Homer Davenport was a famous cartoonist, and he was born in Oregon! He was born in Silverton, about 50 miles south of Portland, on March 8, 1867. He is long gone, but his birth city still remembers him every year with the Homer Davenport Festival.
With temperatures forecast in the 90s, we headed south, equipped with bottles of ice water, peanut butter and crackers, and sun hats. Driving through the countryside is always a delight. Fifteen minutes out of our city of a couple million people are cows and goats, and acres of wheat, grapes and Christmas trees. This is because Portland has an Urban Growth Boundary, which prevents the suburban sprawl that we hated so much in California.
We got parked and took the John Deere tractor pulled “trolley” to Coolidge and McClain Park, where we saw the Silverton Arts Festival last summer. It was much less crowded, but still had some booths for local clubs, like the Renegade Robotics from the local high school. These five clever young people do the same sort of work Auntie Christy’s students do in Torrance, California. They even had built a remote control donation-collecting robot!
We had an agenda, but seeing this crazy guillotine-like structure, we stopped and talked with the folks at The Coin Pouch booth. These friendly, costumed people were using an almost 700 year old type of machine (she said it was a Leonardo da Vinci design) to stamp gold, brass or pewter coins with designs of your choice.
Auntie Bridgett chose a honeybee for one side and a triple spiral on the other, in pewter. It is a wonderful, historic memento.
We stopped for lunch, with Bridgett and me eating our own food while Grandpa Nelson enjoyed pretzels and sweets from the festival. We wandered down by the children’s wading fountain, which we saw being built last year. It is now beautifully mosaic’d and has a tall, cooling fountain. A nice lady even took our picture.
The nearby creek was being enjoyed by kids who waded, splashed, and chucked rocks at each other while standing chest deep in cool water. They were having so much fun.
Across the river, we went in search of two things: a political cartoon contest of local artists, and information about the man himself, Homer Davenport. He was the man of the hour, after all … where was he?
We found the blessedly air conditioned City Hall, where the cartoons were exhibited. Some were very good, showing artistic skill and the important political savvy to capture a complex idea with as few words as possible. We enjoyed them, then asked the fellow, “Where is Mr. Davenport?” We were directed across the street and finally found a lovely old house that has been opened as a Homer Davenport Museum.
There were many of Homer’s biting political cartoons here, dealing with issues of the 1890s through the 1920s, some of which we still wrestle with today: political corruption and big business taking advantage of the working class.
The oil companies and railroads, and the politicians they supported, knew the cartoons were effective, and tried to get a law passed that would forbid people from drawing cartoons that made fun of the government. But the First Amendment protects the freedom to make fun of powerful people, and the law didn’t pass!
This whole fight even gave Mr. Davenport an idea for a new cartoon, one of his most famous. “No honest man need fear cartoons.”
We chatted with local historian Norman English and looked at old photos from the area, collecting images that I can use in my story. Then we headed back across the creek, had some frozen yogurt, and caught the trolley back to the car.
We have gotten wise in our trips in and out of town, and stuck to the back roads to avoid the Portland traffic. We were treated to views of fields of Black-eyed Susans and topiary trees waiting for nurseries.
We napped and ate and thought about YOU coming to visit soon!