A Feast For February Eyes: Birdbath Mania in Laurelhurst

photo by Will Simmons

Even before the first day of this February a funk settled over me so deep it would have made James Brown envious. January ended with two days of winter sunshine and I couldn’t take it. Cold gray skies have slithered back that may bring a wintry mix allowing me to get back to daydreams of real sunshine emanating from the cloudless blue skied August afternoons like the one that had a friend and me stumbling upon an overly decorated, yet endlessly fascinating explosion of birdbaths in the Laurelhurst neighborhood.

In the previous times I’d spotted this yard, my head always snapped back as I tried to catch a glimpse while speeding by on my way to get some place. It was a startling to see the yard in slow motion. The opportunity arose when Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit was in town for the World International Orbit conference held in August of 2017. On one of our many bike tours we headed through the Laurelhurst neighborhood on what had to have been Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Here was a place I’d been meaning to experience for a long time.

I know next to nothing about the origins of this superb example of birdbath mania. It’s possible that things have changed drastically since I last saw it a year and a half ago. It’s even more likely that it remains the same except for slow decay from time and weather. Neighbors could either see it as a source of pride or annoyance. It would take some organization to rid the neighborhood of what the unenlightened might consider an eyesore.

The yard has a feel of a folk art environment. Of course the art in question seems to be of the store-bought variety but there’s art in the arrangement and yard art quantity. This cluttered approach to exterior decorating overwhelms the eye with visions of disintegrating sculptures and cement. Birdbaths spill over the ceramic retaining wall, out of the yard’s boundaries and past the sidewalk. Grumpy, old-fashioned children haunt me while lawn deer and smiling frogs attempt to lighten the mood.

I can only wonder what birds think of the yard. The baths didn’t exactly teem with life. No birds were spotted. The birdbaths didn’t appear to contain water. Other signs of decay included dried plants and worn out statues. One figurine, absorbed in a book, remained oblivious to her feet having crumbled and fallen off. The volume of ceramics, figurines, statues, knickknacks, birdbaths and cement that combine to form this bastion of over-decoration overshadows what probably was never intended as a bird spa anyway.

 

Post Script: It’s cemented in my brain that February can be a tough month. I may have remained unwary of this phenomenon had it not been for the comments of Rich Reece that appeared in the Portland Monthly a few years back. Life can be a slog at anytime but when you throw in recurring grime, blankets of rain and a constant shade of gray people can get depressed. Advise like not impulsively quitting your job or your significant other is good all year round but it’s also fitting for a month that wears on people. Be glad it’s a short month. Stay healthy, don’t let your misery get exponential and fight that temptation to yell at man-bun sporting jaywalkers. A quick culture fix spent staring at an odd assortment of birdbaths may be the cure for winter doldrums—weather permitting of course. 

photo by Will Simmons

photo by Will Simmons

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Outside Art: The Art You Need Is Right Outside


Art displayed in the elements around North Portland is there for people to look at whenever they choose.  I prefer to celebrate the phenomenon of Outside Art rather than offer explanations. Figuring it out takes time away from enjoying it. Art that could be on gallery walls or in the homes of people as decoration is now becoming part of the outdoor environment for all to appreciate. No color swatches to match or art openings to attend. Outside Art weathers critics, fans and pretensions to hang around fences and on houses. There is the risk of thievery and vandalism as well as the destructive forces of wind, rain, the occasional sun showers and even rainbow rays but this random art showcase is inspirational through perseverance and its ability to skip the art world/business gamut to exist on its own merits.

House Painting

It’s a bold move to attach a large painting to one’s house. How do you get an abstract piece of art to work with certain colors of house paint? It’s tricky but it makes the declaration that creativity thrives in the home’s environment.

Por qué no? Por qué yes!

Outside Art is the perfect decoration for a business entrance. It creates authenticity. What’s authentic about it, I’m not sure. Let’s say it looks cool. It’s more of a rustic feeling, a shabby chic thing, perhaps. You won’t lose your appetite unless you look at it too long.

Mecca Art Land

The mecca of all Outside Art displays caught my attention last summer when I was out taking photos for future blog posts. It saw a couple of pieces nailed to telephone poles before I caught a glimpse of a section of fence with multiple works of art on it.

