First Thursday in The Pearl

Dear Liza,

Last night we took the #20 bus across the Willamette River to an area of Portland called The Pearl. It is the old warehouse district right by the river, and has had years where it was very depressed and grungy. Lately, it has become home to lots of art galleries, and to celebrate that, they do an Art Walk every First Thursday.

Unlike the street fairs on Hawthorne or Alberta, they don’t close the street because The Pearl is right downtown and dozens of buses and light rail trains run through it. But there were a lot of art galleries open late, and most have music playing.

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Ground Control Arcade

We started the evening off, however, with video games.  There is a huge arcade called Ground Control at NW Couch (say Kooch) and 5th Avenue. They have cool old video games like Pac-man and Asteroids, (Auntie Bridgett played some Paperboy) but also my favorite, PINBALL! I played a Hobbit game and Addams Family, and Auntie Bridgett and I played a Simpsons game. We didn’t impress anyone, but we hadn’t intended to…it was just for fun.

Walking in The Pearl at night is odd. It isn’t as bright or noisy as other parts of downtown, and there are blocks where the streets are a bit smelly and dirty. But there are also bits of magic, where light, darkness and color play together just right. A statue caught in the sunset, or street lamps heading up a parkway, or even just overlapping layers of advertising, can be lovely.

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Stag Statue at sunset

We went into several galleries, but, as you know, I don’t take photos of other people’s art in art galleries. But I can tell you, the most beautiful piece I saw all night was called “Carved into Twilight” by an artist named Tom Cramer. It was a circle about 4 feet in diameter, carved in delicate, curving lines, and painted with silver leaf and oil paint. It was like a galaxy unto itself and was hypnotizing. If it hadn’t cost $6,000, I might have brought it home.

Some of the galleries, like J. Pepin, were so crowded you couldn’t even see the art. Others had music that literally chased us out. But most were great fun to walk in, even if we didn’t care for the art. Art People watching is very interesting.

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Street lamps in the North Park Blocks

As we were getting worn out with walking, we ran into two places that made us happy we had not quit yet. The Blackfish gallery had watercolors by Robert Dozono that were charming and full of movement. I was able to take a picture of one of them, because it was a huge piece hung in the window, so, to me, counted as public art. Nothing like a cat in a room full of books to win my heart!

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Charcoal on paper by Robert Dozono

Then we found City Home, a store full of all sorts of interesting stuff. Old factory pieces, like these balloon molds, were mixed in with neon signs and new, silly signs, like one for “Camp Run-A-Muck”, which showed a pouncing raccoon and featuring “S’mores Nightly!”. Too silly, really….

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Old balloon molds from a hundred year old factory

Now totally sore and tired, we walked to our usual bus stop across the street from Powell’s Books. It is a busy corner and I enjoyed looking at the lights and traffic, even as my feet were aching. I was grateful when the bus came and I could sit down and just watch the night go by for a while.

See you next week!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Oregon Historical Society, Part 2

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Dear Liza,

It has been very hot here, and also smokey, because of the many wildfires in Oregon and Washington. On Tuesday, I took the #15 bus downtown to the Oregon Historical Society. It was a nice, cool bus ride to a nice, cool library.

I am writing a new story, a history of Portland as seen through the eyes of a character I am calling Caroline Estes. She visits Portland when she is 8, 13, 19, 29, and finally moves here at the age of 44 with her husband and two children. To write this story well, I need to know a lot more about what Portland was like from 1888 to 1924….what people were talking about, buying, and wearing, where they went for fun, what were the problems of the day. Stuff like that.

Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I became members of the OHS last Saturday, but you don’t have to be a member to use the Research Library. You just check your bag, sign in, as ask for help. I got to look at theater programs with advertisements from the years 1894 and 1907. It was like visiting the home of an elderly friend, and I handled everything very carefully.

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Car advertisements

Ads can tell you a lot about a place and a time. What I found was that even in 1905, Portland was pretty modern. All the ads included a telephone number, and many of the wagon and buggy shops  had started selling cars. There were tailors, drug stores, candy shops, and fancy restaurants. Railroad agents were offering to arrange train trips to Yosemite or even the Hotel del Monte, down in Monterey. Labor saving devices were all the rage, as well. “Help for the Housewife”, they were called.

