November 2005



The title “Coming of the White Man” after 1850 held no irony, only the silent respect of what Andrew Jackson Democrats called manifest destiny, later defined as missionary duty to expand and control western lands, to learn the Indians, to fence the fields, to shoot the buffalo, to whip the Spanish and scatter the English. Countless paintings, etchings, poems, essays used this title.

Native peoples, conceived of as mysterious, dangerous and ignorant by white pioneers and their artists, were often depicted in artwork of the time as stunned, entranced, or thrilled by the invasion of covered wagons. Later, when what we now call genocide began to sink in to the white consciousness, images of Native people transformed to defeated warriors, beautiful squaws, vast landscapes overwhelming tiny teepees, and later again, with photography, severe portraits of alien and rough strangers.

Now, secluded in a isolated section of Washington Park, this fantastic artwork Coming of the White Man steps out of the 19th Century time machine. For decades it has been kept off the track of tourists and acts as a rendezvous for the West Hills bottle gang. A bit of a treasure hunt? Go to 25th and Burnside and climb all the stairs!

Considering its over 100 years old and terrifically politically incorrect (our irony, the figures look toward the U of Portland statue three miles away, of Clark and York, with some traitorous guide), The Coming of the White man looks pretty good. Someone at sometime broke off the branch one of the figures held, and it could use a routine cleaning and waxing. The craftwork is excellent, quite first rate anywhere for that time.

From Portland Parks & Recreation – “Coming of the White Man was given to the City by the family of David P. Thompson, an early Portland mayor and donor of the Elk statue downtown in the Plaza Blocks. This bronze statue, sculpted by H. A. MacNeil and completed in 1904, features two Native Americans. Facing eastward, they look down upon the route that ox teams trudged bringing settlers to this part of the country. The older of the two is said to be Chief Multnomah of the Multnomah people.” How romantic.

From askart.com, “Born in Massachusetts in 1866, Hermon Atkins MacNeil became a well-known sculptor of Indian subjects, commemorative works and medals including the designing of the medal of award for the 1915 Pan American Exposition in San Francisco and the quarter dollar for the United States government. He was also a teacher. His sculptures are in many locations including the Supreme Court Building in Washington DC, the State Capitol Buildings in Connecticut and Missouri, and the City Park in Portland, Oregon. He died in College Point, NY in 1947.”

From nealauction.com “Trained in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and Academie Julin, Hermon A. MacNeil became renowned for his sculptures of Native American Indians and monumental works. MacNeil distinguished career including teaching art at Cornell University and the Art Institute of Chicago, winning the Rinehart Roman Scholarship and Silver Medal at the 1900 Paris Exposition, exhibiting at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, and designing the United States quarter.”

The Standing Liberty Quarter, by MacNeil, in circulation from 1916 – 1930. Nice.

McNeil also rendered the William McKinley Memorial at the capitol in Columbus, Ohio, in 1906.

Sculptors reworked ideas and artwork, often reproducing successful models in smaller forms – imagine the public sculpture was a marketing device for a smaller, home-sized version.

Here’s a version the Met in NYC owns. I think there are probably a lot of these floating around.

MacNeil was attracted to images of those suffering, or about to suffer. Or his audience was. I don’t know.

Here a home-sized version of his The Slave Block.

Great Portland tourist pictures – again, your virtual visit is more appreciated.

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This sculpture is Cat In Repose, by Kathleen McCullough, made in 1977 and part of the original group of public artworks set about the Portland Transit Mall.

From the pictures below, the artwork seems to have been damaged, perhaps not permanently, by the Transit Mall maintenance crew, using a high pressure washer on it.

Before – October 2003


After – October 2005

I can’t find anything on McCullough. Seems she, like several of the Transit Mall sculptors, stopped making or selling artwork soon after Tri-Met bought it. Considering the countless asses plopped onto it, buses careening about, and infinite cigarettes stubbed out on it, after 25+ years, this artwork has done its job and weathered well.

I read the Trail Blazers 25 point plan a couple of years ago, thinking the team had been taken over by PR consultants. They wanted to clean up their act, shoo bad boys from the roster, make the game safe for the red sweater season ticket holder from West Linn.

I hear this year because of a variety bureaucratic reasons the Trail Blazers are not competitive, even though they’re owned by one of the richest humans. I wonder why the red sweater set sticks with them. Why don’t the poor eat the rich? Such a puzzle.

