Monday, July 25, 2011

Hello there, Ms. Lady...

  Not really the right approach one would use when stumbling upon our lady, Portlandia. Long time Portland resident Ronald Talney wrote something better for dear Portlandia's introduction. It sits on a plaque honoring her and it reads:

She kneels down
and from the quietness
of copper
reaches out.
We take that stillness
into ourselves
and somewhere
deep in the earth
our breath
becomes her city.
If she could speak
this is what
she would say:
Follow that breath.
Home is the journey we make.
This is how the world
knows where we are. 


  That's a bit better. After all, Raymond Kaskey's work is our biggest copper statue, and the country's second largest copper repouss√© statue next to the Statue of Liberty. The "Copper Goddess" is all of 34 feet and 10 inches tall while kneeling. This would make her approximately 50 feet high if she was to stand...which would be creepy.

Portlandia arriving in town by barge in 1985.
Photo courtesy of Joel Davis
  Portlandia's journey to us started in 1981 when the architect of the Portland Building, Michael Graves, was asked by city officials to provide ideas for public art on the building. Graves brainstormed and proposed using the city's seal as the inspiration for a figurative sculpture of some sort to be installed on the portico above the building's west entrance. The seal, adopted in 1878, depicts an allegorical "Miss Commerce" and several symbols of Portland's agricultural, commercial, and natural resources: a sheaf of grain, a cogwheel and a sledgehammer, steamship, forest and of course the trident. The commission would be funded through the One Percent for Art ordinance of 1980, which, in the case of the Portland Building, would dedicate roughly $200,000 for the installation.

The "Copper Goddess" makes her approach towards her final destination.
  The MAC (Metropolitan Arts Commission) asked for designs in 1981. Submissions from artists across the country were eventually narrowed down to five finalists, which were made available for public viewing and comment.  I could only imagine the scale that would have taken on in today's social media market. However, the choice rested with the Portland Building Selection Committee, the group included Graves of course and local artists as well as other citizens appointed by MAC. In October of 1982, the committee urged MAC to select Kaskey's design, a twenty-five foot statue of a kneeling woman, trident in hand, named Portlandia. The choice was not unanimous at all. In fact some committee members expressed overall disappointment with Kaskey's design and even suggested to MAC that they try and get more submissions. Graves, however, really enjoyed the design and championed Kaskey's work and vision, the public approval followed overwhelmingly.

Hello, Ms. Lady.
  In 1983 Raymond Kaskey, Greg Pettengill and Michael LaSalle started construction of the sculpture in a suburb of  Washington D.C. space. The burdensome method of repouss√© involved hammering each inch of copper dozens and dozens of times. As I said earlier, the statue is only the second work of this size next to "Lady Liberty." In choosing this style, Mr. Kaskey believed that he was indeed reviving a lost art. Although the revival contributed, in part, to the exceeding of the budget and the deadline by the summer of 1985.

Watching over the folks of the Rose City. She seems pretty nosey. She also looks like she is playing craps.
  Ahhh, those pesky budgets. Budget constraints threatened to screw up the project when it was time to move the massive, completed statue to Portland. In the end The Portland City Council approved the use of donations from several resources. Eventually there was $150,000 was collected and Kaskey was able to ship the lass in August of 1985. The parts of her were shipped by rail to Portland and assembled in the barge facility at the Gunderson, Inc. ship yards. As you can see from above, the final leg of the journey had Portlanders watching as she floated up the Willamette accompanied by an armada of private watercraft as well as police boats. It was quite a scene. A crazy, surreal scene of a large, gleaming, bronzed woman floating up the Willamette on a barge and then loaded onto a semi-truck equipped with a trailer reserved, usually, for moving homes. It was amazing. She was installed on October 6, 1985. We went for the dedication as well. I remember being in absolute awe of her during the dedication on October 8, 1985.

I still think she is in an odd location, relatively hidden from the world.
  She became an icon of a city very quickly, that Portlandia. I remember having to do a drawing of her in class. The drawing, which I called "The Copper Goddess" because everyone was saying it, was in my desk until it was recently lost. I also remember Vera Katz proposing to move the statue to the waterfront so it would be a more conspicuous location for the public to view it. It was close to going to a vote, and a lot of people were behind the move from what I recall. Kaskey and various other Oregonian artists and Portland local artists were not really jazzed about that idea either, explaining that "the building and the statue were intrinsically joined together." I agree with that statement. Sure, it would be cool to see at the waterfront, but, she belongs on the Portland Building. She was made for it, after all. Obviously the idea eventually lost steam after fear of the budget to move it and a greater fear of causing damage to the metallic dame.
  Did you ever notice that there are not really any PortlandiaKaskey is very tight and closely guards his intellectual property rights to the statue, which he says he will always keep. Unlike another statue, the Statue of Liberty for instance, Portlandia cannot not be reproduced for any purpose without consent from the artist. In other words, the rights to the image of Portlandia remain Kaskey's sole property. The statue is maintained by the Regional Arts & Culture Council and has been kept up a lot over the years. So until he feels like it's necessary or right with his vision, she will remain on her stoop, peering at us with an outstretched hand. That's just fine with me, Ms. Lady.

Pull my finger? No, she's a classy lady.

Thanks! Until next time.

Play nice.

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