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 repoussé 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 repoussé 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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Facts and failures

  When I started this blog I didn't want to have the primary focus on history. It's hard to maintain that sometimes. With Facts and failures from time to time I want to address random facts about Portland that may or may not be common knowledge, as well as try to put to rest equally common or not so common myths or failures attached to Stumptown. For this week's F&F I am going to go light and lay off of the failures and start with some facts, Jack!

Even if your name is indeed not Jack, you can continue.

• Portland's official bird is the Blue Heron.

• Portland's Forest Park has over 5,000 acres of land. It is the largest wilderness park in the country.

• Portland and Bend, Oregon are the only 2 contiguous United States cities built with extinct volcanoes inside their city limits.

• In 1905 the largest log cabin in the world was built in Portland to honor the Lewis & Clark expedition.

• The Port of Portland is the largest shipper of wheat in the United States and 2nd largest in the world.

• The Hood to Coast relay is the largest event of it's kind in the world.

• At the time it was incorporated in 1851, Portland had a little over 800 residents, a steam sawmill, a log style hotel, 2 markets and one newspaper, The Weekly Oregonian. It later became the Morning Oregonian to what we know now as simply, The Oregonian. Pretty basic stuff, right?

Morning edition of the Oregonian courtesy of an old sock drawer.
  Of course there are the basic facts listed above. We all know very well of the good and bad of Portland's past and it's facts and myths. I personally find the next set a little more off the beaten path of the regular facts of Portland.

• In 1888 Henry Weinhard offered to pump free beer, from his brewery just up the hill, into the newly dedicated Skidmore fountain. He was turned down very quickly.

• Portland sits atop a Plio-Pleistocene geological feature, called the Boring Lava Field. It is filled with 32 dormant or extinct cones, over 50 vents and is almost 2 million years old.

• Don MacLeod, owner of Music Millennium, one of the oldest music stores in the Northwest, founded "Keep Portland Weird" to help keep one of the sources of weirdness - it's unique local businesses - alive.  Which really isn't weird at all.

• The Portland Police Department hired the nation's first policewoman, Lola Baldwin, in 1908.

Saturday Market is the largest, continuously operating, open-air market crafts market in the United States.

Mill Ends Park, the world's smallest official park, measures 2 feet across. It was created 1948 for the leprechauns, and a place to hold snail races on St. Patrick's Day.

• Portland was home to the first professional hockey team in the United States. The Portland Rosebuds, who were here from 1914 to 1918. They were also the first American team to participate in the Stanley Cup Finals (1916)

Old time hockey with the Portland Rosebuds, 1916.
  I feel as though I have filled this space with a reasonable amount of generic fact. I'll see what I can round up for the next time.

Play Nice.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The man in our living room.

  He is a man we can count on, every single day and night he stands and stares. Covered in bronze and enamel he raises his hand for eternity in our living room. The man, in motion and stuck in time at once, in a hurry to go nowhere. He offers his umbrella to every passerby.
  The living room I am speaking of is of course Pioneer Courthouse Square. The man who I am referring to is known affectionately as "the umbrella man" to most. The bronze gentleman, with his business suit and red tie, was a gift to the city of Portland from New Yorker, Harry H. Schwartz in 1983. It was originally sculpted by J. Seward Johnson a native of New Jersey. The sculpture itself is actually titled "Allow Me" and is not the only one in existence or on display. However, this one is ours and it seems he is a local icon and tries to capture the civic virtue in some aspects. Just a guy, in a suit, offering his umbrella.

Hello there from bronze limbo.

  What's that? What did I say? This is not the only "Allow Me" statue in existence? Sadly, and strangely enough, it is not. Our courteous, bronze man was one in a series of seven casts. The other remaining statues reside in Bath, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. Three of them are not on public display and are in private collections in Port Smith, Arkansas, Hamilton, Ohio and Los Angeles, where he doesn't need his umbrella as much as he needs a gas mask. At least he's already bronzed.
  I thought it would bother me knowing there was more out there. I thought maybe it would cheapen the feeling I have for this piece of art. It hasn't, not at all. Especially after finding out the one in Philly has been stolen and vandalized numerous times. It doesn't really make a difference to me, because this one, this man, is ours. Besides all that, ours is the only one with a red tie. 

The umbrella makes me a bit suspect sometimes.
  There is one thing I wonder about the man in our living room. If he was a living being, would he be a native Portlander? By today's so called standards he hardly fits the part. First of all, he is using his umbrella. I own or have owned umbrellas in my life and rarely have I ever used them, if ever. Like most Portlanders who have been raised in the puddles of the Rose City, an umbrella is usually an after thought. Even when they are used, they are usually left in a booth at a restaurant or on Tri-Met at some point. I have never in my adult life bought an umbrella.
  Secondly, we come to the suit. I know there are suits abound in every part of the world and Portland is no different. I just feel like the guy would be a little more comfortable if he was wearing a bronze hoodie. It would be fitting. 

