- Paul Duchene
- Portland Tribune - Features
An assortment of businesses, including Michael Allen Harrison's recording studio, moves into a block in the Pearl
When the remodeling dust settles at 903 N.W. Davis St. later this summer, the 'Heart of the Pearl' block will have morphed into one-stop shopping for the five senses.
The 39-year former home of W.C. Winks Hardware will house the Lawrence Gallery, including pianist Michael Allen Harrison's new recording studio; Gail Shaffer Fine Arts; Alice Boyd's Yoga in the Pearl; a restaurant (still being selected); an open-air sculpture garden; and an indoor sunken garden.
Walter Moberg's custom fireplace store Ñ Firespaces Ñ will anchor the northeast corner of the block, and there are plans for a rooftop garden above it to offer 'high-end barbecues' cooked on Moberg's creations.
Accountant Maury Williams occupies the historic, single-story Otis Elevator Co. Building on the northwest corner. The southwest corner belongs to restaurateur John Fuller and houses a pottery store.
Between them, the businesses take care of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. It's a cosmopolitan confection, typical of the changes that have occurred in the one-time industrial district.
'How are we the Heart of the Pearl?' asks sculptor Gary Lawrence with a twinkle. 'We thought of it and registered the name.'
Lawrence is a veteran gallery owner, having run his Sheridan location on Oregon Highway 18 for 25 years. He handles work from 150 Northwest artists and is excited at the prospect of First Thursday crowds in the new 6,000-foot space that opened May 2.
'It's an outstanding space,' he says. 'We can move all these interior walls, and people can enjoy art, wine and Michael's music.'
Lawrence is delighted that Harrison is joining him in the unusual joint venture, which puts Harrison's new recording studio inside the art gallery.
'He's better known than Lawrence Gallery in the city,' Lawrence says. 'We'll do a series of concerts and see if we can have Michael do a CD inspired by artists he gets to pick.'
For the 43-year-old Harrison, the studio represents an opportunity to move further into the city's mainstream.
Growing up in Parkrose, he took piano lessons from age 7 and played Rolling Stones tunes with local rock bands in high school while practicing Chopin and Rachmaninov at home.
While studying at Portland State University, Harrison acted as company pianist for both Ballet Oregon and Pacific Ballet Theater and played clubs at night.
After putting out a couple of albums in the '80s, he realized he'd make more money if he produced his own. So for almost all of the 1990s, he recorded in his own studio at home while raising his daughter, Tahlia, who's now 21. 'But I was very isolated,' he says. 'I felt like a hermit.'
Two years ago, Harrison moved into a gallery-studio at 1307 S.W. First Ave. that he shared with artist Charlie White until their success severely tested the studio's 600-square-foot capacity.
Then the Lawrence Gallery opportunity arose in March.
'Now I'll have a studio inside the gallery and about the same size as this one,' he says, indicating piles of recording equipment stacked beneath rows of paintings. 'I'll be in the gallery but separate behind big double doors. When we want to do an event, I can wheel out my 9-foot Steinway.'
Harrison plans an opening party at his studio with violinist Aaron Meyer and singer Julianne Johnson. It will coincide with an exhibition by artist Hans Schiebold.
His move kicks off what promises to be a busy summer. For one thing, Harrison has finished his concerto.
'I spent two years on it, and I'm really excited,' he says. 'I'll perform it with the Portland Festival Orchestra on August 4 in the Washington Park Rose Garden Amphitheater. I've been playing parts of it in shows. It's a great way to explore ideas on the fly Ñ the audience doesn't know Ñ and discovering new ways of playing it.'
Harrison's also finished his musical, 'Prometheus.'
'I'm doing a CD of the 17 songs and once it's done, we'll do a concert performance of the music and invite the public and theater folks to come listen,' he says.
'I really finished it a couple of years ago, but I haven't been able to get to the next step. Once we get the ball rolling and do a presentation, maybe somebody will say 'Wow' and I'll get to move to London to put the show together.'
In the meantime, Harrison is thrilled that his daughter plans to become an engineer in his new studio.
'When she gets out of PSU next spring, and after she takes a nine-month course at a recording conservatory in Arizona, she'll head up MAH records (Harrison's record label). I guess she wants to be a studio hermit,' he says with a laugh.
When his daughter joins him, Harrison figures the studio will be able to handle other Northwest artists and also free him up for other plans.
'I haven't pushed myself musically,' he says. 'I didn't travel nationally because I was raising my daughter as a single parent and the lifestyle didn't fit. Now I want to perform more and travel more.'
Until he hits the road, Harrison will be heard at upcoming Lawrence Gallery events as well as fairly regular appearances at the Old Church, which he loves for the acoustics.
'We'll probably record Michael's performances and once a year release a live album Ñ and you'll only be able to get it here,' says Lawrence with satisfaction.