Sunday, July 01, 2018

House for Summer

Next up we're taking another trip to the Hoyt Arboretum, but this time it's for art. Off to one side of the Holly Loop trail, near the intersection of Knights Blvd. & Fairview, you might notice a tight circle of white birch trees in a small meadow. This is House for Summer, a 1987 installation by artist Helen Lessick that turned 30 last July. The RACC link describes it:

This captivating installation of birch trees, part of the City of Portland’s public art collection, has been pruned and shaped to take the form of a house, a house that changes with the seasons and is a reflection of the shelter of the forest canopy. House for Summer is a prime example of the work Lessick has done over the past three decades investigating the imagery and metaphor of plants.

There were various festivities to mark the 30th anniversary, and Lessick had a solo exhibition at a NW Portland gallery to coincide with the event.

I took these photos in summer 2017, vaguely around the big birthday, but I was kind of busy and didn't get around to posting them immediately. This may have actually been the same trip where I sat down on a bench and planned out a big software project that took most of the year between then and now to complete, which would be why I've been so busy lately. In any case, I didn't get the post up right away, and the weeks dragged out, and then the seasons changed a few times, and it didn't seem right to post about nice summery things in the dead of winter. So here we are about a year later, which is actually quite fast by my recent standards. (Luckily nobody relies on me as a source of breaking news.)

I took a peek to see if I could find any news articles from when House for Summer went in, and found a dedication photo from July 15th 1987. A July 10th arts page blurb mentioned that there'd been a couple of prior season-themed houses in the series:

Helen Lessick has installed, or rather, planted another in her series of house installations. Lessick has been playing with the idea of home for a while now. Her “Venus Fly Trap (House for Spring)” was part of last year’s Inside/Out series at the Portland Art Museum, and “Metallic House (House for Winter)” was shown recently at Marylhurst College.

The blurb went on to mention that Lessick planned to plant clover inside the house the following summer to "help delineate inside from outside", though it looks like wood chips play that role now. In October 1991 there was a House for Autumn made of hay at the Bybee-Howell House on Sauvie Island. That article mentions a prior House of Fire ("a metal frame engulfed in gaseous flames") and Waterhouse (with "walls formed from a sprinklerlike contraption").

More recently, the Oregonian did 20th anniversary article about the house in 2007, which was actually within the lifetime of this humble blog. I had already done a few public art posts by then, but somehow I didn't notice or clue in about this one. The article mentions that birch trees usually only live to 20 years or so, and implied that that would be the end of House of Summer, but here we are a decade later, so either the trees magically lived longer, or these are not the original trees. The photos of it in someone's 2013 blog post appear to be about the same size as now, but it's hard to tell.

The Nevada Museum of Art (Reno, NV) has a collection of materials about the project including annual photos from the beginning thru at least 2011. Which I guess would be kind of interesting, but I can't point you at them since they're 35mm slides in a box in Reno.