Melinda Lee, 1942-2013: memories are made of this

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My sister Melinda Louise Lee, born Melinda Louise Hicks on June 7, 1942, in Richmond, California, died on Thanksgiving morning, November 28, 2013, at her Seattle home, while lying in bed and holding her Kindle: as her kids and our sister Barb noted, Lindy loved to read. She died quickly, apparently of a heart attack, and unexpectedly, just six weeks after our mother, Charlotte Lucille Baldwin Hicks, had died at age 93. Mom’s death was a shock but no surprise. Lindy’s was out of the blue, one that no one was prepared for: she was filled with vitality to the end.

Printed below is the text of what I said at Lindy’s memorial service on Friday, December 6, in Ferndale, Washington, where we grew up. Three of Lindy’s children, Melissa Doll, Fernzwood (Bud) Lee Jr., and Kelli Harrell, also spoke. Lindy’s fourth child, Alicia Gudgel, sang. Their messages were beautiful and from the heart. I mentioned before I began my prepared talk that Lindy’s death was devastating, not just because it was unexpected but also because she was in so many ways the heart of our large extended family. And I noted that there were many Lindys lodged in our memories and imaginations, a different Lindy for each of us who knew her. She was the oldest of seven siblings, and four years older than the next-oldest, Laurel. She was five and a half years older than I am, and 11 years older than the next in line, Barb, 12 years older than Chuck, more than 13 older than Bill, and 15 years older than the youngest of us, John. Four years or even 15 in the adult world isn’t a lot: it’s an easy bridge to gap. But in childhood, that’s a chasm, and it can make for vastly different relationships. One of the many wonders about Lindy is that in later life she so easily embraced all of us: it was a reflection of her warmth and generosity of spirit.

Here is a link to her official online obituary.

And here’s my talk.

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The first thing I want to say is, hardly anyone was more alive than our friend and sister and aunt and mother and grandmother Lindy, and that’s what makes this thing so difficult to understand. It’s like she just disappeared in mid-laugh or mid-sentence, just dropped away, or went into the kitchen to get a glass of water, and hold that thought because she’ll be right back. Except she won’t, and although our minds know that, our hearts can’t quite believe. So now it’s good to remember, because by remembering we keep the warmth and conversations flowing.

Lindy was born with spit and vinegar. And, I think, an innate ability to make mashed potatoes, but we’ll get to that part later. She always knew her mind. As our brother John said, she was “always a source of encouragement and an inspiration in that she experienced more than her share of tragedy and yet remained fully engaged in life.” She was hard-headed as a kid, and she took the brunt of a lot. She was born in 1942 and basically lived alone with Mom until the end of the war, when suddenly this man appeared who it turned out was her father and reclaimed his place in the family, and that was a bit of a shock. And then those new kids started popping out! She had an independent streak five miles long, and I think maybe it came from those war years, when life was sparse but she also had the kind of freedom that war-year kids enjoyed.

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That changed. Lindy was curious and gregarious and she wanted to do things, and Dad wanted to keep her protected, and sometimes, as you can imagine, battle royals would break out. “Who were you with? What time did you get home?” There was a place in Bellingham called Shakey’s; I imagine some of you remember it. “I don’t want you going to that pizza joint. They serve beer on the other side.” He hated her music, which was your standard Elvis variety pop ‘n’ roll, and all she really wanted to do was to be an ordinary late-1950s teenager, which was an exotic sort of beast for a man who came of age in the depths of the Depression. So they fought, and sometimes she lost and sometimes she won, and in the process of staking her independent territory she broke the mold for the rest of us. If things got gradually looser and more permissive around the house, it was partly because Dad had mellowed but partly also because Lindy had won some important tactical victories. And as those teen wars disappeared and their relationship evolved into a genuine adult friendship, Dad and Lindy became very close. They liked and respected each other, a lot, and those two things went hand in hand.

Lindy and I had our scraps, too. As the younger brother, it was my duty to annoy her whenever possible. And as the older sister, it was her duty to be annoyed. She liked a Frankie Laine song, “Moonlight Gambler.” She played it over and over on the record player. And when it came on I’d strut around the house, singing out, “They call me the midnight gander,” and then make a honking goose sound, and she’d stamp her feet, and shout, “Mom! Make him stop!,” and on the most satisfying occasions, she’d stomp out of the room and back to her bedroom.