This was in the St. Johns area off of Willamette Boulevard and it has to be the work of a North Portland artist I had read about in the Oregonian right after moving to Portland. His name escapes me and his business card may still be floating around in everything that got packed up when I moved but I met him at one of his art shows a couple of years back. He was enthusiastic and willing to talk to me about Outside Art but soon after I suffered a bike accident which took me a summer to recover from. I never got back in touch with him.

This Outside Art display, which features many portraits, makes a statement that art can be a kind of living and dying organism that doesn’t have to be locked away in a museum to be pickled and preserved forever. I appreciate it’s availability to anyone who happens by.

The Center of the Known Creative Universe: A Beacon of Outside Art

I wasn’t kidding when I felt a deep creative tremor emanating from outside of Mississippi Records that’s rooted to the center of the known creative universe. North Albina Avenue runs through this area and it’s crawling with Outside Art displays from businesses and residents alike. The Albina Press coffee shop boasts huge paintings on their side walls. A building the next block over seems to draw inspiration incorporating a mural that morphs into huge painted panels.

Further up North Albina Avenue from the Mississippi District, a resident combined a couple of pieces of Outside Art with displays of recycled license plates.

Even the dentist office on North Albina Avenue gets into the game displaying rudimentary Outside Art that’s more fun and frivolous while still meeting with current Outside Art standards.

Outside Art: A Case Study

In the Woodlawn neighborhood, I came across art hung on a fence. The work’s merit is marred by a gashed canvas. The question remains whether the art became Outside Art after it was tarnished or if the damage resulted from it being displayed outside.

Tea and Artistry

In a back alley behind a Mississippi District Tea shop you’ll find paintings affixed to fencing. These colorful, bold abstracts demonstrate that Outside Art can always be used to spruce up even the drabbest of surroundings.

 

 

What’s Up Rabbit Hill?

 

Reading material provided.

It was a casual mention from the guy at my local pet store. It must have initiated from my buying something rabbit related.  As I recall it was talked about in the hushed tones of an old legend. At the check out counter I became enthralled by his tale. In North Portland, a place existed where people dropped off unwanted rabbits to fend for themselves. He gave me directions that involved taking a left at a street mural. I scrawled it down on a paper bag filled with potato sprouts to be planted later. This place I made plans to visit, in search of an oasis for misfit lapins, was known as Rabbit Hill.

Report dumping of rabbits too.

As a rabbit owner, it’s hard to imagine the desperate straits of pet owners who discard animals to fend for themselves. I want to believe that bunnies can get past their cute, docile image and a life of relative comfort to forage for their own food and find shelter when they’ve never had to do this. Newly released rabbits could band together as bunny survivalists or a Lord of the Flies style gang and live free in nature. I believed the guy at the pet store. He was knowledgeable about everything else including growing potatoes but there was only one way to determine if Rabbit Hill was more than a legend; I had to visit and sort this out.

A drag on anarchy.

Tired art?

When I arrived at Rabbit Hill I discovered a place of mystery. Sure it described itself through signage as a place of garden art. There were raised beds so other types of gardening were possible but it felt like a place that was neglected. The dragon/tire art project had seen better days. A headless dragon is not a fierce dragon and there’s no place for the fire to escape. Rabbit Hill is an L shaped strip of land that borders a chain length fence. There were winding paths and a kiosk/bulletin board splashed with an anarchy symbol down the hill. The information posted  offered an explanation of the need for community space:

Our neighborhood is a traffic “island’ surrounded by high traffic volume and high speed streets: MLK, Lombard, Vancouver, and the train tracks – making it very difficult for the children and elderly to traverse our neighborhood safely.

So tucked away in the Piedmont neighborhood was this patch of greenery along with the remains of some garden art made spooky by long afternoon shadows. The sign continued with a message about enjoying the park and being respectful. It included a reference to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” that I didn’t get right away.

GardenArt explained.

Right away I noticed the lack of any presense of rabbits. Not being a rabbit expert, I’m not sure what that means. I wouldn’t have been able to smell them or hear them as they’re a quiet animal. I definitely didn’t see any scattering away as I walked up.

Sun for the ArtGarden.

I’d been planning to get out to Rabbit Hill all summer and I knew the right time to visit would have been dusk.  As I got more and more embroiled in moving this fall I found myself having to get to Rabbit Hill at anytime I possibly could. This ended up being late one fall afternoon in October. Not a great time, mind you, but better than no time at all. This wasn’t ideal rabbit viewing time. I could hear Pittsburgh Orbit publisher, Will Simmons, who’s a some time art director consultant for this blog, screaming all the way from the east coast,“GET A FLASH! DO THESE RABBITS RIGHT.” In my defense things got too hectic and I was making one last-ditch effort to possibly document a bunny phenomenon before moving from the North Portland area.

