Tag Archives: Terry Toedtemeier

Monday scatter: Ballet blues, theater dreams, Gypsy Rose Lee

Update: After posting this I ran into Jon Ulsh, OBT’s executive director, who pointed out that OBT isn’t cutting all live music: There’ll be some, but not the full orchestra. That’s an important distinction. Even a pair of pianists can make a huge difference, as OBT’s recent premiere of Christopher Stowell’s version of The Rite of Spring showed so satisfyingly. Cutting the full orchestra, Ulsh said, saved $300,000. That still left $1.7 million to cut elsewhere. After explaining the cuts, he excused himself. “I’ve got to go raise some money,” he said.

OBT Nutcracker, 2007The news today isn’t good, and it isn’t unexpected: Oregon Ballet Theatre, faced with tumbling income because its ordinary donors don’t have the money to give anymore, is slashing its budget by 28 percent. That’s an overnight cut from $6.7 million to $4.8 million, as Grant Butler reports in The Oregonian.

These are the times we live in, and Scatter partner Barry Johnson talks about their effect on the city’s arts scene in his Portland Arts Watch column this morning on The Oregonian’s Web site, Oregon Live.

Oregon Ballet Theatre is very good: This rising company has been making a genuine mark nationally. But in today’s shell-shocked economy it’s not enough to be good. You also have to have a cushion. And that, OBT does not have. It has no endowment, and its always-thin budget is brittle to the point of breaking. Butler reports that the number of full-time dancers will drop from 28 to 25, which isn’t precipitous, although none of these dancers is exactly striking it rich, and three more high-quality artists will now be out of work.

As troubling from an artistic view is the sacrifice of live music for at least the next season. Maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal — maybe the world of contemporary dance has got you used to the idea of canned music — but they call it “canned” for a reason: It’s prepackaged, unchanging, from a dancer’s view metronomic, or at least predictable: It doesn’t have the edge that live musicians supply. Ballet thrives in the thrilling uncertainty of the moment, when conductor and musicians and dancers all respond to the others in real time and everyone’s attention is heightened. Great ballet requires live musicians. Now, the dozens of talented musicians who make up this orchestra are out of a job, too.

Live music, including full orchestration, has been one of the prime aspirations and foundations of Christopher Stowell’s vision for this company since he took over as artistic director. I’m sure he hasn’t changed that determination. But he’s had to put it on hold. Sometimes being able to establish a holding pattern is a triumph. At least for now, this is putting the brakes on a company that was going places. Now, it’s hunker down and survive.


If a recession or a depression is something that we think ourselves into, maybe it’s something we think ourselves out of, too. For years it’s been obvious that both Oregon Ballet Theatre and Portland Opera need a better place to perform. Although both dip occasionally into the 900-seat Newmark Theatre, home base for both companies is the cavernous, 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium, a hall that puts performers and audiences alike at a disadvantage. It’s too big; it swallows sight and sound.

Over the past year I’ve talked a few times unofficially with the ballet’s Stowell and Portland Opera’s general dirctor, Christopher Mattaliano, about the possibilities of creating a new theater for the two companies to share — something actually designed for the art forms rather than as an all-purpose barn, which is essentially what Keller Auditorium is. Stowell and Mattaliano happen to get along very well, and for the long-term health of both companies, both men would love to see this happen.

A new hall would be as intimate as the economics of the business would allow it to be — somewhere between 1,400 and 2,400 seats, and if that seems like a wide range, it is: There’s plenty of room for honing this dream. It could also encourage other partnerships: the development of a full-time orchestra for the ballet and opera to share; combined marketing; even (and this last part is me speaking, not Stowell or Mattaliano) combined administrative and fund-raising services.

Is this a crazy time to be bringing this sort of thing up? Yes, and no. Obviously nobody’s going to start a bricks-and-mortar campaign now, with the economy circling into the sewer. Portland Center Stage is still roughly 9 million bucks short of paying off its move to the Armory, for crying out loud, and the meter seems stuck on that one.

But I keep remembering that Portland voters approved construction of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts in the midst of the city’s last bad recession, in the early 1980s, when the city’s and state’s economies weren’t as diverse as they are now. Sometimes people think biggest when things look the worst. And I know that if you don’t have goals even in the toughest of times, you won’t get anywhere. Call this one a dream deferred — temporarily.


Gypsy Rose Lee, 1956/Wikimedia CommonsOn a lighter note, a trip to North Portland for a puppet show got me thinking about the great ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee, she of the most celebrated stage mom in show business. (That would be Momma Rose, in the musical Gypsy.) You can see the results of my puppet adventures, as related in Monday’s Oregonian, here.

