Tag Archives: 23 Sandy Gallery

The state of support for history in Oregon

Tom Fehrer, skulls, from "In the Navel of the Moon" at Camerwork Gallery, Portland.

By Bob Hicks

It’s pretty grim, according to Steve Law’s report, Historical Society may ask voters for tax levy, in The Portland Tribune, and Sarah Mirk’s followup, State History Museum Will Run Out of Cash in 2011, Pitches Tax To Stay Afloat, in The Mercury’s Blogtown.

Things are skeletal right now. Oregon Historical Society boss George Vogt says that Oregon ranks No. 50 in state support of its history museum. Not sure, but that sounds like dead last, unless they’re counting the likes of Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and Washington, D.C. in the rankings.

The state of Oregon, strapped for funds like every other state, has basically thrown its hands up and surrendered. The Historical Society is so far down the list of its priorities, it’s probably looking up at the likes of funding for bicycle lanes on logging roads in the Tillamook Forest (where something called the Tillamook Burn once happened, but looks like that’s, well, history now).

Vogt says the society will run out of cash next year. His solution? A five-year, $10 million levy on the November ballot that would add about $10 a year to the property-tax bill on a $200,000 home. The catch? It’s not a statewide levy — it’s just for Multnomah County. One of the undertold stories of Oregon politics is that greater Portland and the Willamette Valley have been paying a big share of the bills for most of the rest of the state for decades (urban Oregonians pay much more into the state coffers than they get back in services, and the “extra” money helps underwrite rural and small-town Oregon) but you rarely see it spelled out as baldly as this. The payoff: Multnomah County residents would get free admission to the museum, which ordinarily costs $11 for adults.

Portlanders tend to believe in their cultural organizations, and in ordinary times this would probably stand a fair chance of passing. But these aren’t ordinary times, and I’m guessing this levy, if it hits the ballot, will face a steep uphill challenge.

Thoughts on this? Hit that comment button, please.


The picture at top, by Seattle photographer Tom Feher, is just one of his many images of Oaxaca, Mexico, on view Aug. 21-Sept. 24 at Portland’s Camerawork Gallery. There’ll be an artist’s reception 1-4 p.m. on Saturday the 21st. Feher’s exhibit, In the Navel of the Moon, is all about history, and the ways that history persists into the present, subtly and sometimes not so subtly shaping what we think of as contemporary life.

Feher has been photographing life in Oaxaca for a dozen years, and lives there half of every year. Here are some of his thoughts on what’s become something of a life work:

Life, in all its aspects, is multilayered in Mexico generally, and especially so in Oaxaca. At its most superficial there is what the tourist sees: the color, the festivities, the unsettling chaos of the markets, streets and traffic. But it goes deeper than that. The countless churches built upon the remains of ancient temples; the religious services and celebrations, an admixture of the orthodox and the older native practices. City names, often a combination of the indigenous name with a post-conquest Saint’s name tacked on. Contemporary art frequently contains pre-Hispanic imagery. Even the food has its origin in the indigenous dishes that existed before the Spaniards came. It becomes evident that even as they live in an ever more contemporary world, there are people of today’s Mexico who still dream the dreams of the ancients and evidence it in their daily lives, as well as events that only thinly disguise their connection to rituals of pre-history.

Ah, but then again, history: Who needs it, anyway?


Intriguingly, Northeast Portland’s 23 Sandy Gallery has a show coming up in September that seems to dovetail in interesting ways with Feher’s exhibit at Camerawork. Portland photographer Stewart Harvey‘s I Am What I Need To Be, on view Sept. 3-18, is subtitled A Photo Essay on the Odyssey of Identity in New Orleans. It’s about the nature of creativity in the Crescent City, which seems to have a lot to do not just with the whims and brainstorms of young creatives but more importantly with the ways that the past weaves into the present and the future. In other words: History lives.

Compared to Portland, which “shares much of the same liberal spirit,” Harvey says:

… the Crescent City seems more enamored by cultural movements than the rabid individuals who create them. I was charmed by the willingness of New Orleanians to not only give sanctuary to the expressive oddball, but to provide a platform for their development.

