belmont Books, on Belmont Street, which is so new it doesn’t even have a sign yet. We visited the other day and met Joe, the proprietor, and Mitch, his friend and fellow book-scout. Belmont Books is smaller than Backstory, but the stock is very well-chosen. We chatted with Joe about his process of collecting books, and he mentioned the Belmont library “Friends of the Library” book sale, which sounds like something I will need to look for.

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Still waiting for a proper sign on Belmont

Both these bookshops are independent, which means they aren’t part of any bigger company. They are run BY people who love books, FOR people who love books. You know, people like me!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Wondrous Finds

Dear Liza,IMG_1048.jpg

The other day, I was walking home from Auntie Katie’s house. It had just stopped raining and the sun had come out. I was walking up Belmont Street, keeping my eye on the ground since the fallen leaves can make the sidewalk slippery.

And I saw something shiny. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it unless I was looking straight down, because it isn’t very big, only about seven inches by twelve, and set flat into the sidewalk. It is a printing plate, a flat metal plate with raised letters. All the writing is backwards, as it would need to be to print properly.

I took a photo so I could remember it and looked it up when I got home. The poem is by an American writer named Joe Bruchac, who was born in 1942. He has written over 120 books of poetry, stories and history that reflect his Abenaki Indian ancestry. He has won awards, taught in prisons, and volunteered in Africa.

Here is his poem, Birdfoot’s Grampa, quoted from the printing plate on Southeast Belmont.img_10481.jpg

The old man

must have stopped our car

two dozen times to climb out

and gather into his hands

the small toads blinded

by our lights and leaping,

live drops of rain.

 

The rain was falling,

a mist about his white hair

and I kept saying

you can’t save them all

accept it, get back in

we’ve got places to go.

 

But, leather hands full

of wet brown life

knee deep in the summer

roadside grass

he just smiled and said

they have places to go too.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Lovely Damp

Dear Liza,

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Fall Sunset

We are now getting into the part of Fall that is damp and grey. If it is isn’t raining at any given moment, it has recently stopped or will begin again soon. When we were thinking of moving to Portland, this is one thing I worried about….as a former Southern California beach girl and Salinas resident, how would I do in a fairly constant situation of damp?

So far, it suits me right down to the ground. Granted, I am not working, so I don’t have damp students or muddy shoes to deal with, and we have a cozy warm house that keeps the chill away.

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Mushrooms in Laurelhurst Park

But even outside, there is so much life and beauty that it’s hard to be too fussy about it. At Laurelhurst Park there are mushrooms that spring like fairy lamp posts from the mud, and leaves that sparkle on the dark paths.

We have even found a sweet chestnut tree! We have named it Leila, after my aunt who had eleven children, because she is so prolific. Yesterday evening, when it was nearly dark, we foraged about eight pounds of chestnuts.

Walking through Ladd’s Addition, where Auntie Katie lives, is a joy, as well. The old trees and shady yards feel like a forest, with moss, ferns and earth that smells alive and happy. When the clouds part for a minute, the sunshine is so glorious that people stop and smile.

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Foresty front yard in Ladd’s Addition

Meanwhile, inside, there is quilting and reading, split pea soup with bacon and Halloween monster movies.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

The Pumpkin Patch

Dear Liza,

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In the Corn Maze !                                                                     Photo Credit, Bridgett Spicer

On Sunday, we returned to Sauvie Island, just north of Portland. It was a chilly, rainy day, and as we drove over grey bridges and couldn’t even make out the dark Willamette below us, we had some second thoughts. We had boots and coats, and Auntie Bridgett even had her trusty umbrella…but going to a farm in the rain?

“At least it won’t be crowded on a day like this,” I thought. Obviously, I have a lot to learn about Portlanders. Every pumpkin farm on the island was busy, and The Pumpkin Patch’s huge gravel overflow parking lot was almost full. We were lucky to find a spot.

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View from a very wet bridge

There was mud anyplace there wasn’t gravel, and we picked our way carefully to the main area. From the middle of the yard, we could see the food stalls, the Animal Barn with critters to pet, the Pumpkin Perk coffee trailer, the gift shop, and the line for Hay Rides. We ate  (corn on the cob, a turkey sandwich and kettle corn), then felt ready to tackle the Corn Maze.

Corn Mazes can be pretty hit and miss, but this one was really well done. There were clues in the form of trivia questions (you got to choose your area of expertise….we chose Movies, Halloween, and Corn), and when you got to certain intersections, the trivia answers gave you directions.

There were also delightfully “corny” cartoons that were puns… it was fun to watch kids stare blankly while their parents cracked up! It rained quite a bit while we were in the maze, and the sound of the rain on the corn was magical to my country girl DNA.

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Horse Play!

The corn was still green and full, making it nearly impossible to see from one path to the next, and the stalks were about eleven feet high and still had fat green corn! There were bridges, too, not to go over anything, but to let us see the bridge from above. From up there, it was just a vast sea of corn silks and green, with not a clue of how to get out.

We did a good deal of backtracking and walking in circles, but with intuition, listening for traffic noise, and splitting up long enough to check out ‘loops’, we got through.

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Success!

We were sure tired, and no wonder. Auntie Bridgett’s fitness watch said we walked nearly 2 and a quarter miles! Our final duty was to buy some pumpkins…one for carving and looking at, and one for baking.  Done!

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Yep, warts and all….

We got home and I got dinner started while we got off our feet. Tonight, we watch “The Mummy” with Boris Karloff. Ooooooo…

Love, Grandma Judy