I just pictured that in my head and now I am disappointed in myself for imagining that. It would make a lot more sense as far as realism goes. However, it seems the chosen outfit works. He has been seen in a lot worse after all.

Jimmy Buffet fans can be so cruel.
  Although the years he has spent on the top of the Square have not been very many, they have been ours. This statue has seen it's share of photos, cigarettes placed in his hand, among other things. He had been there for a great many things that have happened in our living room. There might be six more like him, but none of them compare. Although the sculptor who molded him was not known as the greatest artist, some circles call him kitschy and lacking feeling. I disagree with the last one. It is one of my favorite pieces in the city.
  Nostalgia may have something to do with it. Maybe it's the central location? For me it's the simple fact that rain or shine, like this city, it will be there for me. It's a comfort to me to know that although he is not real, he offers no opinions or insights, nor is he able to offer directions or even a smile, he welcomes us to our living room day in and day out. Which unfortunately is more than I can say for citizens and officials some times. That is good enough for me.

Thanks. Until Next time.

Play nice.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Stray Snapshot

  Today's Stray Snapshot is the counter of The Original Hotcake House. I have been going to this place since I was a couple weeks old. It brings back a lot of memories of early morning hockey games, stops before family road trips and nights (or mornings) soaking up the events of the previous hours. It's a great place to me. It may not be a four star, foodie paradise, but to me it is truly a monument in it's own right.

The Original Hotcake House has turned out over a million pancakes and hash browns in their  50+ years in Portland.

Thanks. Until next time!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

My Cobain Memory.

  Standing on the cold, rainy sidewalk of NW 6th on an aimless night I waited for my friend Scott. I was waiting for him to reappear from the confines of a group of friends and acquaintances that could get us into the venue. It was January 6, 1989 and I was in front of the Satyricon trying to see Mudhoney. Scott emerged and proceeded to saunter over. "Let's go in." he said with a brash overtone. Like there was never a doubt we could get in due to age. Cold and excited to see Mudhoney for the second time that week, I shrugged and headed through the back. "Who's playing with them?" I asked in an unmoved tone. "The band that we missed Tuesday. Who fucking cares?!?" he answered. Again, I shrugged. 
   We then entered the back entrance. Jorge, one of the promoters, looked at Scott and I and said "Have fun be careful." I had no idea what we were about to see. I am and have been a Mudhoney fan since the split of Green River and the release of the "Motives" and "Touch Me I'm Sick" singles. I waited for "Superfuzz Bigmuff EP" at Music Millennium the morning it was available. Even though I was the only one waiting. That being said, I was there to see Mudhoney. That's what I thought at least.

I don't know how many of these are in circulation. I know I saw a couple on line. I have 2 of them and I will keep them forever. The name was spelled differently.

We wandered around the back area, through the storage and came out on the side of where "the stage" was. If you remember the Satyricon back in the day you will know why there's quotes. Off to the left I saw Steve Turner from Mudhoney talking to two guys as they approached the stage. I didn't want to interrupt and I was nervous. So I stayed put. As the two guys he was talking to were interrupted by another patron, I walked up to Steve.
"Steve?" I said in the most pitiful tone. He looked at me with a curiousness and after a brief chuckle, barked "What are you like seven years old?" and laughed a bit. "No!" I said with all the confidence of a 14 year old crapping himself. "I just wanted to say you guys kick ass. I'm a big fan." I remember it vividly because I still think that I'm an idiot for saying it that way. "Thanks little brother. You going to stick around and see us?" his voice was obviously gravelly from their shows in the week.
"Absolutely! That's why were here." I said as I panned the room for my cohort Scott. He was on the side of the "stage" area acting like he belonged there. "We caught most of the show Tuesday. We were late, but made most of it. Great set!" I said with the hopes that with that statement all of a sudden would make us best friends for life. "You ever heard of these guys?" as he pointed to the two guys he had been talking to earlier. The same ones which were now taking shots with another couple folks. "No. Not really. Who are they?" I said as I peered over at the group. "Nirvana, first show outside of Washington for them. Thought we would bring them along." Steve quipped as he drank out of a dirty looking Dixie cup. Then he looked back, yelled "Heap, hold on!" to some lady and said "Enjoy, thanks and have fun. Be careful though kid." as he walked off.
  I rejoined Scott by the side of the stage. "Did you kiss him?" Scott joked. I laughed and answered the obligatory "Your mom kissed him." remark with a middle finger. "This opening band, Nirvana, or something is supposed to be good he said. It's their first show out of Washington." I added.
"First show out of Washington?!? They probably suck then. At least they're with Mudhoney." Scott responded.
"I guess we'll see." is all I answered with. As Scott and I leaned against a rickety merchant table three guys approached. They headed to the area where everything was set up.

The next 45 minutes drastically changed my music mind for the rest of my life.

Kurt Cobain that night, January 6th, 1989.
Photo courtesy of David Ackerman. He might have the only photos in existence of this show.

