Early Oregon art exhibit opens

Pittock Mansion
3229 N.W. Pittock Dr.
May 1 – October 31, 2001
12 to 4 p.m. daily
$2.50 youths (6 – 18)
$4.50 seniors (65+)
$5 general admission

Pittock Mansion opens an important exhibit of early Oregon painters from the era 1880 to 1930. Featuring approximately 30 paintings by various artists, “Visions and Visionaries,” offers a rare opportunity for art and history lovers. The oils and watercolors are displayed throughout the 22-room mansion, along with other pieces from the permanent collection.

Guest curator Michael Parsons has collected an impressive array of early Oregon art including piecces by Cleveland Rockwell, William Samuel Parrott, Myra Albert Wiggins, Charles Erskine Scott Wood and Clara Jane Stephens.

Viewed together, these artists provide an intriguing look at the era and of the artistic community in Portland around the turn of the century.

While all of the paintings are extraordinary for the combined artistic and historical value, a few particular paintings stand out as the highlights of the exhibit. One of these is Edward Espey’s stunning painting, “Repose – Brittany Burial Grounds.” Espey began his studies in Paris in 1881. Four years later he painted “Repose” and exhibited it at the acclaimed Paris Salon.

The Portland Library Association acquired the painting through a subscription campaign for $1,000 in 1886. The moonlit seascape is currently on loan from the Multnomah County Library. As one of the largest pieces in the exhibit, it shares the upper hall with the portraits of Henry and Georgiana Pittock. Sadly, this promising young Portland artist died at age 29 of tuberculosis.

Another remarkable work is “New Bridge at Oregon City” by Stephens. Painted in 1922, this large oil on canvas is possibly her most important work, according to Parsons. A vivid use of color with bright blues, violets and coral applied in with strong brush strokes combine for an arresting image of the bridge.

In the ’20s, Stephens received acclaim for her Impressionist urban scenes and portraits. This was not always the case. As a woman, she had many difficulties in pursuing her career as a painter and at the Museum School.

“Hay Creek Ranch,” one of the few watercolors on display, was painted in 1904 by Wood. The piece uses beautiful colors in a very simple manner. Although only an amateur painter, he frequently exhibited his oils and watercolors in some of the leading Portland venues. Wood was a lawyer, patron of the arts and one of Portland’s more interesting citizens. This painting is on loan from the collection of Henry and Mary Breithaupt.

Another particularly striking oil is “Old Chinatown – Portland” (c. 1927) by Bue Kee. The painting is a colorful street scene. The vivid colors and detailed brush strokes give this painting intensity. On loan from Mark Ross Gearhart’s collection, it is displayed in the writing room.

Kee, a Chinese American, was known not only as a painter but for his sculpture and fine ceramics as well. He worked on the WPA and also with Lydia Herrick Hodge of the Oregon Ceramic Studio. Severely hearing impaired; Kee overcame many obstacles during his career.

On your visit through the mansion, be sure to look at the Turkish smoking room. The circular room with a beautifully ornate, tiled ceiling is one of the only rooms in the house that was not damaged in the 1962 Columbus Day storm. As one of the most unique rooms in the house, it is also the setting for an oil painting by Henry Fredrick ‘Harry’ Wentz.

The “Portrait of Pietro Belluschi” (c. 1930) is one of the later works in the exhibit and one of the only portraits. The use of color is unique and definitely shows a change in the palette of the time period. It is painted in oil on a canvas board.

Wentz was a philosopher and associated strongly with the Oregon regionalist movement. He taught at the Museum Art School, now the Pacific Northwest College of Art, from 1910 to 1914. Belluschi was one of his students and later became an internationally renowned architect, eventually designing the Portland Art Museum.

Eliza Barchus is an extraordinary artist. Her painting, “Mt. Rainier” from the 1890s is part of the permanent collection and is a beautiful example of the mountain landscapes for which she was known.

Barchus moved to Portland with her husband John in 1880 and studied with Parrott. Widowed a short time later, she supported herself and her children with her paintings, often bartering them for goods and services. She eventually gained critical acclaim with her exhibit at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition held in Portland where her landscapes were shown at the Forestry Building entrance.

The paintings became popular as postcards nationwide after the exhibition, becoming some of the first color cards of the Pacific Northwest. She painted until her eyesight failed in 1935.

Edward Hill’s painting, “Mt. Hood from the Columbia” (c. 1884), on loan from Counting Eagles Collection, shows an interesting juxtaposition of the Native American camp in the foreground and the steamboat in the distance. His paintings show the many changes going on in the Pacific Northwest when he came to Portland in the 1880s. Less well known than his brother Thomas Hill, Edward was nevertheless a prolific artist establishing his reputation and financial success in the Pacific Northwest.

Thomas’ painting “Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite, CA” is part of the permanent collection, and it is interesting to compare the two brothers’ approach. Thomas Hill painted over 5000 Yosemite landscapes during his career.

Plan ahead to spend some time poking around the grounds as well as exploring the mansion. Although the mansion and gift shop are only open from 12 to 4 p.m. daily, the grounds are open from dawn to dusk.

Located at one of the highest points in the west hills, at 1000 feet above sea level, the view is incredible. On a nice day downtown and five mountains in the Cascade Range are visible.

If you are so inclined to artistic endeavors, bring a your paints or sketch book. The 46.24-acre park has benches, tables and hiking trails. Additionally, the Pittock Mansion Gate Lodge, once the caretaker’s quarters, is now a tearoom which is open to the public. For tour information call (503) 823-3624. If you are interested in more information about the history of the Pittock Mansion, look at http://www.Mediaforte.com.

The Pittock Mansion Society also will present “Images of Oregon – Then and Now” on Wednesday, May 9. Steve Terrill and Thomas Robinson, authors of the recently published book “Oregon Then and Now” will present contemporary photographs taken from the same perspectives as western photographer Benjamin Gifford. “Early Oregon Painters” on May 16 is a two-part presentation by local artist Jack McClarty and art historian Faith Emerson.

McClarty will offer his experiences in the Portland art community during his long career since the 1930s followed by Emerson’s presentation of her thesis “Modern Art Hits Stumptown: Sally H. Lewis and Vanguard Exhibitions at the Portland Art Museum, 1911 – 1924.” These events are part of the Pictures and Painting 2001 spring lecture series and will be held at 7 p.m. The cost for each lecture is $12. To register for either lecture, call (503) 823-3623.