Some of the ads were just funny. One simply said, “If you can’t boost, don’t knock. J.C. Lee.” Boost what? Knock what? No idea. But I’m sure it meant something at the time.

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What is he talking about?

Many of the ads used cartoons to catch your eye. The geese (at the top) sure made you look, but it was just an ad for a store. This king on a throne (below) was selling beer.

When my head was full and my hand sore from taking notes, I handed back all the delicate things to the librarian and walked back to the bus.

I plan on spending many more delightful days here, learning all I can to make my story interesting!

Love,

Grandma Judy

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King Gambrinus selling beer

Last Thursday on Alberta

Dear Liza,

Last Thursday, we went to an event called “Last Thursday Art Walk.” It happens on the last Thursday of every month during the summer, up on Alberta Street, about three and a half miles north of our house. They close off about 7 blocks of Alberta Street and people set up tables, booths, musical instruments, or just themselves, to sell, sing, dance, see, and be seen.

We went into some some galleries first, with exquisite assemblages and ceramics, paintings and sculptures. These were very well organized and air conditioned, which was welcome in the hot evening. We spent lots of time looking at each and every piece, but I didn’t take pictures, because artists are touchy about that.

Then we stepped out onto the street, where there was no traffic. This was sort of like the Hawthorne Street Fair a few weeks ago, but also really different. The street being closed to traffic and full of tents was the same…everything else was different. That had a ‘doing business’ sort of feeling…friendly, but there for a purpose. This felt more like friends getting together to hang out, make music, enjoying each other’s music and weirdness.

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10 year old rock stars

And weirdness there was. Belly dancing, drum circles, people dressed in costumes and posing like statues, and kids playing rock and roll were there, as were t-shirt shops, ice cream carts, and tarot card readers.

There were also some very talented musicians playing great music, while jugglers juggled in time to the music. Amazing.

We walked all the way west, (into the sun again!) and back east, ending at O’Leary’s Irish Pub for a cold drink and dinner. The cider and Guinness were welcome, and the fries, grilled cheese sandwich with caramelized pear, and roasted brussels sprouts were exactly what was needed. While we sat, we watched the people passing by, which is always the best show ever.

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Mural of the Vanport Flood in 1948

Another thing that made the fair so much fun was getting to see Alberta Street. There are so many murals on the outside walls, where the artists don’t mind if you take pictures, and since there was no traffic, I could take pictures without being killed. I have included quite a few here.

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Circle of Life mural

After we had seen, listened, laughed and eaten, we walked back to the car and headed home. Portland has so much to offer, I just can’t keep up! I may need to take a break tomorrow. But I will be back soon.

 

P.S. And of course, there were mosaics. Maybe so many people make them because the tiles last so well in the rainy winters, or maybe because it is fun to turn broken bits into art, but there sure are a lot of them around! And I LOVE it!

 

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And mosaics, of course

 

 

 

 

 

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More!

 

 

Love,

Grandma Judy

Lone Fir Cemetery Part 2

Dear Liza,

Yesterday morning, Auntie Bridgett and I went on a tour of the Lone Fir Cemetery, just down the street from us at Stark and 26th. This cemetery has been used since 1846, when the farmer who owned the land, James Stephens,  buried his elderly father. He later sold the land to  a steamship owner named Colburn Barrell, who used it within a year to bury people who died when his steamship The Gazelle exploded.

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Mr. and Mrs. Stephens, original owner of the cemetery

The first thing we saw when we got to the cemetery was a lady coming out,  followed by a whole flock of crows. She visits the cemetery every morning and feeds them dry cat food she carries in a plastic bag. She likes the attention, she says. I’m sure the crows enjoy the breakfast!

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          Crow                                                     Photo Credit: Bridgett Spicer

 

We met Joel, our guide, and the other people on our tour. Joel is a volunteer for The Friends of the Lone Fir Cemetery, a group of people who got together after mean people broke into the cemetery on Halloween many years ago and broke a bunch of headstones and monuments. The “Friends” started repairing and guarding the cemetery, and asked the city of Portland to help. They do a good job.

We learned that the graves aren’t really organized, but people are mostly buried chronologically, in time order, from the northwest corner towards the southeast. Of course, there are exceptions , and very recent graves can be right next to pioneer headstones. Many of the old ones are impossible to read because moss grows on the stones. Eternal rest is assured. Eternal identification, not so much.

