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Archive for May, 2012

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In a small warehouse off of Highway 99, Kris Uhlhorn sits with his newspaper. The old copy of the Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard is thickly folded, charred, and drenched in water. His ungloved hands pick up the ruined periodical and skillfully make their way toward a fiery piece of colored liquid.

Uhlhorn is a glass blower. He uses recycled chards of glass and tiny pellets of color from Germany to create works of art. After twelve years of shaping and molding this unpredictable medium, he knows exactly how to handle the burning piece of glass in front of him. It’s only three in the afternoon and he’s already made hundreds of pieces today.

“I knew I wanted to be involved in the glass blowing process three years out of high school in ’94, when I saw the potential for making money at it, from witnessing the success of my friends with small glass blowing businesses here in Eugene,” Uhlhorn says. He began to hone his craft by watching and working with a group of talented glass artists who trained in the Seattle mold of Chihuley glass blowers.

Now, years later, he is the owner of Eugene Glass Blowing company. The small warehouse on highway 99 is where he spends most of his week, starting at 7 a.m. Along with his two assistants, Tyler and Kyle, Uhlhorn shapes fiery pieces of glass all day, wearing only his regular clothing as protective gear.  The first thing Tyler does is pour an enormous bucket of broken glass, which look more like a sac of icicles, into a small kiln inside the warehouse space. The kiln is set at a cool two thousand degrees. 

Uhlhorn pushes a long rod, called a cane, in and out of the kiln with the precision of a surgeon. A baseball-sized ball of fire is attached to the end of the cane. It looks orange but just a few seconds earlier, Uhlhorn dipped it in a rainbow of colored pellets ranging from sky blue to sea green. Now, he swiftly moves the piece out of the kiln and places it on top of the edge of his workspace a few feet away. He rolls it along a metal edge as it begins to expand into a bigger version of itself.  Kyle blows air into the other end of the cane, forcing the ball of fire to grow even faster.  As the glass begins to shift in shape, the colors become more vibrant and apparent. It changes from a burnt orange to a deep bluish-green. Tyler takes a blowtorch and showers it with a flame. Fire again engulfs it.

Uhlhorn proceeds like a doctor in the operating room, yelling out instructions for Kyle and Tyler every few seconds. “Stop.” “Flatten.” “More air.” He is calm and in the zone. His voice is steady. Each movement is made with precision so the glass remains smooth and unblemished. It’s a team effort, but Uhlhorn is the leader. 

Swiftly, he knocks off the top of the glass with another cane, and it breaks apart like an iceberg. After a quick stop at the kiln, he lifts a metal tong-like tool from the bench next to him and twists the still molten area at the bottom of the piece.  It’s now flat with swirly edges. Tyler is preparing to place a long fiery ribbon of glass to the bottom. Once it’s secure, Uhlhorn pulls the ribbon apart with the tongs, pressing firmly.  This creates the width of the piece. By the time that’s done he’s already switched to a flat tool that resembles a pancake flipper. He rests it against the top and rotates the piece back and forth. The entire piece returns to the kiln. This time it’s four times as big as it was in the beginning, but Uhlhorn’s movements are still just as precise. 

As soon as it comes out and meets its first burst of cooler air, he makes sure to shape the glass. He holds the cane downward, spinning it frantically up and down. Suddenly, the flat ribbon begins to curve, and the entire piece starts to look like the petal of a flower. He sits down with it at his workspace and inspects his latest creation. With an approving nod from Uhlhorn, Tyler secures the top while Uhlhorn knocks the bottom with another metal cane. It breaks free from its bindings and is now a work of art.  It has become a glossy, sleek, multicolored vase. 

Uhlhorn’s years of experience shines in every aspect of his art.  Each sellable piece is perfectly symmetrical and has an attractive combination of color and opacity. Tyler, while making a glass flower on his downtime, says, “I’ve been doing this since I was sixteen. I’ve never seen anyone work with glass the way Kris does.” 

Uhlhorn is also dedicated to making face-to-face deliveries with his customers. “I do 95% of my deliveries in person. I load up my van with my last two weeks of product and hit the road traveling to the stores that I’ve made appointments with. I’m in Portland every two weeks, in Seattle every month, and Montana through tri cities and Spokane every two months. Only rarely do I ship UPS,” Uhlhorn says. 

