March 2007


The Art Journal’s blogs are uniformly very good so it’s a special pleasure to have a nice mention of this blog by Glenn Weiss, former director of the Broward County Public Art Program, the King County Public Art Program, 911 Media Center and the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York.

Glenn’s blog, Aesthetic Grounds, has been running since January. He’s identified (and joined the rest of we public art watchers) a vacuum of critics of this important, popular and political art form – public artworks.

Read his comments about other public art blogs – both “volunteers” and publicly funded at Volunteer Websites for Public Art.

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This post begins a campaign, I hope a brief one, to conserve and restore – both as artworks and as important, worthwhile messages to our community – three artworks which have languished for some time without proper care or attention.

These artworks, three bronze sculptures located at Jefferson High School in North Portland, have flown under the radar of a generation of Portland arts enthusiasts. I hope, by drawing your attention to them, to their value as aesthetic objects and as historical objects, to secure funds for their care and protection.

Because all three hold important, worthwhile messages for both the students at Jefferson High School, for it’s surrounding community, and for the public at large, I believe this campaign is worth time and attention. Because all three fall outside of the responsibility for our local arts bureaucracy to care and protect, and considering the funds available to the school are best spent directly educating students, it falls to the interested public to support this effort.

Click here to see images of all three artworks.

I’ll write about the history of Jefferson as an arts school and about the two other important artworks at Jefferson in upcoming posts.

Today let’s look at a sculpture of Thomas Jefferson by Karl Bitter.

Karl Bitter’s statue of Jefferson matches – but is not identical to – another he made for the University of Virginia, which stands at the gates of their law library. Bitter made about 50 statutes, and made a living making and selling small reproductions of them to collectors. He’s well regarded; there is a biography of Bitter and his work available at the Crumpacker Library at the Portland Art Museum or the public library.

More about Karl Bitter.

Both sculptures are basically unknown by the Jefferson community, and by the arts community in Portland (there may be a few history geeks who know about them, but hardly a handful.) They are, I think, the only artworks of historical value owned by the Portland Public Schools. The content of all three are especially poignant – right now.

Version of Jefferson by Bitter at Cuyahoga County Courthouse.

Version of Jefferson by Bitter at University of Virginia.

All three sculptures are in dire need of cleaning and the application of a microcrystalline wax. These tasks need to be done by a metals conservator or an arts conservator – of which Oregon has a dozen or so. I’ve known of the sculptures for 30 years or so, and in that time they have received no care at all.

This elegant bronze sculpture of Captain Carlton Bond fronts the Pearson Air Museum at Fort Vancouver in Vancouver Washington. By Bill Bane, this artwork has great character – Captain Bond looks over the horizon, pondering the future and all its possibilities. The wind rips around him, blowing his scarf – you can feel the chill of the early morning.

The sculpture of Captain Bond was paid for by a donation from the late Eunice and Ken Teter, former County Commissioner and City Councilor, and together, art lovers.

What’s else is there at Pearson? Fourth of July fireworks, dog running, pioneer reenactments at Fort Vancouver, the slightly obscure Center for the Columbia River, and the marker for the Soviet transpolar flight of 1937 in an ANT-25 monoplane flown from Moscow in 63 hours, 16 minutes (don’t know this trivia? Consider the three Russian soldiers in Ninotchka landing in 1939.) Why Pearson? I think they were headed to San Francisco & ended up slightly north of their destination. Of course – the Pearson Air Museum.

Bane created the lackluster Vera Katz of the Eastbank Esplanade, and the Buckskin Brigade at the Clark County Courthouse (also purchased for by the Teter’s).

Though I like this sculpture a lot – there is one problem. Captain Bond is only about 4.5 feet tall. I imagine it went like this; Bane brings in the model and the old duffs say yep, looks great. Then Bane hands them the estimate and the duffs grunt and swallow hard, “Gee Bill, this is about 40% more than we can spend!” Bill says I have a solution for that.

History of Pearson Airport

There’s no better way to support the arts than buying art – and if you have a chance to double the effect of your purchase by also supporting arts education – well, you become something of a philanthropist.

But – you say – most “school arts sales” are crap, and most arts education fund raisers raise funds for fund raisers. You say, pooh, I will keep my small change and keep change small.

False! And false assumptions. Buckman Elementary, a public school of smallish children in inner southeast Portland, has an integrated arts curriculum which orients students to the importance of the arts and the ability to make art, see art, and appreciate art.

Buckman’s annual art sale is managed by volunteers and rewards both the contributing artists, and the school.

The 17th annual Buckman Art Show & Sell runs on Friday, March 16, 2007, 5:00 to 9:00 PM, and Saturday, March 17, 2007, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The school is located at the at 320 SE 16th Avenue.

Artists showing include Jane Aukshunas, Bruce Orr (think of the SCRAP mural), Michelle Ramin, Diane Archer, glass artist Kurumi Conley, Painter Jamee Linton (her work is shown here), mixed media artist Nim Xuto – and dozens of others.

Menomena Wet and Rusting, on Barsuk Records. Latest DIY stuff from Portland’s experimental art rock trio. Imagine Pink Floyd mixed with XTC, Pond, and a slight hint of Triumph. Aside from MTV, I think this is the first look at this video by Lance Bangs.

