By Rosie Platt
The entrance foyer of Portland’s Chapman Elementary has been graced with the work of Aimee Spencer Gorham since 1938, when the large format wood marquetry mural titled Send Us Forth to be Builders of a Better World was installed. Aimee Gorham is best known for her work at the Timberline Lodge, the largest and most ambitious New Deal project of the area, where two of her pieces grace the walls of that temple to rustic regionalism. Under WPA programs, Gorham produced murals for Oregon State University’s School of Forestry, numerous Portland Public schools, regional art centers in Oregon, and for the New York World’s Fair in 1939. She established a workshop of furniture makers from Timberline Lodge that executed her designs into the 1950s.
Almost 80 years of accumulated soiling, wear, and vandalism had obscured the exquisite and glowing figural effects of the wood grains in the mural. In 2015, a former Chapman parent and art enthusiast, Martha Connell, brought the idea of the restoration project to the attention of the PTA President, Rosie Platt. The project was adopted as a priority by the PTA and Chapman administration. The true historic value of this art piece was relatively underappreciated and educating students, families, and the community on the cultural and historical importance of this public works piece became a priority.
We began writing grants and fundraising for the restoration project and were generously awarded funding for the project. An educational workshop was held at Chapman’s annual event called the Art Ball which was attended by over 300 people. Students and families had the opportunity to learn about the WPA, the artist, and even made their very own marquetry project. Thanks to generous grants, including the State of Oregon’s Heritage Grant, the Juan Young Trust, the Autzen Foundation, and donations from the Chapman community, we were able to restore the mural over the summer of 2016. The restoration work was completed by Heritage Conservation Group, led by President Nina Olsson. The Chapman PTA, Neighbors West-Northwest, and Heritage Conservation Group are hosting a community educational event at the school for the public unveiling of the wood mural and new educational panels that will accompany them. Please join us on Thursday, Dec. 1st, from 6-8 pm at the Chapman Elementary School Auditorium. Appetizers and child-friendly activities will be provided.
For heritage organizations, Eagle Scout projects can accomplish two things: engage youth and get work done. That is the experience the Gleason Cemetery and the Oswego Heritage Council had when they each had an important project completed by a Boy Scout in pursuit of Eagle Scout status.
Planning and completing a service project is the last step for a boy scout to become an Eagle Scout. Boy Scouts can choose a project that benefits the community and Payton Becker and David Rollins decided to carry out their projects at local heritage sites.
When Payton Becker first came across the Gleason Cemetery outside of Molalla, he was shocked. The trail leading up to the cemetery from the road was barely accessible and the ivy vines and blackberry bushes covered the headstones. Through Payton’s hard work and with the help of work parties of friends and family, he was able to clear ivy and blackberry bushes and reveal twenty-one headstones and two walking trails. He was also able to draw up a map of the cemetery’s layout. Although the project took an immense amount of labor, Payton found it rewarding to be able to uncover a piece of forgotten history and hopes it helps the local historical society.
Oswego Heritage Council
David Rollins was inspired by his grandfather when he was deciding on his Eagle Scout project. His grandfather is involved with Oswego Heritage Council, an organization that preserves Lake Oswego history. A large part of that history is the iron industry that helped build the town. David’s project involved reconstructing an iron ore cart and creating a display in the gardens of the historic Oswego Heritage House along with an interpretive sign. It was a truly unique project as David had to do quite a bit of research in order to be able to reconstruct this iron ore cart and find a company to accurately reproduce parts of it. This display was part of the organization’s larger plan to provide additional interpretive opportunities, including a new permanent exhibit that opened in November 2016. For more information you can visit Oswego Heritage Council’s website.
Both of these projects helped bring history to life and not only benefited the Scout accomplishing the project, but also helped two heritage organizations accomplish something that they might otherwise may not have been able to accomplish. So if you are a heritage organization that has a project that you think might be perfect for an Eagle Scout project, it might be worth contacting your local Boy Scout Troops to see if someone is looking for a service project to complete.
By Laura Lo Forti
Sometimes history gets stuck in one monolithic narrative. A single event, often a dramatic one, is repeated over and over, until it becomes the official story. This is certainly true for Vanport, an important chapter of Oregon’s past that is usually summarized in one sentence: a temporary city between Vancouver and Portland built to accommodate the influx of shipyard workers and their families and wiped out by a flood in a matter of hours on Memorial Day, 1948.
But who lived in Oregon’s second-largest city and why? What did they build? What did they lose? Where did they go after being displaced? What does this all mean today?