The puppet company Night Shade was performing at Disjecta, the warehouse-like arts space in the shadow of the Paul Bunyan statue that marks the rapidly reviving Kenton district (a revival sparked partly by the Interstate MAX light-rail line). The district does have its holdovers, which is part of its charm, and one of them is a strip club across from Disjecta called the Dancin’ Bare.

Here’s what the club’s reader board said:

Amature Night

Hot Girls Cold Beer

Well, Gypsy Rose Lee was a literary-minded stripper (note her firm familiarity with the keyboard in the photo) and I can’t imagine that in the heyday of burlesque she’d have put up with a misspelling as glaring as that, any more than she’d have put up with any amateurs horning in on her profession.

And when Gypsy Rose danced, she danced to live music.


Quick links: I’ve also been hitting the galleries lately, and have a couple of reviews in this morning’s Oregonian. The print-edition reviews are briefs. You can find the longer versions online at Oregon Live:

— Photographer Paul Dahlquist’s 80th-birthday show at Gallery 114, and photos by Terry Toedtemeier from the 1970s, at Blue Sky. Review here.

— Glass art by Steve Klein and Michael Rogers at Bullseye Gallery. Review here.

Terry Toedtemeier: a new book, a memorial service

UPDATE: Via the Port site, we pass along the news that KBOO’s Art Focus (90.7 FM) will hold a tribute to Terry Toedtemeier at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Scheduled guests: Jane Beebe of PDX Contemporary (his dealer), John Laursen and curator Prudence Roberts, Terry’s wife.

From what I understand, Terry Toedtemeier had two “dream” photography books he hoped to publish. The first, Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, 1867-1957, was just published by Oregon State University Press and the Northwest Photography Archive, and as we have said it’s magnificent. (More importantly, though, book buyers feel the same way — we stopped at Broadway Books today and Roberta told us that the book was selling very well.)

The second was a book of his own photographs. Maybe the striking images of the Oregon headlands he’d captured at minus tide from vantage points most of us never reach. But since his death last week, a broader retrospective seems to be more in order, and the photography archive, the non-profit that Terry founded with John Laursen, has decided to take it on. As their plans for the book become clearer, we’ll let you know.

They’ll need help, of course, and for those who want to pitch in, the archive is collecting money for the new book at its website. It’s a way both to honor Terry and support the organization and its mission — to preserve the region’s heritage of great photography. The site also reports that a memorial service honoring Terry will be held at the Portland Art Museum on Sunday, January 4. More details to come.

The time of Terry Toedtemeier

We’ll start with some links to various tributes to Terry Toedtemeier that we’ve found, and then turn to his photographs.

Photographer Craig Hickman has compiled a series of photographs of Terry during his younger days. They are amazing. And if you’ve just known Terry since the 1980s, I think they will change the way you think about him a little. Well, more than a little, though perhaps not essentially. Culture Shock has some memories and some links. The Portland Art Museum’s Facebook page is gathering remembrances — which are very moving. KINK-FM has posted a podcast of Terry talking about Wild Beauty, and here’s OPB’s Think Out Loud episode dedicated to the book.

I’ve known Terry since, I don’t know, maybe the early 1980s? We would meet because he had an exhibition of some sort in the works or maybe just because his path randomly crossed mine. We would talk about the business at hand or gossip or kvetch. What I liked about talking to him was that it felt a little conspiratorial, as though we were sharing secrets about matter of importance that, really, the rest of the world shouldn’t know about. His voice would lower, he would look at me over his glasses, and then attempt to WILL his love for some photograph onto me. It was very effective, because I started to enjoy the same old photographs from Oregon’s past, by Carleton Watkins and Lily White and Al Monner, that he did. Of course, I never lived them as he did, couldn’t place them so exactly in the history of photography, the history of the state, the history of the landscape, as he could. But still, my level of interest was enough encouragement for Terry. I teased him about how all his conversations eventually touched on … basalt.

The Art Gym did a show of Terry’s photographs in 1995 called Basalt Exposures. As I recall, it wasn’t ALL basalt, though that’s what I remember most, the lesson in Oregon basalts — 15 million years ago a magma chamber in Northeast Oregon burst and leaked a LOT of basalt, a flood of basalt, into Eastern Oregon and Washington, producing the cliffs and columns we see today, especially along the Columbia River. (Actually, it wasn’t one eruption, more like a couple of million years of eruptions, and when I say a lot of basalt, I mean enough to cover 62,000 square miles to a depth of up to 3 miles, in the Columbia River flow alone.)

At the time, I don’t think I got it, didn’t understand Terry’s purposes, even if I found those basalts beautiful in an “abstract” sort of way. But come on, if you’ve seen one basalt cliff… I was wrong, of course. Terry was making me stop and consider — time. Long stretches of time. Time without people in it, when all time meant was the collision of natural forces, a burst magma chamber here, a volcanic eruption there, steady erosion everywhere. How can we relate to that time, to those natural forces, and not feel completely alienated by them?