Like Oaxaca, New Orleans has a deep and long-running history with bones: See Harvey’s photograph below. Unlike Oregon, it seems to think that history has a place in the present and future.

Stewart Harvey photographs skeletal revelry in New Orleans, at 23 Sandy Gallery in September.


PHOTOS, from top:

  • Tom Fehrer, skulls, from “In the Navel of the Moon” at Camerwork Gallery, Portland.
  • Stewart Harvey photographs skeletal revelry in New Orleans, at 23 Sandy Gallery in September.

The Tree of Life: We think it’s made of words

I’ve been thinking about Wordstock, Portland’s annual orgy of wordsmithery, which runs Oct. 10-11 at the Oregon Convention Center.

A tree of words by Holly A. SennLots and lots of good writers will be showing up: Glad, for instance, to see that Sherman Alexie‘s finally making the party, and so soon after nabbing the National Book Award for his first young-adult novel, the wrenching and funny Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

There’s a lot more to Alexie’s book than its few short passages on the art of manly self-delight, but those glowing paragraphs are going to help keep Part-Time Indian in a sort of Holden Caulfield furtive page-flipping, perennial-sales mode for a long time to come.

And I’ve been thinking about another annual people’s celebration of the arts, Portland Open Studios, which runs the same weekend as Wordstock and one more, too — Oct. 10, 11, 17 and 18. Entering its tenth year (Wordstock’s half that age) Portland Open Studios throws the doors open to 100 artists’ studios across the city and invites anyone who’s interested for a tour of the stage shop behind the scenes. For people struck dumb with the dreaded Fear of Galleries, this can be a reassuring and fascinating way to get inside the visual arts scene, to see the everyday workings of everyday working artists, to actually talk with the artists about what they see and think and do.

So then I came across the images above and below from Tacoma sculptor Holly A. Senn‘s just-closed installation at Portland’s 23 Sandy Gallery, and the thought struck me: Senn’s work, which I unhappily missed, bridges the gap between Wordstock and Portland Open Studios.

Senn, who is a librarian as well as a visual artist, makes forests and giant seed pods from abandoned books, reimagining them into fresh new life: words become art become words.

“My art investigations,” Senn writes, “are inextricably intertwined with my work as a virtual reference librarian at Pacific Lutheran University where, while surrounded by books, I interact with patrons who prefer digital resources. As I cut, rip, realign and glue, I reflect on each new generations’ collective erasure of some element of the past and its casting of new ideas into the future. My work is as ephemeral and fleeting as ideas committed to paper.”

What are we in the process of collectively erasing?

23 Sandy’s current show, Broadsided! The Intersection of Art and Literature, seems to be bridging the art/word gap, too. It’s a juried exhibition of broadsides, those fascinating blends of letterpress art and information, by 34 artists from across the United States and Australia. The show stays up through Oct. 31, so there’s plenty of time to see what’s up.


Ballyhoo hullabaloo: Out Oregon City way, in a town that’s ancient by Oregon’s thinly planted European standards, people know a thing or two about tradition. So maybe it makes sense that an old-fashioned play like Alfred Uhry’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo, a drawing-room dramedy that won the Tony Award for best play of 1997 and even then seemed a stylistic relic of a lost theatrical golden age, is on stage at Clackamas Repertory Theatre, the small professional company that performs at the O.C.’s Clackamas Community College.

Uhry’s play, set among the Jewish gentry of Atlanta in 1939, is about the layers of prejudice among the South’s several waves of Jewish immigrants. I’ve never been a fan of Uhry’s breakout play, Driving Miss Daisy — can’t get past the social implications of the sassy rich Southern woman and her devotedly longsuffering black servant — but I like Ballyhoo quite a bit, and the Rep’s production does well by it. My short review ran in Monday’s Oregonian. You can see the longer, more expansive version on Oregon Live.

