Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Civic Drive Iris

So next up on our ongoing public art tour is Civic Drive Iris, a kinetic sculpture at Gresham's new-ish Civic Drive MAX station. TriMet's description:

Civic Drive Iris, 2010, by Pete Beeman is a colorful, kinetic sculpture that functions as a landmark for the new Civic Drive Station. Artwork was funded primarily by the Portland Development Commission.
  • Tall, brightly colored sculpture evokes a blossoming flower or radiating sun
  • Hand crank invites pedestrians to interact with sculpture
  • Turned crank causes sculpture top to illuminate and simultaneously expand and contract like an iris valve

To be honest I just sort of stumbled across this one. I was trying to solve an annoying software problem at the office, and decided to go for a walk and think about it (which works surprisingly well). But I felt lazy that day & decided to go ride the train and think about it instead, so I did (no bright ideas, though, unfortunately). Eventually I got off at this new stop to turn around & go back, thinking it was the downtown Gresham stop, which it isn't. So I saw the art, thought "hey, at least I get a blog post out of this", and searched the interwebs when I got home, which is when I realized it was kinetic and had a crank I could have tried out. I was about to claim there was no longer a crank and grumble about vandals, but the photos insist there really was a crank & I just didn't see it somehow. I'm just not getting any better at this "noticing basic things" business, apparently. Anyway, this is the third Beeman kinetic sculpture we've visited on our neverending art tour, the others being Pod, the big stainless steel wavy thing across the street from Powell's, and Waving Post at the SE Fuller Road MAX station.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Basket of Air

So next up on the grand tour we're taking a peek at Basket of Air, the sculpture in the center of the Hoyt Arboretum's new bamboo garden. The RACC description explains:

Artist Ivan McLean spent a few of years in the southern Philippines as a member of the Peace Corp and used this experience to inform his sculpture, which sits in the middle of the Hoyt Arboretum’s Bamboo Forest. The sculpture’s posts mimic the basic segmented structure of bamboo while the central sphere, a form often explored by McLean, reflects the idea of bamboo baskets he encountered during his travels.

While in the Philippines, “I built a nipa roofed house with various types of bamboo used as structural members or woven into the wall panels. During my travels I also watched in awe as workers created scaffolding rising hundreds of feet around modern buildings in Hong Kong and then a short time later hiking for days through bamboo forests in Northern Thailand and staying with families in simple homes made from the ubiquitous plant… I was constantly impressed by how skilled people were in using bamboo to build a variety of objects, including baskets.”

We've seen a couple of other McLean sculptures here previously: work previously seen here: Flying Salmon in 2014, & Rational Exuberance back in 2012. (The latter one was relocated north of the Fremont Bridge a year or two after I posted about it). I snarked a little about the salmon one, it being something of an overused motif in Pacific Northwest art. I feel I may have been unfair; undoubtedly the customer (an upscale, super-Northwesty grocery store) insisted on salmon. Salmon have the unique ability to be both an eco-feel-good regional icon and a delicious meal at the same time. Maybe not exactly the same time, but you know what I mean.

In any case, since we're more or less on the topic of bamboo forests, here's a fight scene from House of Flying Daggers (2004):

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Millikan Way MAX art

Ok, so this next public art post is about the Millikan Way MAX station, which has sort of a STEM theme due to the old Beaverton Tektronix campus next door. I took a couple of photos when I was there a few years ago, figuring I could grab a quotable blurb about it from one of the usual places, and poof, there's your blog post. And then the search came up empty, and this post sank to the bottom of the Drafts folder and didn't get a second glance for ages.

TriMet's art guide for the westside Blue Line merely says the station as a whole was designed by the "Westside design team", and describes a few of the features, without listing titles or artists for most of them:

Trees, wetlands and the nearby Tektronix campus inspired the Westside design team artists’ theme of nature bumping up against high technology.