There are many beautiful black headstones with Russian writing and engraved portraits on them. When Mr. Reagan was President, he offered political asylum to any Russian or Ukrainian citizens who were Christians to come live in America, and many came to the Portland area. There are now thousands of these folks living here, and when they die, they are buried with these very distinctive headstones made by two men, who are the only ones in town who know how to make them. They have information on the front and poetry on the back. Your mommy has been translating them for me.

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Russian headstone

Another interesting grave has an urn sitting on it rather than a headstone. James Hansen Frush was chief bartender at the Front Street Saloon, always generous with his friends and very well-loved. While he was alive, he had this big metal urn that he used to offer eggnog during the holiday season. When he died, his friends decided to place the urn over his grave to remember his generosity. But the next Christmas, they missed him, so they came across the river, fetched the urn back to the bar, and enjoyed eggnog in his memory, returning the urn to the grave after the New Year. This back and forth went on for a few years. The urn that is still here is a concrete cast of that urn. There is even a hole there the eggnog would come out.

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Bartender’s Memorial                Photo Credit: Bridgett Spicer

There are many others, but the last one I will tell you about today is the grave of Eric Ladd. When Eric Ladd was born in Portland, his name was Leslie Carter Hansen. He became an actor, changed his name to Eric Ladd, moved to New York, then Hollywood, and retired back to Portland, very successful. He used the money he had made to help preserve some of the beautiful old buildings in town that were gong to be torn down.

When Eric got sick at  78 or so, a friend was traveling in Romania and found a beautiful iron cross. The friend bought it to use for when Eric died. Then his friends bought some iron fencing from Mark Twain’s house in Missouri (Eric loved Mark Twain’s writings and had made shows of his stories) and put the fencing around the grave to protect the cross. It is ornate, historic, and perfect.

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My visit to the Lone Fir ended, as it always does, by me feeling lucky to be alive and happy to learn about all these people who lived here before me. But this time, I have fun information, as well!

Love,

Grandma Judy

The Rimsky-Korsakoffee House

Dear Liza,

The other night we took a long walk after dinner. Auntie Bridgett had read about a restaurant called The Rimsky-Korsakoffee House that is about a mile from our house, at 12th Avenue and Alder. It was quirky, she said, and possibly haunted, and we should go there.

So we did. We walked due west, right into the setting sun, and by the time we got to the restaurant, we were sun-blind and exhausted.  From where we stood on the sidewalk, there was no sign that the building was a restaurant, or even occupied. The faded rose Victorian exterior looked like one of the hundreds of great houses in Portland that have gotten tired over the years. The lawn was weedy and the willow tree a bit overgrown. At 6:57, it was as if no one had been up the stairs in years. At 7:00, a small “Open” sign came on and people began walking up the street towards it.

We entered the cluttered, underlit foyer, our eyes and glasses still adjusting from the bright afternoon outside. “Take a menu” a sign said, so we did, and wandered into the living room. Small tables and chairs filled the space, where a piano sat in the corner and all sorts of knick-knacks perched on shelves.

The number 36 dangled from the ceiling and was spelled out in roman numerals made from yard sticks. Auntie Bridgett remembered that the restaurant had been started in 1980, so was 36 last year. It is as old as your daddy. The whole place was lit with fairy lights.

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Auntie Bridgett and “36”

We sat and listened to the Romantic piano music of Rimsky-Korsakoff lilting through the small rooms, reading the hand-written signs. “Warning to customers: This is the OUT door” said a sign on the door to the kitchen. “This table for 2 people only” was the sign on our table. We were three, but no one seemed to mind. Quirky, indeed.

Our waitress took our order and we shared the most delicious ginger cake I have ever had. The cinnamon coffee was rich and sweet, and Grandpa Nelson’s ice cream sundae was wonderfully cold and fluffy. Having enjoyed our dessert and coffee and recovered completely from our walk, we paid our bill and got up to leave.

We saw what we hadn’t before, the stairs up to the restroom, over which hung a swing of sorts. On the bottom (the side towards us) was another hand written sign: “Everyone Enjoy Engaging in Eating, Entertainment, Escape, Enlightenment, Euphony, Elsewise, Exit!” We had seen no signs of haunting, but it was early yet. Maybe the spirits wake up later.

