Visiting Frida and Diego

Dear Liza,

There has been an exhibit at our Portland Art Museum that we have been meaning to get to for months. It is called ‘Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism’. This past Friday, we took the bus downtown for our visit.

Our timing was not the best, sadly. Being nearly the last day of school for local high school kids, field trips were out in force and our normally quiet museum was loud and crowded. The teacher in me loved it and appreciated hearing the kids talk about the art; the retired lady in me just wanted them to go home.

We were introduced to the Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera, in a mural being painted by local artists. Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist ( 1907-1954) was just 22 when she married the much older Diego Rivera (1886-1957) for the first time. (Yes, they got married, divorced, the re-married. It’s complicated.)

He was already an established artist and becoming internationally known. She was just starting out and for a few years was known mostly as ‘Diego’s wife’.

But her style was amazing, and she developed as an artist as the couple became more active in social justice causes in Mexico. They fought for political change after the Mexican Revolution, and social change, so workers could be more fairly treated. They used their power for good, as Auntie Bridgett likes to say.

Diego, by Frida Kahlo

Frida had suffered multiple injuries in a trolley crash as a young girl, and had many surgeries and years in bed trying to get well. She spent much of her time in bed painting on a special easel her father had made.

Women with lilies, by Diego Rivera

The exhibit featured lots of photographs of Frida and Diego, placing them at the center of the Mexican Modernism art movement. But for me, Frida is the most fascinating. Her sometimes-painfully honest way of putting her thoughts and feelings on canvas is like therapy, letting her sadness out and coming to terms with her difficult marriage to Diego. Their relationship was a series of changes as they tried to find a way to be with each other while staying true to themselves.

Self portrait by Frida Kahlo

I am glad we got to visit these interesting, talented people.


Grandma Judy

Inside and Outside 2021, Part 2

Dear Liza,

Continuing our look back at 2021…

In July, harvesting blueberries on Sauvie Island got us some much needed outdoor time, and….

Celebrating Kestrel’s 10th birthday got us some family time!

Our first airplane trip in two years got us down to visit you and your family in August.

September saw us at the Kennedy School, celebrating Auntie Bridgett’s birthday.

And inside, I tried my hand at leaf printing.

October brought our very first neighborhood party in Portland.

And family fun with the cousins, of course.

As the colder November weather drove us inside, we celebrated family snuggles at home…

And Pierre Bonnard and the Nabis’ sweet portraits of family life at the Portland Art Museum.

And finally, December saw Mouse fascinated by the snow outside,

And by me making Christmas presents inside.

So now, farewell to 2021, and welcome, 2022! May you find the world kinder, safer, and healthier.


Grandma Judy

The Art of Displaying Art

Dear Liza,

While I was enjoying the art of the Nabis, I was also noticing how well the display space had been designed to complement the paintings and prints.

And it was no accident. The curators, Mary Weaver Chapin and Heather Lemonedes Brown, had done some art history sleuthing and found reproductions of historic wallpapers that looked very much like the rooms in the paintings.

Since so much of the mood of the display space is evoked by the wall coverings, using period wallpaper allowed us to see the paintings as they were intended to be seen: against vibrant colors and busy designs.

The music that was playing in the display area was fitting, as well, light and pleasant. The only way to have made it more cozy would have been to have a cushy sofa in front of each piece, but that may be a bit much to ask for.

As we headed out into the chilly wet afternoon, I felt as though I had spent an afternoon at a gracious, well decorated home.


Grandma Judy

Meeting the Nabis

Dear Liza,

We got to meet some new friends at the Portland Art Museum. The wonderful new show, called “Private Lives”, features the Nabis, a group of young French artists who worked from about 1880 until 1900. They were a generation or so after the Impressionists like Monet and Renoir, and their style had evolved.

The Impressionists tended to work outdoors, catching the effects of light and wind on their subjects. Monet’s breezy portrait of his wife with an umbrella is a perfect example.

The Nabis show mostly family members in their works, but the art was produced from memory, not life, and most of the scenes depicted are indoors. The feelings they evoke are more cozy than breezy.

Pierre Bonnard is my favorite Nabi. His use of pattern and color of clothes and wallpaper and his subject choices of women, children, dogs and cats is just charming. “The Checkered Blouse”, showing a woman and her cat, is my favorite. His works show intimate, personal scenes that invite you into his family circle.