  • Brick patterns on the systems buildings suggest coniferous and deciduous trees
  • The songs of local birds are etched in bronze plaques along the trackway
  • Clusters of leaves, seeds and pine cones are sandblasted in 30 locations in the plaza
  • Test patterns and mathematical symbols on graph paper are created in terrazzo
  • Christopher Rauschenberg’s "Time Window<" documents the view from the shelter in 1994

This whole thing seemed unusually vague; I finally understood why after I found a 1998 Oregonian article reviewing the art for the Blue Line's grand opening, back when that was something newspapers did. Millikan Way just gets a brief mention in the article, grouped with a few others: "Beaverton Transit Center, Beaverton Central, Millikan Way and Beaverton Creek: These four stations embrace nearly all the cliches of 90s public art, from photographs etched on the shelters, to cosmic allusions and navigation devices integrated into the paving patterns."

The article explains that MAX stations east of 185th don't have freestanding art because the feds prohibited federally funded projects from buying art during the initial phase of the project, until the rules changed in 1995. It doesn't explain when the earlier rules were put in place, but I suspect that came out of the Mapplethorpe/Serrano culture wars of the late 80s and early 90s. The pre-1995 rules had a small loophole in that they didn't prohibit you from hiring artists for your design team, and then having them do decorative pavers, designs on brick buildings, themed benches, etc. and classify it all as design rather than capital-A art. So that's basically what TriMet did, and I suppose this is why we aren't told exactly who designed what.

In discussing "cliches of 90s public art", the Oregonian piece mentions "The Kudzu Effect (or: The Rise of a New Academy)", a brief and snarky 1996 article by Joyce Kozloff. It lists ten contemporary public art cliches, which seem as contemporary now as they were in 1996; her names for them give a bit of the flavor of the article:

  1. It’s a Small World
  2. Junior High School Science Project
  3. Junior High School Geography Project
  4. The Artist/Architect Collaboration (also known as the The Two’fer)
  5. Kids “R” Us
  6. Heal the Earth Project
  7. The Artist/Writer Collaboration
  8. The New Age Observatory (also known as Son et Lumière)
  9. Transgressions and Interventions
  10. Triumphal Arch to Nowhere and Domestic Obelisk

Kozloff explains this style as a reaction to the arts community being besieged by angry fundies. I suppose the idea was that upbeat and inoffensive art might placate the Moral Majority goons, or at least they'd go yell at somebody else for a change. Which worked, in a away, in that you rarely see them hollering about art anymore. Although now they won't shut up about Trump's divine infallibility and all the races, religions, and other groups they want to wipe off the face of the earth. I am unsure that this is a real improvement.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

House for Summer

Next up we're taking another trip to the Hoyt Arboretum, but this time it's for art. Off to one side of the Holly Loop trail, near the intersection of Knights Blvd. & Fairview, you might notice a tight circle of white birch trees in a small meadow. This is House for Summer, a 1987 installation by artist Helen Lessick that turned 30 last July. The RACC link describes it:

This captivating installation of birch trees, part of the City of Portland’s public art collection, has been pruned and shaped to take the form of a house, a house that changes with the seasons and is a reflection of the shelter of the forest canopy. House for Summer is a prime example of the work Lessick has done over the past three decades investigating the imagery and metaphor of plants.

There were various festivities to mark the 30th anniversary, and Lessick had a solo exhibition at a NW Portland gallery to coincide with the event.

I took these photos in summer 2017, vaguely around the big birthday, but I was kind of busy and didn't get around to posting them immediately. This may have actually been the same trip where I sat down on a bench and planned out a big software project that took most of the year between then and now to complete, which would be why I've been so busy lately. In any case, I didn't get the post up right away, and the weeks dragged out, and then the seasons changed a few times, and it didn't seem right to post about nice summery things in the dead of winter. So here we are about a year later, which is actually quite fast by my recent standards. (Luckily nobody relies on me as a source of breaking news.)

I took a peek to see if I could find any news articles from when House for Summer went in, and found a dedication photo from July 15th 1987. A July 10th arts page blurb mentioned that there'd been a couple of prior season-themed houses in the series:

Helen Lessick has installed, or rather, planted another in her series of house installations. Lessick has been playing with the idea of home for a while now. Her “Venus Fly Trap (House for Spring)” was part of last year’s Inside/Out series at the Portland Art Museum, and “Metallic House (House for Winter)” was shown recently at Marylhurst College.

The blurb went on to mention that Lessick planned to plant clover inside the house the following summer to "help delineate inside from outside", though it looks like wood chips play that role now. In October 1991 there was a House for Autumn made of hay at the Bybee-Howell House on Sauvie Island. That article mentions a prior House of Fire ("a metal frame engulfed in gaseous flames") and Waterhouse (with "walls formed from a sprinklerlike contraption").