It’s that kind of commitment that makes Kris Uhlhorn such a pleasure to work with because he cares just as much about his clientele as his work of art. He also feels pride for each of his pieces. He has no interest in changing his technique (drenched newspaper and all) or upgrading to a newer form of technology.  “I get to work with the three elements. Earth, wind, and fire,” Uhlhorn says. “The process of glass blowing hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. I love that about it.”

 

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Click-clack, click-clack.

The sound can be heard through the halls at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art with its decorative molding and iron grillwork. It’s the sound 6-year-old Debbie’s shoes make as she walks across the floor.

It makes her feel like a princess walking through a castle.

 

Debbie Williamson-Smith, now 40, works as the communications manager at the Jordan Schnitzer and still loves to hear the sound of her heels against the floor.

Although the art didn’t matter much when she was 6, Williamson-Smith does remember what her art teacher taught her when looking at art. “You have to allow yourself to feel,” she says, adding that when she first looks at art she asks herself “Does it make me feel mad, sad or glad?” To Williamson-Smith the medium doesn’t matter as much as the feeling she gets from looking at art. Responding to art as a child is something that she would challenge anybody to do.

Williamson-Smith hopes to pass her love for art on to her 3-year-old niece. She likes to take her niece to art exhibits and show her the pieces that she is drawn to and hopes to see a reaction from her niece. Although her niece’s attention span doesn’t allow for long days at the museum, it’s those small moments when the art makes her giggle or cringe that Williamson-Smith looks for. “I love experiencing art through her eyes,” she says.

For Williamson-Smith the art also has a therapeutic effect. “I have to be bouncing around almost all of the time,” she says. “When I feel the art, it has a calming effect.”

A Eugene resident from birth, she remembers the field trips to the museums and the way her parents encouraged her to embrace art. “They’re sports people, but I responded to art as a child, and they took me to museums,” she says.

The museum gets school visitors almost daily. September and May, around 5000 children from all over Oregon visit the museum.

Her favorite exhibit was Carl Morris: History of Religion which was on display in 2007. The art debuted at the 1959 Oregon Centennial Exposition and had not been collectively shown since their debut. Morris was asked to create a piece representing religion and he chose to do so through large mural representing things that religions have in common; such as light, struggle, and sacrifice. “The art took up a large part of the museum, but it was just beautiful,” Williamson-Smith says. “It told a story with no religious bias,” she says as goose bumps appear on her arms while talking about the exhibition. She says a tingle went down her spine just thinking about the exhibition. As she begins to talk about the possibility of the exhibition returning a smile appears on her face.

 

As a lifelong Eugenean, Williamson-Smith had always dreamed of becoming the Slug Queen, an unofficial ambassador of the city and the reigning “monarch” of festivities at the Eugene Celebration. In August of 2011, that dream came true when Holly GoSlugly, her alter-ego, became the new queen.

In her sparkly green dress, Queen GoSlugly attends arts shows throughout the city, spreading arts awareness and advocating for arts education. Holly GoSlugly is a character Williamson-Smith based on Audrey Hepburn’s character Holly Golightly from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Holly GoSlugly is louder and more outspoken than Debbie Williamson-Smith, but their goal is the same: “Trying to raise $10,000 to target arts programs.” The money will go to several different places. The two most important ones are Fill Up The Bus, A stipend the Jordan Schnitzer Museum provides for field trip transportation; and Outreach Kits, suitcases from the Museum filled with arts lessons so that teachers without a background in arts will be able to teach children about the arts.

Although she’s sad that her ‘rain’ –instead of ‘reign’ because of rainy Eugene- as queen is soon coming to an end, she is happy with the changes that Holly GoSlugly brought to her day-to-day personality of Debbie Williamson-Smith. “I’ve become more of the person that I wanted to be.”

 

Even now, 36 years later, the click-clacking sound of heels serve as a reminder of the royal life that the museum has brought Williamson-Smith.

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Fong with “Provenance” in miniature

Lawrence Fong turns a key on the jingling ring and steps into the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Gallery. It’s a Wednesday afternoon at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, and grey light from the windows casts an even glow on empty white walls.

Perched on a nearby table is another room, this one small enough to fit in a dollhouse. It has the same rectangular shape as the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Gallery, but its walls are dotted with dozens of tiny works of art. Fong squats next to the model.

“This is ‘Provenance,’” he says, peering down as though he’s looking into his own head. The exhibition is a tribute to Arlene Schnitzer, who is Jordan Schnitzer’s mother and a generous museum donor. It’s also Fong’s last show here as curator of American and regional art.