In their squirm to both shed bum contracts + draw ticket buyers, Blazer management evidently decided petty vandalism would be the smart thing to do.

These posters are wheat pasted up in inner SE and NE Portland, sometime in October. The caption on one reads, “Hello Portland” introducing Nate McMillian, the longtime Seattle player and coach brought in to stiffen the backbone and tote moral authority at the Rose Garden. The second ironically reads “Ready or not, here we come,” with a picture of 18 year old rookie Martell Webster.

Does this buy street credibility? I dunno. Is it a crime to wheat paste commercial posters? I think so. Is it art? No. Does it give art a bad name? Yes. Just as basketball players need moral authority, so do commercial artists. There should be some sort of oath to tie up these fiends. Is this just advertising? Nope, it’s just vandalism.

What if the building owner gave permission (a possibility)? No, aping a crime in a corporate marketing campaign which represents young African American men is completely inappropriate in this city. The message is louder than “buy tickets.” The message is, “We’re inexperienced and foolish and from the ghetto” (presumably a place where wheat pasting commercial posters and showing up unready for work is accepted). Since Portland does not have a ghetto, the message is meant to ping folks who have some sort of memory of them.

Typically graffiti is anonymous, or cryptic, or something. Not this one. Pretty clear who is responsible.

Like to complain? You could email city staffer Marcia Dennis, but you could also more directly send your complaint to:

Steve Patterson President, Portland Trail Blazers.
The vice president of marketing for the Blazers is Marta Monett.
Both are at (503) 234-9291.

The city of Portland’s Grafitti Abatement Program, has an online complaint form. Like most of the horrible City of Portland website, you have to register to access the site. Ridiculous. “Closed for business.”

The purpose of a dealer is to make the deal, to sell the stuff and collect a commission. Prior to the internet, the NYC smoke an mirrors could be waved around these minor artists. Like H W Coe in 1920 standing in the Parisian studio, those rubes will be happy regardless.

Born in New York in 1926, Muriel Castanis began her artistic career as a painter but began creating cloth sculptures after noting the effect of glue on a rag. She is self-taught.

An Oregon Arts Commission “panel” bought this piece of artwork, Ideals by Castanis, using percent for the arts money. If from the Administrative Building behind it cost $1,000,000 to build, $100,000 would be spent on this sculpture + transport and maintenance – that’s the general idea.

Buy a postcard of it. Or buy a version yourself from the OK Harris Gallery in Soho.

Castanis has made and sold a bunch of these, all basically the same process and product, different poses, sometimes different materials.

1988 – at the University of Virginia, Untitled (Torso), 1988. Fabric and epoxy resin.

At Arizona State University, Statue of a Woman Looking to the Future. Maybe parked out in front of the library.


Here’s one at the State University of New York, up in Albany, made in 1993. Euphoria. From their web site, “Although she was involved with women artists’ groups in the early part of her career, Castanis felt she could not participate in the organizing and meetings such membership required.” Whatever.

Google gives us some opportunity for vigilance, but what’s lost in the meantime is respect. Certainly respect for the process of selecting artwork for public purchase, but also respect for the struggle to make something beautiful. The high cost of an artwork is really an accounting of the struggle, not a production line. This piece is commercial artwork, well made and curious, if not a bit gruesome, but in the end (and from the inside) not interesting at all.

Another five weeks or so and Commissioner Sam has weighed in on what to do about RACC.

Nice work if you can get it.

Remember? Those sunny days of August brought us a performance audit from the city auditor?

There was a piece in the Oregonian (their web site sucks), and of course a ping from me. Steadfast and anon.

I’ve also already commented on some of the irksome particulars, such as the missing database.

Commissioner Sam says the obligatory thanks to Gary Blackmer and lays out the initial response.

Got a problem without a solution? Create a committee with the Office of Management & Finance, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and “participating bureaus” to “develop clear guidelines and a city-wide process for consistent earmarking of eligible projects, proper payment schedules and a model for collaboration.” This is okay. No date by which to be finished and no public participation, but this is a start.

But it gets better.

Sam pledges in the memo to work with the council to boost Portland’s Percent for the Arts from 1.33% to 2% – and to pin down PDC so they pay their part for the arts as well.

