Not Horsing Around: There’s No Corralling the Portland Horse Project

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I can’t imagine Portland when horses were used for transportation. The city has never had an old west feel and it’s hard to see beyond the automobile. The Portland Horse Project Facebook Group opened my eyes to things I hadn’t known about. I learned that in the early 1900’s curbs were required to have horse rings. A newspaper article from the 70’s posted on the site reported that people insisted the city keep the horse ring tradition alive by preserving them. Without horse rings there would be no Horse Project.

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Photo by Graham Marks

The Portland Horse Project is the meeting of horse rings and small horses. It was a fascination with those brass rings that led artist Scott Wayne Indiana to start the project in 2005. I asked him by email about the project’s origins and was rewarded with background details about the project. Growing up in Salem, he became familiar with the rings on trips to see his grandparents in Portland.

“I guess I was a pretty observant kid from an early age,” Scott explained. “I have vivid memories of being fascinated with the rings even from those days. There just aren’t many relics like that in cities that have lived on.”

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The first three! Note strings. Photos courtesy of Scott Wayne Indiana

The horse rings offered an aura of wonder and mysticism. While studying art and drawing inspiration from artist’s like Francis Alÿs, Brad Adkins, and Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July’s Learning to Love you More project he came to the realization that “art could be anything.” He experimented with public art including keeping an inventory of planted flags that eventually led to the idea for a public art piece relating to the rings. My initial question for Scott had a chicken or the egg angle. I imagined the project being inspired by his coming across a toy horse. It was the other way around. “The love for the rings came long before the idea to tie anything to them,” Scott wrote. He purchased five or six cheap horses from Goodwill and tied them with string in the park blocks area. They were all gone in a matter of hours. Undeterred he found a more secure method of tethering using clasps and cables. “Over a hundred horses and a few months later, the project took off in a nearly self-sustaining way and hasn’t really looked back,” he wrote.

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Scott moved to Brooklyn in 2008 but he maintains the Facebook group. His father has gotten in on the act “putting out a couple dozen horses around town every year,” Scott noted. He voiced an appreciation for the project’s ability to extend “an implicit invitation for everyone to participate.” That process includes photos shared on Instagram and Facebook.

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Photo by Jackie Omen

Jackie Omen tethers horses too. I noticed her posts on the Portland Horse Project group and Scott mentioned being impressed with her contributions. Jackie wrote that she usually cringes at “whimsical stuff” but that the Horse Project captured her heart. She asked a question that most of us would answer in the affirmative: “Who doesn’t love spotting one of those damn horses?”

Jackie’s 7 x 7 display.

She expressed her attraction to this “mix of city history and hidden Easter egg.” Drawn to them when she was advised to exercise, her walks around her neighborhood allowed her to seek out rings in need of tethering. It’s become a hobby that includes hunting for horses in thrift stores.

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These horses entice people to stop and admire them. Not all of them are the cutesy My Little Pony types. Some are stately, regal even, dwarfed by the rings and surrounding cars. I’ve noticed creative variations on this theme that don’t include horses. That’s a whole other post. The horses exist as a living diorama that’s broken out of the shoebox. It leaves me wondering why, after searching my photo archive, I could only find three horse project type pictures I’d taken. It’s the kind of thing I’d photograph anytime I saw it. They might not be prevalent in North Portland. In the ten years I lived in the Kenton neighborhood, I kept meaning to tie a horse to our ring. At least I now know the horse shopping hot spot and how to secure them. The ring was something I always looked for when I cut the grass. It was either to see it again or make sure it was still around. There’s something magical in that link to both the past and the present.

References:

https://www.facebook.com/PortlandHorseProject/

https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/portlandhorseproject/

https://alamedahistory.org/2018/06/12/portlands-horse-tethering-rings/

https://www.kptv.com/history-into-art-the-story-of-portland-s-sidewalk-horse/video_8899ab70-f79c-5b5f-9f16-d876a1b606b6.html

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Losing Their Heads: New Ways of Sign Manipulation

Technifloating!

Signs are begging for alterations. The flat silhouetted figure with the round head is inhuman. It’s identifiable as someone heading for a hiking trail or crossing the street but it’s boring. We’re lucky someone is out there making it their mission to liven things up. In a previous post, the focus was on a variety of sign styles–I even missed a Shel Silverstein reference. These days the efforts concentrate on the improving the head section of the signs creating a more visually stimulating design.


Toasted Cat

Cat-Dogs are real!


Somehow the lady remained unscathed, the gentleman became a toast head and the couple’s dog is forced to recover from a cat head transplant operation. It’s great to see this scene from a sign in Multnomah Village transformed beyond the typical dog walk. The toast adds flavor to the image while the sign now needs to read: PLEASE CLEAN UP AFTER YOUR CAT.


The Googly Eyes Gaze

Look this way.


