Wednesday, April 23, 2014


As with the previous post, we're once again at the Delta Park/Vanport MAX station to look at another piece of Yellow Line public art. This one takes a bit more effort to find; the station includes a couple of overflow parking lots, the furthest next to the entrance to Portland International Raceway. The whole area is naturally low and marshy, and they must have concluded the parking lot would need a stormwater drainage feature. So a small wetland area was created and the lot built around it. This being a publicly funded transit project, some 1% For Art money was spent on sprucing up the new wetland area, and Waterline was born:

The artist was involved with much of the site design including grading, lighting, materials, and plant design. The visual focus is a basalt boulder that Is cut in half with stacked welded steel and acrylic and is lit with fiber optics at night.

That "Art of Stormwater" list from the city that I keep referring back to has a different take. (I apologize for this post being so quotation-heavy, but I figure I can either give you the original descriptions by people who knew what they were talking about, or I can try to paraphrase them as best I can, and I'm not really in a paraphrasing mood.)

Linda Wysong, Artist; 2004 Located near the Vanport site, Waterline integrates art, engineering, and the environment - reflecting the juxtaposition of the built and the natural environment in the managed landscape.

TriMet's Yellow Line art guide elaborates further:

  • Massive steel arcs allude to the engineered landscape and Liberty ships made by Vanport residents.
  • A glowing monolith of stone, steel and acrylic symbolizes the unity of human and natural worlds.

The "glowing monolith" resembles parts of Wysong's Shifting Assets along the Willamette stretch of Springwater Corridor. You can't really see the "glowing" part here since I took these during the day, but another of the city's stormwater art documents (since stormwater art is a thing apparently) has a nighttime photo of Waterline, showing the, uh, water line glowing. This saves me the trouble of going back to take my own nighttime photos. Which I probably wouldn't do anyway, on the theory that there are likely to be a few mosquitoes here at night for much of they year. I've gone on several times about (pseudo-)bravely risking a case of West Nile on behalf of this humble blog and its Gentle Reader(s). In reality, I think I'd like to avoid that, if at all possible.


North Portland's Delta Park / Vanport MAX station features a number of steel tent-like shapes next to the platform stairs. These are collectively known as Vanport, and they're one of the public art installations at this stop:

This storm water swale treats water collected from the bridge and parking lot. The three Corten roof sculptures refer to the Vanport flood,

Michael Creger for bronze storm drain scupper on wall.
It's fair to say this is one of the more downbeat public artworks around town, focusing as it does on the deadly 1948 Vanport Flood. TriMet's Yellow Line art guide elaborates further:
Linda Wysong addresses the area's layered history with an emphasis on the city of Vanport, a large wartime housing project swept away by the flood of 1948.
  • CorTen steel sculptures recall rooftops adrift in the 1948 floodwaters.
  • Remnants from a Vanport foundation are set into the sidewalk.
  • A bronze railing features cast artifacts from the Chinookan culture, Vanport and the Portland International Raceway.
  • A cast-bronze scupper channels stormwater into the bioswale below.
  • Community maps overlay the current Delta Park site onto the city grid of Vanport, and show the location of the station within the local river systems.
  • Works by Douglas Lynch and Timothy Scott Dalbow are reproduced in porcelain enamel on steel.

Wysong also created a number of other things we've seen here before: Shifting Assets along the Springwater Corridor; and Portals and Eye River, near the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge, north of OMSI. Several of those pieces have water themes as well. She also created Waterline elsewhere at the Vanport MAX station, which will be the s

I should point out that the Yellow Line opened in 2004, a year before Hurricane Katrina. That, and not the Vanport flood, is probably the event that comes to mind now when you think of floodwaters and rooftops. If, by chance, the line had been delayed, or the hurricane had come a year earlier, this sculpture might have been considered sort of, I dunno, insensitive.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sellwood Riverfront Park

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Today's adventure takes us down to Sellwood Riverfront Park, just north of the Sellwood Bridge, in -- unsurprisingly -- the Sellwood neighborhood of SE Portland. These photos were taken a few years ago, and I think this area's all torn up with Sellwood Bridge construction right now. I'd gone there to take photos of the (soon-to-be-replaced) current bridge, and managed to also take a few decent ones of the surrounding area. So I figured I could get a post about the park out of the deal. Unfortunately I had a bit of a lens dust issue that day, and many of the photos included an obvious hair or piece of lint. So I dropped some photos in a folder and procrastinated about them, because trying to repair dust errors in photos is really annoying and tedious. After mumble-mumble years of ignoring them, and also not going back for dust-free photos, I decided to just go ahead and post them, apologize for the ugly specks, and try to make up for it with scintillating historical research and a sea of fascinating facts.