Read the current city code and Sam’s draft revision.

This is all on Sam’s Blog. (We’ll look back on this City Council with great regard years from now.)

Good start. We’ll be watching. Here’s my two cents – what we need from RACC. A nice clean simple fiscal statement of purchases and non-administrative costs (maintanance, storage, shipping) once a year. No foo foo annual report. That’s what Willamette Week is for. Oh, and a current list of all artwork owned by the city.

The Portland Police NE Portland Precinct was tasked with colonial duties beyond law and order, and as a start was plopped down in a dead zone, Killingsworth and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd in 1994. Mrs. Terry Porter and Mrs. Buck Williams (back in the day – Blazers had wives!) chimed in with local boosters and built the Boys and Girls Club. Together, inspired by Tom Potter and with a lot of luck, a tide was turned. Some retail (including the super-friendly Reflections Bookstore) survived the transition.

Artwork, that 1% solution, helped initiate the building in its new role. It needed to be black, but not angry black. It needed to be soulful, but not hostile. It needed to be visible, but no tutorials, no politic, no comment. And the RACC has always specialized in sourcing unoffensive art.

Everyone loves Baba Wague Diakite. Even I love Baba Wague. So.

There are 28 ceramic tile sets of six squares, five in a vertical row, and a sixth at 45 degrees set below, set into the columns of three sides of the building. Animals, spirit beings, insects, fish + frogs. They’re nice and they’ve worn excellently. Bright colors!

On the East side of the building is a 5 x 60′ mural with a fountain called Pedestrian Parkway, which is joined by two sets of ceramic tiles created by kids at Dishman Community Center and at King Elementary.

Before the mural is a simple fountain with cement frog sculptures by Ronna Neuenschwander, Baba Wague’s wife. Doesn’t look like the fountain has been operating for quite a while.


Like the tiles, the mural is a pantheon of what I guess are figures from Baba Wague’s Mali stories. Frog and King Fish, monkeys and birds all clambering on a boat, perhaps illustrating a story written alongside the painting.

Attacted to the mural is one of the Mali stories Baba Wague loves to tell – of the Frog and the King Fish.

Baba Wague Diakite – The Hatseller and the Monkeys

Bio + resume at Africancraft.com

Baba Wague, workng in the schools and writing books for kids.

Baba Wague Diakite – The Hatseller and the Monkeys

Slide / lecture – Without Stories, There Is No Art

Just as cute and charming are the two sets of mosaic tiles.

+++

Speaking of police, today is the THIRD anniversary of the murder of Asia Bell. If you know anything about who committed this crime, immediately contact Bret Smith, NE Precinct Commander at 503-823-5700. You can send an anonymous email to wsvilar@police.ci.portland.or.us. This was a terrible crime – please help.

John Buchanan, in a memo sent to senior staff this afternoon, announced his resignation today. Front page of the Oregonian PM – aligned weirdly with the masthead. Of course, not on their web site, masterminded by nincompoops from another world.

I think Tyler from Art Journal had the story first in his BLOG. And he frames it not as Portland’s loss – but San Francisco’s gain.

KGW has the story – what little there is.

D K Row from The Oregonian gets page one – Art museum will lose Buchanan.

Bob Hicks chimes in with background on the story.

Portland Business Journal – Portland Art Museum director leaving for San Francisco

Associated Press – After elevating Portland museum, director leaving

Posted 11/19 SF Chronicle – Fine Arts Museums pick new director

Salem Statesman Journal – Director of Portland Art Museum steps down

Eugene Register Guard – Longtime Portland museum boss leaves

PAM has not posted a press release. FAMSF has – John E. Buchanan, Jr. Appointed Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

11/20 – Oregonian – How can we improve Portland Art Museum? short comments from the usual suspects.

More facts, but no one has the answer to WHY?

Just weeks after opening the sensational new Mark Building, this cannot have been in the plans. No word on whether Lucy Buchanan, possibly Portland’s most successful fundraiser, will go too (bet on it).

Provincial arts administrators always have to put up with small minded people. Well-paid and well regarded, the Buchanan’s will leave Portland a better place having spent the cash to distinguish this small town from Spokane or Des Moines.

Prediction: PAM sinks back into it’s natural turpitude. Expect resignations – or scandal.

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