It doesn’t take much to spruce up the round headed, no necked hiker on this sign. In the outskirts of SW Portland, where this sign was seen, the smallest detail passes for entertainment.


Skullery

Skulking around.


The round skull sticker that dots the hiker from a South Portland sign is the right shape and scale to make a dramatic improvement to this sign. A colorful and ornate design is a far cry better than what’s underneath.


Gunsmoke

Straight shooter?


These SW Portland sign manipulations near the Barbur Transit Center strike at the deep need for this hiker to indulge in vices like gun shooting and cigarette smoking. With the addition of a cowboy hat he’d have the makings of a Wild West hiker villain.

 

Tripping Over My Tongue

Let’s roll!


It isn’t the best way to decorate a handicapped parking sign demonstrating a lack of respect for people with disabilities. Still, the benchmark is whether you’d rather look at a giant eyed, tongue flapping orange head or a white circle. This image might reflect how people look after a night at the Kenton Club where the parking space is located.


Orange Kid

No complaints about complex completions.

Decorate, manipulate away if you have a sticker as good as this one seen in South Tabor. The facial expression is crazy, the complexion is positively Mars inspired and this character doesn’t seem to be taking his street crossing ambitions seriously. The head still floats in an unnatural way that makes my neck sore. This face was so distracting that I had no time to consider how it’s possible to ride a bike without pedals or handlebars.


Bear Crossing

Bearly visible.

You have to look close. Closer. Even closer. I was confident there were no bears in the vicinity of this sign I saw in the Piedmont neighborhood near the Lloyd Center. This bear head resembles more than a trophy. It covers up that tired black circle proving once again that a subtle attempt to make a dull sign interesting deserves accolades.

 

Saving Face

Face peel.


If you head into the heart of NE near the Laurelhurst Theater, you’ll find signs stickered up almost beyond recognition. Spotting the face sticker peeling off this sign was sad but the initial attempt was appreciated. Even half a face is better than that blasted dot beneath it.


The Devil Outside

Parody for you and me.    (Photo by Graham Marks)

This parody of the sign man caught my eye on a friend’s instagram feed. Sign man deserves a good spoof. The sticker insinuates there’s inherent evil associated with the briefcase bearing corporate type. No one addresses the issue of how sign man does anything including carrying stuff, riding a bike or walking without hands or even feet but that’s an issue better left to a future post.

 

Spring Cleaning (The Stories I Could Never Get To): The Tailored Torso of Columbia Boulevard

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Easter’s Finest

I wanted to believe I was looking at John F. Kennedy, a brawny rendition, beefy, broad shouldered but the hair, the hair was a dead ringer for JFK. I was wrong. It turned out all right because I learned the identity of the statue in the yard of a house facing the Oregon Humane Society complex. Through the power of assumption I had convinced myself the statue was Kennedy but being set straight makes me appreciate that someone with research skills unearthed information and reported back to me. Shout out to volunteer researcher Amy M! The Kennedy Files will remain closed for now while a new file, labelled under the name Ngo Dinh Diem, will be opened.

The puzzling nature of the house, the statue and the curious costumes kept me wondering. No one appeared to live there. Feeling like an intruder, I tended to rush up the steps, cross the patio, take photos and bolt. What kind of journalist am I? I should have barged through the door asking, “who, what, where, when, why and even how?” It’s about questions and demands for answers which is why there’s no explanation of these seasonal decorations. It happened every couple of months in time for a holiday. I am left wondering what happened to the Christmas costume? A photo would have been in order but I must have missed it.

Here’s a roll call of the holiday outfits I did manage to document:

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Winter

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St. Patrick’s Day

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Easter

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Summer

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Halloween

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Thanksgiving

Spring Cleaning (Stories I Could Never Get to) When the Georgia Guidestones Came to Portland

Listening to Larry Forte’s Limited Perspective podcast while furiously cleaning and scrubbing out one of our cars—a long procrastinated task, I was pulled into a murky memory. The show’s guests were the director and producers of The Georgia Guidestones movie. The Guidestones, a combination of outsider concept art and roadside attraction  plunked down in Elberton, Georgia, is a mystery that needed this movie to explain it. During the podcast, the director Mike Reser, described his experience screening the film in Portland. His name was familiar—the same name as a childhood friend. The description of the screening felt like a comedy of errors. Then I realized, I had been there.

Listening back to the podcast in preparing this post, the story was as amusing as when I first heard it. A reference to hipsters was an added bonus. The odd thing—I had no recollection of the film maker attending the event. Sorry Mike! We’re talking something that happened in 2013, or was it 2012? The podcast gave me insight on what it took to make the documentary. It made up for my spacing out on that question and answer session. I appreciate a good fish out of water Portland story so I’m going to let Mike take it from here.

Larry Forte: How did they receive it in Portland when you screened it out there?

