Friday, September 20, 2013

Nepali Window

I was walking along SW Alder a while back and noticed this mysterious object on the side of the Central Plaza parking garage, between 3rd & 4th. It looked sort of art-like, somehow, but there wasn't a sign anywhere giving a title or artist, so I filed it away as a mystery. Then I was looking at the 2007 downtown public art map I've mentioned a few times here, putting together a list of things that I haven't posted about yet (and it was a surprisingly short list). One of the unblogged items was something called Nepali Window, which I realized was in the right general area as the mysterious parking garage object. Which does sort of look like a window if you squint just right, come to think of it. So I googled the title and artist, found a few photos, and realized I had a winner, and thus a blog post was born. So that's the exciting internet search saga behind what you're reading now.

Nepali Window / Central Plaza garage

Nepali Window is a 1989 piece by the late Bonnie Bronson, who was married to Lee Kelly of Leland 1 fame. (She created the orange metal side panels on Leland One, which are the best part of the thing.) Apparently this piece was part of a larger series inspired by travels in Nepal; OHSU has a companion piece in its vast art collection, slthough the photo seems to indicate it's tucked away in a conference room or something. I also ran across a Bronson sculpture on eBay that references the OHSU Nepali Window and gives a bit more background about it.

Nepali Window

So the name got me wondering: Is this anything like what an actual window in Nepal looks like? I mean, obviously it's abstract art and whatnot, and it's a bit déclassé asking what it "looks like" or what it's "about". But, y'know, I was curious. I actually thought about asking a Nepali coworker and maybe doing the very first interview this humble blog's ever had. But I quickly realized he'd just tell me to google it and stop asking stupid questions. So I did. Short answer: Actual windows in Nepal look nothing like this, except for being square-ish most of the time. But they're interesting in their own right, and possibly I ought to be crowdfunded to go investigate further, maybe.

Before I knew the name or had any info about Nepali Window, I was thinking I'd do a post about the "mystery artwork" anyway, and then mostly talk about the parking garage since I didn't know anything about the sculpture itself. So I dug around in the Oregonian archives a bit and found a few articles about the garage. One of the articles had a cool retro under-construction photo of it, so that and the rest of the history stuff ended up in a post over on pdx tales, this humble blog's equally humble history sibling.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Memorial Inscription

A slideshow about Memorial Inscription, a public art piece outside Portland State's Epler Hall student housing tower. As the name suggests, it memorializes Stephen Epler, who in 1946 founded what evolved into PSU. A cluster of low benches have inscriptions briefly describing Epler's work, and behind them a set of stainless steel panels are etched in what looks like an unknown language.

To understand what's going on here, here's a quote from Margot Voorhies Thompson's artist bio at the US State Department's Art in Embassies program:

"Over my career, my interest in calligraphy has led me to create my own vernacular alphabets that reference elements of historical letterforms. My intention is to combine both archaic and futuristic elements while encoding beneath the surface poetry, literature and song. The invention of language and writing systems is a uniquely human phenomenon. Similar to nature, linguistics has the ability to reinvent itself and adapt over time, or run to extinction. This loss of diversity echoes the fate of our plant and animal kingdoms. By creating my own alphabets, the meaning and impact of the language is changed. The components are abstracted into indecipherable line and shape as I incorporate them into my paintings and prints. I am interested in deconstructing and recreating the language using repeated characters, line spacing and other patterns related to writing, books and scrolls. The meaning of this abstraction is to question what is being communicated. I want the viewer to interpret and wonder anew what they see, much like an archaeological find where an artifact inscribed with a mysterious form transcends symbolism, turning into something more elemental. In my work as a calligrapher, printmaker and painter, tools and surfaces determine the character of the writing and inscription."

Her website shows Memorial Inscription and several other examples of this style. I think it's beautiful. I have to draw a comparison here with another imaginary-alphabet inscription, on the fish-alien fake monument Mimir, which I think has more of a whimsical intent than Memorial Inscription does. A bona-fide art critic (which I've never, ever claimed to be) would likely dismiss this superficial, which is probably accurate. Especially since I don't actually have an interesting compare-n-contrast point to make here; I suppose I'm just pointing out that someone else made art with an invented alphabet and I have photos of that too. So if you'd like a refund of every cent you paid to read this, feel free to leave a comment below or something.