“I’ll be nervous when Arlene walks in this gallery,” says Fong. All of the works are from Schnitzer’s collection, and some were removed from her living room walls for the show. Fong has been working hard to preserve her aesthetic. He even ordered flowers to match the ones Schnitzer keeps in her home.

Fong rises and surveys the mock-up from another angle. If there’s anything he’s learned in his 24 years here, it’s how to look at things from new perspectives and find stories in unexpected places.

The week before, Fong sits down for a latte at the museum’s café to tell his own story, but is hardly in a retrospective mood. He’d rather talk about what he’s doing after he leaves in June, a volunteer gig as treasurer of the Morris Graves Foundation. He’s publishing a book of Graves’ letters this fall, and his head is full of facts about the prominent Northwest artist.

“Throughout his life, he always designed and built environments where he felt he could create,” says Fong. Graves moved four times, including to an 18th century Dublin manor, and ended up in Eureka, California on 200 acres of redwood forest. His last residence is now the headquarters of the Morris Graves Foundation.

Fong pushes up his Ray-Bans and starts on other subjects, deftly covering Mark Tobey, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Cage, with a detour at Duchamp’s “Fountain.” Fong’s monologue would seem like an art history lecture if his tone weren’t so conversational, and if he hadn’t seen or handled most of the art he was discussing. In this roundabout way, the curator tells his own story.

Fong wears jeans and Converse All-Stars to work most days. He speaks with a sort of subdued enthusiasm, his voice low but his words spilling out and tumbling together. It’s easy to guess that he’s from casual California. As a kid he adventured to museums around the Bay Area, but not to see art.

“I loved going to natural history museums and science museums,” Fong says. “There was always something about what they preserved or imparted that intrigued me.”

He studied history and German as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, and planned to live in Germany for graduate school. Instead he drew inspiration from those childhood museum visits and went to the University of Arizona to study cultural history and anthropology.

At UA, Fong read through boxes of documents excavated from Tucson barrios and learned about Navajo blanket weaving. He also took classes in 20th century art and photography, his first exposure to fine art.

Just as he was completing his master’s degree in 1981, Fong’s new knowledge of art landed him a job as an archivist at UA’s Center for Creative Photography. He was set to the task of identifying ten American photographers who would form the base of the museum’s collection. Soon he was handling the work of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Richard Avedon.

“I got tired of looking at photographs,” Fong said. “A lot of the photographers that we were working with were involved with painters in New York.” Photographers like Charles Sheeler and Alfred Stieglitz formed pathways to almost every movement in American modernism, and Fong journeyed down all of them. After a year as a registrar at the Portland Art Museum, Fong wanted to work with students again and jumped to the JSMA in 1988.

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Michele Russo’s “Girl with Daisies,” big and small

It’s Friday, and the walls of the Arlene Schnitzer Gallery are still empty. As Fong strides into the room, painted figures seem to stare up at him impatiently. They lean against the walls, resting the bottoms of their frames on foam blocks.

Though they’re by 27 different artists and span multiple mediums, the works in “Provenance” seem to share a parent. It has something to do with the colors: bright reds and dull pinks crop up often, like expressions of a common genetic code. The pieces are also all by artists who live or lived in the Northwest.

“In terms of Pacific Northwest art, Larry knows everyone and why they’re important,” says JSMA Executive Director Jill Hartz. “The whole idea behind ‘Provenance’ is that just because someone’s regional, it doesn’t make them lesser.”

This has been a common theme throughout Fong’s career. He often positions work by artists from the Northwest next to nationally famous pieces from the same movement. The similarities can be striking, chipping away at notions of the East Coast as the art world’s exclusive center.

“He really thinks things through very deeply, but he’s also intuitive,” says Hartz. “When he suggests something, it comes out of this substantial way he sees the world and the place of art in it.”

Perhaps Fong’s most stunning act of creation at the museum was the museum building itself. When he first arrived at the JSMA, it had only a handful of employees and limited exhibition space.

“It was a very small, very tight crew,” says JSMA Associate Director of Administration and Exhibitions Kurt Neugebauer, who came to the museum in 1995 when it had just 5 employees. “We all wore all of the hats and tried to cobble it together for shows.”

Neugebauer and Fong worked closely on the 2004 renovation, a project that nearly doubled the museum in size. They had to move its 13,000-object collection to a secret location in West Eugene and guard the works during the project.