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Charlotte Hicks, 93: a gentle passing

CHARLOTTE LUCILLE BALDWIN HICKS

February 20, 1920 – October 17, 2013

This is the talk I gave at my mother’s memorial celebration on Saturday, November 9, 2013, at the First Baptist Church of Ferndale, Washington, where Mom had been a member for many years. She was born in Holtville California, near the Mexican border, and grew up in Richmond, California, across the bay from San Francisco, and moved with her young family to Ferndale, Washington, in 1952. The written talk is a little bit longer than what I delivered on Saturday; I had cut a few passages to keep the talk from getting too long. – Bob Hicks

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When I got the phone call from my sister telling me that Mom had died, I was shocked. Oh, no: the moment’s come! It’s always a shock, of course, that moment of passing, even when you know that it might happen at any time. But only the night before, Mom had had a little crisis, and was taken to the emergency room, where she spent several hours, and after the doctors announced that her vitals were fine and she was in good shape, she went home again. So when she died in her bed a few hours later, yes: it was like a piercing of the heart, or a punch on the chin.

Mom was 93 years old, and she died in her sleep, which was a blessing, and as I was driving north later that morning from Portland to Ferndale, thinking and remembering and feeling, I remembered the last crisis Mom had had, just about a year ago, when it seemed that she might die. She was so close to it that the doctors told us to be thinking about end-of-life questions, including the big one: Should we pull the plug? Mom had long ago made sure we knew she didn’t want to be maintained artificially in a vegetative state. But knowing when that time’s arrived isn’t always easy. She was conscious enough that we talked with her, and asked her. Do you feel like you’re ready to go and see Daddy again, or do you feel like you still want to be here? Mom replied without hesitating, emphatically and with what sounded to me, at least, like surprise that there would be any question about it: “Well, I want to LIVE!”

And live she did. She revived, and lived, I think, very happily in what I’ve come to think of as her Gift Year – a gift to her, and a gift to all of us. So when she finally died, peacefully, it felt very much like the loss it is, but it also felt like a fulfillment. Death paused, and when he did come to visit, he did so kindly.

I’m speaking this afternoon for all seven of Mom’s sons and daughters, and for her grandkids and great-grandkids and nieces and nephews and friends, and for the wonderful caregivers at Highgate Senior Living in Bellingham who did so much to make her last couple of years as comfortable and loving as possible. All of you. All of us. And this is a good time to say that I’m speaking for the not-quite-born, too. Mom’s grandson Bud and his wife, Maryam, couldn’t be here today because they’re expecting a child any day now. That child will be a daughter, and her name, like Mom’s, will be Charlotte. But I can’t really speak for everyone, because for each of us Mom was someone unique, and I think that was one of her great gifts: she truly saw people individually, and made her life fit with them individually, and loved them individually. And that means we all have our own memories.

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My brother John recalls, fondly, “sitting up on the counter in the kitchen in the old house on Sundays, watching Mom make dinner and telling her about what I’d learned in Sunday School and singing together as a family to the ‘Sing Along with Mitch’ records.”

My brother Bill remembers Mom’s sage advice: “If you look for bad in people, you’ll always find it, because we’re all people. So look for the good.”

My sister Barb, who moved from California to be with Mom during her final couple of years, says her fondest memories are from those times. “When I was feeling frustrated, overwhelmed or anxious,” she says, “my coping mechanism was to visit Mom, because I always felt in the present moment with her. My own life fell away as we went for walks, Mom being always very observant, as I pushed her in the wheelchair, of what was happening in the natural world: the weather, flowers blooming, leaves changing color. She didn’t have much memory of what was going on in her day-to-day life, but her memory of the past, particularly of the period when she was a young girl growing up with three sisters, was still vivid.”

My sister Laurel, who like Barb spent part of most every day with Mom, says that Mom was “a well of consolation to me, a fount of intuitive wisdom.” Then she points out, just a little humorously, that Mom also had what we used to call a strong constitution: “She had seven children and lived to be 93, anyway.”

