Sunday, April 06, 2014


Our wander around the outdoor part of the Portland Art Museum (i.e the free part) continues with Alexander Phimister Proctor's Lions, a large bronze plaque mounted on an exterior wall. Proctor also created the Theodore Roosevelt equestrian statue in the South Park Blocks nearby.

A 2003 paper in the Oregon Historical Quarterly about Proctor's work in Oregon explains the winding history of Lions. It was originally commissioned for the home of Wilson B. Ayer, a museum trustee, circa 1911, where it hung over a fireplace for many years. Ayers willed Lions to the museum in 1935. Aesthetic tastes changed, and the museum eventually lost interest in Lions, and loaned it to the Oregon Zoo in May 1962 (the same week the zoo train opened for business, as it turns out). The zoo mounted it on a wall in the big cat section, in an awkward location where it was hard to see; sometimes it even had bushes growing in front of it. It eventually fell into neglect and disrepair. I remember seeing it there as a kid and thinking it was a strange thing to find lurking behind a stand of bamboo. The museum finally took it back in 1998, restored it, and put it on display in its current location.

Proctor's 1950 obit in the Oregonian referred to him as a "famed western sculptor" and continued with a rather disturbing bit: "An enthusiastic hunter as well as an artist, he often boasted he had killed every species of wildlife in North America 'except a buffalo and an Indian.'" If you ever want to know what 1950 America was like, it was a place where it was ok to say that as a boast, and ok to print it in the newspaper as a heartwarming anecdote. Yeesh.

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