That strategy would work better if I had more history to work with. But I don't. The park is surprisingly recent in origin, and I've only got a handful of items to share, none of them particularly earthshattering:

  • The city recorded the park as "Undeveloped" in 1983, and applied for a $150k National Park Service grant to help develop it. The Wikipedia article for the park says this was previously a mill site before becoming a park, but that statement isn't sourced and I'm having trouble chasing down info about this previous incarnation.
  • The park was dedicated July 1986, as the very first public river access for SE Portland. (There's river access at Oaks Park too, but it may have still been a private for-profit concern at the time.)
  • Failed renaming attempt in September '86, would have been named for a (then-)living man. Would have become "Dent Thomas Neighborhood Park" if the proposal had gone through. Neighborhood activist, advocated by local neighborhood association. Would have also renamed Alberta Park as "Mumford Park" after a recently deceased local minister, and Irving Park would have become "Stevenson Park" after a recently deceased security guard. Reactions were mixed to the idea.


It's taken me a while, but here's the third part of the Constellation trio in Holladay Park, along with A Neighborhood Gardener and Vase of Flowers. RACC calls it Constellation (Molecule):

This project attempts to illustrate the connection between the personal front yard garden and the civic park/garden. This is explored through three distinct elements. A vase of cut flowers, an abstract molecule containing elements of a good neighborhood, and the figure of a gardener/homeowner, shears in hand. The objects in the molecule were selected by the Sullivan Gulch Neighborhood Association and the person who was cast was Carolyn Marks Backs - A longtime neighborhood activist - Also selected by the Neighborhood Association.

The Smithsonian arts database calls it "Constellation: Isolated Molecule for a Good Neighborhood" (Which is way too precious to use in a blog title here). Their description:

An enlarged structure of a molecule featuring atoms in the shape of a garden tool, a milk carton, a coffee mug, a bagel, a house, a school, a family, and trees --all the things that make a good neighborhood.

...or at least that make a good cozy Portland white bourgeois lifestyle, circa 1999. Most parts of the country would have included a church too, and fought all the way to the Supreme Court to keep it; here it probably didn't even occur to anyone.

If we had to revamp the molecule in 2014, it would obviously include bikes and a more diverse notion of family. Someone would probably complain about all the dairy and gluten imagery, and they'd be replaced with kale or quinoa or something. Volunteers would come forward and install a working WiFi router inside, insisting that's just as essential as the other stuff.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thomas Square, Honolulu

While I was wandering around Honolulu a few months ago, I happened to walk past Thomas Square, a city park with a circle of enormous intertwined banyan trees, or possibly it's all one banyan tree. That seemed kind of remarkable so I snapped a few quick photos before continuing on my way. Going by other photos I've seen of the park, apparently there's also a large fountain somewhere in there, hiding under the trees, but I didn't even notice it at the time.

At a street corner on one side of the park, a couple of guys were running a table offering left-wing and (De)Occupy Honolulu literature. It seems the park had hosted an Occupy encampment during the movement's heyday, similar to the one in Portland's downtown Plaza Blocks, and their choice of this particular park was anything but random.

Throughout the 19th Century, the US and various European powers jostled and schemed over control of the Hawaiian Islands, while the kingdom tried to fend them all off and remain independent. In 1843, the commander of a British naval vessel announced he was annexing the islands for the Crown due to various perceived slights against British subjects, and he declared a provisional government with himself in charge. King Kamehameha III filed a formal protest with the captain's boss, Admiral Richard Darton Thomas, at the British Navy's Pacific Station in far-away Valparaiso, Chile. Several months later, another British vessel arrived, with Thomas aboard. Thomas, of course, outranked the first vessel's captain and thus control of the new "colony" passed to him. Thomas, in turn, quickly handed power back over to Kamehameha III, in a ceremony at this spot. This is not at all how colonial empires of the 19th century usually operated, and I've yet to see a good explanation of why the islands were handed back, when so many other places around the globe weren't.

Shortly after the handover, the king proclaimed the area a public park and named it in honor of Admiral Thomas. Over subsequent decades the park design evolved into today's square.