Menomena interviewed in PSU Vanguard.

Menomena on wikipedia.

Menomena in Seattle Weekly.

Dave Allen podcast interview with Menomena.

A teacher gave me a copy of When You Were Fifteen, a modest paperback text made by Multnomah County’s Community Justice office (your parole officers), Reclaiming Futures and Write Around Portland.

Ahh you say, more bullshit propaganda. Nope. Quite the opposite. I cried all night.

Reclaiming Futures, a national nonprofit run out of Portland State University and funded by Robert Wood Johnson, has published simular texts in Anchorage, Southeast Kentucky, Seattle, and Portland.

The contents of the Portland version is a mix of short autobiographical essays from recognizable Portlanders, mixed with kids at Donald E Long – our jail for kids.

David Sarasohn of the Oregonian writes the introduction. Others writers include City Councilman Sam Adams, master drummer Obo Addy, verse libre poet Leanne Grabel, Lewis & Clark’s Kim Stafford (shown here), schools superintendent Vicki Phillips, addiction doc Jim Thayer, and retired rock star Art Alexakis.

Fifteen is old enough to know the truth and not know what to do with it. It’s a terribly fragile moment of freedom and dependence, of sexual magic, of opportunity to explode, of frantic creativity, of hunger for mystery, for passion, for love.

Not disappearing is often the result of a small effort which is incomprehensible at the moment. Like all our travels, our paths feel unique and hard. Separated by years, we pant with gratitude.

You can download a copy of When You Were Fifteen HERE.

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Why I Didn’t Disappear – by Sam Adams

At fifteen, life was difficult. There was a reason for that.

I lived with my Dad. He was a heavy drinker. Our home life in Eugene was infused with alcohol. It was an often violent place.

Once, a friend and I were on a binge. We got into a conversation about the meaning of life. We summarized life as, “booze and social mix.”

Things felt pretty bleak.

My Dad and I had a combustible relationship. I had to get out of his house. I feared for my safety. So I moved out. I lived largely on my own at fifteen.

Right away, I felt better. I joined the cross-country running team and worked on the school newspaper. I got a job at Mr. Steak. I realized that I had incredible opportunities, in spite of my circumstances.

There were two teachers at school who kept me going: Sue Addicott and Byron Dudley. They didn’t fawn all over me. I would not have liked that. They just showed a little extra interest.

They’d stop me in the hall once in a while and tease me. They teased
me in a way that made the point clear – they expected me to do something with my life.

And because they showed that little extra interest in me, I realized that I should show a little extra interest in myself. It didn’t take much. I didn’t grow up in a home with a lot of positive feedback.

Sue got me into photography. It turned out that I was pretty good at it. Sue didn’t pull punches with her criticism, but she always encouraged me. She told me: pursue what you like until you find something else. I’d never experienced that kind of support. I surprised myself when I won a statewide photography award.

Byron was the faculty advisor for the student government. My knees shook when I had to speak in front of any group. But Byron said something like, “You’re stubborn but in a good way.”

Now I’m on the Portland City Council. I am still stubborn about getting things done. When I was fifteen, me serving on a city council would have seemed impossible. Byron nudged me to try out abilities I didn’t even know I had.

If it hadn’t been for Sue and Byron, I would have disappeared. My siblings weren’t so lucky. They didn’t have the help I did to get through. They’re all right now, but they struggled for a long time.

My life could have gone bad, but Sue and Byron made the difference. I knew they were there, keeping an eye out for me, and helping me to see beyond the problems in my family to all the possibilities in my life. I think every kid deserves at least one adult who believes in them like Sue and Byron believed in me.

Whoever did the ad buys for Americans for the Arts screwed them, screwed arts enthusiasts, and screwed taxpayers.

Great agency – Americans for the Arts. Somehow they’ve finagled some ready cash to do a national promotion. Possibly the least effective way at the highest cost to promote the arts is with billboards, like this one on Highway 30 which heads North to Astoria.

Well, the neutral bystander might say, the ad space is probably surplus and donated by those nice folks at Clear Channel. They love the arts.

Wrong. Even if the ad space is a donation to Americans for the Arts, Clear Channel will deduct it’s retail value from their taxes. Since, as you can see, the location was probably entirely ineffective, there is little benefit to the arts and total benefit to Clear Channel.

And consider the bitter irony of Clear Channel’s protracted battle with the City of Portland to secure the number of billboards which has resulted in a ridiculous bureaucratic hurtle for public artists, stifling creativity and creation.

Speaking of reasons to hate the rich, if you’re still a patsy for the Pearl District, note tax assessments in Portland are available online. Check out the home of (semi-randomly chosen person) Ray Davis, CEO of Umpqua Bank. Market value as listed by the city? $973,100. Assessed value? $8,600. Annual property tax Mr. Davis pays? $136.07. Check out how much you’ll pay, or will pay through your landlord at Portland Maps. Property taxes pay for schools, arts education for children, and for agencies like RACC. If you’re not paying property taxes, you’re not supporting the arts.

Thanks to Jim at SavePortland.com!