East County historian Clarence Mershon visited grandson's home in Sisters to examine and catalog the collection
Ten years ago, the Crown Point Country Historical Society in Corbett was offered a donation it could not refuse: more than 100 paintings and etchings and many photographs of the Columbia River Gorge area, created in the early 20th century by the renowned artist Charles Wesley Post.
Between 1907 and 1922, Post depicted the scenic vistas and natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge, incorporating the Historic Columbia River Highway and Vista House into his work as they were being built. Post often painted in his home on Wand Road and at his portable tent studio on Chanticleer Point (now the Portland Women's Forum).
Post's grandson, Wes Post - who grew up in his grandfather's home and attended Corbett High School - and his wife, Juanita, decided to donate their collection of Post's original work to the historical society after interest in Post's work perked following an exhibit in Corbett a few years earlier.
East County historian Clarence Mershon, a member of the Crown Point Country Historical Society, says he visited the Posts' home in Sisters to examine and catalog the collection, which was kept in boxes in their house and garage. Mershon says the collection included Post's paintbrushes, tubes of paint and his easel, as well as labels that Post had designed for a Budweiser drink.
'When they told me they wanted to donate these paintings to the Crown Point Country Historical Society, I was stunned, flabbergasted,' Mershon recalls. 'I could tell by looking at the paintings that they were valuable, although I had no idea how valuable.'
The aging paintings varied in condition: paint had lost its luster, white spots appeared, and frames needed to be tightened; one painting of Mount Hood was punctured with a hole. Mershon says the Posts' children took what they wanted from the collection and suggested that the rest be tossed into a Dumpster.
The historical society took about 114 pieces of Post's art, possibly the largest collection of his work. Over the years, however, the historical society had only been able to restore one Post painting: a portrait of his collie, Galla.
Now, thanks to funds from a Multnomah County levy and a generous donation from a Corbett High School graduate, the historical society has embarked on restoring 30 of Post's best oil paintings, both completed and uncompleted. His completed work is signed 'Chas. W. Post.'
So far, the historical society has restored 14 of the original paintings, seven of which made their public debut at the Columbia Gorge Arts Festival at the Corbett schools campus Saturday and Sunday, May 19-20.
Gary Law, secretary of the historical society and curator of the collection, says the next few paintings will be taken in for restoration later this year. He would also like to have some of the other paintings in the collection, kept at a secret storage facility, restored in the future.
The society has also been able to preserve Post's black-and-white photographs and clean up his copperplate etchings, Law says.
The Multnomah County property tax levy that was passed by voters in November 2010 to support local historical societies has brought in money to help pay for the restoration work and for new frames, Law says.
The society also received a private donation from Marcia (Hunt) Randall, a Corbett High classmate of Law's and a philanthropist who is affiliated with the Randall Charitable Trust.
In addition to Post's artwork of the Columbia River Gorge area and his art supplies, Law says the collection includes artwork created during Post's time in the Midwest; paintings by his daughters, Ethel and May; and even Post's personal notes.
Mershon estimates that the society's collection is worth more than $100,000.
'I think the reason (Wes) gave it to the historical society was so that his grandfather could get more recognition,' Mershon says. 'That's been a driving force for me to help (Charles Post) get wider recognition. (The collection is) a priceless historical record of what took place while he was here.'
Law says his favorite Post painting in the collection, which was restored, depicts a fish ladder on Whatcom Creek in Washington. Law says his mother's family pioneered in the Whatcom County area.
'My mother's family was there when he was painting,' Law says.
Law is unsure if there are any other museums or galleries that have Post's work on exhibit, although he has received an inquiry about Post's work from a collector in the Midwest.
In the Portland area, most of Post's existing paintings, etchings and photographs are owned by his family and in private collections. When Post was alive, he sold paintings to tourists on the historic highway, Law says. He also traded paintings to Corbett grocer George Chamberlain for food.
Mershon says his father in 1917 commissioned Post to paint a portrait of Mershon's mother and infant sister, a painting that is still owned by the family.
When Post's work was brought back to Corbett, a few of his paintings and some etchings were sold at a private auction.
Law says the historical society, which does not have a museum of its own, will need to find a secure place to display the artwork when it's restored.
The society has set up displays at Vista House and Corbett Country Market, and it is selling postcards of Post's photographs and a reprint of a 1916 silk screen of Vista House (completed two years before Vista House was built).
The restoration work for the paintings is good news to Juanita Post, who now resides in Brush Prairie, Wash.
'I'm excited to see what they've done with those paintings,' Juanita Post says. 'It's been a long time since they were stored away.'
'I think it's extremely important for the restoration to be done because (the paintings) will deteriorate over time,' Mershon says. 'They're well taken care of in storage, but the society's role is to get them restored, cleaned and put on display. Given their resources, I think the society has done quite well.'