Memorial Inscription is actually a bit tough to find. SW Montgomery is pedestrian-only through much of the PSU campus, including here. Epler Hall shares a block with a much older apartment building, with a narrow alley between them, and the art's down at the far end of the alley. Did I say "alley"? Epler is a LEED-certified green building, so this not-an-alley is supposed to be a sort of educational eco-plaza that does magic things with stormwater. Kind of like the one Portland Community College has over on the eastside. Oh, there I go comparing and contrasting again. Like I said, feel free to request your refund down in the comments section.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


A few photos of Cobbletale, on the Portland State campus at 11th & Mill St. The artist statement, via the UO Library's One Percent for Art digital collection:

Cobbletale metamorphises the West Hall courtyard into a topographic landscape and kinesthetic artwork. It is meant to be experienced by touching (feet, hands, posterior) as well as by sight. Cobbletale examines and appreciates, both geologically and in the more recent historical sense, Portland's cobblestones. In a subtler way, Cobbetale is a site-specific metaphor for history's layers and transformations. Either way, it constradicts and expands the notion of the courtyard. Through its materials, shape and scale, Cobbletale empowers the site's surrounding architectural forms and landscape paintings. The idea for Cobbletale came from the design team's discovery that cobblestones were unearthed during preparation for West Hall's construction. Sometime around the turn of the [19th] century, they had been laid along a streetcar route on Southwest 11th. Their location was at the edge of the present artwork. Some of these original cobblestones are now a part of Cobbletale. During the sixteen-month period of creating Cobbletale, the artist gained assistance from eleven different state and local agencies and bureaus, as well as three museaums and numerous private individuals. In order to gather an appropriate ""pallet"" of materials, the artist hand cleaned over 6,000 cobblestones with a hammer and scrub brush, eventually using approximately 4,000 and returning the remainder to the city's storage (Mayer, 1992).

The fun thing about Cobbletale is that it was created in 1992, nearly a decade before today's Portland Streetcar began operating. Streetcars were strictly an object of romantic nostalgia at that point, and there was every reason to believe they were gone for good. The present-day streetcar has a stop just two blocks west of here, and another two blocks north. Still, cobblestones haven't really come back into vogue yet, so there's that.


The bottom photo in this post was actually taken way back in 2006. I knew I had an old Flickr photo of it, but I couldn't recall writing anything about it, so I figured it must've shown up in one of those "miscellaneous random photos" posts I used to do. But I checked all of those & didn't see it, and neither Blogger search nor Google were any help. I had a multi-megabyte full-blog-export XML file lying around from the last time I updated the Cyclotram Map, so I was able to track it down that way (although TextEdit bogged down on the big file & I had to use Emacs instead).


Another sort of blog post I used to do was a bullet point list of unrelated news items and tidbits from around the interwebs. Which seemed like a great idea back then because Twitter didn't exist yet. In a post of that sort from almost exactly 7 years ago, I tacked an item on the end linking to (but not inlining) a few photos I hadn't used yet. I needed to do that because I didn't yet have a Flickr Pro account, and until recently free Flickr accounts only let you browse your 200 most recent photos. You could still access them if you had a direct link, but you couldn't browse through your photos with the 'next' button and see them. So I posted links just so I'd continue to have access to those photos. But I didn't even bother explaining what they were photos of, so it's entirely possible -- probable, even -- that nobody has ever clicked those links in all this time.


I'm thinking maybe I'll go back and edit the old post & inline those photos. Just on the general principle of trying to do things the right way, even if nobody ever sees it. I don't get search hits on 2006 posts too often. People might find it from the post you're reading now, assuming anyone stumbles across it. Which they might now, but in another 7 years? I mean, nobody's going to want to look at plain old photos in the year 2020. Either a.) You'll need full holographic video with HD smell-o-vision, or your fickle audience will go elsewhere; or b.) everyone's too busy scavenging and fleeing atomic mutants to worry about this stuff. I'm not really sure which is more likely.