“As the nature of human life and our knowledge of ourselves and our universe gain bewildering levels of complexity, the quest for unity becomes increasingly important. Without it, things have no meaning, no place in a “larger scheme of things.” The pervasive existence of beauty is a quality that I value greatly. I’ve become attracted to depicting specific geologies as a way to express beauty inherent in the world through time.”

I found this quote by Terry on a Flintridge Foundation PDF file. Was it from that 1995 show? I think maybe so, though perhaps Terri Hopkins at the Art Gym might be able to confirm or deny. “Pervasive existence of beauty.” Frankly, I love the boldness of that assertion: How can we be alienated from something so beautiful? How can we fail to honor it and take care of it? When I look at the young man in Craig Hickman’s photos, I think maybe this is what he was trying to say, preparing to spend his life trying to say, understanding that any such talk was going to seem … naive… when in reality it was had nothing to do with naivete and everything to do with thinking deeply about things. And maybe hoping.

One basalt isn’t like another. Thanks for teaching me that, Terry. One photograph of the Gorge isn’t like another. That, too.

And maybe something more. Terry spent much of his life attempting to show us that the landscape around us contained enough. Enough. And more than that: The people around us (some of them, anyway) are enough. Enough to occupy us for geological periods of time. Which, I am sad to say, is more than enough.

The region loses the irreplaceable Terry Toedtemeier

I just heard the news that Portland Art Museum photography curator Terry Toedtemeier died last night in Hood River, where he and co-writer John Laursen were signing copies of their magisterial Wild Beauty. No details as of yet. We’ll talk about Terry and his immeasurable contribution to the culture of our region later. For now, our deepest condolences to his partner, Prudence Roberts, and John and all of his friends and family. We just can’t believe it.

UPDATE: David Row was a whirlwind yesterday, making calls and collating information for his story on Terry on OregonLive (and The Oregonian this morning). It’s beautiful. David’ review of Wild Beauty, the ongoing Portland Art Museum exhibition, is also excellent, and Jeff Baker reviews the book written by Terry and John Laursen. Finally, David and Terry talked before Wild Beauty opened, and here’s the interview.

A little book biz talk — “Wild Beauty,” “Sweetheart,” “The Tsar’s Dwarf”

Art Scatter made its way to a book “opening” Thursday night at the spiffy new p:ear digs in Old Town, which was jam-packed with fans of Terry Toedtemeier, John Laursen and the Columbia River Gorge. They will become devotees of Wild Beauty, the history of photography that Terry and John have assembled/written/curated, too, because the book is beautiful, plain and simple. Not that I’m a neutral observer. The ways I’m mobbed up here are countless — I’ve known Terry for decades, I’ve collaborated on a museum catalog with John, my wife Megan helped them get the project rolling and did various sorts of things to keep it that way, I’m fascinated by both the geological and human history of the Gorge… I could go on. But still, I like to think I’m a tough sell. Wild Beauty convinced me. You can look it over yourself at a bookstore (Oregon State University Press is the co-publisher), buy a copy through the Northwest Photography Archive online or pick one up at the Portland Art Museum, where an exhibition of photographs from the book will open on Oct. 4. It’s not cheap ($75) for a book, but it is cheap for a work of art, and that’s what it is (and produced entirely in Oregon). I’ll probably talk about it more once I get a chance to live with it for a bit.

I forgot to let you know about the publication of Art Scatter friend Chelsea Cain’s new book, Sweetheart, which continues the crime-fighting saga of Detective Archie Sheridan and his face-off with the sultry but deadly serial killer Gretchen Lowell. The serial killer thriller is usually not a genre I sample, but I scarfed up Chelsea’s first book in the series, Heartsick, even though a few early pages made me wince (a hammer, nail, ribcage, you get the picture), and now I’m launched on Number Two. Not that she needs the pub, really — the New York Times Book Review took good care of her. (Congrats, Chelsea!). Again, I’m mobbed up here… Chelsea writes a delightful column in The Oregonian that I’ve had some association with.

I’m also a fan of Hawthorne Books, which makes winsome, high-quality trade paperbacks of work by interesting writers from Portland and beyond (I wrote about Monica Drake’s Clown Girl in a post below, way below). So, I’ve also just begun The Tsar’s Dwarf by Peter H. Fogtdal, a Dane who spends time in Portland, and translated by Tiina Nunnally, who was the translator of Peter Hoeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow. I can already tell that I like it’s rhythms and picaresque sensibility. But again, more later, especially since its publication date isn’t until November.