Holly A. Senn installation at 23 Sandy Gallery

What’s old is new: Lovin’ that letterpress

Poster by Philip CheaneyMy front page this morning was nothing but economic trouble: condo sales in collapse, another bank failure, Congress squabbling over the price of health care reform, an analysis of the cash-for-clunkers program (it’s good for car companies, not so much of an environmental boon) and, tucked into one corner, the curious declaration by a group of economists that things are looking up. These were employed economists; unemployed economists tend to be more aware of the emperor’s bare behind.

We’ve had our share of bad news on the cultural front, too. A ballet company on the brink. A symphonic orchestra making deep budget cuts. A contemporary dance center in dire straits. All sorts of arts groups wondering, with good cause, whether they’ll make it through these tough times.

But the deal is, this town’s crawling with culture. It might not always be “high” culture and it might not always be buffered by wealthy patrons, but it’s all over the place, fed by the enthusiasms of people who create a scene around something because they genuinely enjoy what it is and the impact it has on their lives. Depression or not, you can’t keep curiosity from putting on its walking shoes and going out for a stroll.

Today I went to the minor mob scene that was the Letterpress Printers’ Fair at Liberty Hall, a small, well-weathered space stuck to a stubborn outcropping of North Ivy Street that refuses to give up its character to the waves of noise and hurtling traffic from the nearby freeway exchange that slashes through the neighborhood like a tornado through a Kansas farm. Liberty Hall clings to life and the public welfare like a robust, exotically flowering weed whose beauty is in the eye of chosen beholders. It’s a gritty joint, and I mean that in a good way.

Ivy turns into almost an alley at Liberty Hall, and today pedestrians took precedence over drivers. Printing enthusiasts were spilling out on the street. Vendors in the little front yard were cranking out sandwiches, selling carroty-looking cookies and cakes, dispensing drinks. The front porch was jumping, and once you got through the door it was like squeezing into the current with a school of fish. Rows of tables, a make-your-own print setup on the stage, printed T-shirts for sale and booth after booth offering greeting cards, posters, broadsides, hand-stitched books, pieces of old printers’ type, stationery and the varied wares of varied small presses.

1In one corner I ran into Laura Russell, whose 23 Sandy Gallery specializes in photography and book arts; in October her gallery will feature Broadsided! The Intersection of Art and Literature, a national juried exhibition of letterpress-printed broadsides.

“Crowded,” I said, squeezing into speaking range.

“This is quiet compared to this morning,” she shouted. “It was really packed then!”

So what excites all this passion? I think it has something to do with this city’s love for the small-scale, the handmade, the forgotten and outmoded, the aged but still lovely. With holding and feeling and handling things. With craft and artisanship. With making something on your own and saying, “That’s good!”

Printing is a tactile affair. It holds the advantage that a book holds over this digitized thing we’re writing and reading right now. It makes an impression, literally: little hills and valleys on the page, with the elegance and imperfections of the process. The paper, the imprint, the design, the stitching, the inking, all conspire to create something physical that offers the illusion if not the actuality of permanence. A letterpress creates a thing — a thing that can be beautiful, at a cost that most people can afford.

Like baseball, it holds its own history and its own language. The tray with the little cubicles that hold the print is the job case. The bits of blank metal that create spaces are called leading. You use coppers and brasses and kerns and ems and ens, and when you’ve finally got everything ready to roll you got that satisfying thwack! thwack! thwack!

Like haiku, a letterpress has severe limitations but opens a world of imagination. I saw some lovely bookmaking at the Oregon College of Art & Craft booth, and nice broadsides, and a series of fascinating monster cards — Dracula, King Kong, Frankenstein’s creature, with pertinent textual quotes for each — that caught my eye as a possible gift for my daughter, who knows her gothic although she is not arch.

“How much are these?” I asked.

“Oh, they’re not for sale,” a young woman replied. “These are just samples of students’ work that we’re showing.”

I liked learning about places with arcane names that stake their claim to their own oddball eddy in the stream. Letterary Press. Obscura Press. Cupcake Press. Twin Ravens Design & Letterpress. Red Bat Press. Stinky Ink Press (now there’s truth in advertising). Tiger Food Press. Emspace Book Arts Center. Bartleby’s Letterpress Emporium. Stumptown Printers Worker Cooperative, which promises “simple & sexy printing and paper-based products.”

