Monday, October 29, 2012


Today's stop on the occasional tour of transit mall art takes us to the far north end of the transit mall, near Union Station, home to the scattered pieces of Cairns. From TriMet's Green Line public art guide:

To create her series of sculptures for the Union Station area, Christine Bourdette was inspired by the man-made stacks of stones that have traditionally served as landmarks for navigation and as memorials. Cairns consists of a series of five stacked-slate forms that mark the path to the light rail stations near Glisan at NW 5th and 6th.

I can't say I have a strong opinion either way about any of the individual cairns or the collection as a whole. Your eyes just tend to sort of gaze right past them. But up close you notice the texture of the stone, which I absolutely love. I see lots of search results for "stacked slate", which seems to mean pieces of slate split perpendicular to their natural grain. It's a neat look but possibly not an infinitely versatile one; a commercially available garden fountain I ran across looks just like Cairns, but smaller and with water spilling out the top.

Cairns Cairns Cairns Cairns Cairns Cairns

Whistlestop for an Organ Teacher

The latest installment in our tour of transit mall art takes us to 5th Avenue between Morrison and Alder, next to Macy's (the former Meier and Frank store), home to Whistlestop for an Organ Teacher by Chris Bruch. TriMet's Green Line public art guide says of it:

Chris Bruch designed Whistlestop for an Organ Teacher to be a small island of stillness amidst the urban hubbub and dissonance of the city. Whistlestop refers to an earlier era when politicians campaigned across great distances from trains, while "stop," in organ terminology, means a rank of pipes that all speak with a similar voice.

The sculptor's website describes it differently:

This sculpture references pipe organs, particularly a windchest with three fanciful pipes. Intended to evoke sound and provide a quiet moment in an urban streetscape, it’s softly reflective surface picks up changes in light and color.

He also has a piece on the University of Washington campus titled Department of Forensic Morphology Annex. It looks kind of cool, just going by the two small photos I've seen of it, and I think I like it better than the piece TriMet bought. Although the UW one looks much too big to fit on Portland city sidewalks anyway, so it's sort of a moot point.

On a semi-related note, there are a few more photos of Whistlestop on the website of the Columbia River Theater Organ Society, since it's sort of relevant to their interests, more or less. The rest of the site is kind of interesting too.

Whistlestop for an Organ Teacher Whistlestop for an Organ Teacher Whistlestop for an Organ Teacher

Ghost Ship

The last stop on our tour of Esplanade art is Ghost Ship, which is probably my favorite of the group. It's probably due to the glass. The brief description on its name plaque reads:

"A glowing lantern against a grey sky - Ghost Ship pays homage to the many ships that have come through Portland, and the ones that have gone down in crossing the Columbia River Bar."

...although please note the blue sky in these photos. Anyway, the city parks Esplanade page has this to say:

The Ghost Ship by James Harrison, sited on the south end of the wall, is a grand lantern made of copperplate, copper bar, a stainless steel substructure, and fit with hundreds of prismatic pieces of art glass. It pays homage to the many ships that have come through Portland, and the ones that have gone down in crossing the Columbia River Bar.

A later piece by Harrison titled Stacks grew out of his work on Ghost Ship, and another titled Daahoud grew out of it in turn.

Ghost Ship

With that I'm all out of material about the piece itself, and Halloween's coming up in a few days, so let's talk about actual ghost ships instead. Wikipedia has a long list of ghost ships, real, suspected, and fictional, including the infamous Mary Celeste. I recall reading a story about the Mary Celeste as a kid, and having nightmares for a week afterward. More recently, the derelict Ryou-Un Maru showed up in Canadian and later US waters a year after being washed out to sea by the 2011 Tokohu earthquake & tsunami. After salvage attempts failed, the US Coast Guard sank the vessel with cannon fire to prevent it from posing a hazard to shipping.

Ghost Ship

The 1943 Val Lewton film The Ghost Ship isn't really about a ghost ship, or even about ghosts, but it's a tense and spooky film that's worth seeing. It doesn't appear to be public domain and so isn't available for free on YouTube, but in searching I ran across a couple of interesting videos about derelict vessels: The former USS Sachem and an abandoned riverboat, both near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Closer to home, longtime Portlanders may remember the old River Queen floating restaurant (a converted San Francisco & Puget Sound ferry boat) , which was moored near the Centennial Mills building in what's now the Pearl District. The restaurant closed in 1995 and the vessel was towed to a remote dock on the Columbia near Goble. It's remained there ever since, awaiting a buyer.

Ghost Ship

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Stack Stalk

The next piece of Esplanade art is "Stack Stalk", a tall skinny object near Alluvial Wall. The description from its sign:

"Part smoke stack, part sheaf of wheat - Stack Stalk is a beacon holding a Japanese glass fishing float from the coast up to the sky."

