Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Constance Fowler Show at Hallie Ford Offers Quiet Respite from Heat and Noise this Weekend

Need something quiet this weekend? A respite from heat, firecrackers and mortars, libations and food?

Hallie Ford might be just the ticket.  In addition to the permanent collection, there are three shows, each very different and worth the visit.

Constance Fowler, Waller Hall, 1938-40 (reprinted 1969),
wood engraving, 6 ½ in. x 6 in.,
gift of Constance Fowler, FOW92.003.
Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Constance Fowler's show is interesting, but it is the woodcuts from early in her career that steal the show. Completed for her MFA thesis, the twenty woodcut prints, shortly after published as The Old Days in and Near Salem, Oregon in 1940, show her engagement with the valley around statehood and the Civil War, a very small number of whose inhabitants, quite elderly of course, might still have been around.

The book is lovely, but it looks like it has been in circulation perhaps and might not have been printed on acid-free paper.  It looks, in fact, like it is all too vulnerable to time and age.  It's a pity, because it could be a more important example of book art - at least locally.

The Old Days in and Near Salem, Oregon
(Seattle: Dogwood Press, 1940),
twenty wood engravings of historic structures
 and sites in the Willamette Valley
WPA- and Depression-era art showed a lot of interest in history and in people, producing a regionalism across the country that after the war yielded to abstraction and expressionism.  Fowler moved similarly. Curator Roger Hull notes
the postwar phenomena of Abstract Expressionism and complete non-representation were as challenging for her as they were for many of her contemporaries the country over. She spent the rest of her career experimenting with vocabularies of organic and geometric abstraction.
Your mileage will vary, of course, but I found her non-representation generic - too typical and ultimately not very interesting.  It didn't speak.

But when she engaged with the land and people here, in this place, as she did earlier in her career, even maybe got a little sentimental, as she might have in a couple of the interiors from The Old Days - well, there's a there there.

Downstairs in the permanent collection there are other WPA-era works for more context - and one contemporary painting of Oregon City that's a ringer the group!  From a distance it fit right in, and it wasn't until you got up closer it began to dawn that this wasn't from the 30's, but was from the last decade.  Nicely done.

Elsewhere in the museum is an overwhelming show of Holly Andres' staged photos.  I don't know how to bend mention of them to local history, transportation, or urbanism, but they're mighty powerful.  Check 'em out.

Back to history, after it cools down, remember the folks at Mission Mill put together a nice little map of buildings in Salem that date to the Civil War:

View Civil War Salem in a larger map

It's perfect for a little bike tour.  A couple of the sites even correspond to woodcuts Fowler made - only the the buildings are in situ rather than at Mission Mill.

South Commercial Street and Water Works (circa 1940)
Constance Fowler, Hallie Ford Museum of Art
And while you're out, you can visit the place of her painting at what is now the construction site for the bridge replacement next to the fire station.

It's possible, even, if it's not being too literal about the painting, that you can still see the tree in it.  The maple that is being protected by the City and its contractors at the construction site, is in just about the same relative position to the waterworks foundations as in the painting.

Maybe the same tree?
Hard to say, but a pleasant mystery nonetheless.

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