Bue Kee – Owl

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Bue Kee, Owl (1939), ceramic, on view at Portland Art Museum

Bue Kee’s Owl (1939) might just be Portland’s original piece of vaguely kitschy yet cute and charming bird art. Long before Portlandia and the “put a bird on it” craze there was Kee’s ceramic owl. Kee was a Chinese American who lived and worked in Oregon and who was involved in a number of WPA projects, including Timberline Lodge. This piece is currently in the US General Services Administration Fine Arts Collection. We’ll never know whether this is the ur crafty bird of Portland and it probably doesn’t matter. But I did find myself indulging in some unnatural historical musings: What did this owl that would fit right in at any number of local stores look like in 1939? Did it come off as classy or whimsical, odd or mainstream?

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