Well. Seven kids is a houseful. And it wasn’t a very big house, that little home of ours with only one real bedroom and another stuck down a concrete walkway behind the garage, and a narrow front porch that was pressed into service for sleeping. Mom and Dad slept on a fold-out couch in the living room, and things were … cozy. That was before Dad and the younger kids built a bigger house out behind, back where the old barn had been. The three older of us were gone by then, but we visited many times. Having seven kids is challenge enough. Keeping all of us in line in that little house was something else again. Mostly, Mom did it with immense patience, and warmth, and quiet diplomatic skills. We could be an obstreperous lot, and of course sometimes she’d get exasperated with one or another of us, and shout at the miscreant to cut it out. Inevitably, she’d start at the top of the list, agewise, beginning with Melinda, and work her way down until she landed on the right name. But sometimes she’d go too far, and have to back up again, and when that happened, everyone would start laughing, including her, and the crisis would be averted. She was expert at averting crises. Once we were older, she used those skills for many years as a teaching assistant in special-education classes in the public schools, and even served a term as president of the local teachers’ union.

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I remember how very pretty Mom was. I knew that, even as a very young boy. She was very striking, like a Nordic beauty, though we aren’t Scandinavian. We have a picture of her, as a teenager, with her hair flowing halfway to Australia, improbably long, and seeing the photo would make her shudder just a bit. She hated wearing her hair that long; it gave her headaches. But her mother didn’t want her to cut it. Finally she stood up for herself: snip, snip, snip. Mom was pretty, and gracious, and she worked hard, and as you can imagine she was tired a lot, but she was also joyful. As she swept or cooked or ironed laundry – which there was aplenty of – she would sing, in a lovely warm soprano, songs that came to her mind. They might be hymns or spirituals, and more often, I think, popular songs: “Summertime,” “Lazybones,” “Mockingbird Hill,” “Begin the Beguine.” I especially remember her singing, happily, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” a song that seemed to encompass the way she chose to look on life. Music was everywhere in her life, and therefore, also in ours. As a young woman, before we were born, she sang “Loch Lomond” on the nationally broadcast radio program The Major Bowes Amateur Hour. She played violin, and had her picture in the newspaper with her small string orchestra. At one time or another her children played, variously, the trombone, French horn, violin, cornet, tuba, string bass, ukulele, guitar, and flute, and I’m probably leaving a few things out.

We didn’t have a lot, but Mom made it her mission to bring beauty into our lives. This took a lot of forms, from the Chopin album that might be playing as we all settled in to sleep, to the craft projects: making valentines and collages and holding them together with just-stirred-up flour paste; carving pumpkins and creating makeshift Halloween costumes; stretching taffy, which filled the house with that intoxicating vinegar smell. Mom taught me how to roll a proper pie crust, a skill I’ve unhappily lost in the years since. It was ages, I think, before I realized that pinking shears had a purpose other than cutting out paper silhouettes and doing various art projects.

She valued the few nice things she had, like the carved Chinese chest that Dad had brought home from his travels, and like a small number of good clothes. As a very young boy, before I started school, I liked to tuck myself away inside her closet, where I could surround myself in a little jungle of fabric, and dream. She had one dress hanging there that she loved, and so did I: a dress with little seahorses printed on it. Those seahorses were magical to me, and one day, in one of those moments of astonishing dumbness that strike kids, I got a pair of scissors and neatly cut one off, near the bottom. Mom was horrified, and crushed, and angry at first, and as it slowly dawned on me that this might not have been a good idea, I blurted out, “But I only took one!” Mothers make sacrifices, and this was a big one. Thank goodness I was more important to Mom than her favorite dress was. Forgiveness is a very big thing.

