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.

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