Mike Reser: Okay, well, it was received well and the people at the theater liked it but it didn’t get a big crowd out there like it would, you know–Charleston, Athens, Elberton, the southeast—a good draw. It went really well in the south but the people there (in Portland) really enjoyed it. It was good. There was some technical difficulties. There was a yellow spot. I mean it was good in the theater but there was this yellow spot on the screen and it wasn’t on my DVD or Blu-ray or whatever it was. Then maybe three quarters through the movie it stalled out, so there were some technical difficulties that I didn’t really experience anywhere else. But the Q and A there was good just like it was everywhere and some of the people who were there—I think they enjoyed it. There was a review—it was the review—

Christy Sinksen:  The regular movie reviewer didn’t review the movie. The food critic was pitch hitting and reviewed the movie.

LF:  So that might be kind of a diss by the regular movie reviewer?

MR:  Well, here’s the thing this was an extremely low budget, D.I.Y. It was the Clinton Street Theater in Portland and I mean it’s not–it’s a great theater, it really is, but it’s not—

CS:  Prestigious.

MR:  Yeah, so yeah, the regular movie critic, I don’t even remember the newspaper in Portland that did this—that was my first experience of something negative in Portland. So anyway this food critic that did review the film just tore it up.

LF:  Really?

CS:  Didn’t they fixate on really technical details like sound quality?

MR:  Yeah it was like I was, I was, I don’t know.

CS:  It’s like dude, it’s a cheap camera.

MR:  It’s not like I’m Herzog or fucking Coen brothers.

CS:  They called him out on technical details.

MR:  You know and it’s just like this is a low budget, do it yourself. And then also like the people ramble on you should cut out a lot of stuff and I’m like: This is southern storytelling.

LF:  They’re supposed to be rambling on.

MR:  So maybe you don’t understand that in hipster Portland. (Everybody laughs.) No, I actually, I like hipsters but going to Portland and doing that I was like whoa, so when you’re in the south and people talk about hipsters, (it’s like) I don’t know I think hipsters are all right. Then you go to a place like Portland, yeah these are insufferable.

LF:  Really? Because, I don’t know, the term hipster kind of escapes me because I thought—I didn’t put negative connotations on it.

MR:  I never did either until I went to Portland and screened a movie.

LF:  So a little sidebar then, what is hipster? What does that mean?

MR:  I’m not sure. I don’t know. Someone once called me a hipster trapped in a redneck body.  (Everybody laughs.)

MR:  I didn’t mean to get off on that.

LF:  No, that speaks for me too. That’s something that’s been in my head.

MR:  Overall the screening in Portland went well but if there was any negative I ever received from it, it was from a critic in Portland.

Paul Floyd:  But it’s the food critic.

MR:  I know but it bothered me. It bothered me at the time.

LF:  Food critics watch movies. They have opinions.

MR:  That’s true it bothered me at the time and now when I look back at it as like—

CS:  It’s like one review compared to many glowing reviews.

MR:  Yeah and I look at that now and it’s like that’s part of it.

CS:  Not everyone is going to like it.

LF:  You can look at it both ways because that’s what’s so impressive to me is you did it for like, I don’t know, at best, I know it cost more than two thousand and sixty dollars and if you had paid your people it would’ve been a million dollars.

MR:  You know y’all are still waiting on the check. (Laughs) 

LF:  Let’s assume you did it for two thousand, sixty bucks. You don’t just make a movie like for that little money. For what you did with the resources you had, it’s impressive.

MR:  I wished that’s what they had understood because they did review it as like I was a legit indie film maker.

LF:  Yeah, like you flew in from New York.

MR:  Like, Sundance or something like that, it’s not who I am at all.

 LF:  Not yet.

*****

The funny thing about the technical difficulties at the screening was how much I’d learned to grin and bear it. It wasn’t a big deal. The Clinton Theater was a bit run down at the time but it made up for that by always offering other worldly cultural experiences, The George Guidestone movie being the type of thing that probably no other theater in town would have screened. One of the owners apologized profusely as we were leaving and gave us tickets for a future show.

I’ve tried in vain to track down that review but have a feeling the food/movie critic was a reporter recruited to host a political candidate forum I worked on during my days at Clark Vancouver Television.  (I’ve since been proved wrong on this. It’s a different paper and different food critic/movie reviewer.) There was a time when Portland hipster backlash seemed to be raging full force. It’s strange to feel nostalgic about it. Hipsters were trying too hard, wearing tight pants, showcasing facial hair and maybe, donning big glasses. As for the movie, I know I loved it. It motivated me to get out of the house and across town to see it on the big screen. I am, afterall, the absolute niche market—an outsider art loving, amateur film making, conspiracy theory appreciating, aging hipster wannabe.

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Film stills courtesy of the film maker.

Expertly labelled podcast still courtesy of Larry Forte and many thanks to him for permission to use the transcription from his podcast.

RESOURCES:

Check out the Limited Perspective podcast:

or go to the web site:

 

 

Georgia Guidestones movie info:

http://guidestonesmovie.net