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New art is coming to the city

by: Submitted photo, Artist Devin Laurence Field’s “Cien Años” is among the new pieces of downtown art in Lake Oswego.

Driving around town, residents have probably seen several massive metal workings on concrete platforms along several downtown sidewalks.

These modern-looking pieces are the new installments from the Lake Oswego Foundation for the Arts. Some, like the ceramics and shapely steel are smooth and symbolic, while others are coarse and abstract.

Artists from around the Northwest have come to Lake Oswego to participate in the fifth year of the 2006-07 Gallery Without Walls, which will have its official unveiling with 21 new statues on Sept. 20.

The pieces will be shrouded prior to the unveiling.

Each piece is for sale and installed for a two-year period, at which time a portion of the pieces are rotated out, while others are bought by the city after residents vote for a 'People's Choice.'

'The goal was to have art everywhere you'd least expect it, and to make sure all citizens were exposed to art,' said Elaine Harper executive director of the foundation. 'As the saying goes, art softens the edges of life.'

Now other cities are copying what Lake Oswego has done to spice up their neighborhoods.

'We are beginning to get calls from other states as to how do we do this,' Vessely said

From internationally renowned artists like Lillian Pitt and Devin Laurence Field to newer artists like Maria Wickwire, each has a unique vision for the show to be shaped into existence and placed onto the streets.

But the process of choosing the pieces when some are still in construction, where art museum docents, architects and art afficionados are selecting from 70-plus artists, can almost be as arduous as the actual sculpting itself.

'We jury on quality,' said Lake Oswego's Pat Vessely, head of the foundation's board of directors and a Portland Art Museum docent for 20 years. 'You have to have a good eye.'

'(When choosing a piece) like with metal, it is a difficult medium to work with, and to get a lot of organic curving shapes shows a lot of experience,' she said, analyzing the 'A Delicate Balance' while sitting in Peets Coffee on First Street.

'We look for tactile pieces, where you can rub your hand on it, it's a pleasing sense,' she said.

Vessley also noted that in addition to the outdoor collection, there is a permanent indoor collection of more than 100 pieces of art located at the Lake Oswego Public Library and Lake Oswego City Hall.

Some art, like one piece showcased by Field, 'Cien Años,' may fulfill more representational senses than an onlooker's romantic sense.

With its metal breastplate, its powder-coated steel wings and violent religious symbolism, the statue, according to Vessely, pulls the viewer in.

'He is so accomplished,' Vessely said. 'To me it is an intersting piece.'

Field said the symbolism of his 12-foot-tall piece derives from the city of Merida, Mexico, a city founded by conquistadors in the 16th century, at a time of religous brutality. Its people eventually relaxed, becoming one of the most longlasting stable cities in the region after it began to flourish with the export of sisal, the century plant whose dried fibers made firm rope, supporting 96 percent of the international rope industry at the time. The plant blossoms approximately every 100 years.

His piece, in turn, is a fusion of these micro-historical gems.

'It has a stalk-like thing that turns into an angel, into a flower like the emergence of the city,' Field said.

Pitt, who finds inspiration from traditional art of the Wishxam people of Oregon and Washington, uses them in her own custom pieces. She said her pieces help to educate citizens about the beauty of American Indian art.

'Dream of the Soul' and 'Ancestral Being Wakes the Soul,' made of steel and bronze, were taken from images in basket weavings.

With legendary beads, woven baskets and thousands of years-old petroglyphs or etchings from stone, Pitt has found a plethora of art to work from and reinspire people about the art.

'I have inspiration available to me for the next 50 years,' she said.

And of her fame and awards received, Pitt showed further humility. 'It's a good job, I feel very privileged to do it.'

Wickwire, who specializes in ceramic art, sculpted and fired a lifesize human body in fetal position, with rings around its body like that of a tree.

'The rings symbolize the life experiences put into the body,' she said.

That's why the piece is called 'anillos,' meaning rings in Spanish.

Wickwire was not worried about the frailty of her piece, even though a ceramic statue of three-part-structure from 'the Family' was damaged six months ago along A Avenue after being placed in the 2005 Gallery Without Walls.

The city, in turn, was obliged to purchase the damaged art.

But this didn't worry Wickwire a bit.

'I guess you have to put it out there in the world and hope people will respect it,' Wickwire said.

Field wasn't shaken by the news either.

'I've had trucks crash into them, bikes locked onto them, so I've built them nearly indestructible,' said Field with a laugh.

When asked what makes the Lake Oswego Foundation for the Arts a proper receptical for his art to the public, Laurence's response was immediate:

'I am always very complimentary. They built one of the best shows in Portland, with docents heading the exhibit, a decent honorarium and significant publicity,' he said. 'They make a show that artists want to come back to.'