Hear my elephant roar.

While I like the title Social Critic, that’s not really my aim in creating this blog, so I don’t want to be too vocal in what felt like a bit of disappointment in seeing Rabbit Hill compared to what it was intended to be. Many a project begins with the best of intentions and those relying on volunteer help can run out of momentum. The Facebook page seem to mirror this by being woefully out of date. It sure seemed like it had been a long time between pancake fundraisers. That’s not to say the place was decrepit. It wasn’t overgrown or overrun by graffiti. The elephant looking sculpture was elegant. It felt like a great place for local neighbors to walk dog  or hang out to create and maintain art installations. It had the feel of a much-needed bit of space between all the industrial, road and train activity. My hope is that the area residents can get back to what they started.

That feeling someone’s watching.

From what I read in a kid’s book, rabbits make burrows and hide underground. They’re crepuscular so they’re active at twilight. Wikipedia would argue that they’re more on the nocturnal side of things. I saw no evidence of rabbits nor did I see any abundant plant life that might sustain a colony. Then again, I wasn’t there as the light was fading out nor was I armed with a spot light that may have helped me catch a fleeting glimpse of rabbit activity. While reflecting so much on Rabbit Hill, I found out there’s a children’s book of the same name that was written in 1944. It’s hard to say if this inspired the park’s name but I’d like to hope the area is full of creatures that resemble the book’s high jumping, evil-looking cover star. I want to believe that rabbits flourish at Rabbit Hill. If they are forced to relocate against their will I want them to find success and stay alive. I’d like to see them make a life for themselves tucked away on a slope of nature and garden art remains.

Read the book not the blog.

 

 

Ghosting the Blogosphere: A Not Too Scary Halloween Spooktacular

I can’t get enough homemade Halloween decorations and ghoulish scenes that pop up this time of year. There’s no need for over-the-top special effects. It doesn’t take much to delight me. I appreciate any effort. Where there was nothing but lawn, a cemetery arrives. Ghosts sway while skeletons roam the usually dull streets. It’s a nice diversion.

At least one of these ghosts is friendly.

Blow up decorations may seem tacky or lazy. They’re not homemade but they add pizzaz to any holiday decor. Ghosts that appear overly friendly prove there’s not much to be afraid of in late afternoon sunshine.

Mom and egg are doing fine.

What’s scarier than a dragon? The easy answer is a mother dragon guarding her egg. I might have considered seizing that egg to make a giant omelette while somehow avoiding being scooped up and dropped into the nearest volcano. There’s something about that egg being just the right detail. It terrifies me to consider Dragon-Mom rage and it reminds me of where dragons come from.

dragons & pirates

Set sail for Dragon Island.

Pair the mother-of-all dragons with a ship full of pirate skeletons spotted in Arbor Lodge and you have the beginnings of quite a tale that might eventually involve an omelette feast. The homeowner assured me it was even better at night and recommended that I bring some kids by.

Crash through the cemetery gates.

Someone out there should be protesting outside cemeteries to stop Halloween from giving them such a bad rap. They’re supposed to be places of peaceful, eternal rest not cobweb ridden terror terrariums. Halloween brings out misnomers but front yard cemeteries do add the right amount of seasonal creepiness. We can only hope this scene spotted in Kenton contains the remains of political canvassers and door-to-door magazine salespeople.

Fear strikes the heart.

In southwest Portland, I spotted such creepy decor that I was afraid to get too close. It didn’t help that there was someone, seemingly oblivious to the carnage outside the window, watching daytime television inside the house. Take a red cloaked skeleton and combine it with a snake chasing a rat around a clavicle and my chills start feeling attacked by my heebee-jeebees.

Bones hanging with bones.

Some neighbors go out-of-the-way to create an environment like this one spotted in the Kenton neighborhood. It may not make sense but that ups the scare ante. There’s a cemetery, decorations stuck to a wall and a scene featuring the proper burial of a Wicked Witch. These scattered ideas combine to form an unsettling tableaux.

Hang it on the wall like a moose head.

Buried witch grows skeletal head.

 

Ghosts join leaves.