Another delightful set of works by Bonnard were drawings for a children’s music book that he worked on with his brother-in-law, musician Claude Terrasse. These show music as a loving part of the home, with generations learning and playing together.

Bonnard even used the family to show music theory, as on this page where an octave is shown as taller and taller family members, until the top note is a small child held over the mother’s head.

I will show you some more about the Nabi tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

Going Downtown

Dear Liza,

We haven’t been to the Portland Art Museum since early February. That’s when we visited the Volcano! Show, about art and science from the Mt. St. Helens’ eruption. Then we got sick, then the city shut down, then the riots started, and we haven’t been downtown since.

Our beautiful Willamette

Saturday, we went. We had booked an hour time slot (They are limiting visitors to maintain social distancing) at PAM for the three of us, got the car out of the garage, and crossed the bridge. The river was bright in the early Fall sunshine, and I realized how much I have missed being out in the city.

We drove through downtown, noticing some damaged and boarded up buildings, mostly high-end shops, but also a lot of open businesses. Killer Burger and the food carts were doing a good business.

There are more homeless folks than before, napping in their tents. Many streets had a sort of down and out vibe, and it made me sad. I feel bad for the folks who have no other place to be, and also for the folks who are scared to walk down the street where they have lived for years.

As we walked to the museum we saw construction cranes and buildings making progress. When we had used up our hour time slot we sat outside in the plaza for a while. We heard flash bangs and chanting from down toward the Willamette River, and knew enough not to head in that direction. We drove north to cross over a different bridge to head home.

Seven blocks that direction, people are throwing rocks at each other…

I checked the news on my phone and found that we had heard (And just missed) a clash between a far right group called The Proud Boys and an anti-fascist group, who were throwing rocks and insults at each other. This has become a common theme here in Portland, and it also makes me sad.

Violence only begets violence, and people seem to be aiming their hatred at each other instead of the powers that be, who have created this mess.

Patient, happy lines at Powell’s.

But don’t get the idea that all of Portland “is in flames”. People are jogging, eating, and visiting. Our iconic bookstore, Powells, opened up for the first time since March, and there was a line around the block to get in. To buy books! Sizzle Pie Pizza had folks waiting for their goodness.

Such are the strange times we live in.

Grandma Judy

Volcano! At PAM

Dear Liza,

Auntie Bridgett gives scale to the display…

In May of 1980, when I was living in Eugene and expecting your Daddy David, Mt. St. Helens, a volcano in Washington, had a major eruption. We heard it from 185 miles away, and had volcanic ash coming down for a few days.

Greta Allen’s 1910 portrait of the peaceful mountain

Your great grandpa Lowell was trying to get to Ellensburg to visit his Mom, and couldn’t cross any of the rivers because they were choked with houses and trucks carried along by the boiling hot snowmelt and pulverized chunks of mountain.

Ryan Molenkamp’s “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!”

The ability of nature’s power to absolutely dwarf humans was fully on display. And for the next few months, that power has returned, interpreted and revisited, at the Portland Art Museum.

Hank Pander’s “Eruption as seen from SW Cable Street” shows the view from Portland

But before we saw many paintings on the wall, the exhibit introduced us to the place where it happened, with National Forest maps and informational signs. The logo took me right back to camping trips with your great grandpa, and I could swear I smelled his All Spice aftershave lingering in the air.

The artistic portion of the exhibit is an interwoven collection of photographs, taken by both surveyors and artists, as well as paintings, glass work, and constructions made by artists in response to the power of the volcano. Some are as dry as the volcanic dust itself.

Barbara Noah’s “Tag III”, showing that the muppet has become a monster

Others are very personal, showing how the chaos and majesty of the eruption affected lives when the lovable mountain became a deadly monster.

I walked around, enjoying the bucolic, peaceful “Before” landscape paintings of the mountain when it was just a mountain, one of a dozen lovely peaks in the Cascade Range.

Then I rounded a corner to the gallery of eruptions, and smelled Old Spice again! Fearing for my mental health, I looked around and saw an elderly gentleman in a white shirt and tie. He stopped before every painting, talking softly with his companion. Trying not to be creepy, I walked behind him and softly sniffed. Yep. Old Spice.

