April 2006

At the old art deco Ada County Courthouse in Boise they’re considering painting over WPA murals, uncovered after sixty-six years.

Read the AP story in the Albuquerque Tribune. Another version here in the NY Times. Fascinating how the Idaho Statesman hasn’t had the chance to mention this story. Here’s another version of the same story, with more historical information (mentions the artists, Ivan Bartlett and Jean Donald Swiggett).

What sort of mural gets forgotten for six decades?

Well, a mural of a couple of cowboy dudes getting set to lynch a naked red man. That’s what sort. Painted in California in the 1940s and hidden for years, this weird time traveler reminds us how just a generation ago the status of native people was second class – where “frontier justice” was the pride of the pioneers.

The Native tribal leaders want it painted over. Probably every politician in Idaho is running away from this one. (Gosh! That’s a dern shame. Better get some whitewash.)

NPR chimes in with a stupid piece of ambiguous radio. So stupid they followed it up the next day with a “letter” from a listener which put the issue plainly.

Well – actually – the murals weren’t “forgotten.” The artist and the work is well recorded at the WPA murals web site.

Regardless of the mural’s artistic merit, it now is a piece of history and needlessly demolishing it or shutting it away again shoves aside an important and hard lesson.

Drive by 12th down SE Morrison and you’re thinking “if I make the lights I can make it to my appointment downtown on time…” and not looking for art.

Blink and you’ll miss this neighborhood mural of Buckman, home of the semi-abandoned Washington High School, St. Francis Park, Girls Inc, Buckman University, Buckman School, Foti’s Greek Deli, Lone Fir Cemetery and Crema. And quite a bit in between.

This mural was made in 2004 by someone who signed it Frost Images. It is either unfinished or was quickly finished. There are parts which are missing. It has a nice, geographically-correct compass-map. It’s not listed on Metro Murals site (which hasn’t been updated or changed in several years) or RACC.

He made two welded iron sculptures, in 1974 and 1976, which have lasted far longer than the businesses they were originally made for, parked out on SW Capital Highway, just north of Tigard.

The female form is staged in an awkward position, holding a lamp, in front of an office park. A little larger than life size. She has rust spots, but weathered quite well and looks like she’s had a coat of paint or two in the past thirty years.

Her hair is cut like leaves, folding around her face. After half a lifetime of whizzing by at 40 miles an hour I had only an indistinct impression, of cardboard maybe, or heavy layers of duck tape.

Up close, which I imagine only the grasscutter or a lost teenager might ever be, she is quite elegant. Posed, like a fairy from Midsummer Night’s Dream, or a child captured in the pop of a flashbulb. Light and floating, wind rippling her shirt.

The male form, about two blocks down the hill and twice life size, is of a Revolutionary War Minuteman soldier, rifle ready, marching off to battle. I think he was made for a national insurance company which had this fellow as a mascot. Minuteman Insurance I guess. Or was Bell a U Mass grad?

The Minuteman’s iron is a much heavier gauge and he has different shades of brown, black and gray paint which make it hard to see details clearly.

Over the decades a large maple has grown up in front of him so he’s masked off from view. Was he moved? What a chore that must have been. I seem to remember at some point he was in a different position. Same parking lot though. I think.

I haven’t the slightest idea who Carlton Bell is. I don’t think he’s dead, but I can’t find any other sculptures made by him. Because these are so stylish of the times, the mid 1970s, they were made for a business and not cheaply, it’s doubtful they were a student’s work.

Was Carlton Bell a high school art teacher with an oxy acetylene torch who needed a summer project? Were the two statues mass produced in a far off studio (like the hideous Allow Me in Pioneer Square) and sold to office mall developers via catalogue? Who knows? If you do, I would like to know.

These two posters of Patrice Lumumba Ford were pasted to a sign pole on N Weidler and Williams soon after he plead guilty in 2003 to a set of charges, which in the light of another federal administration will seem ridiculous.

Read the plea for yourself. September 11 did not change everything. It has successfully made fools of our prosecutors and judges however.

About forty of these posters went up around Portland within a couple of days of the plea agreement. All are gone now but these two. The others have been carefully scrubbed away from both public and private surfaces.

Looking closely at these remaining posters is interesting. The posters showed Ford’s full handsome and happy face, and said something like – “We’ll remember you Patrice.” Not a surprising message from his own neighborhood.

The posters have been scraped with a sharp blade like a putty knife and spray-painted with an off-yellow paint. His eyes and mouth are the targets. A close look shows first scrubbing with a liquid + brush, then scraping, then later spray paint, and then scraping again. Someone was determined – and angry.

Read – Willamette Week’s The Making of a “Terrorist”

Read – Wiki’s description of the Portland Seven.

Read the Oregonian’s coverage of the trials during 2002 + 2003. These lackey lapdogs have the political savvy of

Read – Portland radical political history tour.

Read – how the Portland police have made a long history of spying and lying.

Yes, Patrice Lumumba Ford’s father was a Black Panther leader in Portland. What great African hero did he name his son for?

There are certain small businesses where the proprietors make a habit of creating odd, semi-permanent museum-style windows displays. Mom & Pop pharmacies (oh, here I am showing my age) often have vials filled with vivid fluid or measuring scales or toy autos from the turn of the century. Why? No idea. Is it art? Your guess is as good as mine.

This is truly one of Portland’s weirdest window displays.

Name that shop – win a secret prize! Hint – it’s in the center of the city, not exclusive in any way, a shop with over 10,000 passersby each day, and that dust in the tray is very real.

Prior to Portland’s insane bureaucracy around mural artwork exploded in 1998, when AK Media, now called Clear Channel, sued the city, mural artwork was blooming all across the city, including on or around many elementary schools.

Across the street from James John School in the St. Johns neighborhood is this rectangular mural, expressing the geography – both natural and unnatural – which defines this complex quadrant between the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

The painting is on a semi-abandoned building and hard to see from almost any position. The colors are bright and intriguing – the colors you would find on a ramble through the fields and streams of Smith & Bybee lakes, or trundling by the riverside through the Baxter McCormick superfund site.

It’s a map of the neighborhood – from the St. Johns bridge and following the rivers and sloughs. Herons, boaters, a smoke-belching factory, a concrete pipe gushing run-off into the stream, bumblebees, green water grass, willows and cottonwoods.

Surrounding the mural are four statements – none with attributions.

This was the most beautiful stream in the world. I think this must have come from a child – it captures the sadness of this community, that they live within a ecological wonder which, unprotected, was poisoned by greedy corporations.

“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one”Jacques Cousteau. We forget how Cousteau’s gentle eco-humanism swum through the television blue on Sunday nights during the childhood’s of the 40 somethings.

“In the end we will conserve only what we love”Baba Dioum, a Senegalese conservationist said this during a 1968 general assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in New Delhi, India.

The full homily goes, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught.” Good stuff to be teaching teachers.

Finally –
Perhaps our grandkids will never miss the chance to see a wild river.
The grammar here misleads, some local Engrish, but the intention matches Cousteau concern for the multi-generational communications problem a free market, corrupt politicians and the fragility of our planet.