Sunday, August 10, 2014

Couch Park Mosaics

Today's installment in the ongoing Portland public art project is a fairly obscure one. Back in 2012 I did a post about NW Portland's Couch Park, including a bit about the groovy 70's abstract sculpture at the east end of the park. That's the only art the RACC database lists at Couch Park, but later I noticed the Smithsonian art inventory lists a couple of others, so I went back to find them. The Couch Park Mosaics are a collection of glass mosaics on a pair of large planters at the west end of the park, near the Multnomah Learning Center. They date to 1976-77, which is about the era I would have guessed just looking at them. Some details, from the database entry:

Grimm, Jere, 1933- , sculptor.
Mosaics of blue, green, yellow, black and brown are inlayed on two sides of two planters. Trees and shrubs are planted in the planters.
Commissioned by the Portland Development Commission and funded through its Housing and Community Development Program. This work was installed as part of a park improvement program initiated by the Northwest District Association. Schoolchildren and other community residents created the tiles under the direction of Jere Grimm, Artist-in-Residence and Couch Park Art Coordinator. IAS files include pertinent memoranda and correspondence from the Development Commission.

I also would have guessed, without ever reading the entry, that the mosaics had been created with the help of semi-skilled neighborhood hippies of all ages, and the work parties were far out, man. The one odd bit here is that the Portland Development Commission owned the mosaic. Much of the Smithsonian's data for the Portland area comes from a 1993 survey, if you can believe that, so I don't know if they still own it or not. If so, it would explain why there's no RACC listing for it, since it's not theirs to keep track of.

Relying on a 1993 survey is the big limitation of the Smithsonian database. It's great for things that date to before 1993 and still exist but have fallen into obscurity, like the mosaics here, the little Lee Kelly sculpture at NE 72nd & Fremont, and the Michele Russo sculpture on Pettygrove near Chapman School. Entries for art that arrived after 1993 are few and far between, though; I think I've seen a few, but I could be wrong and there just aren't any. Likewise a fair number of database entries are out of date. Ownership may have changed, or an artwork may have been moved from its 1993 location (like just about everything along the Transit Mall), and some have been lost entirely. Case in point, the database lists an additional artwork here in Couch Park, a shelter structure that doesn't seem to exist anymore. It also dated to 1976, and was described as "Two four-sided carved supports for a trellis structure. Each side of the poles is divided into eight rectangular sections. The top section has carved masks on each of the four sides of each pole; a total of eight masks. Below each mask are rectangles painted in colors to coordinate with the masks.", and its condition was given as "Treatment urgent". Based on that description, I don't think it refers the park's play structure, which also dated to 1976, and was condemned as structurally unsound in April of this year. If it's the same structure, it's gone now, or will be soon. If it was a different structure, I imagine the city removed it for similar reasons sometime in the last 20 years. It's the eventual fate of all untreated wood structures in this climate. There's probably a great environmental lesson for kids here. Circle of life, and all that.

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