  Scott and I watched these three guys, who just moments before had just been milling around the place, bumming smokes and drinking, turn everyone on their ears. While I can honestly say that it wasn't the best show I have heard or seen. It is still and always will be one of my favorites.
As the worn out, sweaty, gangly band finished they walked past Scott, myself, and a group of others to the side of where they had just upset my musical world. All I could say as the singer walked by was "That was great."
"Not so much, but thanks." is all he replied.
We stuck around and watched Mudhoney. They, as usual, put on a great show. However, it was too late I was already changed forever. Mudhoney finished up. Scott and I headed for the door. On the way out I bought a cassette tape that was crudely packaged in black and white with the word Nirvana strewn across it for $2.00. I was hooked. I listened to that tape so much. I still have it.
I saw Nirvana 9 times between that night and the day I got "Bleach" from the Sub Pop order. I wore it and the "Blew" EP out. I just felt like I had found something different. Something my own. I can't compare it to anything like the Beatles or Elvis because I wasn't there.

I was here though. It seemed right.

  Then something happened. I went and picked up a brush copy of "Silver" my friend Evan had for me. He said "These guys are gaining more airplay."
"I don't know how the mainstream will take them." I replied.
To be honest, I wanted to be selfish and keep them for myself. Again, it was too late. I look back now and am glad for that.

A writer put it best when explaining their effect on music:
"Despite the fears of some of their dedicated, solid, underground fans and newer alternative-music fans, Nirvana hasn't gone mainstream, though this potent new album may once again force the mainstream to go Nirvana."

  "Nevermind" was released on September 24, 1991. The music landscape once again drastically changed. However, this time it wasn't in my head, in a dank Portland club. It was everywhere. Things seemed to go by so fast and so awkwardly after that. I saw them every time they came here and tried to see them when ever I could. The thing I enjoyed the most is that each time I saw them it was like the first time. It's hard to completely explain.
Everyone knew there was sadness buried in those lines. It was too late to stop it. It had gone of the tracks, everyone had their hand in the cookie jar, and every other cliché. It was exciting, sad and anxiety all wrapped up in an 8 pound angst wrapped package.
Even after the releases of "Incesticide" and "In Utero" had a bit of a stranglehold on the mainstream audience. You could tell that from their earliest fans to the very newest felt right about what could happen.
MTV's Unplugged performance still ranks up there as one of the most engaging performances ever by them along with Reading in '92. I was very thankful for the experience that one night opened up for me. I never thought anything but seeing Mudhoney again would come of it.
  I went to Nirvana's final show in Oregon as well as the final 2 shows in Seattle, on a whim senior year. It was a day or two past exactly 5 years since I had first seen them.
The only regret I have is that I took it for granted. I saw them often enough to not even think about final shows.
Sadly, it was true. As most people know in 1994 after an accidental overdose on Rohypnol and alcohol an intervention was staged, the rest of tour was cancelled or "rescheduled" or whatever. After less than a week in rehab though, Cobain climbed over a lame wall of the facility and took a plane back to Seattle. A week later, on Friday, April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head at his Seattle home by Gary Smith an electrical employee who had an appointment. I was in shock upon hearing the news. Absolute shock.

This is the poster for the last U.S. show, and the last time I would see them live.

Do I remember where I was? Yes. I was at Ticketmaster trying to get tickets to a show that would never come again.

I went to the vigils in Seattle and Portland. I witnessed a grand smorgasbord of people that were influenced by a man that seemed so accessible, yet so distant and hidden from everything.

I was 14 again. Waiting on a rainy NW street to see Mudhoney. It had come full circle.

I was crushed.

Time passes and things grow shorter. Sadness fades. I know the memory of a 14 year old fades as the years go by.
Part of that innocence, angst and memory were fortified with it though on that day.

Kurt Cobain would have been 44 years old today. While I cannot truly imagine what he would have created or been like. I will forever be saddened that myself or any of us will never get that chance.

Who knows what is waiting for a wide eyed kid out there to discover musically? Who knows what will be the next change to turn the monotony of auto-tune and lip-synched heavy pop over. It's most likely already out there, in some dank venue. Most likely opening for someone else's favorite band.
I revert back to that night in 1989 as a kid that hoped, shrugged and said "I guess we'll see."

Thanks Kurt.

Play nice. 

Portland, sometimes you make me blush.

Technology is weird and amazing. I say this because I am writing this post from a phone, on a patio, in the middle of downtown Portland. It's 78 degrees with a slight breeze. The Blues Festival is this weekend. At this moment it is floating sound through the air like thousand melancholy butterflies.
I planned on going to the Blues Fest today, then heading home. We shall see how this works out. It's one of those pretty much perfect days. It makes me want to just listen to music and wander around this city. That is precisely what I'm going to do. Enjoy your day everyone, no matter where it takes you.

Etta James sings as only she can at the 1993 Portland Waterfront Blues Festival.
One of, if not the best, performances ever at the festival.

Thanks. Until next time.