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Oregon's greatest arts roundup (visual arts, architecture, TV and more)
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Oregon's greatest arts roundup (visual arts, architecture, TV and more)

We've already featured the state's greatest films, songs and books.

Now, our series on Oregon's greatest artists and artworks comes to a close with a list of legends across a wide array of disciplines.

As always, let us know if we've hit the target or missed the mark completely with this collection of art and artists.

Television show

The Simpsons” – The longest running sitcom in television history, as well as the longest running animated series, features razor-sharp satire with heart. And it was created by Matt Groening, who grew up in Portland. For years, Groening was coy about the location of the Springfield in “The Simpsons,” but in 2012, he revealed to Smithsonian magazine that Springfield, Oregon was the inspiration for the hometown of the orange-hued, four-fingered family. There are several nods to Portland and Oregon in the series, including names of the characters in the show, such as Flanders, Quimby, Lovejoy and Terwilliger – all of which are streets in the Rose City.

Alternative take – The “Baby Elephant Walk” theme song. The cardigan sweater covered in buttons. The smile contest that focused on every kid in the studio audience. And, of course, the cartoons. "The Ramblin’ Rod Show" on KPTV 12 was a morning routine for youngsters from 1964 until host Rod Anders’ death in 1997. The television program featured elementary school kids just like you – and occasionally children you knew would appear in the bleachers and become the envy of the entire school! Kitschy and corny? You bet. But also sugary sweet like the best cereal.


Timberline Lodge – The most Oregon building ever, set on the south slope of Mt. Hood, is a mix of rugged function and beauty. “It stands out above everything,” said Lori Stephens, architect and the owner of Broadleaf Architecture in Corvallis. Timberline Lodge is a singular creation built by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The building features local materials, such as wood and stone from nearby hillsides. And it’s absolutely jam-packed with paintings, woodwork, wrought-iron craftmanship and more. The scale of the structure – even the little details are outlandishly large – always catches Stephens’ eye. “The mule posts on the stair railings are just these massive art pieces. The furniture is kind of oversized. It’s grand in that way,” Stephens said. The fireplace is the centerpiece of the lodge, the place to warm up after a hard day of hitting the slopes or hiking through the wilderness. 

Alternative take – The Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport dances across the water at the Oregon Coast. The span, completed in 1936, was created by Oregon Agricultural College professor Conde B. McCullough. “He had a really good eye and was a really good designer,” Stephens said. “In architecture, he’s talked about quite a bit, even though he’s an engineer.” McCullough built nearly 600 bridges in Oregon, but this is his Sistine Chapel, his Mona Lisa. The Yaquina Bay Bridge is a piece of art whether framing the sunset or enveloped in a shroud of fog.


Ray Atkeson – The first name in Oregon photography is Ray Atkeson – our own staff photographers were insistent that he was the only choice. Atkeson might be best explained as the Oregon’s version of Ansel Adams, a man who documented the majestic natural wonders of the Beaver State (and other locations in the west) in glorious black and white images. But Atkeson did more than capture landscapes, and he also shot in color in his later years. He was a pioneering ski and snow sports photographer who had to lug his camera up mountains in the days before chair lifts. Among his other subjects were women shipbuilders during World War II. Even if you don’t know his name, you’ll recognize his best shots.

Alternative take – David Hume Kennerly is a Roseburg, Oregon native who worked for the Oregonian and then for UPI, where his stark photos from the Vietnam War earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. He also was the chief photographer for President Gerald Ford and worked for Time Magazine and Newsweek.


Mark Rothko – This graduate of Lincoln High School in Portland became a star in the international art world with seemingly simple paintings featuring color fields and blocks. “He removed the figures from his work and created, I think, a space for contemplation, and through that contemplation, a space of spiritual reflection,” said Shelley Jordon, an art professor at Oregon State University. Other abstract expressionists are more active and aggressive, while Rothko’s work is calming, she added. “You sort of enter into it, rather than being confronted by it,” said Jordon. Rothko also used color in a unique and individual way, according to Jordon, and even hot tones, such as red, somehow feel contemplative.

Alternative takes – James Lavadour, Judy Cooke and Lucinda Parker are Oregon painters to know, Jordon said. Lavadour captures the Oregon landscape, including the high desert, and uses paint in innovative ways. Cooke is an abstract painter that has a minimalist sensibility and experiments with materials, using tarps and wood. Parker is another abstract artist, and her distinctive work features a certain physicality and movement, Jordon said. Parker and Cooke were both teachers at what is now the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland and have influenced numerous painters.


"The Oregon Pioneer" – This bronze statue with gold leaf statue caps atop of the Oregon Capitol’s rotunda like some sort of trophy, facing north and looking west. It was created by New Jersey artist Ulric Ellerhusen, shipped to Oregon via the Panama Canal, and then placed atop the Salem structure in 1938. The statue, which embodies the Oregon pioneer spirit, holds an axe in his right hand, and a tarp, to build a shelter, in his left. The pioneer stands roughly 22 feet tall, and though hollow inside, weighs approximately 8.5 tons, according to the Oregon Blue Book.

Alternative take – "Portlandia" makes the list, just not in the category that some thought it might. This statue, by sculptor Raymond Kaskey, stands above the entrance to the Portland Building on Fifth Avenue in downtown Portland, and is based off of the city’s seal, which depicts a woman in classical clothes holding a trident. The hammered copper artwork, installed in 1985, stands 35 feet tall, or more accurately, kneels at that height.