In 2016 a group of artists, educators, historians, media makers with existing projects addressing the lack of awareness on Vanport, came together to explore these very questions and launched the Inaugural Vanport Mosaic Festival.
On the 68th anniversary of the catastrophic event, over 2000 Portlanders attended this 4-day multi-disciplinary celebration that honored the 40,000 people who came from all over the U.S. to build a new life, attracted by job opportunities and affordable housing.
With a fully staged drama,“Cottonwood In The Flood”, we shared the African American experience in Vanport. At screenings of “Lost City, Living Memories: Vanport Through the Voices of Its Residents” we offered a collection of community-produced multimedia oral histories. These personal narratives shared the perspective of Japanese Americans returning from internment camps, of veterans attending Vanport Extension Center (that later became Portland State University), and of the mosaic of memories of daily life in the largest WWII public housing project in the nation. More layers were added by poetry, music, tours of the historic sites, an educational symposium, an exhibit of photos and artifacts. At the center of all former Vanport residents, now in their 80s and 90s, were celebrated with a reunion and with this community-driven and artist-lead effort to tell full story, one of community’s strength and resilience.
OPB will be featuring the history of Vanport on an episode of the Oregon Experience series. The public is invited to a free screening event at McMenamins Kennedy School on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. and it will be airing on OPB on Nov. 14 at 9 p.m.
Save the date for Vanport Mosaic Festival 2017, May 26-30th. http://www.vanportmosaic.org
By Anne Richardson
On October 15, 2016, Oregon Cartoon Institute will present UNDERGROUND USA, a one day public history/arts education event which focuses on one chapter of Oregon print cartooning history.
Two underground papers, the Willamette Bridge (1968-1971) and the Portland Scribe (1972-1978), provided first jobs for a generation of artists and writers who went on to have national careers. Five of them – artists Bill Plympton and David Chelsea, and writers Norman Solomon, Richard Gehr, and Maurice Isserman – are coming to Portland to talk about these early experiences.
Among the questions they will address:
- What makes Portland so comics and cartooning friendly?
- What was the underground press?
- Who read it?
- Who wrote it?
- What role did underground comics play in creating the sensibility of the underground press?
- Was Portland’s current affinity for comics/cartooning already in evidence during this forgotten period of regional media making?
Through talks, presentations, onstage conversations and a culminating panel discussion, UNDERGROUND USA participants will explore these and other questions.
Patrick Rosenkranz, author of Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975, will give the keynote address. He will speak about two powerfully influential pop culture practitioners from Oregon, Carl Barks (1901-2000) and Basil Wolverton (1909-1978), and the impact they had on the cartoonists of the underground press.
UNDERGROUND USA is open to the general public. It is presented by Oregon Cartoon Institute in partnership with UO Comics & Cartooning Studies and PSU Comic Studies, and with support from Oregon Historical Society.
By Megan Lallier-Barron, Museum of Mental Health Curator
One of the oldest and most recognizable state-owned structures in Salem is the Oregon State Hospital. A study of hospital architecture has been an important way to better understand how the changing attitudes and philosophies of mental health care in Oregon over time. One of the key resources the Museum of Mental Health has used when researching the history of this architecture has been through blueprints and architectural plans that are a part of the state’s collection. This collection encompassed the entirety of the Hospital’s 133 year history, including other state-run mental health facilities in Oregon.
To better preserve this collection, the Museum applied for the Oregon Heritage Museum Grant. Our original plan was to use our grant funding to assist us in digitizing our collection while also providing an appropriate storage environment for these documents. Something that came to light during the grant review process changed the scope of our project. It was a surprise to learn that the blueprints were considered state documents and therefore could be transferred to the Oregon State Archives for storage and preservation. The Museum of Mental Health would be able to have duplicates and digital copies but would not have to bear the burden of storing the architectural blueprints and plans.
Working principally with Layne Sawyer and Theresa Rea at the Archives, we compared the items in the Museum’s collection and identified items that were missing from the State Archives holdings, and we found quite a few. From there, we worked with the Archives to transfer these items after they had been professionally scanned and a new shelving system was installed at the Archives. It has taken over a year since our initial grant proposal, but these architectural drawings are finally on their way to their rightful home.
To learn more about Museum of Mental Health visit their website.
Photos: (Left) Museum volunteers Howard Baumann and Karen Sewell during the inventory process of the project. (Right) Museum of Mental Health Curator, Megan Lallier-Barron, delivering scanned blueprints to the Oregon State Archives.
Latest National Historic Register Listing Helps Preserve Portland’s African American Civil Rights History
Today the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church in Portland was listed in the National Historic Register. Raymond Burell III gives us the following insight into its history.