“Those were some tense times. It took us a year to pack everything up,” says Neugebauer. “It was really bare bones, but Larry and I worked really well together.”

Since then, the museum staff has grown significantly, as have the exhibitions. Hartz started at the JSMA four years ago, and was here for one of Fong’s most elaborate undertakings. The show was called “One Step Big Shot,” and tied Northwest artist and director Gus Van Sant to Andy Warhol through their work with Polaroids. Fong saw parallels in how Van Sant and Warhol used instant photographs as creative seeds.

“It was a really brilliant comparison for so many reasons,” says Hartz, noting Van Sant and Warhol’s connections to gay culture and Van Sant’s identification as Warhol’s reincarnation. “I don’t think he knew that was going to happen when he came up with the idea.” Hartz says Fong tackles all of his exhibitions in a similar way, drawing lines and connecting them in surprising ways.

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Fong gets close to Robert Colescott’s “I Dreamed I Was Really Good Looking”

After 19 years and countless exhibitions, Neugebauer is still impressed by Fong’s process. “He can bring in something not expected by people who have not dealt with that subject before,” he says. “He’s good at finding interesting corners on a show and bringing them together.”

Fong says his process is pretty simple. “I’m always interested in doing things that will challenge me to learn more. Choose one thing, something that you’re interested in and that you have the resources to understand,” he says. “That’s my philosophy.”

As for how it feels to leave, Fong hasn’t looked back too hard. “I haven’t thought about how it all makes me feel,” he says. “I can only say that as the museum continues to grow and as people continue to use these spaces, it’s going to change again. So that’s exciting.”

It’s been a week, and “Provenance” is finally up. The show clutters the entire gallery, with sculptures and moveable pylons filling the floor space. It’s not hard to imagine Arlene Schnitzer’s living room in the white space between the works on the walls. The only thing missing is the foliage, and that’s soon to arrive.

Now that the art is resting quietly in place, Fong is nowhere to be seen. His work is done, and he’s left it for visitors to explore.

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A great preparator should be a great artist as well.

Swing loves to work on her artworks in her favorite art studio.

Monday morning.

The building is closed.

A dead silence reigns in the deserted rooms.

Now, the only things that are occupying the space are the arts. Paintings hang quietly on the walls.

“BEEEEEEEEEEEP!”

Suddenly, a loud, annoying sound echoes through the air. At the same time, a wall in a back room opens vertically with a loud clunk sound. It is not a wall; it is an elevator door. Inside the elevator, a huge A-frame painting cart sits in the middle with several artworks on it. On the right stands a 50-years-old white woman with curly auburn hair. Her intent looks tell us how much she cares about arts and how much she loves arts. She stands there as if she is a guard of the arts.

Charly Swing is a chief preparator at Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon. Her job, she says, is to handle the arts properly and to let the visitors have an excellent experience.

According to Swing, the basic part of Swing’s job as a preparator is to be invisible. She says that preparators are responsible before and after the exhibition. It’s curators’ job to be in front of visitors and explain about the arts; preparators are hidden backstage.

“If we did something poorly, people will notice our work. If we do our job well, they notice the art.” That is Swing’s policy as a preparator.

“It’s all done well enough that when the visitors come, what they are seeing is the art,” Swing says.

Swing compares her job as a preparator to a mount making. Mounts are the metal parts that support the arts on the displays. She says that the mounts have to do their job without distracting people from the art.

“If the mount is made well, people don’t see the mount, they see the art,” Swing says.

Mount equals preparatory. That is the foundation of her philosophy.

Swing is deeply trusted by her coworkers at the museum. Her assistant preparator, Rachael, thinks it is a great opportunity to work with Swing.

After graduated from Illinois State University with Bachelor of Arts degree on Sculpture and Drawing, Swing has experienced various kinds of jobs before she came to Eugene, Ore. She did a construction job in Houston, Texas, internal design studio work at Santa Fe, N.M., and built out interiors for the ships in Long Beach, Calif. She also earned a teaching degree on Waldorf education in Pasadena and was a Waldorf teacher for eight years. All her creative jobs, including preparator, have been very enjoyable for Swing, she says.

Swing built her art studio in the corner of her home garage and is constantly creating artworks, especially sculptures.

She learned a lot about sculpturing in her college. However, she says that what she was taught in school was mostly conceptual, abstract or contemporary types of works, which she was not that interested in. Swing was more attracted to a human body.