Gordon Gilkey – This Scio native is known for comprehensive printmaking and was a pioneering artist, said Yuji Hiratsuka, an OSU arts professor. “He’s the greatest,” Hiratsuka said. “He did a lot of experimental stuff.” Gilkey also was a well-known collector and curator who became the chairman of the Art Department and dean of the College of Liberal Arts at OSU. He also helped shape the policy that created the “Monument’s Men,” a military unit that recovered millions of precious cultural artifacts pilfered by the Nazis during World War II. At the war’s end, Gilkey himself recovered and repatriated stolen artwork. 

Alternative take – Might we suggest Hiratsuka himself, a man far better known outside Corvallis? He’s an amazing artist who mixes traditional Japanese print techniques with modern elements and humor. And he’s carrying on Gilkey’s legacy of training the next generation at OSU. 


The Air Jordan XI – These kicks were advanced at the time and now are widely recognized by many, including ESPN, as the best basketball shoe ever created. Think of these as a pair of Porsches for your feet. They’re sleek and fashionable but functional. You can hoop in them in an open run or show off that old man YMCA game. This entire Jordan line of sneakers and athletic wear has a massive Linn County connection. Tinker Hatfield, a star athlete at Central Linn High School, designed Air Jordans including the classic XI. “It’s a special shoe because it was at a time when Michael (Jordan) was making his comeback and no one was sure what to expect from him,” Hatfield told the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce in 2002. “We used new technology and different things and it’s probably my favorite simply because of what it meant at the time for his career.”

Alternative take – Pendleton wool blankets are home décor artwork, often inspired directly by Native American design and color preferences. These blankets enliven an entire room, and can be given as treasured gifts. Sometimes they are handed down as heirlooms. They’re worthy of using on the bed for warmth, or draping over a couch or chair simply as a display piece.

Live arts event

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival – This Ashland mainstay was created in 1935 as a modest affair but has grown into a juggernaut that hosts world class entertainment throughout its eight-month season, including much more theater arts than just Shakespeare. Part of the attraction of the OSF is that it remains both classical and experimental, faithful to centuries old source material, but pushing cultural boundaries nevertheless. It always seems interesting. Choices in costume, set design and casting can add whimsy to comedies, or turn histories into dark parables. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Elizabethan Stage outdoors, which is a work of art in its own right, especially if you’re there on a beautiful night.

Alternative take – Vortex, which was held the summer of 1970, remains the only state-sponsored rock festival in the United States. Amusingly enough, the event, set at McIver State Park near Estacada, was held by Oregon to prevent a ruckus or riots from occurring when President Richard Nixon planned to visit Portland. Republican Oregon Gov. Tom McCall agreed to this plot to get those hippies out of town and let them smoke pot and run around in the nude. Nixon cancelled, but pro-Vietnam War events in the Rose City continued as scheduled with minimal fuss. The party went on down in the woods.

Comic book creator

Brian Michael Bendis – In case you missed it, Portland has become a hotbed of comic book talent. Bendis is the writer most responsible for the deluge of witty banter in Marvel films – several scenes in those movies unfold exactly as in the comics – though his style also allows for more introspective moments. Bendis revived the fortunes of many characters, and also created superheroes such as Miles Morales (Spider-Man). Bendis cut his teeth with noirish tales, then blended capes and crime with the award-winning “Powers” before joining the big leagues. Though he’s best known for his Marvel work, Bendis has moved to DC Comics and is crafting excellent stories for that publisher.

Alternative takes – Dark Horse Comics, created in 1986, is a publisher that has brought the world such notable titles such as “The Mask,” “Sin City,” “The Umbrella Academy” and “Hellboy.” It also became known for comics based on licensed properties and for ages, it was the best place to get new “Star Wars” content. 

Culinary arts

James Beard – This Oregonian became a leading authority on cuisine, a cookbook author, mentor to other chefs and a television personality. “Before Beard, food had to be European, and specifically French. If it wasn’t French, it wasn’t taken seriously,” said Matt Bennett, the owner of Sybaris, an acclaimed Albany restaurant, in a previous interview. Beard championed American products and regional food in the United States, and also promoted international cuisine such as Chinese food and fresh produce, Bennett said. The James Beard Foundation maintains the historic James Beard House in Greenwich Village as a performance space for visiting chefs, and cooking there is akin to playing Carnegie Hall or winning the Super Bowl, according to Bennett.

Alternative take – If you're looking for a man who made an impact on people's tastes, here's a good one for you. Jack Horner was a plant pathologist at then-Oregon State College who cross-bred two varieties of hops and developed the Cascade hop. In doing so, he helped create the craft brewing revolution as generations of beer makers have featured Cascade hops in their drinks. “It’s absolutely, hands down, the most critically acclaimed hop of the microbrew movement,” said Joel Rea, of Corvallis Brewing Supply, in a previous interview. “It’s the hop that introduced people to big bold, bright flavors and really moved the palate.”


Jacqueline Schumacher – The top name for dance in Oregon was the White Queen in the first full-length "Swan Lake" performance in America, according to the Oregon Historical Society. After a brief but shining career, “Mrs. S” became a teacher and choreographer in Portland, helping to create the precursor to what became the Oregon Ballet Theatre, the OHS notes. Many of her students became instructors and choreographers themselves, spreading her influence.

Alternative take – Janet Reed, who grew up in the Medford area, was the Black Swan in that legendary production of "Swan Lake," according to the Oregon Historical Society. Reed had the more accomplished career as a ballerina, working with nearly all the top choreographers of her day. She later became a choreographer and teacher and helped create the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.

Other Albany Democrat-Herald and Corvallis Gazette-Times reporters, past and present, contributed to this story.

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.


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