Overshadowed though it may be today by new development, the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church (located at 3138 N Vancouver Avenue) is an important cultural and social institution of the Albina/Eliot neighborhood and African American history in Portland. It is one of the few remaining historic structures from the thoroughfare of Vancouver Avenue in the 1950s, and a link to the era when the area was known as “Black Broadway”: the hub of African American life and culture in Portland.
Redevelopment in the 1960s spelled disaster for the black community in North Portland, and modern construction threatens the few structures that have survived thus far. As one of the last standing monuments to Portland’s African American community in the 1940s and 1950s, the story of the Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church is a vital social and cultural thread in the tapestry of Albina/Eliot’s and Portland’s past.
The Church’s roots began with the “Kaiser Caravans” that brought thousands of shipyard workers to the Northwest during World War II. Most of these new arrivals were Southern, many were black, and as these migrants settled into their new homes in Portland, the Northwest received an injection of Southern African American culture. The Church itself originally formed in 1944 in a shipyard worker’s housing project in Vancouver, Washington called Burton Homes. One year later, it had a new leader who would prove to be the driving force behind the Church’s whole story: the Reverend Oliver Booker “O.B.” Williams.
Under Rev. Williams and his wife Willa Ida Jackson-Williams, the next decade saw the Church relocate no fewer than three times. As World War II ended, the housing projects closed, and the Church moved into Albina in 1946. In Portland, the congregation quickly outgrew each new space they moved into, even renovating a condemned structure in 1947, only to find that they were too large for it by the time they had finished. The Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church finally moved into its current location in 1951: a Methodist Episcopal church built in 1909 that could hold 600 people. Even this was eventually found to be inadequate, and in 1957 Rev. Williams renovated the space to hold 800, making this the largest African American congregation in the Northwest.
The Church’s most famous moment came in 1961. As a central pillar of Portland’s black community, the Urban League selected it as one of the stops on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s national speaking tour. He met with the clergy and delivered a speech entitled “The Future of Integration” to the congregation, commenting that “if democracy is to live, segregation must die. Segregation is a cancer in the body of democracy that must be removed if the health of the nation is to survive.” Albina–still a heavily segregated neighborhood in the 1960s and just beginning to feel the Civil Rights Movement’s arrival in Portland–must have felt the weight of King’s words. Its principal role in the local civil rights movement was highlighted by hosting and supporting numerous community rallies, social programs and town hall meetings for social change. Alongside the rest of Eliot, the Church saw most of its community displaced over the next decade, and today its congregation is a fraction of its old size. Now flanked by redevelopment along Vancouver and Williams Avenue, its continued existence is under constant threat. The Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church still stands as a direct line and touchstone from the present back to the old Albina of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. However, like many other historical institutions, the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church’s historical recognition pays homage to, celebrates and preserves the significance of a cultural cornerstone and social change agent landmark in the city of Portland. Today, the church now an active membership of 400 and 72 years, is under the spiritual leadership of the Reverend J.W. Matt Hennessee and continues to serve the Eliot community fervently under a changing redevelopment landscape and population demographic.
By Titus Tomlinson
There I was – opening day at this year’s Main Street Now Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was surrounded by excited, spunky and passionate change agents representing Main Street Programs from across the country. At that moment it became very apparent that I am one of a very large group of individuals who see the importance of Main Street and the role it plays in creating healthy communities that we all can enjoy, take pride in, and embrace as our own. As I spoke with countless volunteers, coordinators and state coordinators one thing became very clear – Main Street is and always will be the heart of our communities, both rural and urban alike. As humans we all know that a healthy heart makes for a healthy body and the same goes for Main Street; a healthy Main Street makes for a healthy community.
So what can you do to help create a healthy heart in your community? The good news is that a world of resources, structure and support is available to help create a healthy heart! For well over 35 years the National Main Street Center has been working with communities across the Country to revitalize their downtowns and commercial districts. And they do so using a structured “Main Street Approach” – an approach that has “has earned Main Street the reputation as one of the most powerful economic revitalization tools in the nation.”
One of my favorite components is the fact that this approach not only takes into account the local economy, its drivers and the regional context, but that it also realizes the importance of the stories each community has to share. It’s those stories that help create “sense of place” in all Main Street Communities. And when it comes to what sets each and every community apart, preserving historic building stock is one of the first things that comes to mind.
