Sculpture and Statues -- A History of Portland, Oregon Through its Art
References and Appreciation
Abbot, Carl How Cities Won the West University of Mexico Press, Albuquerque 2008
Professor Chet Orloff, History of American Cities - Portland State University February 22, 2011.
Travis A. Smith
Courtney Buckner Palmer, 2011.
As Portland forges ahead into the new millennium, its art moves right along with it. Portland's transit mall -- now home to TriMet's bus services, street car and MAX light rail -- continues to add art installations throughout the multi-block stretch of downtown.
Forms of art have moved from purely aesthetic to interactive -- as seen in the Pod sculpture, left -- and have started appearing throughout the city. Statues of happy beavers and ducks play in water ponds along Yamhill, the Pod swings overhead at 10th and Burnside, and children are compelled to interact with the woman and her dog in the transit mall.
The art throughout Portland tells its story and adds to the livability of this unique downtown area.
Portland -- previously known as Stumptown -- was long-known as a timber community. The Kenton community's enormous, 31-foot tall Paul Bunyan sculpture was erected in 1959 for two purposes: to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the State of Oregon; and to give acknowledgement to the timber industry's major influence on the development of the city. Now part of the National Register for Historical Places, this home-grown statue -- built by Victor and Victor Nelson, a father and son duo -- overlooks the North Portland Kenton business district.
Portland's reputation as one of the final destinations at the end of the Oregon Trail has long been a part of its cultural history. The Oregon Trail, while officially ending in Oregon City, brought settlers out west to follow fortunes of logging, farming, and a better life in the frontier lands of the nation. Many families moved west to Portland with hopes of a new life, starting over with the chance to own land, to provide a prosperous future for the generations to come. While the wagon train process was brutal and long -- one in 10 settlers died along the passage, cholera epidemics and accidental gunfire deaths all plagued the pioneers -- an estimated half million people came across from the midwest for a chance to find a better life out west.
Since its rough beginnings, Portland has long enjoyed an athletic presence throughout the city. As early as 1906, Portland was home to minor league baseball team the Portland Giants -- later re-named the Beavers. Most of these early teams -- the Giants as well as the Beavers -- played at Vaughn field in northwest Portland. As popularity grew and the Beavers became a farm team for the major leagues, the move to Civic Stadium was made in 1978. While the name of the team changed again -- to the Rockies -- Civic Stadium remained the home for the ballclub. In 2000, Civic Stadium was renovated and renamed -- PGE Park, after Portland General Electric. Minor league baseball remained a Portland fixture until 2010.
Portland's soccer club -- the Timbers -- began in 1975. While it enjoyed early spectator success in the North American Soccer League, this early incarnation folded in the 1980's. In 2001, however, soccer made a major comeback in the Rose City: joining the USL, the Timbers came back and gained a major following in the newly-named PGE Park. Beginning with the 2011 season, PGE Park (undergoing another name change to Jeld-Wen Field) is now dedicated to the newest members of the MLS -- the Portland Timbers.
Chinese immigration has been a facet of Portland's population landscape since the early days of the frontier. From the dangerous early days of shanghai and opium dens to the anti-Chinese riots in 1886, and into the formal establishment of Chinatown in Portland's northwest quadrant, there is a lengthy history of Chinese American influence. At the gate to Chinatown -- now known as the Pearl District, after significant gentrification -- is the large archway and accompanying lions, standing guard. Erected in 1986, this gateway serves as the only distinct landmark noting an ethnic enclave within the city limits.
Named for Stephen Skidmore, a councilman and druggist who came to Oregon via the famed Oregon Trail, the Skidmore Fountain remains as a fixture in the heart of what was once the bustling front avenue of this port town. Since then, light rail and mass transit has filled in around it, office buildings overlook the square in which it sits, and on the weekends Saturday Market pops up around it, but the Skidmore Fountain remains a functional reminder of the history of the city.
Driving in Portland can be a challenge for some, but it becomes a little more interesting when there is a full-sized stag in the middle of a major thoroughfare. Erected in 1900, the stag sculpture was added to a public horse trough. While the trough is now only used by Portland's mounted police, the stag stands as a representation of Portland's wilder times, when plenty of four-legged animals used the streets alongside the streetcars, pedestrians and omnibuses.
In 1980, the One Percent for Art ordinance funded $200,000 for the development and creation of a symbol of Portland. In 1985, Portlandia was delivered and installed over the entrance to the Portland Building. Portlandia is a massive, 25-foot copper creation, representing the fundamental traits which are dear to Portland: agriculture, commerce and natural resources. Since her installation, Portlandia has served as welcomer to the city for everyone who visits.
During the 1970's the majority of American cities were getting in line for federal dollars for transit -- specifically, highway construction. Cities were upgrading old highways, adding freeway loops to allow for faster auto transportation around the perimeter, and extending freeway systems into the up and coming suburbs. For most of America, the focus was on auto transit only. Portland followed suit, constructing the I-405 loop and Fremont Bridge, encircling the city; Sunset Highway, extending into Beaverton and beyond; I-84, offering a direct route to Gresham and The Gorge; and continual maintenance of I-5, the north/south conduit splitting Portland in two and connecting it with Vancouver to the north and Salem to the south. During this time, Portland installed the transit mall, where the public bus system had direct access to the downtown area from the suburbs.
After completion of the initial freeway projects, the City of Portland decided to go a different direction: light rail. While the rest of the country was focusing on bigger, better, longer freeways, Portland lobbied the federal government for funding to implement a light rail system, connecting the center of the city with the suburbs and providing a fast, gridlock-free, inexpensive way to travel into the city. Washington DC was stymied: Why on earth was this city looking to reinstate a dead mode of transportation? But, Portland pushed forward.
The resulting transit mall has since incorporated street car, light rail and bus traffic in the same lanes. Installed during the initial phases of construction, the statues above are all part of the scene on the transit mall.
This piece of work, created in 1973, was added to the newly-formed transit mall in 1977. As Portland was embracing a thriving downtown complete with very regular transit, art was added alongside the bus shelters. Later, this sculpture was featured in an ad campaign to further incite excitement for art in Portlanders: One-time Mayor Bud Clark, dressed in a trench coat, apparently "flashing" this statue with a caption reading "Expose Yourself to Art".
With the introduction of mass transit to the Portland area, additional neighborhoods were going up on the east side of the Willamette River. One such neighborhood, Laurelhurst, began in 1909 as an upscale housing development targeting the wealthier businessmen of Portland. This statue, Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans, was placed in Coe Circle -- named for Henry Waldo Coe, a doctor and friend to Theodore Roosevelt -- by Coe himself in 1924. In May 1925, the sculpture was dedicated to the Doughboys of World War I, and stands today as a tribute to those who fought and died for the United States.
In 1929, Simon Benson -- a local philanthropist and teetotaler -- donated $10,000 to have the initial fleet of 20 bubblers installed throughout the downtown area, in an effort to turn the public from beer to water. To date, there are 52 four-bowl fountains and 74 single-bowl versions.
These fountains, coined Benson Bubblers after their initial patron, have served the city well. The fountains are now programmed to run throughout the day and well into the evening, but have been outfitted with timers and flow restriction valves to keep waste to a minimum.
- The First Art Installation - 1888.
- Go West
- 1900 -- A Deer in the Watering Trough
- Eastside Expansion
- Functional Beauty
- Portland's Chinatown
- Mass Transit v. Freeway Expansion -- Portland's Unique Proposal
- Art and the Mayor
- Take Me Out to the Ballgame
- Portland Gets a Mascot - Portlandia
- 2000 and Beyond -- Portland in the Future
- References and Appreciation