Ghosts in trees, like autumn leaves are a joy at Halloween. Between the rustling and the low level ghost moans it’s not the Season of the Witch without a sighting like this. These ghost folks showed up in my new SW neighborhood to welcome me.

If you need more Halloween decor check out this Pittsburgh Orbit post on the folk art creations of Gary Thunberg:

https://pittsburghorbit.com/2018/10/30/october-surprise-halloween-at-thunberg-acres/

Or see our past Halloween posts:

https://portlandorbit.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/halloween-spooktacular-spiders-and-ants/

https://portlandorbit.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/the-portland-orbit-spooktacular/

Post Script:  I know few are wondering but I pulled a disappearing act this October only being able to surface at the beginning and end of this month. I spent a good part of the month moving from north Portland to southwest Portland. I may be entering a bit of an Obi-Wan crazy hermit phase, only time will tell. The move took me away from my usual existence involving stuff like blogging and other forms of social media but I hope to get the Portland Orbit back on a semi regular publishing schedule next month.

Yesterday & Tomorrow: An Orbit Obit

It dawned on me. Yesterday & Tomorrow was closed. I kept driving  past it on my way home from work and nothing was happening. The plantings around the house were overgrown. No one seemed to be entering or leaving. I’m not sure if I noticed any lights on in the past but the business was deserted.

As most Orbit Obits go I tend to write about places that have gone too soon, too soon for me to visit, that is. It seems like a place that had always been there and always would be there.  I was curious and had meant to visit some time in the ten years I’ve lived in Portland. There a sadness to my procrastination when I realize a store I’ll never experience has closed.

Yesterday & Tomorrow was a business run out of a house which felt like a barrier. It was hard to get past the idea of shopping in a personal environment. I remember the sign that sat on the corner next to the electrical pole, but I still had a hard time getting a feel for the kind of art they sold. I saw stuff for decorating lawns and imagined more of that inside. The deteriorating sign couldn’t have made it any clearer. This business was an art gallery. I missed my chance to see any of the type of art that had been displayed in the various rooms. Art of any kind would have been worth checking out at least once.

The unkept front yard was full of sculpture. It didn’t look like your typical big box store lawn ornament inventory. What I saw when I visited the site this summer reminded me of the work of Carlton Bell. This store was a possible link to the work of this mysterious artist that might remain unexplored.

I blame myself for the demise of a business like this. Local businesses, especially those in a different setting, need support. It’s a lesson. Never put off until tomorrow, what you’ve been meaning to do for years. If you think you’re going to do something someday, consider the one thing I remember from seeing the play Sacramento 50 Miles in elementary school.  “Someday may never come.”








 

Special Flag Edition 2018: You Can Critique the Flag

I begin this holiday realizing that I’m trying to keep up with the Pittsburgh Orbit and their stupendous, annual flag tribute. They’re already well ahead of me having posted so they can get to the cook outs, hot dogs, and fireworks. Ah, well keeping up with the Pittsburgh Orbit is something I’ll strive for all year.

An additional thought occurred to me this Independence Day. Maybe it’s not all thought out but here in America we have freedom. That freedom allows me to be critical of the flag design, which I’ll get into later. Other nations might be less tolerant of such expressions. Of course I’ll see what kind of social media backlash occurs, mind you I am not a trained flag critic so my guess is it will not ruffle many feathers. Few media outlets and social critics pore over my words.

While seeking to bring unusual forms of creative expression to the masses, I find it challenging to highlight flag displays. There’s not much creativity in running a flag up a pole. Each year the Special Flag Edition of the Portland Orbit seeks flags displayed in unique ways.

Flags in the Looking Glass

What better way to display a flag than behind glass in a window. It may fade in time but it’s less likely to become frayed from the elements. It’s subtle, alluring even and allows for display any time of day or night.

Lone Star Nation

Spotted in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood, this flag decoration may be store-bought but it brings out a sentiment straight out of the Pledge of Allegiance. We are one nation indivisible and all that. This lone star represents this ideal of singular unity and it does it well.

A Better Door Than a Window

Sure you can make a door out of a flag like this one spotted in the Kerns neighborhood at a business located off of East Burnside Street, but you will lose some stars and stripes along the way. The flag does add bold colors to some drab, brown surroundings.