Cobbletale Cobbletale

Harvard Bridge

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Boston's Harvard Bridge crosses the Charles River between the Back Bay neighborhood and the MIT (not Harvard) campus. It's not really that photogenic of a bridge, and I only ended up with a handful of photos of it. I became distracted by other more interesting things and neglected to take any photos of it from the side until I was pretty far away. You can probably find better ones on the net somewhere if you're curious.

(Also, @Mile73 points out this is usually called the "Mass Ave Bridge", due to carrying Massachusetts Avenue over the river. That seems much better than naming it after a university it doesn't even go to.)

Harvard Bridge

In the top photo, you might notice a green painted mark on the sidewalk, and (if you look closely) similar marks in various colors further away. These are "Smoot marks". Their story, as told by Wikipedia:

The Harvard Bridge is measured, locally, in smoots.

In 1958, members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity at MIT measured the bridge's eastern sidewalk by carrying or dragging the shortest pledge that year, Oliver Smoot (who later became president of the International Organization for Standardization), end over end.

Crossing pedestrians are informed by length markers painted at 10-smoot intervals that the bridge is 364.4 smoots long, "plus one ear". The qualifier "plus or minus" was originally intended to express measurement uncertainty, but over the years the words "or minus" have gone missing in many citations, including the markings on the bridge itself. The marks are repainted twice each year by members of the fraternity.

During the reconstruction in the 1980s, the smoot markings were repainted on the new deck, and the sidewalks were divided into smoot-length slabs rather than the standard six feet. The Cambridge police use the smoot marks as a coordinate system when reporting accidents on the bridge.

Given that Smoot was 5 feet 7 inches (1.702 m) tall in 1958, the given measurement in smoots of 364.4 yields a "bridge length" of about 620 meters (2,030 ft). Published sources give the length of the bridge as approximately 660 meters (2,170 ft). The difference in length between the sidewalk markings and the published figure represents a 40-meter (130 ft) discrepancy.

An article at the Cambridge Historical Society mentions the Smoot connection, and points out a plaque marking the spot where, in 1908, a shackled Harry Houdini jumped off the bridge and made one of his famous underwater escapes. That's way cooler than any fraternity prank, if you ask me.

Harvard Bridge Harvard Bridge

Thursday, September 05, 2013

LADEE Minotaur V @ Wallops Island

Photos from Launch Pad 0-B at Wallops Island, Virginia. This Minotaur V rocket (a converted Peacekeeper ICBM) is set to launch the LADEE moon probe tomorrow night, at 11:27pm Eastern.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Sun Lakes

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Here's a slideshow from Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park in Eastern Washington, about 40 miles north of Moses Lake. The state parks description of the place:

Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park is a 4,027-acre camping park with 73,640 feet of freshwater shoreline at the foot of Dry Falls. Dry Falls is one of the great geological wonders of North America. Carved by Ice Age floods that long ago disappeared, the former waterfall is now a stark cliff, 400 feet high and 3.5 miles wide. In its heyday, the waterfall was four times the size of Niagara Falls. Today it overlooks a desert oasis filled with lakes and abundant wildlife.

These photos are from the park area "downstream" of Dry Falls. (There's a separate post on the way with photos from the overlook above Dry Falls.) It's hard to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the Missoula Floods, but to my non-geologist eyes the the Sun Lakes area (and similar areas around Washington's Channeled Scablands region) really do look like the result of an enormous flood, with piles of rocky debris, and deep gouges now filled by lakes. This sort of terrain is considered to be the closest terrestrial analogue to outflow channels on Mars, like the one visited by Mars Pathfinder in 1997.

The high freestanding rock formation in a few of these photos is Umatilla Rock. I ran across a blog post about it with a lot of great photos, including some from the top of the rock, at a site devoted solely to Ice Age Floods.

