In this time of migratory reality, how do we come to know the textures, moods, and values of new places? Having moved and traveled a great deal in my life, I have a personal interest in what creates community and how geography and history contribute to the identity of a place. In my work, I seek to explore place as it has evolved through time, paying special attention to the cultural constructs people have brought with them from elsewhere, those signifiers of culture and place that so often look oddly displaced in a new landscape. In Portland, for instance, Olmsted's parks, classical-revival architecture, and Asian gardens have all aided people in their transition to a new place and mitigated the loss of connection migration incurs. Our lives are improvisational collages often juxtaposing strange, eclectic elements. That to me is what makes an urban landscape fascinating.
As a newcomer to Portland, I found that among my acquaintances identity stories emerged that were quite different from the ones I learned in Washington or California. For this exhibition, I invited friends and colleagues to show me Portland from their individual perspectives; I sought from them unique views of the local in a world that is increasingly commercially globalized. My participants were generous in sharing their impressions. As I photographed the urban details they pointed out to me, the visual material that would eventually be incorporated into each artwork, they explained what intrigued them about their neighborhoods or favorite haunts.
"The path [to and from work to home] is about corners and vistas," said one per-son, keenly attuned to architecture and space. For another, it was "the unexpected, wonderful things found in the old alley ways." Turning from the humble to grand, one colleague observed that "the Arlington Club represents the center of the city's power, where decisions are made." But a Native American from Klamath Falls who lives in Portland ultimately could not revisit the place he had chosen, admitting, "Too, much sadness, I don't want to delve into that." Another person focused on the loss of an important visionary art dealer, William Jamison, and the legacy he left here, stating, "he raised the bar for himself and for us." While a scientist found joy in "a neighborhood restaurant with a wonderful aesthetic, surrounded by an herb garden," an artist expressed her love for "the aesthetic at the confluence of all the industrial transportation systems with people on the eastside Esplanade." "The art museum," asserted a cultured friend, "is central to my life." Several people contrasted Washington's views with those developed here, observing, "There is a Governor with Chinese ancestry and have been two black governors in Washington, but none in Oregon, which has been far less welcoming of cultural and ethnic diversity." Trees and natural beauty are major themes in the livability of the city. One women born and raised in New York like myself commented that she "could pinch herself ever day" that she lives in such a beautiful place and can watch three bucks outside her window. The water bubblers became a symbol of contrasting uses and values, "an egalitarian intersection used by street people and by tourists and local workers. They also symbolize surplus natural resources that are both taken for granted and highly regarded." People say they like living here because of the vibrant art scene, the natural environment, and the innovative nature of the city, yet financial support of cultural institutions is a promise still to be kept.
I have been deeply touched by the willingness of the following participants to share their visions and life stories: Lois Allan, Eloise Damrosch, Kristy Edmunds, Barbara Fergusson, Susan Fillin-Yeh, Michael Gold, Bruce Guenther, Harvey Hood, Terri Hopkins, Harold Johnson, Chet Orloff, Linda Wysong, and Jen Yeh. Thanks also to Janet Wright for help with research in the Portland State University Special Collections Library, to Travis Rigby of MarComm Design and Imaging for his computer expertise, and the Pacific Northwest College of Art's excellent printmaking facilities. Special gratitude also goes to graphic designer Elisabeth Charman for the design of this catalogue, to Susan Fillin-Yeh for her insightful essay, and to Elizabeth Leach for her faith in my work.
—Rita J. Robillard