So let the presses roll. Have fun. Surprise yourselves. Make beautiful things. Take sweet revenge on the economy. And try to keep your apostrophes under control.

Congratudolences, and other fables of the clear-cut economy

Update: Photographer David Paul Bayles’ free lecture at 23 Sandy Gallery, discussed below, has been postponed a week. Originally set for this Saturday, April 18, it’s been rescheduled for 6 p.m. next Saturday, April 25, at the gallery, 623 N.E. 23rd Ave., Portland.

Falling Tree #3, copyright David Paul BaylesA person of my close acquaintance (all right, she’s my daughter) has been laid off from a job she detests — indeed, a job which for at least a couple of years she’s harbored elaborate fantasies of quitting in grand-tragedian style. They beat her to the punch. She outlasted many of her friends at this Dilbertian company, who, she says, have created a greeting for new members of the formerly-employed-by-idiots club.

“Congratudolences,” they say, and they mean both halves of the word.

A person of my even closer acquaintance (all right, she’s my wife) is leaving a job she loves, because as a part-time worker she’s in recurring jeopardy of being laid off, and the industry in which she works, while a noble one, seems sadly to be circling the drain of no return.


The clear-cut just keeps getting closer, doesn’t it? If a tree falls in the middle of a forest and it smacks you upside the head, are you too dazed to feel it?

For our daughter, the timing isn’t too bad. In fact, it could scarcely be better. In the fall she’s off to seven years of grad school, maybe in Tucson, maybe in Austin, probably in Seattle, from which she’ll emerge with a Ph.D. in Gothic literature and perhaps a whole new set of occupational challenges.

For my wife, who departs her long-loved job with a modest yet under the circumstances generous severance agreement that will keep the wolf from the door for a year even if if she doesn’t find another source of income between now and then, this is what they call an opportunity. For reinvention, for redirection, for a fresh start, for the edge-of-the-seat thrill of making things up as she goes along. And she’s embracing it, almost cheerfully. More control of her schedule. A chance to freelance. Time at the beach. Is this what they mean by the “creative economy”? Among her many skills, which include organizational abilities that leave me fairly gasping for air, my mate is an excellent writer, with a rare and subversive wit. Perhaps that will make her fortune, as it has for us here at Art Scatter’s gilded world headquarters, where we’re envied by all as the Warren Buffetts of the blogosphere.

I think we’ll plant a garden this year. Tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, maybe a few cukes … does asparagus grow OK in a parking strip? Actually, in a weird way, this could be fun.


I like the intelligence and energy at 23 Sandy Gallery, an eastside Portland gallery I got to know when I wrote a story about its recent exhibit of on-demand fine photography books. The gallery emphasizes photography, hand-made books and graphic arts, all areas that are congenial to my own interests, and owner Laura Russell has a smart eye and an open mind.

This month the gallery is showing photos by David Paul Bayles of trees being felled — that’s his Falling Tree #3, which I shamelessly employed for metaphorical purposes, pictured above. And although I haven’t seen it yet, the show seems to suggest some insights into the world of tough economics as it’s been known in the Pacific Northwest for a long time. Here’s how the gallery’s Web site describes it:

From his early days as a logger in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to his present home on Dreaming Forest Farm outside Corvallis, David Paul Bayles has lived and worked from, with and in the trees. Of his many bodies of work focusing on trees, this group of 12 photographs features trees falling while being logged on one magical morning. Shot with an 8×10 view camera under demanding technical and physical conditions, these images capture the beauty of the forest and the grace and power of a tree in motion. It’s a haunting peek into a dangerous world that few ever experience — a world of rough men and “widow makers.”

Bayles, who considers himself a committed environmentalist (“In a forest I see communities of beings, creating and collaborating in the rich cycle of living and dying,” he says), speaks at the gallery at 5 p.m. April 18, and it could be well worth a visit.

The gallery is also featuring some hand-made, collage style books by Linda Welch that look bright enough to infuse a little happiness into a day dampened by the drizzle of the dismal science.