April 2007

Peter Helzer’s Alligator and Otter is at Arbor Lodge Park in North Portland. It’s a small bronze statue of two animal characters fresh from a summer swim, reminiscent of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, comfortable, at kid level to encourage contact. Kids must like it.

(Some irony that the adjoining fountain has not been turned on in the past decade. Kids now ponder the structure & try to calculate what it is at all. A fountain? Really? Turn it on and it’s a fountain. Until then, it’s a strange concrete disk.)

The RACC plaque holds a brief artist’s statement from Helzer, “This sculpture is for all who enjoy the simple pleasures of a beautiful Oregon day. May it serve to remind us of good friends, good times, and good memories.”

Helzer, an Oregon sculptor, also remembered Oregon’s greatest writer, Ken Kesey, in bronze.

His impact on literature, on pop culture, on our national capacity to question authorities is inestimable. Yes his output was uneven, yes he coasted for a generation, yes he misbehaved, yes he started something he couldn’t contain. So what.

Here’s the press release announcing the unveiling of The Storyteller.

Here are pictures and a description of the unveiling of The Storyteller.

In 1990 Helzer memorialized Jed Kesey in a bronze relief map of Eugene and environs. Jed Kesey and a wrestling teammate were killed in an auto wreck in 1984.

Medford Tribune – Art & soul: Sculptor lives for his work

Contact II by Alex Liberman is repaired, repainted and restored to Jamison Square.

See – Contact II – Spring Cleaning
See – Pop Art Classic in Need of Help

No irony here – Ada County officials have done exactly the right thing in choosing over much debate to leave alone and exposed the recently revealed WPA mural of a 19th century lynching.

As posted about in Portland Public Art a year ago, see Idaho Lynch Mob Mural, Boise found a remnant of our racist past, hidden behind a curtain in it’s own courthouse.

From the Spokesman Review: BOISE – Despite recommendations that a controversial mural showing the lynching of an American Indian should be moved, covered up or explained with an interpretive plaque, a legislative task force has decided to leave the historic mural on display in a building where state offices are opening.

State workers moved into the old courthouse this week, and the next legislative session will be held there, beginning in January. Mike Nugent, manager of research and legislation for the state Legislative Services Office, said no one had asked him about the murals yet, but he’d only been working in the building for a few days.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of foot traffic yet,” Nugent said.

Local do-gooders, basically media and academics, are chagrined at the decision. Why dispute local tribal leaders? Why stoke the national opinion North Idaho is filled with racists rednecks? Why hurt prospective business and tourism?

Because anything else – hiding the mural, destroying it, removing it – would be dishonest to history. The mural exposes a moment when this image was NOT shocking, a time when justice by the gun, by the rope and by the mob was common and accepted, when lynchings were just an unfortunate but practical tool of our recent past. Painted by self-taught artist Fletcher Martin in the early 1930s, the mural was draped with Idaho and US flags by Gerald Schroeder now chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, then managing the district court for Ada County.

Is it not true? No – it seems the murals don’t tell a particular story, but no one denies lynchings occurred, and historical records are littered with accounts, in all the western states and provinces. What do the tribes want? For the murals to be preserved and removed. Preserved – maybe. Removed? Why? Are they not true?

This story shows another aspect to the complication of public artwork; that in a generation or two, images I, you, we all, consider interesting, important, story-telling, whatever, can transform, because of the public artwork’s commitment to sustaining permanence, into a hideous reminder of prejudice and violence, a reminder of our common past – a past we forget or remove at our mutual peril.

Spokesman Review sez Our View: Wrong message – Inaction on Boise courthouse murals irresponsible

From the OSU Daily Barometer Oregon artist Lee Kelly’s sculpture has been around for a number of years, but he’s not quite sure how many.

The welded, three-piece steel sculpture – likely a product of the 1970s, Kelly said – vanished in December from outside the Valley Library.

Read the rest at No clues yet in missing sculpture case: Donated artwork disappears from outside the Valley Library

This artwork is located in SE Portland at Lincoln and about 50th Avenue, attached to what is now a yoga shop. I don’t know the artist or when it was made. Looks like it’s been there awhile – longer than the yoga shop.

Anyone know? Can anyone claim this artwork? Leave a comment if you know who made this public artwork.

