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Stories (with bears) worth telling


Storyteller will weave the fabric of imagination into a brand new story

Sit back, relax and let Portland oral storyteller Anne Rutherford take you and your kids on a faraway adventure through the creations of her mind (and yours).

On Aug. 21, at the Walters Cultural Arts Center’s third annual Neighborhood Storytelling Picnic, with Rutherford playing tour guide, listeners will explore South American folklore with a tale about a trickster guinea pig from Peru and local Northwestern landscapes: tall tales of the Oregon Trail, summer-inspired family stories and her own conversation-starting encounters (with bears) on outdoor backpacking trips.

Rutherford also plans to bring along her mandolin for song and a few classic poetry readings.

Fictionalizing stories since she was old enough to read and for the local public since 1999, Rutherford says the fun thing about storytelling is the mutual involvement between storyteller and audience.

“You create the story in your imagination as I tell it,” said Rutherford. When she vividly describes northwest scenery that most locals can relate to, she pictures the images in her own mind while the audience imagines it in theirs. “So, we’re actually really creating something together,” she said.

Rutherford grew up in a little town on the banks of the Susquehanna River in eastern Pennsylvania, a setting steeped with characters and eccentricities that still play an influence in her stories. She was also raised Catholic, a tradition “chock-full of stories." She read a lot — Edgar Allen Poe, Erma Bombeck and Ray Bradbury to name a few — and listened to oral stories by Garrison Keillor, Bill Cosby and George Carlin.

When Rutherford moved to Oregon in 1983 as a Rhode Island college graduate, she occupied her time with odd jobs until she eventually earned a master’s degree in public administration. After working in Oregon’s health division and opening her own mediation practice, she discovered she liked telling stories better.

“I'd been experimenting with storytelling for a while. It was time to act!” it says on her website. “I rented a hall, advertised, and people came.” Since then, Rutherford has continued to put on programs around the region and diversify her program, targeting children, adults and seniors.

Now a full-time storyteller, Rutherford invents most all of the stories she tells, without writing them down. “A character or situation occurs to me, and I talk out the shape of the story,” she said. “Then I figure what the point is, and prune it down.”

To remember her stories, even if they are fictional, Rutherford said, “I live it in my imagination until its events and people are real to me. Then I see it in my mind while I'm telling it, and can change details depending on the circumstances, keeping it fresh.”

Ideally, in performance, it sounds as if she is relating something that just occurred to her.

Though Rutherford creates stories for both adults and children, she says most can be enjoyed on all levels. For this show about outdoor summer adventure, she says it’s a good way to bring the whole family together.

The storytelling picnic is also a great way to get kids away from the computer screen and outdoors where they can relate with other people, outside the virtual social world.

“It activates the imagination,” said Rutherford. “They are creating the story in their heads, but also experiencing how other people are reacting. It lets them feel how they’re connected to other people.”