By embracing the history of our communities we often find those assets that set us apart from others. Whether we are talking about the Liberty Theater in Astoria or I.C. Nickelsen’s / Klindt’s Booksellers building in The Dalles – these are buildings that tell a story and create that sense of place I am speaking about. So what is it about your community that sets it apart and tells that story? Find it, embrace it and make it yours because sometimes the past really does play into the present!
Titus Tomlinson received the Elisabeth Walton Potter Oregon Heritage Preservation Scholarship to attend the 2016 Main Street Now Conference in Milwaukee, WI. For more information about this scholarship visit here.
One of this year’s recipients of an Oregon Heritage Excellence Awards is 65 years old and at that age could be retiring. Instead, the Oregon Archaeological Society is bursting with activity to educate the public about archaeology, advance archaeological knowledge and support the preservation of historic and prehistoric resources.
The society was founded in 1951 as important Native American sites were about to be flooded by The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River.
In the early days, some OAS members were often more interested in amassing personal collections of artifacts. However, in 1974 it adopted a code of ethics by which any member participating in excavation activities for personal gain would be expelled. A year later, it proposed legislation calling for an official state organization to administer site registration and permit process.
Today, it has a wide range of activities. It offers a six-week basic archaeological training, field trips, and speakers at monthly meetings. The speaker in April was the newest appointed member of the Heritage Commission, Chelsea Rose, who talked about her work in Jacksonville.
The Society has also entered into long-term partnerships with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to assist their activities. It publishes scientific reports and a monthly newsletter, and offers scholarships and grants to students, schools, and projects.
It is also participates in Portland State University’s Archaeology Roadshow, the Northwest Anthropological Conference, and other professional meetings.
In recognition of its decades of work educating the public about archaeology, preserving cultural resources, and advancing archaeological knowledge, the Oregon Archaeological Society was presented an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award.
If you look at most of the major preservation projects during the past 10 years in Corvallis, one name keeps popping up: B.A. Beierle [pronounced Buy Early].
Since she began monitoring Corvallis and Benton County public bodies with authority over historic resources more than 13 years, Beierle has taken on many important projects.
Many of these projects have involved PreservationWORKS, which she founded in 2003. PreservationWORKS is one of a handful of local nonprofit preservation groups in Oregon.
With her leadership PreservationWORKS has coordinated Preservation Month activities, develop tours, coordinated an architectural history conference, prepared the city’s successful Preserve America application, and coordinated the Corvallis Neighborhood Photo Survey.
This photo survey involved 60 volunteers canvassing more than 2,500 structures and took 6,000 images across 952 acres in an area surrounding the Oregon State University. This is an area straining to maintain its livability.
Beierle, who was presented an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award last month, has also served on numerous community advisory and preservation groups, including the historic Whiteside Theatre, which reopened sooner than anticipated because of her leadership.
Beierle is working with parks and recreation partners to preserve the Knotts Owen farmstead into a place where urban children can learn about the historic agricultural landscape. And she’s played an important role in saving and preserving the Gorman House, the oldest house known to have been built by black pioneers in Oregon.
One supporter wrote in the Heritage Excellence Award nomination that Beierle “has entirely redefined our community’s notions of what can be done in the realm of historic resources. She is never satisfied with simply repeating successful events, and her ongoing development of new collaborations will keep bearing fruit for many years.”
Ten years ago, the University of Oregon Libraries were at a turning point. They had served for more than half century as the official repository for the state’s newspapers and accumulated hundreds of newspaper titles. Many had been microfilmed. But microfilming was becoming expensive and the public was beginning to demand online digitized newspapers.
Out of that moment came the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program.
Since going live in December 2010, the Oregon Digital Newspapers website has drawn more than 6.6 million views from more than 350,000 visitors in 196 countries. The site currently hosts more than 140 titles from more than 60 cities across Oregon.
The website contains more than 740,000 pages of content. The newspapers are primarily from the period before 1923 due to copyright restrictions. These include the state’s first agricultural and African American newspapers.
In addition, by working with two dozen local organizations, governments and businesses it also includes digitized versions of other community newspapers.
Most important, each page is word searchable.
The Oregon Digital Newspaper Program is always changing, too. It helped develop the Library of Congress software for viewing digitized newspaper content online. Last year, it began providing digital access to current newspapers as opposed to microfilm access.
With the recent introduction of Common Core standards in K-12 classrooms, the digital newspaper project has increased its outreach to students and teachers with new lesson plans and other educational resources. The project also publishes a blog.
The UOs’s cooperative, ground-breaking efforts to create the Oregon Digital Newspaper Project and increase public access to important historic documents resulted last month in an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award.
Last month, program director Sheila Rabun also was interviewed by Jefferson Public Radio