I should point out there's more to the park than gawking at geology. A recent Associated Press story about the area goes on about the recreation options here. Beyond the obvious hiking, boating, and fishing options, apparently there's even a 9 hole golf course somewhere in the state park. It seems like a long way to go just to play golf, if you ask me. But then, crossing the street is a long way to go just to play golf, as far as I'm concerned. The park also has mini-golf (aka fun golf), paddle boats, and even a concession selling water balloons at $2 per bucket, so you can have a water balloon fight without the hassle of filling water balloons first. That actually sounds cool.

Contact II

A few photos of Contact II, the red-orange abstract sculpture in the southeast corner of Jamison Square, due south of Rico Pasado. Public art in Portland is usually funded by the city, and commissions tend to go to regional Northwest artists. Contact II is different; Alexander Liberman, its creator, was "a Russian-American magazine editor, publisher, painter, photographer, and sculptor.", with long stints as art director for Vogue and editorial director for Condé Nast. Voguepedia (which exists) has an interesting bio of him. When he passed away in 1999, obituaries ran in papers around the globe, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and The Independent, as well as in various trade publications.

As you might imagine, the city didn't commission or buy this one. Rather, it was donated by the late Ed Cauduro, a prominent local art collector, in memory of his parents. In general I prefer the publicly funded route, rather than relying on the whims of rich collectors, but indulging the occasional rich collector does seem to add a little variety that we wouldn't have otherwise. Unfortunately, by 2007 Contact II was visibly suffering from weathering and vandalism and was temporarily removed for restoration. It hasn't required similar attention since then, as far as I know, so the restoration work seems to have been a success so far.

Contact II

If you search for other Liberman sculptures around the net, you'll quickly realize this is an extremely tiny sculpture by his usual standards. A few more typical examples of his work include Argo at the Milwaukee Art Museum; Gate of Hope at the University of Hawaii - Manoa; and The Way, in Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis. The Way is built from recycled oil tanks, measures 65' high by 102' wide by 100' deep, and weighs around 55 tons. Our puny example of his work could probably fit inside one of those oil drums, but it still bears a family resemblance to its huge siblings, with cylindrical forms and bright cadmium red tones. Ours is nice, I guess, but I'd really rather have one of the huge ones.

Contact II Contact II Contact II Contact II Contact II Contact II Jamison Square

Innerbelt Bridge

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Here are a few photos of Cleveland's current Innerbelt Bridge, which carries Interstate 90 over the Cuyahoga River. Oddly enough this isn't the first I-90 bridge that's appeared on this humble blog; a post just a few days ago covered the Vantage Bridge over the Columbia River. Same Interstate 90, just 2,268 miles to the west.

The Innerbelt Bridge only dates to the 1959, but it's currently being replaced. It was well overdue for repairs when the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneaapolis collapsed in 2007, and it turned out that the Innerbelt Bridge was of a similar design. So local officials decided they'd rather just replace the bridge instead of trying to patch up a bridge with basic design flaws.

The replacement project is proceeding rather quickly, it seems; the westbound span of the replacement bridge topped out just last week. The photos in this post were taken in March 2012 (from the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge just downstream) and at the time there were just a few concrete supports in place, so everything else was built between then and now. I can't help but compare this to our recent ill-fated attempt at building a new Interstate 5 bridge here in Portland. It seems entirely possible to me that Cleveland is simply better at building things than we are.

Innerbelt Bridge

The current bridge replaced the earlier Central Viaduct (1888), which included a swing span over the river until 1912. The swing span was the site of a streetcar disaster in 1895. Under normal circumstances, a safety switch was supposed to prevent streetcars from traveling over the bridge while the span was open. But somehow this switch failed, and a streetcar plummeted off the open bridge into the river on a dark, foggy night, killing nearly everyone on board. The Central Viaduct was closed in 1941 and scrapped for the war effort during World War II.

Innerbelt Bridge

In any case, for project updates on the new bridge, the Cleveland Plain Dealer (the local newspaper) has an Innerbelt Bridge status page, and the project's Twitter account is updated regularly.

Innerbelt Bridge