Of Portland, I expected nothing less than some funky and interesting public art. Audacious, touching, poignant, curious – I got the full menu of art experiences from just walking around the city. I love how public art enlivens urban spaces, but perhaps nowhere was this more evident than outside the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital. In a small garden for patients and their families is Sophie Ryder’s sculpture “Standing Lady Hare with Dog.” On one level as simply an animal lover, this is touching. On another level, I love how the tenderness shown in this piece reflects what occurs mere feet away inside the hospital.
Leaning toward the audacious end of the public art spectrum, “Brushstrokes” by Roy Lichtenstein greets visitors to the Portland Art Museum and gives them a taste of its small (but very interesting!) modern art collection inside. I whiled away a couple of hours inside the museum to escape a cold February rainy morning.
Later on that same rainy day, on my way to Powell’s Books to visit the world’s largest bookstore, I passed this sculpture “Universal Peace and Baby Elephant” in a park. Inspired by a wine pitcher from the Shang dynasty, it symbolizes safety and harmony, especially for youth. I love the baby elephant on its parent’s back.
Sometimes the simplest public art can be the most fun. “Animals in Pools” by Georgia Gerber is just that. In a couple of sidewalk pools downtown, these animal sculptures are interactive (you can see how shiny the seal’s head is from being rubbed for good luck) and purely adorable. I really liked that our Canadian national animal, the beaver, got a pool too.
While waiting for a bus after a great lunch at Pok Pok, I came across one of a series of pieces along Division Street. The series is titled “This All Happened More or Less.” By artists Crystal Schenk and Shelby Davis, the pieces show daily scenes in the neighbourhood. This is a relatively small piece of art and its subtlety is part of its charm. The laid back vibe from this small sculpture matches what I felt in this area of town – very much my kind of ‘hood.
From the small to the oversized, here, on the short walk from the train to the Moda Center to watch a basketball game, was one of my favourites in Portland. “The Little Prince” by Ilan Averbuch is a crown resting on its side. First, from the purely visual, the copper colour of it was beautiful against the cotton candy colour sky as the sun went down. Although this piece doesn’t have a set narrative, on the walk to a basketball game of a team who hasn’t won a championship in a long, long time, I imagined this was symbolic of a crown (the league title) waiting to be claimed by the Trail Blazers.
Downtown, especially along the transit corridors, there is a high density of public art especially near bus and train stops. For me, a couple of the more appealing works were “Interlocking Forms” by Donald Wilson…
… this untitled piece by Ivan Morrison. I don’t know about you, but I see someone who has had a few too many resting his/her head waiting for a bus home.
“Lodge Grass” by John Buck had me stop and admire it on a morning walk. The name is from both a town in Montana and from a range of plants used by Native Americans for shelter. For me, this sculpture represents what we have lost in urbanization, but hope for what can grow back with more thoughtfulness and acceptance.
In the same general area downtown, this fountain sculpture by Lee Kelly is a piece I found striking for its size. This area of Portland has lower-height architecture allowing more interactivity between private and public spaces and this sculpture felt arresting to that. The industrial aesthetic is also very much at odds in this more artistic neighbourhood.
Much more on the scale of its surroundings is “Burls Will Be Burls” by Bruce Conkle. This is one of three sculptures meant to answer the question of what would happen if a snowman melted and its spirit nourished nearby trees. Cool concept, and I loved this for its Dr. Seuss-like feel.
And the piece of art I walked past the most (on account of some great restaurants and beer bars in its general vicinity) was “Pod” by Pete Beeman. This work is a nod to the vibrancy and energy in Portland and is interactive. You can push the central pendulum which creates motion not only in the pendulum itself, but in the legs of the sculpture. I think it’s a very strong symbol of a great city, one I hope to return to some day soon.