(above cartoon of one of David Elsey’s poems is from a series at blog Turn The Page)

Like a famed cockroach I was a verse libre poet, a hard worker with pad and quill; I could separate Malcolm Lowery from Robert Creeley in a dozen dimensions. I haunted the Mountain Writers Series, volunteered at ArtQuake, joined the OSPA, clamored at open mikes, encouraged youngsters, translated the forgotten, published the ingenious. Matt Groening, of all people wiped my ambitions out with a cynical swipe, with a Life In Hell comic – you poets know which one I mean. It struck me to the core – so true, so completely undoing my every shallow nuance. My friends and family were visibly relieved.

Here’s what I know is true about poets. They never give up. They can’t be stopped. No amount of foreclosure, of earthly dread will affect their relentless output of words.

Those of us who put the pen down are fakers. Or were fakers. Now we have quit: we’re the quitters.

What makes a poet, in a large part, and what makes an artist, is this blind determination to make things, carefully construct a representation of their heart and soul, prepare it in a suitable socially acceptable format, and send it out into the wild world to wait for an audience, a buyer, a reader. It’s a game of altruism, a dance of language, the magical charge sparking between me and you.

David Elsey is a poet – a Portland poet dedicated to every part of the community of poetry. He has a purpose and a voice, and he has published poems and a stories in magazines throughout America. He has also published four chapbooks with Quiet Lion Press, Gray Light, Finding Evidence, Green Water Tower, and Always There. He is one of several poets-in-residence at Multnomah County Library’s Central Branch.

What’s made David great is his focus and constant toil on his craft, his words. When you read them, they’re often small. About a small thing, but just right. Try out this one.

Last night: plinks on a tin roof.
This morning: pools where potholes were,
shimmering disks and ovals.

That’s it. That’s enough. David writes about urban nature, about his crazy family, about strong feelings and loneliness. He’s a survivor, alone with his words for a lifetime on this planet. His poetic voice is close to the ground, constructed with care and purpose, and recognizable over years of writing, publishing and reading.

Read more David Elsey at Wordstock.
Scoring Points and One More Morning – by David Elsey
Portland Poets, past & present

Here’s the second post in the brief campaign to draw attention to three important artworks at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon – both of which are in need of attention, both for restoration and conservation.

The artworks are the two relief plaques facing the football field by Avard Fairbanks, and a life size sculpture of Jefferson by Karl Bitter. I wrote about the Bitter Jefferson last week, and you can read about it HERE.

See all three artworks at the Portland Public Art Photo Archive.

Avard Fairbanks was a painter, a sculptor and a graphic artist. He has several pieces in Portland and visited the city often. Best known is the mother with two children sculpture in Ester Short Park in Vancouver, and the relief of fire chief David Campbell. Fairbanks created the official insignia for Standard Insurance, a gold plate with an emblem carving. The plate is mounted at the front door of the downtown Standard Insurance Building. But perhaps his best-known work is seen almost everywhere and came with his long arrangement with Dodge – it’s his sculpture of a ram’s head which is mounted on the hood of every Dodge truck.

More about Fairbanks HERE.

The two Fairbanks reliefs are from 1925 and are made of bronze, which now has a bright green and black patina from oxidation and mild corrosion. Each is the same size, about 30 inches wide by 70 inches high, with a maximum depth of about 1.5 inches. I don’t know if they’re replications of other Fairbanks artworks, but the images are so striking it’s hard to imagine he walked away from them – either before or after.

The first is a image of death and resurrection, a memorial to the Jefferson boys killed in WWI. In the image, soldiers in gas masks lay low in their trench. One soldier stands, has taken off his gas mask and his jacket and is dropping his weapon. He is rising, guided by a female Hermes to Elysium. His comrades stare straight ahead, the eye plates of the masks opaque, their heartless duty ahead. It’s a terrible and powerful image – especially in light of our pointless war and on-campus recruiting.

Inscribed in the bronze is, “Dedicated to the Jefferson High School students who served in the world war. In memoriam.” And then a list of seven names of Jefferson boys.

The second artwork by Fairbanks at Jefferson High School is a bicentennial marker for the Corps of Discovery, showing Lewis & Clark, animals, a landscape and Indians.

Below the relief tableau is a bronze plaque on which is written, “In tribute to the intrepid explorers Lewis and Clark who saved the West for the United States. May the youth of the West offer to our country trained minds and high ideals.”