We seven kids – Melinda, Laurel, Barb, Chuck, Bill, John, and I – were very much what Mom’s life was about. She devoted herself to us, prodding us and encouraging us and telling us we could do or be anything we set our minds to. So we all went off and did things, which made her proud, and we often didn’t get home for long stretches, which made her sad. But even more than she was devoted to us, I think, she was devoted to Dad, who she married when she was 21 and he was 25, and lived with for almost 70 years, until he died in July of 2011, at age 94. In our minds they were inseparable. Charlotte and Irby, Irby and Charlotte, Mom and Dad. In her later years Mom loved to tell the story of how she walked across the Golden Gate Bridge as a high-school girl, on the day it opened in 1937, and how on that very same day Dad, whom she hadn’t yet met, steamed beneath the bridge into port as a young merchant sailor; and how, not a whole lot later, they were introduced by Dad’s sisters. It was fate, she was sure. I know Mom and Dad had to have had their differences, but my memory is that, when it came to raising us, they always showed a united front. There was no playing of one against the other, and their affection for each other is deeply embedded in our memories. Little things. They held hands. They laughed together. When they still could, they took drives through the countryside. They were a team.

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Mom loved a bowl of ice cream, and she didn’t love her vegetables, even though Dad kept a big garden, and over the years she must have fixed a ton of them for the family to eat. In later years she just stopped. She told us she never could stand vegetables, but she ate ’em anyway to set a good example for us kids. Just one more in a cavalcade of noble sacrifices. There were a lot of them, and a few rewards. Mom liked a second helping on her plate, and and every now and again, a short glass of wine. “Now, Charlotte, do you really think you need that?” sister Lindy remembers our father saying on such occasions. Mom was generous and loved all pleasures, which sometimes worried Dad, who was a more cautious soul.

When I asked my sisters and brothers what stuck in their own memories, John said, “I treasure most an appreciation for beauty and learning that I think we were given by both Mom and Dad. That legacy continues.” I agree. These were invisible gifts, but essential and wonderful and enduring. I would often look through Mom’s art-history books from college that she kept all those years, sometimes flipping through the pages along with her, sometimes curling up with them on my own. In my writing life I often engage with works of art, and on the day that Mom died I had very recently happened on an 1877 painting by the French artist Henri Rousseau, called “Landscape with Bridge.” It’s a simple painting, flat and homespun. A woman in a ribboned hat approaches a walking bridge across a river, heading to the other side. In a small boat below, a ferryman waits, like Charon on the River Styx. But the woman has no need of his services. She has her bridge, and waiting on the other side, atop a hill, is a humble but beautiful church, its spiral pointing to the sky. She’s on her way.

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It’s a very big thing, this going away, this transition from flesh and blood to spirit and memory. The novelist Russell Hoban wrote this contemplation, in his book “Fremder”: “More and more I find that life is a series of disappearances followed usually but not always by reappearances; you disappear from your morning self and reappear as your afternoon self; you disappear from feeling good and reappear feeling bad. And people, even face to face and clasped in each other’s arms, disappear from each other.”

And yet they don’t.

My sisters Barb and Laurel both told me something remarkable about Mom’s final evening on Earth, when she was in the emergency room. At one point, they said, she very clearly raised her arms above her head, toward the sky – in Barb’s words, as if to say, “I’m coming home!”

A few days later, Barb was in a Bellingham bookstore, doing a signing of her latest book, and something happened. She says, “One of the caregivers who had been wonderful to my Mom came in and told me that when Mom came home from the hospital late the night before she died … she was giggly and happy. When the caregivers who got her ready for bed asked why she was so happy, she said she had seen Irby at the hospital and he was coming to get her. She died in her sleep five hours later. Goosebumps! Mom and Dad shared a love beyond death.”

A little of that love stays here, too, with each of us. It’s a great, great gift. Their love washes through us gently and generously, and when the time comes, we’ll pass it along. Thanks, Mom. Goodbye.

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It’s only a flesh wound: from Botticelli to Van Dyck, a museum’s art and soul

Bernardo Strozzi, "St. Lawrence Giving the Treasures of the Church to the Poor." Early 17th century.

Bernardo Strozzi, "St. Lawrence Giving the Treasures of the Church to the Poor." Early 17th century.

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Art Scatter lives! We admit, we’ve been remiss. We haven’t filed a post since July 28 of 2012, for heaven’s sake. That’s 10 months. Our last post was about the demise of  the fabled Classical Millennium music shop (which, we’re happy to report, lives on, if in extremely truncated form, inside its big-daddy Music Millennium) and that sort of depressed us. Plus, we got busy with other things, not least of which was posting quite a bit on Oregon ArtsWatch, and also conducting a little daily art-historical experiment called “Today I Am” on Facebook. It was partly through that endeavor that Carol Shults of the European and American Art Council of the Portland Art Museum asked me if I might give a gallery talk to the group: just pick any topic as long as it relates to those galleries, she said.