For what it's worth, Thomas also has a swanky condo tower named in his honor, a few blocks away.

Piedra Negra

Today's object from outside the Portland Art Museum is Piedra Negra by Manuel Neri. Neri also created Ventana al Pacifico at the Gus Solomon Courthouse, to which Piedra Negra bears a certain resemblance. A passage from Neri's Wikipedia bio seems applicable here:

He is noted for his life-size sculptures, which though clearly figurative in nature, are abstracted figures rather than realist representations. His sculptures primarily focus on the gesture, and the surfaces of his sculptures are often, sanded, chipped, or painted to emphasize textures.

Piedra Negra previously exhibited in The Essential Gesture a 1994 show at the Newport Harbor Art Museum in Newport Beach, CA. The show was curated by Bruce Guenther, who in 2000 went on to become Chief Curator at the Portland Art Museum. Piedra Negra followed him in 2002 when it was donated for the museum's 110th birthday. Because arranging that sort of thing is what curators do.


At Portland's Gateway Transit Center, three giant blue feathers twist in the wind atop 20' poles. Feathers was added as part of the MAX Red Line project, and TriMet's Red Line art guide has this to say about it:

The Gateway "Feathers" by Frank Boyden consist of three 14-18' long painted aluminum feathers that track the wind atop 20' poles. The feathers, which are visible from the I-205 freeway, the bike path and the train, create a landmark for the transit center and signify the start of the airport line with a bright and colorful allusion to flight.

Boyden also co-created the Interactivators along the WES line.

The main problem with Feathers is that it only makes sense if you realize it arrived with the aviation-themed Red Line, and you'll only know that if you Google it. Gateway is really busy most of the day and the feathers are in a fenced-off area, and (typically for TriMet) there doesn't seem to be a sign for it. So it's just going to be a mystery for almost everyone who notices it. Although I often wonder whether anyone other than me bothers noticing this stuff. (I just might be, if Google results are any indication.) Still, transit art is something to look when if your bus is late, I guess, or when the train's out of order again.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Portland's Fire Station #1, at Naito & Ash, is a cool midcentury building dating back to 1951. At one point during the late-2000s real estate bubble, the city decided the building was obsolete and seismically unsafe, and the only solution was to tear it out, move the fire station away from the Skidmore Fountain area, and put in a super-upscale condo tower in its place. I suppose because being protected from fires and so forth isn't upscale enough. Saturday Market was booted from under the Burnside Bridge to make room for the UO Architecture School, but replacing the fire station fell through and they reluctantly made seismic upgrades on the existing building instead. As with all public buildings, 1% of the construction costs went to public art, which in this case was a stained glass window to brighten up the main entrance to the fire station. This is Engine:

Engine by Jack Archibald is inspired in part by the poem ‘The Great Figure’ by William Carlos Williams, and by two paintings also based on the poem by Charles Demuth and Robert Indiana. Archibald approached this piece wanting to create a totemic image for the headquarters. “Color, flash, and kinetics all held fast in the confines of the station’s entryway. The glasswork is intended to evoke explosive movement held in check, heroic energies at the ready, dramatic moments about to unfold... My intent was to modernize the imagery in the medium of glass, which is, I think, a kind of frozen energy itself, ready to explode when light hits it.”

The page continues with the aforementioned poem, which I'm leaving out just to be on the safe side, copyright-wise. Instead, here's a page at Emory University with the poem and the Demuth painting it inspired; and one at UIUC with three critics discussing it. The TL;DR here is that the window has a properly serious and highbrow inspiration, and one that relates directly to fire engines, which is no small feat. (And it's more eye-catching than the older piece with the stylized fire ladders out back of the fire station.)

On the other hand, the users of (which exists) only give it a 5.5 out of 10, and everyone knows it's the 21st Century and crowdsourced wisdom is superior to the stodgy old-fashioned kind. Although they currently have a Kipling in their top 10, which is just silly. Still, we defy the mob at our peril, and the next time someone wants stained glass inspired by a poem, we should probably stick to the one about the guy from Nantucket.

Kenton Park

Kenton Park
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Photo of N. Portland's Kenton Park, a few blocks west of the Kenton MAX station. This was sort of an afterthought when I went to take photos of the (locally) famous Paul Bunyan statue; it's the usual neighborhood park, big grassy area with sports fields. I imagine many fond childhood memories have been created here, but Google hasn't figured out how to index those yet, which I'm sure is for the best.

