August 2005

My point is to show the qualities of Portland’s public artwork.

1. There’s a lot of public artwork. And it’s all over the place.

2. Though most of our public artwork gets inaugurated with a huzzah, much is quickly forgotten. Some of it vanishes (the “Columbia” figures which matched the doorways of the Pioneer Courthouse Post Office (UPDATE 2007 – they’re are replaced on site!), the large multimedia piece which dominated the third floor of the Central Library prior to remodel).

3. Much of our public art has been acquired by corporate or governmental “welfare for the arts” programs. Some pieces clearly were bought to promote a political or aesthetic agenda.

5. On reflection, much of this art turns out to be crap: some is curious, some is incomprehensible, some is evocative, provocative, or tells a story. Some bridges the gap between art and decoration (Portlandia), some is wild seed flying (graffiti tunnel), some is profound and challenging (Coe’s Lincoln in the Park Blocks – our great treasure). But as for the crap we’ve paid for it and often the work is heavy and public and regardless of its quality some folks would never dispose of anything. So it persists. Sometimes for decades. Then a new visitor arrives and says, “what the hell is that!” And you, as an ambassador of this great city, have some explaining to do. Start with 190 ton piece of crap in front of the Standard Insurance Building.

6. Discussion is useful, worthwhile, and progresses toward a further understanding of the subject. Use this forum. It is ours together.

Stay tuned, come back every day, blogroll or whatever it is which alerts you. You’re going to get the grand tour.

And yeah, I’ll get to Portlandia eventually.


Inside Franklin High School is an amazing enormous sculpture of Benjamin Franklin.

At the foot is a picture of the log the sculpture came from and the following text:

“This original sculpture by the local artist Bart Kenworthy was carved from a cedar log 22 feet long. Work began in August 1975 and was completed in July 1976. The statue is a single unit, rising 16 feet 8 inches above the floor and weighing 7,000 pounds. The figure of Benjamin Franklin stands 11 feet 4 inches of twice Franklin’s actual height.”

A plaque nearby says this public artwork was donated to the school in 1991 by Robert Hazen.

From Willamette Week’s 25 year anniversary issue “Where Are They Now“:

“[Bob Hazen] Chairman of the Benj. Franklin Savings and Loan Association was a familiar face to Portland television viewers for much of the ’70s, hawking toasters and other free gifts to woo new depositors to the institution his father started in 1925.

“Hazen retired in 1980 but remained on Benj. Franklin’s board until it was sold to Bank of America during the S&L crisis in 1990. When he isn’t fund-raising for United Way or his alma mater, Whitman College, Hazen, 81, spends seven months of the year in Palm Desert, Calif., where he plays golf three days a week with Howard Keel, star of such Hollywood musicals as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Show Boat.”

So I bet this Franklin was in a bank lobby somewhere before it migrated to the high school. Can anyone tell me where? Any other memories of this thing?

Franklin High School, one of three Portland HSs not named after a US President (name the other two!), owns this weird cement Benjamin Franklin statue, which oversees the football field. He’s embarrassingly dressed as an oatmeal box Quaker (and the school nickname is “The Quakers” – church and state anyone?), and his head is filthy with bird scat.

On the front are etched the words “Benjamin Franklin, Statesman Scientist, Gift of the Alumni and Students, Executed by the Oregon Art Project, Work Projects Administration, 1942.” The statesman / scientist duality is demonstrated by the topcoat being long on one side, short on the other, and underneath he appears to be wearing a toga.

On the rear is written “One To-Day is Worth Two To-Morrows.” Perhaps some prescient reference to football practice.

Read the WPA wiki.
Read Franklin’s plan for developing the moral character of young men (he would have dismissed football as foolishness). There is much more than this short web page – see Ben’s Autobio for everything. If a Portland HS teacher helped his students use this model, we would all be improved in their presence.
Leonard Lopate had a nice twisted piece on Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues.
Read the Franklin wiki.

Tomorrow I’ll show you another GREAT BIG Franklin statue – which it’s unlikely you’ve seen or know about.

A queer circa 1970’s bronze looking over the bluff down onto Portland from the university of Portland is this sculpture of an anonymous native male, William Clark and his slave York. Perhaps this is the furthest point they scouted on the Willamette.

Now hidden behind bushes (those bushes!) and shown slyly to frosh parents by the Pilot marketing staff, it’s been forgotten by others. At its foot is a stone description of Clark and Lewis’ crazy adventure and amateurish bronze busts, about four inches tall, set in a large boulder.

The main piece is a bit larger than life size, is stylishly crafted in probably wax, then cast in parts. The native person and Clark are rough and distant, Clark holding a book and waving his hand before him, blessing the valley. This wouldn’t be typical behavior for Clark. York, about whom almost nothing is known, is depicted as sensual and muscular.

The Naming of Mt. Jefferson (1988), by Michael Florin Dente, portrays York on the far right, along with William Clark and an unnamed American Indian.

Photo 1; Photo 2; Photo 3; Photo 4; Photo 5; Photo 6;

I spent a couple of hours today with a former principal of Roosevelt High School, Don James. He’ll be dead in a couple of days.

I was making a portrait photograph of him in his apartment. As we talked I learned his history. I told him I had just taken a self-guided tour of Roosevelt a week ago. At the time I thought I was just killing time or looking for old memories (I didn’t leave any there before, so.) I took pictures of the memorials to Roosevelt students who wandered off to war over the decades.

I really didn’t know why I had gone there until I talked with Mr. James. I think he was really jazzed talking about his time at Roosevelt. He’s a lovely man, very serious but not heavy: considered and decided about his future.

He’s been a lot of things in his valuable life, but his great joy is his partner of almost 60 years. What an accomplishment.

One of Portland’s more obscure memorials, this made in 1925 and framing the east side of the “front doors” of Jefferson High School. The bronze shows a young soldier loosing himself of his weapons and gas mask and rising upward, being drawn away by death personified as a beautiful woman. Below his companions, in helmets and gas masks huddle waiting for their own deaths.

The inscription reads, “Dedicated to the Jefferson High School students who served in the world war. In memorium.” And then a list of seven names of students.

Plaques are by designer Avard Fairbanks. More about him later.

One of Portland’s forgotten public artwork combinations is the bronze Jefferson (about 1915) and the 1925 WW I memorial at Jefferson High School (5210 N. Kerby). From N. Commercial Street you can get to the football field. At the south end of the field (the school steps) you can see the bronze life size statue of Jefferson seated.

Most Portland high schools are named after presidents. Several have a full size statues. The downtown Park Blocks have the Lincoln and Roosevelt. Jefferson and Franklin grace their respective football fields. The Washington statue seems to have(since HS closed in the 1980’s) migrated to the busy corner of 60th & NE Sandy Blvd.

I think Grant, Wilson, Cleveland do not have statues (great men, poor presidents?)

The Jefferson is seated, loosely holding a book, life size. It’s been badly damaged by the weather, birds and generations of petty vandals.

Behind the Jefferson, framing the “front doors” of the school are four plaques, two of which are very interesting. I will write about the plaques tomorrow or so.

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