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Sculptures add art to light-rail line

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by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Pasha and Cate Stinsons' piece's working title 'Flow' symbolically represents once of the earliest forms of renewable energy that's being turned into a new symbol of renewable transportation.Thousands of riders of the new light-rail line through Milwaukie will see Pasha and Cate Stinson’s stylized waterwheel in honor of Oak Grove’s history.

The Stinsons, whose studio is next to Johnson Creek just north of Milwaukie, are two of the seven artists TriMet hired to create six sculptures out of wood from trees removed from the Trolley Trail area to make way for light-rail construction.

On a budget of $60,000, the six sculptures will re-sprout in 2014 along the new portion of the trail built by TriMet as part of the $1.49 billion project.

Although the transit agency will also replant many more trees than were cut, the old-growth logging generated hoots from protesters (“Tree cutting begins for light rail,” Sept. 26). No protesters gathered to see artists pick up their logs this month in the light-rail construction staging area, however.

Artists checked the trees on site before they were cut to determine which would be most appropriate for their concepts. Michael Kiser, public art coordinator for TriMet, said no one celebrated that the trees had to come down, but at least the material would be able to be used for art along the line. Now that the artists have claimed their wood, they’re beginning to fabricate their sculptures.

Cate Stinson said she recognized the importance of the trees to the community, so she wants to create something lasting to honor their memory. When she went on a field trip along the Trolley Trail with TriMet Public Art Manager Mary Priester, the Sequoia redwoods caught her eye to create a waterwheel as a throwback to Oregon’s first early settlers. Waterwheels were part of the settlers’ efforts to direct the course of water and energy, Cate says, but in a larger sense they directed the course of development and the future.

by: PHOTO BY RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Michael Kiser, public art coordinator for TriMet, stands with artists Pasha and Cate Stinson of Southeast Portland while they pick up their wood in Oak Grove.Cate, 62, does more hand carving and Pasha, 68, does more of the chainsawing, but both conceptualize and design.

“The circular shape symbolizes an unbreakable link from the past to the present and on into the future,” Cate said. “The open center can create a visual frame for significant or aesthetic views and also serve as a passageway for light and air. Further contemplation might also suggest to the viewer a channel for energy and ideas.”

The Trolley Trail is a bicycle and pedestrian route that runs along the west side of the new Portland-Milwaukie light-rail alignment from under the future Kellogg structure at River Road via the Park Avenue MAX Station and Park & Ride.

The six-mile trail continues to Gladstone along a former streetcar line run by the Portland Traction Co. In 2009, the Trolley Trail Public Art Steering Committee asserted its goals for the new Trail in the “Trolley Trail Public Art and Amenities Guide.”

The Stinsons’ piece’s working title, “Flow,” symbolically represents one of the earliest forms of renewable energy that’s being turned into a new symbol of renewable transportation. The circle has been used as a symbol of continuity and eternity for a long time, she says. The natural pedestal makes it stand up and last longer, but it also helps use more of the tree and allows people to play or sit on it, and she likes that interactive potential.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Patrick Gracewood, with his piece called 'To Grandmother's House,' implies three generations, past, present, future, and a journey.

‘Grandmother’s house’

Patrick Gracewood also had community interaction with history on his mind in his piece called “To Grandmother’s House.”

“I love how that title implies three generations, past, present, future, and a journey...much as people who last rode the trolley as children are now grandparents,” he said. “They and the community have worked for years to bring this project, the entire revitalization of trolleys and nature trail, to fruition.”

A resident of Northeast Portland’s Cully Neighborhood, 58-year-old Gracewood has been a professional sculptor for more than 30 years. In addition to his original sculptures, Gracewood has worked on high-fashion mannequins, special effects makeup and sets in Los Angeles, and architectural restoration of historic terracotta buildings in Portland.

He’s carving the grandmotherly figure from one of the large atlas cedars removed from the Trolley Trail. His inspirations were the German immigrant farmers who settled Oak Grove and a series of photos he took when he was 19 and the German grandmother of a friend in high school was visiting.

Few figurative sculptures feature people who aren’t young and beautiful, he points out.

“I’ve always treasured these photos of this small stout woman who’d survived two world wars,” he said. “That she’s holding a rabbit is gentle and funny.”

Gracewood calls it an “anti-heroic sculpture,” because it’s in contrast to so many monumental warriors on horseback with gun or swords commemorating war. With the large nearby elderly population in mind, Gracewood wanted to encourage learning from wisdom of the past.

“It is women, especially older women, who help hold a community together, though their many relationships, loving and caring for their children, grandchildren, friends and the elderly,” he said.

He sees his grandmother figure as Mother Nature and hopes others do, too.

“As such, we still have much to learn from her (in) using and conserving our communal resources as wisely as possible,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the Trolley Trail Project, it creates efficient public transportation and a nature walk/bike/skate corridor. It’s such a pleasure to contribute a sculpture that helps tell that story.”