I figured I'd check the Oregonian database for interesting items, in case there was anything to make up for the park's lack of visual uniqueness. Nothing earthshaking here either, but I did put together a short list of miscellaneous news items:

  • The North Portland Commercial Club Women's Auxillary decided to work in favor of a park in 1913. The story reports that they usually focused on rose shows and "eugenic contests" whatever those were. I'm fairly sure I would be horrified if I knew what those were.
  • It was only designated an official city park in 1954; the article notes unofficial names had been in use for quite some time.
  • The Oregon Centennial Wagon Train made a stop here in 1959. The trip began far away in Independence, MO, retraced the Oregon Trail west from there, and ended at the Expo Center, home of the centennial exposition. The leg from Independence OR to Kenton was made with the wagons on the backs of trucks, but at Kenton Park they saddled back up and made the final leg of the journey the traditional way. The story notes that of the 26 people who set out on the journey, only 19 stuck with it to the end. It doesn't explain what happened to the others, so I'm just going to assume they died of dysentery, like in the game.
  • In July 1977, the park was home to an honest-to-goodness organized Hacky Sack tournament. Feel free to roll your eyes at the 70s if you want. I know I am.
  • As I've noted in previous posts about the Kenton area, the 1980s were not a kind decade to the neighborhood. The real estate ads tail off, replaced with stories about petty crime and transients. A December 1985 story chronicled local anxiety about an influx of strip clubs to the neighborhood, with one person saying it wasn't safe for kids to go to the park anymore.
  • A January 2008 story about gentrification mentions the park in passing; the neighborhood had been trying to attract a new Multnomah County Library branch, and a couple of proposals would have sited new library buildings near the park, in a mixed use development with condos on top, similar to libraries in the Sellwood and Hollywood neighborhoods. Then the global economy crashed later that year, and the condo market with it. Kenton ultimately did get a new library, but it opened in an existing storefront on Denver Avenue instead.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Forest, McDowell Creek

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Here's a slideshow from Linn County's McDowell Creek Falls County Park, near Sweet Home, OR. The park's waterfalls have appeared here already:

I'm not sure if this area is technically part of the Cascades or not, but the moss-covered trees tell us the park gets a lot of precipitation. It's not quite as rainforesty as the Olympic Peninsula, say, but it still makes for some interesting photos. Or at least I thought they were interesting.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beverly Cleary Fountain & Sculpture Garden

In NE Portland's Grant Park, there's a small plaza with trio of statues of characters from Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, which were set in the surrounding neighborhood. In the summer months there's also a small fountain here, I guess for kids to play in; it wasn't running when I stopped by, but someone posted a YouTube video of it taken last summer. The whole assemblage was created by Lee Hunt, who also created the Human Comedy terra-cotta faces on a building at 3rd & Yamhill downtown.

I admit I never read any of the Ramona books as a kid, and it's a bit late to do so now, but I understand they're a fond childhood memory for a lot of people. So I can't speak to what scene from which book this is, or whether the characters look the way the books describe them.

The problem here (which is one I've discussed before) is that statues of kids are always creepy. Or at least they always look creepy in photos. I think it might be the facial expressions; Statues of presidents, generals, prominent local businessmen, etc., can pose their subjects gazing nobly into the middle distance, boldly leading us into the future or something. With kids you can't really do that, so they're often pictured laughing and smiling, and that doesn't translate into bronze as well. Whatever the cause, statues of kids always seem to evoke the "uncanny valley" effect, the same reason creepy clowns and ventriloquist dummies are so unsettling. I swear they didn't look this creepy in person, maybe because you can see they're child-sized and nonthreatening and not at all Chucky-like. Or at least not Chucky-like during daytime. At night it's anyone's guess.

Sapporo Friendship Bell

Here are a few photos of the Sapporo Friendship Bell in front of the Oregon Convention Center. The bell marks the longstanding sister city relationship between Portland and Sapporo (the big city on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, host city for the 1972 Winter Olympics, and namesake of a beer you may have heard of). There's a second bell that marks the sister city relationship between Portland and Ulsan, South Korea. I didn't realize the two bells had different origins at the time, so right now I only have photos of the Sapporo bell and I guess I'll need to go back for the other one at some point. Although I may hold off on that until my Drafts folder is a bit smaller.