The minute and overlooked words of this plaque expose the grandiosity of history; how much has changed the just the past 80 years! How cleverly we have reconstituted Jefferson’s grand venture, and now reconsider the effects of what would later be called manifest destiny.

Between the two Fairbanks reliefs are two smaller plaques, just of words, remembering the Jefferson boys who fought and died in World War II and in the Korean War.

The content of all three artworks – the two Fairbanks and the Bitter Jefferson – are especially poignant – right now.

All three sculptures are in terrific need of help. Estimates from reliable local conservators have ranged from $5,000 to $10,000 to pay for these much needed repairs. If there is a local arts lover, a history enthusiast, someone who sees the continuing need for these bronze symbols, please step forward by contacting the PPS superintendent’s office at superintendent@pps.k12.or.us.

I’ll return to the Jefferson High School Campaign in a post or two – having a blog is really a sanctuary for ADD.

As readers of this blog know – public art and memorials are constantly intermixed.

Roadside memorials are a interesting form of expression – as powerful up close as any sanctioned cemetery or sorrowful poem. And there are many forms – including Ghost Bikes. Sudden and strange, these icons, bikes painted white and set at a fatal accident location, make you grip your steering wheel instantly. Watch out!

Ghost Bike – New York (via the Times, may need reg.)
Ghost Bike – Chicago
Ghost Bike – San Francisco
Ghost Bike – Wisconsin
Ghost Bike – from Portland’s MLK & Wygant, memorializing Chris Burris, killed by a hit-and-run driver on 9/3/2005.

Here are three other roadside memorials which, I think, typify the artstyle. (Click on the pictures for a larger version.)

At the northbound I-5 onramp at Hayden Meadows in North Portland is a humble roadside memorial for Frank Vanerstrom, killed on August 3, 2005 by George C Hoff of Longview, (mugshot here) who according the papers, looked back and saw Frank hurt in the road, then sped off.

Frank, described by the Portland police as “a transient” (see James Chasse) had friends and family, some of whom made this small memorial, set on a grassy hillside by the road.

Hoff was charged with second-degree manslaughter and hit-and-run. He plead guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to 90 days in jail (probably time served), 36 months’ probation and lost his driver’s license for five years.

This artwork is made from objects one might find along the side of a road. The classic Christian cross is made here from two wood sticks wrapped in electrical wire and propped up with bricks and rocks. An inscription is written on a scrap two by six with a black marker. Plastic flowers, pennies, a toy peace medallion, and inserted in a crevice a small wooden box holding string and a tie-dyed headband. The ensemble is spray-painted or spackled a ghostly white.

Shango Wade and his girlfriend Debbie Payton were shot to death in their car at North Killingsworth and Rodney after confronting Earl Wilkins at his home nearby. Wilkins later confessed to stealing from Wade and Payton, and though he tried to excuse his actions as self defense, he’s in OSP for a long stretch – not on death row, though he was tried for aggravated murder – See Oregon v Wilkins for all the details.

This time – 1994 – was a scary time for North Portland. Crack was cheap and available on a dozen street corners. The cops were scared or dumb or on the take or a combination of all three. Treatment centers and social services were being downsized. Gangs from LA and Mexico were popular with kids. Even with such noise – this was an awful and memorable tragedy.

Tyler Steven Erik “Ty Ty” Basel of Elmira died July 25 2004. He was five years old. The Register Guard described how his family had pulled over with car problems at a lonely point on I 26, between Eugene and Florence. Somehow Ty Ty ran barefoot into the highway and was killed by a passing motorist.

His memorial is set against the backdrop of the gigantic Sisulaw forest, and seemed to have been built by several people, each carefully avoiding contact with each other.

A piece of scrap marble makes a memorial stone. Ty Ty’s mother has written a short, wrenching remembrance in curlicue script and pasted a department store photo of the boy to the stone. Someone cut steps in the clay, and outlined a small site with cedar timbers, a church of giant trees, of infinite wild nature. A pile of tires. Toys and scraps of paper, plastic flowers. Nettles and giant mushrooms. Menacing cars slide by. The boy’s photo appears again screwed to a tree on with a scrap wood cross, decorated with fishing lures. Above the cross is a slice of ancient wood with “In Loving Memory of Ty Ty – Tyler Steven Eric Basel” deeply etched into the grain.