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Orders from above

We had a conversation with the baker before we left, complimenting him on his ginger cake and getting the recipe, which he rattled off from memory. “But don’t quote me,” he said. “I make a lot of cakes.” I don’t remember it, but I will have fun trying to duplicate it, once the weather cools off enough to bake.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Mosaics in Portland

Dear Liza,

This will be a short post today. I have a story idea in my head that won’t let me think about much else. But I wanted to share something I have noticed about Portland ….mosaics.

You know I love mosaics. I make mosaics. I teach my students to make mosaics.

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Student mosaics
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A Mosaic in Progress

There is a lot of public art in Portland, statues, murals, and fountains for playing in. I have posted pictures of your cousins and Auntie Bridgett with statues of deer and lots of other public art. Even some of the buildings are like art. These are all public art, as in, paid for by public money. I respect this, and love it. I like that my tax money goes to make art that I enjoy.

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Buckman School Mosaic in Public
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The Calico Room Mosaic

The other kind of art that everyone can see is privately funded art that is in public. The Buckman School, in our neighborhood, decorated their retaining wall with mosaics made with donated tiles and dishes. The Calico Room restaurant in East Portland advertises with a wonderfully modern cat mosaic.

These are interesting, pretty pieces of art that we walk by all the time and get to enjoy. They help me see things differently. They inspire me to make my own art. I am grateful for the creative people who share their art with all of us.

“Tell them, dear, if eyes were made for seeing, then beauty is its own excuse for being.” Emerson

Love,

Grandma Judy

History Pub

Dear Liza,

Yesterday was another really hot day. By 4:30, it was 101 degrees! Auntie Bridgett and I spent the hottest part of the afternoon in the nice cool Main Branch of the library, downtown. I found more books on Portland’s history and Auntie Bridgett found art books!

In the evening, we had a new adventure. Grandpa Nelson had read about an event called “History Pub”, held at the Kennedy School. There would be dinner and music. We love history, pubs, food, schools, and music, so we went!

The Kennedy School is an elementary school about three miles north of us, built in 1917. That was four years before my Momma was born! The school was named for the man who sold the land to the city of Portland, John D. Kennedy… not the president, as I had thought. The school had been abandoned in the 1990’s because there weren’t enough kids in the neighborhood anymore, and a restaurant company called McMenamin’s bought it.

McMenamin’s saw how this old building could be beautiful and useful again. They fixed the plumbing, heating, and electricity. They re-modeled the classrooms into hotel rooms (each with its own chalkboard!) and turned the cafeteria into a quirky restaurant. There is a small bar called Detention just down the hall from the Principal’s office.

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Fairy Painting in restroom

There is also beautiful artwork everywhere. The halls have murals of children learning and helping each other. Mosaics made from old dishes and things pay tribute to teachers at the school. Fairies even follow you into the restroom….it is magical.

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Teacher Mosaic

We had dinner, walked around the school a bit, then went into the auditorium. This has been re-fitted with cozy, velvet covered chairs and couches, with more artwork and murals on the walls. We learned about Obo Addy, a Ghanan drummer, from Susan Addy, Obo’s widow. Obo Addy came to Portland in 1978 with his four brothers, bringing real African music to this area for the first time. The group toured schools and gave concerts, teaching thousands of people about African drumming, singing and dancing.

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Poster for Obo Addy

Then came the best part of the already wonderful evening….music! Five musicians, a group called Okropong, came out in beautiful African costumes with bells and danced up and down the aisle. They set up different drums in the front and played, sang and danced. The energy was amazing, and the audience began dancing and clapping, too. The musicians went into the audience and took people’s hands, bringing them into the aisle to dance with them. People were having so much fun!

Every now and then, the leader would explain about the music. One piece was from Liberia, a country next to Ghana…he said, “Ghana went to Liberia, fell in love, and brought this one back.”

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The Ghanan drummers of Okropong

After almost an hour of exhausting performance, our musician friends did one final song and danced off stage. We gathered our things and headed for the parking lot, through the halls of the coolest school I have ever seen. We slept like rocks to be ready for the next adventure, whatever that might be.

Love,

Grandma Judy