Category Archives: Animals

Bue Kee – Owl


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?


Saya Moriyasu – Cats


Saya Moriyasu, PDX Window Project, May 2014

A charming gathering of Sayu Moriyasu’s ceramic cats resides in the PDX Window Project storefront display space at 925 NW Flanders Street. In colors ranging from earthy to bright red and vivid turquoise these cats look out – some quizzically, some drowsily, and some with what looks like a mischievous twinkle in their eyes. I was reminded of cats up for adoption, their cuteness enticing passersby. Moriysu’s accompanying statement notes her interests in “Americana, consumerism, humor, the decorative arts, class, history, [and] Buddhism.” These cats are certainly of mixed ancestry and they’re all the more fascinating for it.

Sasuri Sasaki Hemann – Tidepools



Sasuri Sasaki Hemann, Tidepools (2013)


Sasuri Sasaki Hemann, Tidepools (detail) (2013)

In 2012 I had the pleasure of stumbling upon Sasuri Sasaki Hemann’s Urban Aquarium at the Portland International Airport. The large wall display of meticulously crafted, floating jellyfish and other undersea creatures was a very welcome respite and I spent a lovely half hour looking and watching others look. Now the jellyfish are back in a permanent exhibit in the international terminal. Tidepools is smaller and installed in a rectangular glass case on the floor. Hemann’s artist’s statement explains that, “Urban Aquarium explores the concept of being ‘out of context’ and ‘displaced.’” For me it was also an occasion to think about a beautiful and vulnerable undersea world that is at once close and far away. I remember seeing a young boy gaze at the jellyfish and ask his mother, “Is it real?” I wanted to say, “Yes!” – jellyfish are real and so too is the ability of art to prod us to see and think differently.

Traer Scott – Moose


Traer Scott, Moose (2011) Ultrachrome print

Last time I wrote about the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), those amazing and immersive scenes that are also fascinating examples of installation art. Perhaps as interesting as what’s behind the glass is what happens in front of the glass, as visitors, young and old, look in, sometimes scarcely breaking stride. Traer Scott’s photo series, Natural History, taken at the AMNH in 2008, captures these two layers. In Moose the face of a girl and boy appear to float on the body of the moose. There’s a witty reversal as the humans look ghostly and furtive and the wild animals look solid and in sharp focus. Nature and culture might be separate layers, but they’re always intertwined. Scott’s photos, by showing the human spectators, remind us that whenever we look at or represent nature we change it or perhaps simply become part of the representation

Jaguar Diorama – American Museum of Natural History


When I was young I loved the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and I still do. Now, however, the dioramas strike me as fascinating examples of installation art and not simply meticulously recreated natural scenes. On a recent visit to the AMNH the dioramas looked as wonderful, transportive, and sad as ever. As a child I was aware of the death that created these and my son (age six) was too. To me they’re of great historical interest. I found myself imagining what they might have looked like to visitors in the early 20th century. (The Hall of North American Mammals opened in 1942 while the African Hall dates from much earlier in the 20th century.) But these dioramas also struck me as contemporary in their sensibility and their aesthetic, teetering between earnestness and irony.

Wari People – Feathered Hanging


Wari People, Feathered Hanging (7th-8th century, Peru) Feathers on cotton, camelid hair On view in Feathered Walls: Hangings from Ancient Peru, Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 16, 2013–May 12, 2014


One of the more striking sights from my trip to New York City was this feathered hanging from the 7th or 8th century. Made out of parrot feathers by the Wari people, an empire based in the Andes, it is mind bogglingly contemporary with its crisp geometry and saturated color. I was amazed both by how well preserved it was and by its seemingly minimalist aesthetic. Of course, these objects were likely used and viewed quite unlike minimalist art. Accompanying wall text explains that “because the Wari, like other ancient Andean peoples, did not use a writing system, they [the hangings] also played an important role in expressing, recording, and preserving concepts about the human, natural, and supernatural realms.” They are certainly powerful and beautiful, no matter what they meant then or now.