Crafty Flag

I went searching for yet another flag in a window in the Kenton neighborhood. That proved too challenging to photograph. Then I stumbled on the flag next door. It’s a gem. This flag puts the glory in Old Glory with what I want to believe is a homemade design made from fuzzy pipe cleaners. The stars are a jumbled mess shooting into the night sky background, but have you considered the state of our nation lately? It’s almost perfect and celebratory in all it’s flag waving energy. It’s one well done seasonal decoration.

Since learning about Vexillology, the study of flag design among other things and a word I still can’t pronounce, it seems like a good time to consider the layout of the American flag. I’ve realized that the rectangle within a rectangle no longer works for me. Why do the stars have to be contained in the upper left hand corner? It cuts off stripes and limits the blue to one section of the flag. I’d prefer the 50 stars spread over the entire flag. Time for an upgrade. While we’re redesigning, we could add a couple of new states. The resistance to new states seems to be that so many flags would become obsolete. My flag design would result in 13 rows of 4 stars. That’s two states added. I’d create an example but my Photoshop skills are lacking. I can’t demonstrate exactly what it would look like but don’t you have to admit it’s a concept worth considering. In the meantime have a happy Fourth Of July.

More Flags: https://portlandorbit.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/fourth-of-july-flags-unfurled/

and: https://portlandorbit.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/go-fourth/

Post Script:  A friend posted this on Facebook a while back. I didn’t get far watching it, but I found it interesting to hear Williams riff on coming up with the original design of the flag. Besides I owe him one for comparing his Mrs. Doubtfire look to the look of Evelyn Collins.

 

All Things Prince and Purple, Another Tribute

Mural behind Motivasu Coffee Shop

Prince has little to do with Portland. He was an occasional work related visitor, but who can help missing the guy especially on the anniversary of his birth. As I write this, there’s a Pedalpalooza event with bicyclists pumping to Prince jams and biking through the tears. No matter when Prince died it would have been too soon. His birthdays remind us of this. Sure he left his music but that isn’t as tangible as his physical being.

Thinking about Prince, a purple haze drifts through my mind. Every last purple object reflects his essence. It’s a color deeper than red, bolder than blue that remains regal and rich. It adds depth, beauty and elegance to any object. Other hues in the purple family are also admirable. This isn’t coming solely from a Prince endorsement. Paint sellers at Home Depot steer the undecided to purple pigments every day. I’ve never had my colors officially done but I was told I once that purple was a good color for me. I never forgot that. One day out of the year, at least, it’s good to commemorate all things Prince and purple.

Purple Moped

There can’t be a better mode of transportation when taking a date on a visit to the healing waters of Lake Minnetonka than this purple scooter spotted in the Alberta neighborhood.

Purple Flamingo

I had never considered, nor thought about, the idea of a flamingo being purple until I saw this North Portland species. All flamingos, living and plastic, should be purple. I haven’t figured how this could happen but it should. These gallant birds wear purple well.

Purple Cage

If I had to be kept outdoors in a cage, I’d hope it would be this one spotted off Columbia Boulevard. This purple spruces up the exterior and interior of this impenetrable contraption.

Purple Plastic Scrap

Any other shade of scrap plastic would likely go unnoticed. This fragment jumped out at me after garbage pick up. It seemed in desperate need to be immortalized in a blog.

Purple Logo

It maybe the eye-catching font, but the use of the color purple contributes to a design, seen in the Kenton neighborhood, that could sell anything, including racing tires.

Purple Prius

I happened upon this vehicle parked at a SW Portland fast food establishment. It dawned on me. Purple is the best color for a Prius, really, the only option.

Purple Door

What could be more welcoming than a purple door? I doubt I could enter this house in the Kenton neighborhood if I were invited. I’d prefer to gaze in admiration at the exact right color choice for this edifice entry.

Purple House


Purple houses are beautiful and they make me wish there were more around town. This one in the Mississippi neighborhood does it right.

Purple Shudders

Since shudders have been relegated to a decorative element and aren’t as functional as they once were, this purple especially highlights their decorative nature. They look even better in the early morning summer light.

Purple Shoe Boxes

No one could possibly spend too much time considering what color a shoe box should be but it’s amazing to think how they outshine even the shoes within them in this shade in the purple family.

Thanks Prince for opening our eyes to beauty that’s found in the color purple in all it’s many shades, forms and hues. 

Garage door in the Cully neighborhood.

Keep Kicking it Old School, Please

Unsure window designs that work.

