Saturday, October 04, 2014

The Mary Lou Fendall Rose

Like any good project here at this humble blog, the new mural thing I've been doing continues to evolve. I started out with the RACC list of murals in their public art mural program, and I somehow had the idea that those represented the full set, other than a few outliers that had been grandfathered in. I think I was hoping a complete list existed and I could just work off that list. The murals on the RACC list tend to fall into a couple of categories: Traditional community murals featuring local history or landmarks or whatnot, and others painted on (and sponsored by) local businesses that sort of relate to the business but don't quite count as advertising under the city sign code.

While tracking those down, I realized there was another population of murals around the city, an outgrowth of the street art/graffiti world. In particular, the annual Forest For the Trees festival results in a dozen or so new murals each year, many painted by international artists. Apparently it's pretty common to go on tour like a band would, painting a mural in each city you visit. As far as anyone knows we don't have a Banksy here yet, but if we did it would fall under this general category. The street art-style murals tend to be more varied and interesting (and, frankly, better) than the traditional community-type ones, so I started tracking these down too. A few have showed up here already, and there are more in my giant Drafts folder, and even more on my even-gianter todo list.

But while searching for those, I realized there was yet another type of mural out there that I'd been ignoring. Here and there around downtown and the inner Eastside you'll see commercial buildings with large roses painted on them, sometimes with a big US flag included as well, and an inscription dedicating the rose to someone. They're all over the place, and I'd never paid them any attention until now. There's nothing remotely hip or cutting edge about these roses, but seeking out uncool stuff is kind of a habit of mine, and it seemed like interspersing a few of them among the street art murals would make for an interesting contrast. I soon realized that someone else had taken a similar interest a few years ago, creating the Portland Roses Tumblr, complete with a Google map of known locations at that time. So a lot of the basic footwork had been done already. It doesn't have photos of all of them, but back in 2006 the Oregonian posted a collage of the ones that existed then. They aren't all still around, but it's still a helpful field guide.

I also ran across an explanation of the roses in a 2008 Stumptown Stumper in the Tribune. The buildings with roses are owned by Joe Weston, a prominent developer and real estate magnate. The article explains Weston simply likes roses and has been commissioning them for buildings he owns over the last 20 years or so, naming them in honor of colleagues, friends, and family. As a side benefit, the roses are thought to ward off taggers as well, on the theory that they won't touch a building that already has art on it. The article mentions that Jerry Harley, Weston's longtime rose painter, had passed away recently and new roses were on hiatus. At least a couple have been painted since then, but I'm not sure by who.

Now that we've got the explanation out of the way, the rose pictured above is the Mary Lou Fendall Rose (1995), on the Morrison Plaza building at SW 14th & Alder. In the Tribune article, Weston explains that she was his children's former nanny, and a family friend. If Google serves, she's also the sister of the late John Helmer, of the famous local haberdashery. The photo on the Portland Roses Tumblr shows the mural looking a bit faded, so apparently it's been repainted within the last few years.

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