Morgan Walker – Full Moon


Morgan Walker, Full Moon (2014)
Ink and graphite on paper
On view March 6 – 29 at Augen Gallery

Morgan Walker’s charming drawing Full Moon is a sort of dinosaur nocturne. Two dinosaurs amble beneath a full moon. What looks like an Apatosaurus in the background eyes what looks like a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the foreground. This being a dreamy sort of scene, I presuming that no chase will ensue and they’ll continue on their way. But perhaps that’s just wishful thinking, a desire to preserve this childlike scene of the deep past, and to keep dinosaurs alive and well as repositories of our dreams.

Sonya Kelliher-Combs – Unraveled Walrus Family Portrait


Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Unraveled Walrus Family Portrait (2000-20013)
Acrylic polymer, polyurethane, walrus stomach, archival ink, and nylon thread.
On view at Museum of Contemporary Craft (January 31, 2014 – April 19, 2014)


Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Unraveled Walrus Family Portrait (detail) (2000-20013)
Acrylic polymer, polyurethane, walrus stomach, archival ink, and nylon thread.
On view at Museum of Contemporary Craft (January 31, 2014 – April 19, 2014)

There is much worth looking at and thinking about at the Museum of Contemporary Craft’s show “This is Not A Silent Movie,” which features the work of four contemporary Alaskan Native artists. Sonya Kelliher-Combs’ Unraveled Walrus Family Portrait is a grid of roughly square compositions with subtle, muted designs on them that seem to recall organic protrusions or cavities: teeth, stomachs, nipples, fins – it’s hard to tell. Kelliher-Combs is interested in creating “skin”-like surfaces and these are made of walrus stomach as well as acrylic polymer, polyurethane, and nylon thread. The surfaces have wonderful qualities (corrugated and worked by hand) and a fascinating presence somewhere between two dimensions and three. The iconography is difficult to unravel and the artist has declared that she’s interested in secrets. But it seems clear that we’re witnessing something intimate and meaningful (skin that’s bared or turned inside out) even if we can’t decipher it – and it’s a wonderful and expanding use of materials both familiar and unfamiliar.

Julianna Cox – Snack for Sasquatch


Julianna Cox, Snack for Sasquatch
Mixed media
On view at The Arbor Lodge, until March 15th 2014


“Wild and Woolly: A Sasquatch-Themed Art Show” at The Arbor Lodge, a coffee shop, veers sharply and somewhat disappointingly towards the cute, kitschy, and hipstery. Yes, it’s fun to glance around at the array of Sasquatches, most of which seem to be related to Chewbacca, doing things like riding a unicycle, drinking tea, and simply strolling through the forest. But I found myself wanting wilder and woollier Sasquatches. One of my favorite works, refreshing in both its representation and materials is Julliana Cox’s Snack for Sasquatch. Made out of pipe cleaners it depicts Sasquatch tromping through the forest clutching his prey – what looks to be a giant root vegetable (this just in … Sasquatch is a vegetarian). The pipe cleaners strike a humble, post minimalist chord and there’s a subtle sort of humor in making your Sasquatch small enough to fit on a little shelf.


Sue Coe – Feedlot


Sue Coe, Feedlot, 1991
On view at Portland Art Museum (Jan. 11 – May 4, 2014)

Looking at Sue Coe’s Feedlot you get some sense of the scale and sweep of conventional meat production and its energy intensiveness. In the foreground the cattle are individuated and you can see eyes and faces, while towards the background the animals become abstracted elements in a swirling, sweeping pattern. Some of the curves and formations resemble pistons, wheels, and other machine elements. Perhaps most intriguing is the lone human figure, standing with his back to the spectator in the foreground of the print. This print is not as shocking or brutal as it easily could be, perhaps to get us to look a bit longer and contemplate this sweeping tableau and where we fit in it.

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