More recently, the Oregonian did 20th anniversary article about the house in 2007, which was actually within the lifetime of this humble blog. I had already done a few public art posts by then, but somehow I didn't notice or clue in about this one. The article mentions that birch trees usually only live to 20 years or so, and implied that that would be the end of House of Summer, but here we are a decade later, so either the trees magically lived longer, or these are not the original trees. The photos of it in someone's 2013 blog post appear to be about the same size as now, but it's hard to tell.

The Nevada Museum of Art (Reno, NV) has a collection of materials about the project including annual photos from the beginning thru at least 2011. Which I guess would be kind of interesting, but I can't point you at them since they're 35mm slides in a box in Reno.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Powell Park


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Next up on the grand(ish) tour we're visiting SE Portland's Powell Park along Powell Blvd between 22nd & 26th. It's your basic neighborhood park with a playground and ball fields, of the type I usually don't go out of my way to visit, though it does have an early 20th century gazebo for picnics & concerts, which I guess is a (mildly) interesting architectural feature. Longtime readers might remember I used to live nearby in the Brooklyn neighborhood back in the 90s, so this used to be one of my local neighborhood parks, but it wasn't the closest one and I didn't visit that often. To be honest, this post exists largely because I was in the area anyway, fetching drive thru from the Burgerville across the street, and I snapped a couple of photos while waiting for a traffic light without actually stopping & getting out. So with that out of the way, let's skip right ahead to our usual grab-bag of historical and news items:

  • The park started appearing in the Oregonian in the mid-1920s, although the articles talk about the park like it had been there for a few years already. It was probably still fairly new because a lot of the early news items are budget and construction stuff. A June 1, 1924 story concerns the city hiring the lowest bidder to build bleachers for the park's baseball fields, which cost $1483 in 1924 dollars. That's about $21,281.38 in today's dollars (per the BLS calculator). A couple of years later (Sept. 12 1926) the city parks chief asked the council to fund a variety of construction projects. For Powell Park, the request was for "Flag pole, $100; apparatus, $5000; move handball court, $400; three fountains, $225; 20 lights, $2500". (The park doesn't have any fountains now, unless maybe drinking fountains count.) The next day, the city council considered a request for $1067.11 to build a "comfort station" in the park, which might mean the present-day gazebo.
  • An August 14, 1931 item notes the park would be hosting a concert full of Sousa marches and other popular tunes that evening. Beyond the marches, the program featured various things like a Stephen Foster medley and some arranged excerpts from a comic opera, and it ended with the Star Spangled Banner, which had just been adopted as the official national anthem 5 months earlier, believe it or not. A couple of now-obscure pieces I was able to find on Youtube sound exactly like the background music for 1930s cartoons: Boccalari's "Dance of the Serpents" (not to be confused with Debra Paget's Snake Dance), and M.L. Lake's "Slidus Trombonus", which the paper describes as a "trombone comedy". No jazz, though. By 1931 all the cool kids wanted to listen to the devil's infernal jazz music, even in stodgy old Portland, so I imagine this was a wholesome families and oldtimers sort of event.
  • With a few rare exceptions (like the previous news items), nearly every mention of Powell Park in the Oregonian has been in the sports section, concerning city baseball and softball leagues of all ages and skill levels. For a bit of the typical flavor, here's a July 28th 1940 sports page, in which local baseball leagues take up nearly the entire page. Local sports being a big deal back then, the top story in the Oregonian that day related to local soap box derby races, a sport that later fell into a decades-long decline until Portland hipsters revived it as a drunken ironic activity for 20-somethings. Meanwhile a smaller news story explained that the Nazis were bombing England. Additional WWII stories below the fold concerned the Axis marching into Romania and Ethiopia, and bombing Malta. So the paper's priorities might seem a tad... skewed. But then again, it's 2018 and Trump's burning everything down, and here I am writing about a marginally interesting city park, and I can't quite bring myself to do otherwise, and you're here reading this post, and I appreciate the company. It feels like it helps, somehow. The people of 1940 would not have known or used the phrase "self-care", of course, but I think I understand why they did what they did.
  • In another rare non-baseball item, in August 1970 a big rally was held here as part of the People's Army Jamboree, an antiwar protest coinciding with the national American Legion Convention in Portland. This was one of several rallies around town, including one at Duniway Park, but overall the event had lower turnout than envisioned, thanks to Vortex 1, a state-sponsored hippie music festival out at McIver State Park near Estacada. The state guessed correctly that most hippies would choose a party over a protest if given the choice; meanwhile US troops stayed in Vietnam for another three years. I mean, a massive rally in Portland probably wouldn't have changed the course of the war anyway, but now we'll never know, will we?
  • Here's an odd September 27th, 1977 article detailing points of interest along SE Powell out to where I-205 is now. As a harried commuter in modern 1977 Portland, it was your lot in life to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way home to your Gresham split-level ranch. So the Oregonian offered up a list of mildly interesting semi-landmarks along the way if you were up for a little sightseeing. The article mentions the canceled Mt. Hood Freeway a couple of times; I don't know if the article was aimed at disgruntled suburbanites who weren't getting their (temporarily) speedy new freeway after all, or what. But oblique grumbling that doesn't get around to the real point is a very Portland thing. Incidentally, if the sights (including some restaurants, a nursery, and a cheap motel) didn't hold your interest as a professional commuter, the adjacent Scott's 88 Centers ad offers a Fall Value Days special on 8-track tapes starting at $1.88. Though it neglected to specify which 8-track tapes.
  • A September 2002 Willamette Week item had a hearty chuckle about a planned weed potluck at the Powell Park gazebo. As it turned out, the activists behind it were merely a decade or so before their time. Sure, public consumption is still technically not legal, but it's probably just a matter of time at this point.
  • The gazebo was gated off circa 2013, supposedly to thwart homeless people trying to use the (formerly) public restroom. The city, unsurprisingly, took the opportunity to require reservations to use the gazebo & charge for the privilege. The city proposed doing the same thing at Colonel Summers Park; I'm not sure whether that came to pass, but it usually does. I ran across two neighborhood blog posts grumbling about the unpopular new policy.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Second Multnomah Creek Bridge