So I did. My talk, called “The Way of All Flesh”  (thanks, Sam Butler), took place last Thursday in the museum’s Renaissance gallery, with just a peek around the corner into the Baroque. It covered eight paintings, with quick swipes at a few others, ranging from 1500 to roughly 1640. And it was fun, even if I rambled a bit too freely and didn’t quite cover everything I’d expected to. When you’re in the galleries, looking at the actual works instead of looking at slides of them in a lecture hall, you tend to toss away your notes and just talk. What follows is the more or less formal speech I didn’t give, but which formed the basis of my more conversational remarks in the galleries.

All of the pictures, by the way, are gathered from the museum’s relatively new and growing online photo gallery of works from the permanent collections. It’s a great project; check it out when you can. – BH

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By BOB HICKS

The title of my talk is “The Way of All Flesh.” I’m sorry if you came thinking I was going to do a slide show about nude bicyclists pumping through Puddletown. Not gonna happen. Instead I’m going to talk about the ways we’ve looked in Western civilization at life and decay and death. That’s not really the bummer it might sound like, because in the process we get to look at a handful of pretty fascinating paintings covering a little over a century, between about 1500 and roughly 1635 or 1640.

The subtitle is “Purity, Pain, and Pragmatism from Caroto to Van Dyck.” If I hadn’t submitted it before I’d finished my research, I’d have changed it to “…from Botticelli to Van Dyck,” because Botticelli’s small painted devotional “Christ on the Cross,” which really starts things off, is from 1500, ten years before Caroto’s intimate painting “The Entombment of Christ.” I figure that’s a good mistake, because anytime you can kick off an evening by looking at a Botticelli, you’ve got a fighting chance.

We’ll dive into the paintings pretty soon. But first I think a little background is a good idea. The earliest of these paintings come from a time when the Renaissance was still keeping a foot, or at least a few toes, in the reassuring soil of the Middle Ages. The most recent was painted when Europe had planted its feet solidly at the beginnings of the modern age. Historians actually call this entire span part of the Early Modern Period, which they generally date from about 1500 to about 1800.

But history almost never moves forward in neat unison steps. The first three paintings we’ll be looking at seem very much steeped in leftover beliefs and customs from late medieval times. The later paintings strike me as being within easy shouting distance of the Enlightenment and what we lay people tend to mean when we talk about the dawning of modernism.

When Botticelli created his Christ figure in 1500 it was only eight years after Columbus’s first voyage westward. It was eight years after the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Iberia. It was nine years after the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition. Rumblings against the power of the Roman Church had been stirring for some time. But Martin Luther wouldn’t post his 95 Theses for another 17 years.

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Link: Farewell, my lovely music shop

By Bob Hicks

Yesterday I learned the awful truth: Classical Millennium, Portland’s wonderful and staunchly provocative classical music store, has given in to the realities of the marketplace and will close up shop in September. It’s yet another blow to the texture of a small city that likes to think it plays bigger than its population.

cmcoversThis is a major bummer. I wrote about it for Oregon ArtsWatch in this piece, A sad day in the life: Classical Millennium, farewell. The essay talks not only about the abstract loss to the city and its cultural life, but more personally about the loss to me and to my teenage son, who’s developed a close and lovely relationship with a store that’s now going away. I know, I know: Progress, and all that rot. Life will go on. But not all change is good.

Here’s an excerpt:

(F)rom its beginning in 1977, CM has been more than just a shop. It’s been a place of discovery, a crucible of learning, a home away from home. Like Pioneer Courthouse Square and Powell’s City of Books, it’s helped define the sort of place we’d like to think we want Portland to be. People grow up in a place like this, and expand their capacities, and reinvent themselves. People discover what the world feels and thinks and sounds like, and where they want to be inside that great globe of intellect and emotion.

