Tag Archives: Bonnie Bronson

Bonnie Bronson, in her own right

"Landscape through Window" (1986), lacquer on steel, 48 x 36 or 36 x 48 inches (installation  variable). Estate of Bonnie Bronson/Photograph: Ben Bright Photography.

By Bob Hicks

Artists get lost in the shuffle of time. It’s not unusual. Time loses all sorts of things, or rather, we humans lose track of things as time goes by. Reputations go up and down. Attributions change: “Caravaggio” becomes “Follower of Caravaggio” (note the anonymity of the designation), and sometimes the other way around. Whole schools and styles and time periods go in and out of fashion: Rococo, anyone?

Bonnie Bronson in her studio (1965). Photograph: Estate of Bonnie Bronson.Even in local and regional scenes, people get lost, especially after they’ve died: Out of sight, out of mind. In a way Bonnie Bronson, the Oregon City sculptor and painter who died in a mountaineering accident in 1990, was lucky: the annual art awards that sprang up in her honor have kept her name, if not her art, on people’s minds for the past 20 years. Still, most people who know about the Bonnie Bronson Fund don’t actually know much about Bronson the artist.

Thankfully, that’s changing this fall as a series of exhibits across Portland considers Bronson’s legacy in two ways: through the art produced by the 20 (so far) Bronson fellows, and through a long-overdue reassessment of Bronson’s own art. In Sunday’s Oregonian I took a look at two good exhibitions in town right now: curator Randal Davis’s gathering of Bronson’s art at Pacific Northwest College of Art, and curator Linda Tesner’s gorgeously installed exhibit of work by all 20 Bronson award winners.

By all accounts Bronson was a pretty amazing woman, adventurous and nurturing and free-spirited. It’s good to rediscover that she was a pretty fine artist, too.


PHOTOS, from top:

  • “Landscape through Window” (1986), lacquer on steel, 48 x 36 or 36 x 48 inches (installation variable). Estate of Bonnie Bronson/Photograph: Ben Bright Photography.
  • Bonnie Bronson in her studio (1965). Photograph: Estate of Bonnie Bronson.

Jack McLarty, 1919-2011: the final print

Jack McLarty's notebooks: Pacific Northwest College of ArtPacific Northwest College of Art

By Bob Hicks

This afternoon I drove into Northwest Portland to the Pacific Northwest College of Art to see the new exhibit of work by Bonnie Bronson, the Oregon City painter and sculptor who died in 1990 in a mountaineering accident. The show is the linchpin of a major citywide Bronson retrospective, which also includes exhibits at Lewis & Clark College, Elizabeth Leach Gallery and other exhibition spaces, and it’s well worth seeing: more on it later.

In PNCA’s little Corner Gallery just around the bend from the Bronson exhibit I discovered a small selection of prints by another Portland old-timer overdue for a revival of interest, Jack McLarty, and it delighted me. I’d been thinking about McLarty in the past few months, knowing he was getting older and wasn’t in the best of health, hoping someone might put together a retrospective or even a full-career catalog. And while this was just a very small show, it seemed like a beginning.

Then I discovered that Jack had died on July 10, at age 92. Because I’d been out of town (my own father had died two days earlier, at 94) I’d missed the news. This small show, it turns out, is a memorial. Assembled by artist Stephen Leflar, it opened on Aug. 4 and closes this coming Monday, Sept. 12, which means you don’t have long to catch it.

"Gordon and Vivian," Jack McLartyI never really knew Jack, although I talked with him several times. In the 1970s and ’80s I used to frequent the old Image Gallery that he and his wife Barbara ran downtown, a pioneer space that included Inuit and Mexican and other “folk” art in addition to McLarty’s own brand of homegrown modernism — pretty much no one of note was as intensely a Portland artist as he was. I reviewed a couple of his shows, briefly, and always enjoyed the long chatty letters that Barbara sent out, blends of professional marketing and family updates. I sometimes thought of McLarty as a sort of flip-side Henk Pander, a socially aware chronicler of the life directly around him, the Loki of the Portland art scene to the younger Pander’s reluctant Odin. All right, that’s an exaggeration. McLarty and Pander are both more and less than that. But they are that, too. One of my fears was that when Jack died he’d be forgotten, because I knew it was happening already. I also knew that only those who somehow hit it big are remembered beyond their own generation, and although I’m OK with that — it’s the way of the world — I also think that in certain cases it’s something of a shame. Because to me, Jack McLarty spoke to the spirit of a quickly vanishing Portland, a Portland that wasn’t necessarily better than the city it’s become but that was decidedly, and often fascinatingly, different — more independent, more rowdy, more straitlaced, more raw, less stuck on itself. It was a town that could be racist and uptight and wide open and generous at the same time, a place where cowboys and Greek sailors and slumming Ivy Leaguers liked to come to have a good time, which they were allowed to have, as long as they didn’t stray too far out of line or try to stick around and vote. Jack seemed to see all of that, and spoke to it in a way that artists can and politicians can’t or won’t.