Her first figure sculpture was an 11 height bronze piece called Strength. Swing created an imaginative female figure of a cancer survivor. Despite the signs of hardships on the body that she experienced through cancer, the sculpture’s strong posture and impressive eyes express its braveness and hope in future. Above all, she is beautiful.

A naked female with a shaven head and a single breast kneels on the ground and looking up.

Swing thinks that the idea has come from her cousin and a nephew, who also suffered from cancer.

“Somehow, I thought like she was going to speak for them,” Swing says.

Strength won the Best of Show at 2008 Mayor’s Art Show in Eugene.

Most of the figures that she sculpts do not have a model. First, she cannot afford one. Second, what she really expresses in the figure form is the spiritual essence of a person, not about a particular person. It is when she makes an eye contact with a figure that she knows that a person is there.

 

Throughout her art related career, Swing has experienced a struggle of being a woman.

When she first started working at the construction place, Swing had a hard time finding things to do. Her boss and her coworkers did not give her jobs because they did not believe that females could actually build things. The only thing she was allowed to do was to hold a ladder for her boss and hand him a hammer. So one day, when the boss was gone to do something for a while, she jumped on the ladder and did the job. It was when the boss came back and saw her work that he finally trusted her ability.

When she first worked as a preparator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, she was the only female preparator. Again, Swing was not treated the same way as the male preparators.

“I think, at that time, maybe I got hired because I had all the credentials and because I was a woman,” Swing says.

She thinks that her hiring was a part of them proving that the museum is actually “diverse.”

Fortunately, the time has changed. Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art has a lot of female workers.

Currently, she is working on a public art piece on the southeast corner of 13th and Alder, which is done by a partnership between the City of Eugene’s Public Art Program, UO Duckstore and Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. With a local bronze artist, Steve Reinmuth, Swing is now in a process of brainstorming the idea.

Swing wants to make her living as an artist someday. She always considers herself as an artist first.

“I just love human form, especially the female,” Swing says. “There’s so much about man’s perspectives of women, so I’m interested in the women’s perspective of women, telling our own stories instead of somebody else telling our stories.”

Charly Swing, a female artist expressing the women, is already there.

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Laroux holds up some completed pieces, among some in-progress, in the sewing studio half of her Redoux Parlor.

After the trek up five flights of stairs into the brand new venue for this year’s fashion shows, Laura Lee Laroux is… nowhere to be found. After a search of the bodies milling around the half-finished floor, still covered in construction dust, she finally appears. She’s perched on a folding chair – amid a scattering of them from the previous night’s crowd – watching the makeup artists hone their craft on the volunteer models. If it weren’t for her tight, bright blonde curls, she would be unrecognizable in a brown hoodie and jeans. Her current garb is a sharp contrast to the handmade, whimsical costume she donned two nights ago at Eugene Fashion Week’s opening show.

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David Mort and “Kate Monster,” a puppet he built, in his home studio.

One puppet has a blue felt face, glasses, blond fur hair, and an orange mini egg nose. Imagine Grover from Sesame street with yellow fur, a red bob hairdo, and a pink dress. Or Cookie Monster with carrot colored fur, royal blue eyebrows, and two horns poking out from a tuft of blue hair. Or a cardboard box with googly eyes.

Dave Mort designs puppets for children’s theater shows. His hand puppets are roughly the size of a small child, three to four feet tall. “David has a natural comedic instinct,” says John Schmor, head of the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Oregon. Mort is the artistic director of Hand to Mouth Puppet Works, a puppet production company he founded.

Mort discovered theater as a freshman in high school. He acted in school plays, studied theatre at Wright State University in Ohio, and graduated with a BFA degree. After graduating, Mort worked as an actor in Chicago for five years. “I quit being an actor when my wife got pregnant,” Mort says. He taught acting to junior high school students for a year, then moved to Eugene and started working at the Lord Leebrick as Development Director in 2008.

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by Katie Lou Armstrong

In a dance studio space seven young dancers sprawl out on the floor, laughing and joking. They perform a warm-up routine with long stretches as their instructor, Lou Moulder, calls out directions. Even though there are only eight people in the room, they take up the whole space. Moulder joins the students on the floor at the front of the room by the mirror.

“I feel it,” one of the girls says dramatically as she leans into a stretch.

“Yeah? You should,” Moulder responds. The whole class giggles.

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