The next stop on our grand tour is a bridge the Oregon Hikers Field Guide calls the "Second Multnomah Creek Bridge", where the Larch Mountain Trail #441 crosses Multnomah Creek a bit upstream of Multnomah Falls. I suppose they count going upstream, so the Benson Bridge counts as the first one, this is the second one, and then there are third, fourth, and fifth bridges further upstream along the trail, and yet another along a different trail along the same creek. After I took the photos here I branched off onto the Wahkeena Trail #420 and don't have any photos of the bridges further upstream, at least not yet. In related news, I think I may expand the Gorge bridge project to trail bridges in the area. It's true that most of them aren't that amazing or unique, but I think of it as a little extra motivation to get out more and go a little further. Although this obviously has to wait until the area reopens after the big Eagle Creek Fire, and nobody knows when that's going to happen.

Other than the OregonHikers link above I couldn't really find anything else about this bridge. If you look closely you can see it's built around a corrugated steel pipe, with stone added along the visible parts to make it blend in with the bridge piers, which look older. If I had to guess I'd say it dates to maybe the 80s or 90s, just based on the amount of moss growing on it, but I'm just guessing here. The lack of info is a shame because I'd really like to know how they got the pipe up here. It seems too big to go on an ATV or to be carried up the trail by a work crew. A helicopter seems more likely, but I didn't see any old news articles to that effect, so who knows?

Up until the late 1990s this spot was a major trail junction. Where the Larch Mountain Trail continues upstream, the Perdition Trail branched off and headed due west toward Wahkeena Falls, making a shorter and easier loop than the Wahkeena Trail one. At one point along the Perdition Trail there was a long wooden staircase, which burned in an October 1991 forest fire. The Forest Service built replacement stairs out of concrete, to prevent the new ones from suffering the same fate, but they washed out a few years later, I think during the 1996 floods. At that point they just sort of shrugged and wrote it off. The trail is still there but it's been marked as officially closed for over 20 years now and no longer appears on official maps of the area. Despite that, a lot of people still know it's there, and hikers regularly wander past the closed signs and occasionally need rescuing. Legal says I have to tell you not to do this, and I personally haven't been on it since I was a kid, long before the closure. And of course the whole area's closed due to the big fire, so I suppose the Perdition Trail is currently double closed, so if forest rangers catch you there they probably feed you to Bigfoot or a forest Sarlacc or something. I do remember the old trail was pretty scenic in parts, so if they ever get around to fixing & reopening it (like a couple of forum threads speculate about), I'd consider that a great use of federal tax dollars. I mean, imagine what you could do through the entire Gorge for the price of a single F-35. I mean, along with improving health care, schools, and housing, obviously.