Links: From Bard to Beethoven

David Finckel of the Emerson String Quartet at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Jim Leisy

David Finckel of the Emerson String Quartet at CMNW. Photo: Jim Leisy

By Bob Hicks

A couple of recent pieces, both at Oregon ArtsWatch.

– Here a Bard, there a Bard, everywhere a Bard Bard takes a look at Portland’s summer of Shakespeare, including Original Practice Shakespeare’s energetic Much Adoe About Nothing (that’s original practice spelling) and Portland Shakespeare Project’s world premier of C.J. Whitcomb’s Lear’s Follies.

Quick quote: “Amid all of this action it’s tough to shake the idea that Shakespeare’s becoming almost more source material than sacred text. Like Greek mythology for visual artists and playwrights, or like the Great American Songbook for jazz innovators, Shakespeare’s plays are serving more and more as springboards for reimaginings – stories so well-known, at least in certain circles, that they become raw material for new creations.”

Chamber Music NW: Relax, it’s only a masterpiece looks at the effects of formality and informality in serious music, what “contemporary” means in the face of great works from the past, and whether it’s OK to wear jeans to hear Beethoven.

Quick quote: “It didn’t matter that the Emerson can seem aloof, or that Shifrin can be charming, or whether the performers and audience were wearing white tails and top hats or Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps. In the presence of greatness, only the greatness matters.”

Link: The rites of pain & politics onstage

Ty Boice and Anne Mueller in "Kabuki Titus." Courtesy Bag&Baggage

By Bob Hicks

I’ll match your money-grubbing idiot politician and raise you a virgin-mutilating Goth queen. Portland’s summer season of theatrical broad gestures is in full gallop, and I slowed down long enough to file this report at Oregon ArtsWatch on Jane: A Theater Company’s production of the David Mamet political farce November and Bag & Baggage’s Kabuki Titus, director Scott Palmer’s pared-down take on Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

An excerpt about Kabuki Titus:

“I’d be surprised if Palmer hadn’t had the films of Akira Kurosawa in mind when he was creating his adaptation, especially Throne of Blood, Kurosawa’s noh-steeped adaptation of Macbeth. Once Anne Mueller, playing Titus’s unfortunate daughter Lavinia, enters the stage the performance suggests another movie parallel, the movement poetics of the great silent films. … (W)hen she floats delicately onto the scene she immediately becomes the most vital reason to see this show. The production springs into an altered reality, elevating from what had been a sometimes strained approximation of kabuki movement into the sort of time-altering dream-state that ritual requires.”

An excerpt about November:

November is what it is: an odd but bracing little goof that embraces the great American passion for ridiculing the casual venality and mock sincerity of politics. Things’ll get heavier and heavier as November approaches. Right now the sun’s out, the jokes are flying, and the targets are as fat and juicy as they’re likely to get. Bring your pop gun. Bag yourself a politician. Seems they’re in season.”

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Photo: Ty Boice and Anne Mueller in “Kabuki Titus.” Courtesy Bag & Baggage

Link: Bartow carves a notch in D.C.

By Bob Hicks

Not too long ago I visited Oregon artist Rick Bartow at his Newport studio and got the lowdown on his latest big project: a pair of 20-foot-tall pole carvings, depicting Raven and Grandmother Bear, that will be installed September 21st outside the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall, just about a block from the White House. Public commissions don’t come a lot more public than this.

Twin poles in the process: Next stop, National Mall. Photo: Laura Grimes

Photo: Laura Grimes

On Friday night I published an essay about it, In the studio: Rick Bartow carves a spot on the National Mall, at Oregon ArtsWatch. Bartow talked about teamwork, community, the value of rolling with the punches, what engineering’s got to do with it, why the carvings are NOT totem poles, and a lot of other stuff. For good measure, he and his folk/blues band, Rick Bartow and the Back Seat Drivers, provided the soundtrack for a Newport Saturday Night.

An excerpt from the essay:

The project’s gone remarkably well, if you discount the numerous design changes, the struggles to align art with engineering for the permanent installation, the steep learning curve, and the occasional flareup of vision problems from Bartow’s unexpected stroke about a year and a half ago. Originally each pole was to feature a big glass disc – sun on one, moon on the other – designed by Bartow’s partner, glass artist Nancy Blair. That changed when Corning Glass scientists looked the plans over and declared that at some point the constant stress of sun, rain and wind would cause the discs to burst. Government engineers, not surprisingly, blanched at the prospect of glass showering over tourists on the mall below.