Sure there’s plenty to be concerned about with the future of education but I’ve been thinking about the schools of tomorrow and whether all the charm and cool characteristics of Portland’s old schools will one day be wiped out. My guess is that new schools built from scratch will reflect our current fast and cheap world of building practices. Schools are more likely to resemble big box stores than the traditional schools of yesteryear.

Maybe not even a real gargoyle.

Schools in Portland have decorative elements that are cool in their subtly. These are things that students might not notice for years until one day they begin to wonder about the concrete designs up near the roof line or they spot a lion head gargoyle and point it out to a classmate. I am no student of architecture. I’ve have seen enough schools in the district to have the opinion that when new schools are built an effort should be made to keep things interesting inside and out.

 

Mrs. Tom Jolly

I work with elementary school children which has had me wondering what the kids that surround me will remember about their school experience. There may not be much to recall about what their school looked like. This theory is based on my own murky memories of my first school, Jolly Elementary in Clarkson, Georgia. It was your basic, boxy, one story, red brick building. The only memorable thing was a large, framed photograph of Mrs. Tom Jolly, the school’s namesake sitting on an easel in the main lobby. I couldn’t have told you a thing about her then. No one at the school ever talked her up. I didn’t know her first name or why she was the school’s namesake. The picture of an ancient woman haunted me every time I saw it. It wasn’t until recently that I found out what she did to help educate children in her community and what made her worthy of having a school named after her. My point here is give kids something to remember about their school.

Brick brack

This really is one of those they don’t make ‘em like they used to pieces. Back in the day delicate design accents were included in schools. Souped up windows, columns, carvings, latin phrases inscribed in concrete and Roman numerals appeared on schools. You could almost imagine kids of that era speaking Latin as a second language and maybe knowing their Roman numerals. I appreciate subtle architecture elements in school’s exteriors knowing it creates a better educational environment, if only on a subconscious level, that might inspire students somehow. It’s the least the older schools in Portland have to offer.

Windows so beautiful.

Old schools with over the top window designs still look great. They might combine these looks with concrete doohickies (not an architectural term, I know) as well as cravings and fake columns that border huge windows. One day, while substitute teaching, I noticed a malt liquor can in the well of the faux balcony. I never did get around to letting the janitorial staff know but it seemed out of place. What about these faux balconies? Sadly I have no picture to illustrate this but when would you ever need a balcony at a school?

Roman scholars unite!

I always loved the entrance to Benson Polytechnic along with the name of the school as I’m a graduate of a Polytechnic Institute. The front doors seem epic with real looking columns. I was supposed to learn in school whether they’re doric or ionic but at times like these it’s of no significance and not even worth looking up. They are gorgeous. If I had gone to that school I would have worn a toga regardless of whether  it was allowed according to the school’s dress code. I would have been proud to enter that school every day but it’s more likely this facade would have been so distracting that I would have hung around the columns for much of my class time never learning the difference between doric and ionic columns.

This way to the auditorium.

The Kenton School, now De La Salle, was built over 100 years ago. It’s further proof of what was done right then. Concrete carvings, a nice entrance and the labeling of certain buildings like the auditorium are all admirable design offerings.

The old Kenton School with planters.

This school has nice concrete trim around the windows and roof along with it’s own school crest  and a mysterious lion gargoyle that proved challenging to photograph. Announcing to the world that the school was erected in 1913 probably opens itself up to a preponderance of sophomoric jokes and would not be the type of thing that would appear on a  school building these days.

Every school needs a crest.

One of the Kellogg School owls.

To anyone designing and building schools in Portland make the effort to create a bit of mystery and decorative work in schools that will help students thrive.  Keep alive the spirit of intrigue that still exists in Portland schools today through the use of artistic masonry. Something like the Kellogg School owls outside one of the doorways would might seem like something insignificant, but it has possibility of making kids feel special like their school is a unique and wondrous place.

Kenton School detail: Lined up to learn.

The Kennedy Files: Kennedy on Columbia




There’s a loneliness to the concrete bust in the front yard of a house on Columbia Boulevard across the street from the Humane Society. I’ve spent years driving past the sculpture that casts his gaze across the bustling four-lane roadway. I can’t remember the first time I got a good look at it but it was in a car going 40 miles an hour. I imagine I thought to myself when I spotted the bust, “that’s John F. Kennedy.” Every time since then I’ve looked for the concrete replica because of this resemblance. The Kennedy hair, the Kennedy face and the Kennedy torso, although I can’t say I’m all that familiar with the torso; it all seems a match. I have not confirmed whether it is Kennedy. There’s a tiny twinge of doubt that has me considering that the bust could represent an legendary Oregonian who happens to look a lot like our 35th president.