One fun thing I ran across, searching for info on this little bridge, was a reminder that the trails around this area are all quite old. "Following the Trails Above the Columbia" (in the August 28th 1921 Oregonian) explores the familiar Multnomah-Wahkeena loop, featuring all the same sights as it does today. The only difference I see is that there wasn't a Return Trail #442 yet, so in those days you had to walk along the highway between Multnomah & Wahkeena Falls and hope nobody ran you down in a Model T.

In other vintage motoring and travel news, that article was immediately followed by a news item about the California car dealers' association planning a huge party in Tijuana, from a more innocent time when people announced that sort of thing in the newspapers:

These two days will be gala ones in the exotic town of whirring wheels, dancing señoritas, snapping castanets, and hot tamale cabarets, according to the announcement of the San Diego County Auto Trade association.

It is the latter organization that is going to stage this party (or “fiesta” as one says in Española) and the members are urging their fellow members from far and wide to come and partake of the unvolsteaded enjoyment that will be offered in six-cylinder style.

The cutout of joy will be wide open and their will be no speed limit on jazz whatsoever — the two days will be devoted to a “reg’lar” high jinks, according to U.S. Grant, president of the San Diego trade dealers.

"Unvolsteaded" is the key detail here. That was a cute way of saying the Volstead Act -- federal Prohibition legislation -- was adamantly not in force south of the border.

Um, anyway, a September 7th 1915 article about the grand opening of the new highway includes a brief mention of excited crowds hiking the trail loop, so the trail is at least that old and there would've been some sort of bridge here back then. The article spends more time on the main event, a grand picnic at the base of Multnomah Falls or somewhere thereabouts, with bands, speeches, and wholesome athletic events, because that's what people did for fun in 1915. The article even lists event winners for posterity; there were a few categories of 50 yard dash, plus picnic staples like a three legged race, a sack race, a wheelbarrow race, and a tug-of-war. There was also a "ladies' nail-driving contest, three nails", a pie-eating contest -- Helen Hidenrieck won the girls' division by virtue of being the only entry -- and a "fat men's race". That immortal event was won by one B. Ruella, with G.W. Long placing second. No third place was announced because "judges could not decide in the scramble".

Wahkeena Falls Bridge

Ok, our next stop on the ongoing Gorge bridge project is the old footbridge at Wahkeena Falls, which (like the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls) went in around the same time as the old Columbia River Highway. The highway's National Historic Landmark nomination mentions the footbridge as a contributing structure. It says the bridge was built in 1914, and was designed by Karl P. Billner, who also did the Benson Bridge and most of the highway bridges along this stretch of the road, including the boring one over Wahkeena Creek that we just visited a post or two ago. The nomination doc goes on to describe the bridge:

This rubble masonry footbridge is 46 feet long and 8 feet wide and contains a semi-circular barrel arch with a 14-foot opening. The masonry guard walls, with concrete caps, continue east and west of the bridge for some distance. Simon Benson paid for the bridge's construction, as he did for the Multnomah Falls Footbridge.

As with the Benson Bridge further east, it seems this was built while Benson still owned the land here. He owned the waterfalls and decided they needed bridges, and started throwing money around to make it happen. Thanks to being rich and powerful, Benson even managed to borrow the highway's bridge engineers -- who must have been rather busy already -- to do the design work for these bridges too.

There isn't a whole lot else about this one on the interwebs, and a lot of the links just repeat the same source material (kind of like I just did above), but here's what I've got. The library's newspaper database didn't have anything worth sharing, but the Library of Congress has a half-dozen or so vintage photos as part of its Historic American Engineering Record collection, and there are a couple of Waymarking pages about it, and it shows up on Columbia River Images and Recreating the HCRH page.