Generation Nexus: How CAN we fund the skills our future leaders will need?

By Trisha Pancio Mead

Self-confidence. Poise. Complex pattern recognition. Spatial relationships. Symmetry and paradox. Good design. Leadership. Collaborative, deadline-driven, results-oriented cooperative achievement. Proportion. Scale. Balance. Discipline. Persuasiveness. Empathy. And yes, innovation.

Are these values and skill sets that we want instilled in the next generation? The generation, let’s remember, that will ultimately be responsible for running the organizations, government entities and private businesses that are the backbone of Portland’s economy?

Science meets art: Woman teaching Euclidean geometry in 14th century painting. 1309 - 1316, France;The British LibraryOr, let’s get even more pragmatic here: What percentage of our future workforce would we like to see have a high school diploma? And is it worth $35 a year to ensure that, not only do more of Portland’s students graduate, they also graduate with self-confidence, discipline, empathy and the capacity for innovation?

Because, in its simplest terms, the funding mechanism proposed by the Creative Advocacy Network is designed to do exactly that: restore arts and music instruction and increase access to arts related experiences throughout Portland. On Saturday The Oregonian’s editorial board dismissed the proposal, arguing that art and music “are low priorities.” Oregon Arts Watch founder and editor Barry Johnson quickly filed this rebuttal, and Niel DePonte – Oregon Symphony percussionist, music director of Oregon Ballet Theatre, Grammy nominee, founder/president of Metro Arts, Inc. – followed with this rebuttal printed in The Oregonian’s opinion section.

Why, in spite of The Oregonian’s objections, is this initiative crucial?

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Mary don’t you weep, don’t you mourn

Photo: Pak HanPhoto: Pak Han

By Martha Ullman West

I’ve been spending a lot of time at Conduit since I moved to  Portland’s South Park blocks – also known as the city’s “cultural district” – a month ago,  happily walking a few blocks to see Top Shake Dance; the studio’s 17th anniversary benefit, where it was lovely to see some excerpts of Mary Oslund’s work; and, most recently, Thursday night’s opening of Bay Area choreographer Randee Paufve’s So I Married Abraham Lincoln …, subtitled A Dance about the Life of Mary Todd Lincoln and the American First Lady.

It’s a lovely piece, containing all the attributes of a really good novel: it makes you laugh and makes you cry and makes you think.  Paufve, no stranger to Portland – she’s danced with Mary Oslund and Gregg Bielemeier and performed her own work here as well – has incorporated spoken text, a score that includes classical, folk and rock music, some of which the dancers sing, and her own space-devouring movement vocabulary into one of the best pieces of dance theater I’ve seen in many a moon.

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Links: Solo shows and Arthur Kopit’s sin

Portland’s 33rd annual Drammy theater awards are tonight at the Crystal Ballroom, and to get you into the mood I’ve posted a couple of recent theater pieces on Oregon Arts Watch.

akopitThe most recent is How Arthur Kopit led me to wrack and ruin, a headline that grievously overstates the distinguished playwright’s culpability. An excerpt:

And then I signed up for a speech class, which was being offered through the theater department instead of the English department, and I met a girl who was, as she declared a little breathlessly, an actress, and as one thing led to another I found myself hanging out with the cast and crew of the show she was working on: yes, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. And the people were frankly kind of nuts but also smart and a lot of fun.

The other is A crowd of singular sensations, a look at Portland’s sudden scramble of one-person shows, including The Centering and How Small a Thought. An excerpt:

For people who believe, as I do, that the heart of theater beats in the spaces between the performers, solo shows present a conundrum: with only one performer, where’s the vital mystery in the middle? A good solo show – and both The Centering and Hull’s piece are good ones – neatly bypasses the problem by taking the magic space directly to the audience, which becomes the “other” performer in the play. It’s really not much different from a soliloquy in a Shakespeare play, in which the character isolates himself from the “reality” of the stage and takes his case directly to the audience.

Photo: Arthur Kopit, dangerous man.

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