McLarty’s work is busy and engaged and sometimes a little gossipy and often sharp at the elbows, in a sly to satirical way. He liked to be topical, and he liked to put prominent local art figures in his work, people like Gordon Gilkey, the garrulous print collector and curator who established the Gilkey print and drawing collection at the Portland Art Museum. Of the 15 prints on view in this mini-show, the one I love is McLarty’s chubby-cheeked, angel-winged vision of a superheroic Gilkey descending from the heavens into Portland. (I’m stealing an image, inset, of Gordon and Vivian, another McLarty print of Gilkey, from a Northwest Print Council page on the Western Oregon University web site, in hopes they’ll understand the theft is meant in the best possible way.) I’d give my eyeteeth for a copy of that angel-winged Gilkey print, if I could figure out exactly what an eyetooth is.

Nan Curtis? Pick up the phone, please

Portland interdisciplinary artist Nan Curtis is the 20th recipient of the annual Bonnie Bronson Fellowship Award. There’ll be a free public reception for her from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 25, in the Gray Lounge of Kaul Auditorium at Reed College.

Nan Curtis, "My Mom's Cigarette Wrapper" 2009 cigarette wrapper, paper, frame“My Mom’s Cigarette Wrapper,” 2009

By Bob Hicks

Don’t call them. They’ll call you. But you really do need to pick up the phone.

“My cell phone rang at 8:30 at night,” Portland artist Nan Curtis recalled the other day over coffee at inner Southeast Portland’s J&M Cafe. “My kids had just gone to bed, and — I didn’t know that number, so I didn’t pick it up.”

Then her land line started ringing. This time Curtis figured something must be up, so she answered.

Nan Curtis, "Mom Rocket," 2010. Steel, afghan, pillow.It was Christine Bourdette, the Portland sculptor who was the first recipient of the Bonnie Bronson Fellowship Award 20 years ago and is chair of the Bronson fund advisory committee. Congratulations, Bourdette  said. We chose you. Oh — and you can’t tell anyone for two months.

Just like that, Curtis joined a distinguished list of Oregon artists who have been named Bronson fellows. In order, the fellows include Bourdette, Judy Cooke, Ronna Neuenschwander, Fernanda D’Agostino, Carolyn King, Lucinda Parker, Judy Hill, Adriene Cruz, Helen Lessick, Ann Hughes, Malia Jensen, Christopher Rauschenberg, Kristy Edmunds, Paul Sutinen, Bill Will, Laura Ross-Paul, MK Guth, Marie Watt, David Eckard, and Curtis.

“Those are totally the artists that I grew up beneath. It’s a pretty cool list of people,” Curtis said.

Continue reading Nan Curtis? Pick up the phone, please

Portland Photo Month, all over town

"Still Life with Lemons, Grapes and Apple," Kerry Davis, at 12x16 GalleryKerry Davis/12×16 Gallery

By Bob Hicks

Quit fooling around with Photo Booth stretchy faces on your new iPad: time to get serious about this shutterbug thing. April is Portland Photo Month, aligning itself with the biannual Photolucida portfolio extravaganza, and high-quality photo shows are all over town.

On Saturday, a big handful of Pearl District galleries will be open late for receptions, generally until 7 in the evening and generally with the featured photographers on hand. Get details at the Portland Photo Month Web site, which has the advantage of also being an excellent virtual photogravure of what’s going on this month. You’ll also find listings of various artists’ talks: for instance, the excellent nature photographer Ron Cronin speaks at noon Saturday at Augen Gallery.

Mitch Dobrowner, "Bear's Claw," Blue Sky GalleryMitch Dobrowner/Blue Sky Gallery

In print: Meanwhile, I have brief reviews in this morning’s Oregonian A&E section of several gallery shows: Sean Healy’s small-town cultural lament Upstate, which involves a lot of cigarette butts, at Elizabeth Leach; Isaac Layman’s big manipulated household photos, also at Leach; Eirik Johnson and Julie Blackmon’s radically differing but equally appealing photos, at Laura Russo; and Kentree Spiers’ small bright semi-abstract landscapes at Blackfish. Pick up a dead tree and check it out, or see it online here.

Previews of coming attractions: This afternoon I’ll be having coffee with artist Nan Curtis, this year’s winner of one of Portland’s most coveted arts prizes, the Bonnie Bronson Fellowship Award. We’ll be passing along some of what she has to say. A public reception is coming up 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, April 25, in the lounge of Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium.

Last week I sat down with the excellent Portland actor Michael Mendelson (he’s opening soon in The Cherry Orchard at Artists Rep) to talk about his newest passion, the Portland Shakespeare Project. The new company, for which he’s artistic director, opens this summer with one of the Bard’s best comedies, As You Like It, plus a staged reading of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty, a comedy about English theater in the days when men and boys still played the women’s roles. More to come.

Finally, Mr. Scatter is getting ready to embark on yet another expedition into the wild and woolly northlands, on beyond the concrete canyons of Microsoftia and into the frontier territories of Bug and Jam. Who knows what wondrous unanticipated adventures might occur?