The two bells were the focus of a brief controversy in 1990, when a local evangelical Christian group objected on First Amendment grounds, claiming the bells were a Buddhist religious symbol and should either be removed, or joined by a nativity scene. Convention center management didn't buy the argument; the bells stayed, and there's still no nativity scene. The ACLU was reported to be "looking at the case" but they don't seem to have ever filed suit over it. I can only imagine how Bill O'Reilly would have demagogued this if Fox News had existed back in 1990.

Garden Gate

Here's another object from outside the art museum: Garden Gate by longtime Portland sculptor Mel Katz. His work has appeared here a couple of times before, namely Daddy Long Legs on the transit mall, and Red, Yellow, Blue at the 200 Market building. The museum doesn't have an online collection page for Garden Gate for some reason. It might be because it's a relatively recent acquisition; it was at Portland's Laura Russo Gallery as recently as 2002. This newness means I also can't find much of anything to share about it; many search results are actually for an entirely different Katz Garden Gate located in Bend. (I was just complaining about reused titles the other day and already here's another example How annoying.)

Based on a sample size of 3 I've seen, and a few others I've seen photos of, I think I generally like his work. This clean, colorful style was apparently uncommon in Portland's mid-20th-Century art world, which generally preferred lumpy bronzes and rusty cor-ten steel whatzits. (Alhough as far as I've been able to tell, said art world consisted of at most a dozen people at any given time, so having a niche to oneself isn't really that surprising.) The Portland Public Art blog liked Garden Gate too, and that blog's anonymous author was hard to please. I suppose the takeaway here is that while I may have uninformed opinions about art, they aren't always unusual opinions. Take that however you will.

If I ever wanted to sound more informed and insider-ish, I suppose I could start adapting text from the Arty Bollocks artist's statement generator. I'm also tempted to adapt the Git manpage generator for documentation in my day job. In both cases I'm not sure anyone would notice. I'm occasionally tempted to throw together a Markov chain generator that consumes the last 8+ years of this humble blog, and see what it spits out. I'm kind of afraid to see the results of that, to be honest. An auto-generated blog post would probably start with "Here are some photos of..." and ramble on for 2-to-5 unmemorable paragraphs before ending rather abruptly. And now that I've mentioned Markov chains, I'm kind of afraid of the generator becoming self-aware, or at least of it simulating self-awareness as well as I do. Heck, as far as you know this may have happened already.

Monday, April 14, 2014

American Hop Museum

Here are a few Instagram photos from the American Hop Museum in Toppenish, WA. The town is in the middle of the Yakima Valley hop-growing region, which produces much of the world's hop supply, and the museum claims to be the only one in America dedicated to the industry. I can believe that, since Oregon's Willamette Valley is the only other big hop-growing area in the country, and I'm fairly sure we don't have a museum.

It's your basic agricultural museum, with exhibits on growing, harvesting, drying, packaging, and brewing. Lots of vintage farm equipment to look at, old displays from the state fair, vintage brewery signs and beer taps, etcetera. Oh, and there's a gift shop at the end, which sells just about every hops item you could imagine, except beer. This sort of place may bore a lot of people, but I love a good small-town museum. I'm sure it also helps if you're a fan of the end product, which I am.

I'm not sure they could legally sell beer in the gift shop even if they wanted to. It seems the town of Toppenish is also home to the Yakama Nation tribal offices, the headquarters for a reservation nearly the size of Delaware, and the Yakama tribe has had an alcohol ban in place for about the last 150 years. In 2000, citing problems with alcohol abuse, the tribe attempted to enforce the ban across the reservation, which soon led to conflict with the state attorney general. The problem here is that the reservation is a patchwork of tribal and non-tribal lands, and a majority of residents within the legal boundary are not tribal members. In 2001, the local US Attorney threw cold water on the idea, stating the ban would probably not be enforceable against non-tribal members, and apparently that was the end of the proposal, although the ban remains on the books. In any event, I suppose having a hop museum on a (legally) dry reservation is no more strange than having the Jack Daniels distillery in a dry county in Tennessee.

More recently, the tribe has also refused to recognize Initiative 502, Washington's 2012 ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana, due to substance-abuse concerns. In January 2014, the tribe announced it would try to enforce this ban on all lands covered by the 1855 treaty with the US Government, covering about a fifth of the entire state. I'm not a lawyer, and I'm generally very sympathetic to tribal sovereignty claims, but I can't really see this idea going anywhere..