So in a metaphysical way, great grandpa Lowell got to see all this art inspired by that amazing, inconvenient day, almost forty years ago.


Grandma Judy

Fine Art Print Show

Dear Liza,

After I enjoyed the dancing of the Chinese New Year dragons, I met my new friend Poppy Dully to enjoy the Fine Art Print Show across the street at the Mark Building. Now a part of the Portland Art Museum, the Mark was built in 1924 as a Masonic Temple.

It has the Masonic symbol over the door and wonderful architectural details inside. Huge bas reliefs decorate the walls of the main hall, and classic sculptures adorn the foyer.

The well-lit main hall was filled with displays from more than a dozen different galleries and dealers from all over the world, selling a wide variety of prints.

We saw this whimsical piece called “It’s 2 AM, Madame, Paris is Closed”, which cracked me up. It is by Bill Rock.

And speaking of Paris, there was a set of prints that were straight out of the Paris 1900 show! Toulouse Lautrec’s ladies and horses racing at Longchamps made me homesick for Paris all over again.

Seeing a print show with a print artist like Poppy is an incredible education! She explained the different kinds of printing, their stages, techniques, and inks so clearly that I wanted to get in and start etching. But I also realized that printing is not an art form you can just jump into. There is technical knowledge that you need, or nothing will work out.

Fortunately, there are schools and studios where people can go to learn. The Tamarind Institute in New Mexico was featured, as well as the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts in Pendleton, Oregon. This studio specializes in training Native artists who want to learn to express their images through printing.

We listened in as the dealer discussed this wonderful piece with a fellow looking to buy it, pointing out the details of how it was made and which layers were put on first. It was fascinating.

And just as we were heading out, I saw Auntie Bridgett’s favorite French printmaker: Caricaturist Honore Daumier. This piece of his shows Louis Phillip Napoleon having his nap disturbed by a giant pear.

When our eyes were full, Poppy and I had tea and chai at the Behind the Museum Cafe. It was quiet, interesting, and delicious.


Grandma Judy

Hank Willis Thomas Has More to Say

Dear Liza,

The next set of galleries in the “All Things Being Equal” exhibit at PAM hit much closer to home for me. Called “Unbranded, a Century of White Women,” it used magazine advertisements to look at how stereotypes of white women had been used to sell products, but also, how the stereotypes themselves have been cemented in society so firmly that we see them as fact.

Mother and daughter baking, selling baking soda and gender roles

Since each other these images is THE picture that a company chose to sell its product, you have to ask… why this one? Mr. Thomas proposes that the men creating the ads wanted women to see themselves only as mothers, bakers and cleaners, and that these were noble, life-fulfilling roles. This kept them safely cloistered at home and let the men run things.

Making a new generation of housewives…

But it got even darker.

This ad featuring half a young woman’s unwrinkled face and half with wrinkles due to sun damage, is supposedly selling sunscreen. I remember when it was in one of my mother’s magazines, and she talked about how important it was to wear a hat and use sunscreen, because “no one wants to look like that.”

What she didn’t talk about, was that old age, for women in particular, was to be postponed at all costs. And she didn’t talk about it because it was assumed. Women were worthy while they were young and pretty.

Getting older….be avoided at all costs?

Other ads showed women in “a man’s world”, but always in a way that threw a bone to males and their opinions as being ‘right’.

For example, this politically active, joyous woman is celebrating at a political convention…. while wearing a pointy bra. “Yes, you can vote and stuff,” it seems to say. “But you still have to wear this ridiculous underwear to be a real woman.”

Underwear as …..power?

This ad shows two fellows mountain climbing with a woman, who is coming up from behind and slowing them down. “See?” The ad says, without words. “If you leave the kitchen and insist on being out in the men‘s world, you just look silly and ruin it for everyone.”

These images were created by companies to sell products, but were often seen by people as “showing the way things were.” Women should teach their daughters (no boys were used in any of these campaigns) to clean and bake. Women are prettier when younger. Women do look silly when they step into the political arena. See? It’s right there in the magazine.

So, when you watch TV or read online or in a magazine, look at what’s being shown, and ask yourself, “What are they really selling?”