The city's page about the Esplanade says:

At the north end, Stack Stalk, also by Ean Eldred, is a hybrid beacon - part masthead, part wheat stem, part smokestack. Made of rolled steel tubes and a stainless steel basket, it suspends a Japanese glass fishing float in the sky as a reminder of the river's connection with the Pacific Ocean.

If anything there's even less on the interwebs about Stack Stalk than for Alluvial Wall. It got a quick mention in a Willamette Week Dr. Know column a while back, in which Orville B. of Portland asks why so much local art is so phallic-looking. A post at Culture Shock elaborates on that and includes photos. Of the art, I mean. I would imagine that, even today, a substantial majority of public art commissions go to male artists, so that might have something to do with it. Or it could all be a big case of pareidolia, except with genitalia instead of faces. Could be, could be. Dunno.

Stack Stalk Stack Stalk

Alluvial Wall

This humble blog's occasional public art tour ventures across the river to visit a cluster of related pieces on the Eastbank Esplanade. I actually wrote a post about Echo Gate way back in July 2006. I either didn't realize it was part of a grouping, or it just didn't occur to me at the time that I was embarking on a Project that would involve posting about the others. Or it's also possible that my camera ran out of juice or its SD card was full after Echo Gate. Both problems happened a lot back in the old days. Truly, it was a dark and primitive time.

Alluvial Wall

Anyway, today's first stop is "Alluvial Wall", which wraps around a bend in the Esplanade path about midway between the Hawthorne and Morrison bridges. The sign next to the piece describes it thusly:

"Interwoven layers of sediment and erosion - Alluvial Wall is an echo of the natural shape of the river before Portland was Portland."
Alluvial Wall

The city parks page for the Esplanade explains further:

The final piece, the Alluvial Wall by Peter Nylen, clings to a concrete retaining wall and echoes the natural shape of the river before Portland was Portland. It alludes to the interwoven layers of the river’s pre-industrial geology and human artifacts; an amalgam of sedimentation and erosion formed of cold-forged steel plate with bronze castings lodged between its layers.

The Smithsonian's art inventory says simply:

Abstract wall sculpture made with slender horizontal bars intersected by slender vertical bars.

A recent public art guide to central Portland expands the credit to "RIGGA (Ean Eldred, James Harrison, John Kashiwabara, Peter Nylen) 2001", and lists its materials as "mild steel, bronze, electric light", although I can't vouch for the electric light.

Alluvial Wall

I've run across a few other links with photos to pass along. Not as many as I was expecting, considering how many people walk, run, or bike past Alluvial Wall on a daily basis. I should probably take that as a sign this public art thing is a strange little project, and an interest that's shared by relatively few people. Or maybe I just need to search harder. Tumblr and Instagram and DeviantART could be absolutely full of hip, moody photos of it and you wouldn't necessarily know just from searching with Google. In any case, check out the photos at 500px,, and ExplorePDX. The photos are pretty tiny in the last one, but they do pick up on some angles I didn't notice during my brief visit. I'm already planning a trip back to take more photos, this time bringing the DSLR and not just my phone, as nice as it may be by phone standards.

Alluvial Wall Alluvial Wall

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Glacier Point


One last post of old Yosemite photos, these from around the Glacier Point trailhead and early parts of the Panorama Trail. Again, the absence of adjectives -- or any serious attempt to describe what the place is like -- is no accident.

Yosemite Yosemite Yosemite Yosemite Yosemite

Panorama Trail


Various photos from along Yosemite's Panorama Trail. Some of them even turned out decently, even though I had a crappy camera and had no idea what I was doing. And for that I give all the credit to the scenery. You'll note that I've gone this many consecutive posts full of Yosemite photos without seriously trying to describe the place. That's entirely deliberate. Rather than attempting such a thing, I think I'll just point you at the Wikipedia articles for "superlative" and "purple prose" and leave it at that.

Yosemite Yosemite Yosemite Yosemite Yosemite Yosemite Yosemite Yosemite

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Yet another Yosemite waterfall


This one I haven't been able to identify. Vernal Fall is one candidate, but it doesn't look quite right to me. I really should have made notes, either at the time or after I got the photos back. Pretty sure there would have been a sign at the viewpoint, but I usually didn't take photos of signs since that wasted one of the 36 shots on your roll of film. In contrast, today I could figure it where I was from GPS and post the photos straight to Flickr or Tumblr or Instagram right from the trail, presumably, assuming my carrier has good coverage in Yosemite.

So feel free to leave a comment if you have any idea which waterfall we're looking at here, because I'm kind of stumped.

Yosemite Yosemite Yosemite