Saturday, August 16, 2014

Shakespeare Relief

In one relatively quiet corner of Washington Park's Rose Garden is a small "Shakespeare Garden", which the city describes:

In 1945, the Shakespeare Garden, located at Crystal Springs Lake in southeast Portland, was moved to Washington Park to allow for expansion of Eastmoreland Golf Course. Designed by Glenn Stanton and Florence Gerke, it was originally intended to include only herbs, trees, and flowers mentioned in William Shakespeare's plays. The garden continues to honor the Bard with roses named after characters in his plays. The focal point of the garden is the Shakespeare Memorial, a brick wall with a plaque featuring Shakespeare’s image and his quote, "Of all flowers methinks a rose is best." Donated by the LaBarre Shakespeare Club, it was dedicated on April 23, 1946 - the 382nd anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. In 1957 the club added a sundial to the garden.

We're here to see the marble Shakespeare plaque right now, and it happens to have a Smithsonian art database entry:

The relief is part of an exedra that was designed by Glenn Stanton, that includes two flanking marble-top benches. Relief is in the Shakespeare Garden which was designed by Florence Gerke and is a gift of the LaBarre Shakespeare club. IAS files contain transcriptions of inscriptions on benches and nearby sundial. IAS files contain a related article from The Oregonian (Portland, OR), June 5, 1955; and a July 19, 1970 article from the Rose Garden Society.

Gerke was a prominent landscape architect, first with the parks bureau and later in private practice. Stanton was a well-known local architect who also co-designed Portland's Civic Auditorium. (In the second link, about the auditorium's 1968 dedication ceremony, a dedication speaker imagines people digging through the rubble of long-vanished Portland three centuries from now, finding Civic Auditorium, and realizing what a grand and gracious age it must have been. It was a sign of the Cold War times that it was just a given the city would be a forgotten rubble pile in the year 2268.)

The aforementioned June 5th 1955 article explains the little Shakespeare Garden, for people who had never heard of it. Apparently it was not yet the famous, highly desired wedding spot it is today. The article explains that, as you might imagine, it was the brainchild of a group of local high society ladies, who had formed a Shakespeare appreciation club. This club was founded by, run by, and named for Julia LaBarre, who also wrote "Stories of Shakespeare's Popular Comedies Told in Rhyme", a long-out-of-print children's book.

In a 1946 article about the current garden's dedication, we learn it was also a pet project of C.P. Keyser, the city's longtime parks superintendent, which would certainly have helped grease the skids for getting it approved. Keyser, now retired, asserted the garden was still incomplete, and what it really needed was a collection of porcelain figurines of characters from Shakespeare's plays, displayed under a plastic dome. That sounds tacky as all hell, and we can count ourselves lucky that it never came to pass (as far as I know). Or if it did, at least it didn't last long.

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