The bust sits in front of an old house, the kind of place suited to someone’s grandparents. I was motivated to finally take pictures when a for sale sign popped up in the area. It had me wondering if this section of Columbia Boulevard was going to be redeveloped. The house sits between a similar house and one with a garish paint job that once headquartered a private dancer club. It’s a safer bet that the club was targeted for sale and demolition with the two houses remaining in their awkward placement along this industrial thoroughfare. Update: I saw no evidence of a for sale sign on a recent visit.

At Halloween time I dropped by because the bust had been dressed in a costume. On that visit I noticed the base of the sculpture included elk carvings. This created my initial doubt. The appropriate images would have been a PT-109 boat or something symbolic of the Kennedy essence. Sure the Kennedy family has a compound in Maine but there was never a legend, that I heard, associating John Kennedy with an elk or even a moose.

Detail: bust base elk.

After my usual speculation I’m ready to make my case that the bust is Kennedy. Then I’ll make a case that the bust isn’t Kennedy. Of course this goes against everything Perry Mason stood for–I mean trying to argue both sides of the coin is a bit of a conflict unless we’re talking about a two-headed nickel which make no sense because Kennedy is on the 50 cent piece.

The most Kennedy aspect to the bust is the hairstyle. It’s exact. If that was a popular hairstyle at any point in time and for anyone else then I could see the statue being someone who was sporting the Kennedy hairdo back in the day. The hairstyle is singularly representative of one person and one person only: John F. Kennedy. Maybe, I want to believe it’s Kennedy because my roots are in the state of Massachusetts and I grew up on the Kennedy mystique.

As to why this may not be Kennedy lies in whether the face of the bust captures the JFK identity. It’s close enough for anyone taking artistic license but the shirt with the pockets threw me off. Any image of this president should depict him looking presidential–in a suit. Any other representation has the feel of the guy being out of uniform.

All of this has the Portland Orbit pledging a year-long investigation into this matter. There will be actual research, phone calls, letters and a door knock if necessary to find out the true identity of this bust. You’ll have to wait until the next anniversary of Kennedy’s passing for an answer. In the meantime the Kennedy Files will return next month to cover a bona fide Kennedy tribute.

The Foster Files: The Super Hero Tree

Just a regular tree.

At first glance it looks like any other tree. People pass by every day and don’t notice a thing. Like other street trees in the Foster-Powell neighborhood this one on SE 64th Avenue has branches, a trunk and leaves. Within the canopy are objects that, with a bit of imagination, combine to create scenes that tell a story, albeit one that has the feel of a failed attempt at a DC or Marvel movie.  Perhaps the unread, failed screenplay for the project featured an evil Tree Lord but he’s no where to be seen. I may have arrived too late, with the Tree Lord having fled after leaving the remaining characters frozen and stuck in the tree.

This trunk contains visions of Dino Wars.

Scattered items allow a story to be pieced together, including relics of past Dino Wars, with Old Glory surviving the fray.

Blame it on the Gamma Rays.

Helplessness is not a trait I like to see in my Super Heroes. They’re strapped down by the decorative Christmas lights. While cheery and soothing at night and in season, they now appear menacing. Superman seems the most active as he thrashes away at unseen gamma rays in hopes of freeing himself.

Captain America gets fuzzy.

Captain America stands aimless on an old gray hoverboard. The string of lights remain tight around his chest offering him no chance for escape. Hovering in static perpetuity won’t allow him an opportunity to flee the tree.

Lot of good that hammer does you.

Thor seems the most burdened. A light cord binds his waist while his hammer hand is wrapped up at the wrist. This is a cliff hanger in suspended animation. I’d like to think that it won’t end but plastic weathers and Christmas lights break. Thor’s freedom might come as the result of a lost limb. Our Super Heroes play a waiting game.

Folk peacocks–the anti-super hero.

What I’m attempting here is an appreciation for anyone who wants to decorate anything. It’s not really a critique on drab neighborhoods where the lone decorated tree stands out. No one expects all the neighbors to be hard at work pouring every bit of creativity they can muster into yard art, tree art and pole art on the off chance that I might stroll by and see this brilliance through my bug eyed, quivering peepers but I will find these subtle explorations of found art camouflaged in street trees when they appear and sing their praises.