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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?”
I was feeling the need of some inspiration yesterday, so I went downtown to the Portland Art Museum, called PAM for short.
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.
The NCAA and NFL systems are depicted as a new form of slavery, and the pieces were very moving.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
I started writing this blog as a way to stay in touch with you and my friends in Salinas after I moved up to Portland. I thought I would write a little, get bored, and quit….like I usually do.
But Portland is such an interesting place that I keep finding things to write about. Today, as a matter of fact, is my 300th post. Three hundred adventures. Three hundred stories.
Portland is a big city, and has big city problems, like anywhere. The housing costs are high and homeless people struggle to get by. Trash and noise can be a nuisance. And if you are driving, there will eventually be traffic that frustrates you.
But there are also kind people and missions that help the homeless folks. Groups adopt neighborhoods to pick up trash. And transit is good enough that if you don’t want to drive, you don’t have to.
And the benefits of this lovely city are enormous. Art. Music. Parks. Art and music in parks! Food and drink and coffee and pastries.
And the reason I can enjoy all of this is because I am not working. Working, besides being…well, work, takes up an enormous amount of time. Days and days of NOT getting to walk at random and stop when you feel like it. Evenings of being so tired you can’t even think of an adventure.
Being at liberty is such a joy and privilege that sometimes I feel like I’m cheating.
But maybe if I share it with you I can share some of the joy, and feel less selfish.
Sunday was predicted to be another hot day, getting up to 96 degrees. I had gotten some good ideas about my story and wanted a new place to write, and Auntie Bridgett was heading off to the Portland Art Museum on the number 15 bus for her monthly ‘Drink and Draw’ meet up. (On a Sunday morning, the ‘drink’ is coffee). I invited myself along. Walking up the Park Blocks, we met Jake, a writer who Bridgett met last summer in this same spot, who is working on a story called “Book of Miracles” about touring with the Grateful Dead. We talked about writer’s block and wished each other well.
Writing in the Art Museum is always good. I am surrounded by wonderful creations made straight out of someone’s head, giving me confidence that more wonderful creations can come out of my own.
Once in the museum, we split up. I found a comfy bench in front of the Proctor statue called Indian on Horseback, where it was very quiet and good for writing. My characters are coming to life and I am enjoying them so much! Whether it’s the art or just Writer’s Block disappearing, I am glad for it.
As people came in, kids started being just a bit too noisy for my taste, so I moved over to the Diebenkorn exhibit, where it was still quiet. I met Linda and Paula, two ladies who are in the Drink and Draw, and we chatted. When the drawing part was over, we all moved to the coffee shop, where the artists talked and I started looking up what children’s books were popular in 1903.
At lunchtime, we wanted to try something new. We wandered just a block down Park and went into Shigezo, a wonderful Japanese restaurant. We enjoyed poke (say po-kay), seaweed salad, delicious grilled pork belly, and some disappointing potatoes. But a small flask of sake (say sah-kay), smelling like bread and warming as it went down, made everything better.
After lunch, Bridgett wanted to head back to the museum to buy the exhibit book on Diebenkorn. The heat was kicking in, and it was 85 degrees, even in the shade. We caught the bus and were glad to be home. By dinnertime, it was 96 degrees, only dropping to 90 by 8:00. Auntie Bridgett and I went for a walk in the park, seeing the new handrails by moonlight and a lot of folks who came out to enjoy the “Silent Disco” (using wifi headphones for music) and the relative cool of the evening.
Back at the house, we played Scrabble, and I was having a great game! I was ahead…right up until the end, when Grandpa Nelson caught me, passed me, and ate my lunch. Fun, anyway.