Grandma Judy

Hank Willis Thomas at PAM

Dear Liza,

I was feeling the need of some inspiration yesterday, so I went downtown to the Portland Art Museum, called PAM for short.

Totally empty courtyard

The first thing I noticed was that the courtyard between the two buildings has been cleared of all the sculpture that usually stands there, because this outdoor area will soon be indoors. A glass gallery will be built to connect the new and the old buildings at ground level, and for a year or so, this will be a loud dusty construction sight. I look forward to the new space.

Inside the museum, I found swarms of high school students there for the same reason I was: To see the new exhibit, called “All Things Being Equal”, which looks at race (which means the color of your skin) and gender (which means if you are a boy or a girl), and makes you think about how these things, as well as money and power, effect how we move about in the world.

The first piece, in the tallest gallery, is called 14, 719. It is 16 long banners, exactly the color of the blue field on the flag, with one star for every man, woman and child killed by gun violence in 2018. Hank Willis Thomas created it after his mentor was killed. An installation in the stairwell gave an idea of the sweep of grief all these killings had, showing the faces of the people directly affected by just this one murder.

The next part of the exhibit discussed, by the works shown, how college and professional athletes, particularly African American men, are used to generate money for the white-owned colleges and business franchises they play for.

Soccer player chained to his ball…

The NCAA and NFL systems are depicted as a new form of slavery, and the pieces were very moving.

Comparative forms of slavery…

The largest piece in this gallery was a satire of Picasso’s masterwork Guernica, also called Guernica (which is confusing). It is a textile piece about twenty feet long and six feet high, replicating the famous painting in football jerseys. It leads to conversations about power and death and those who can inflict it with impunity.

Guernica, 2016

The next gallery showed photographs from old magazine advertisements featuring African American people. The words had been removed so you weren’t told what was being sold, although I remember some of these ads and can recognize a McDonald’s ad when I see one.

McDonald’s ad from the 1970s, showing black people what success looked like.

But what was interesting to me was the question, “What is actually being sold in this image? Is it just pants, or soap, or fast food? Or is it an idea of who we are and what we aspire to? And what is the value of what we aspire to?”

There were many other galleries, which I will tell you about tomorrow. My brain was so full, it will take a few days to unpack!

Interesting alteration of the world..


Grandma Judy

Downtown Fun

Dear Liza,

The South Park Blocks with Mr. Lincoln’s Statue

My history story about Portland is coming along very well. I actually printed a copy out and had Grandpa Nelson read it! He reads so much that he is a good judge of when a story works, when it doesn’t, and what it needs to make it better.

My story, under construction

He asks good questions, too, questions that I don’t know the answers to…yet.

As usual when I have questions I need answered, I headed downtown to the Oregon Historical Society. Auntie Bridgett came along, but went to the Portland Art Museum.

I spent a few hours reading books about the streetcars that used to run all over the city, and found some really interesting things to use in my story. Did you know there were streetcars that ran on steam engines until 1903? I didn’t!

First Congregational Church and other lights

At 5:00, the library closed and I went to fetch Auntie Bridgett at the Museum. They have so many beautiful things in their gift shop, it was hard to pull ourselves away. We bundled up and walked down the dark, Christmas-lit streets of Portland. The weather was clear and cold, and everything looked so pretty!

We got to Kenny and Zuke’s, our favorite deli, and Grandpa Nelson came downtown to meet us for dinner. When we were full of chicken soup, pastrami and French fries, we walked over to Powell’s bookstore.

Urban Christmas

The author of Lost Portland Oregon, Val C. Ballestrem, was giving a talk about his book. It is a history of a dozen or so important buildings that are no longer standing in Portland, and it is fascinating (of course we bought a copy!)

Some buildings, like the Temple Beth Israel Synagogue , were burned by an arsonist. Another, the Marquam Building and Opera, collapsed while being repaired. And still others, the ones that make me the saddest, were torn down in the interest of urban renewal….. to make room for a parking lot.

There were photographs of the buildings and the lots they stood on, which give a hint of how the city landscape has been molded and changed over the century and a half going from a cabin by the Willamette to urban metropolis.

It is interesting, sometimes sad, always amazing, and I am so glad I get to be here to learn about it!


Grandma Judy