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Homecoming - for an Oaks Pioneer Church painting

DAVID F. ASHTON - SMILE Board Member, and Chair of the Church Committee Nancy Walsh, left, accepts the original painting of the Oaks Pioneer Church from NGIC Director of Sales Jessie Hillman and Operations Manager Ian Vickrey. For a period of 32 years, an insurance company called Integon – that became GMAC, and is now National General Insurance Company (NGIC) – commissioned local artists around the country to paint images of historic churches and buildings.

These original paintings were displayed in their offices around the nation; the company also made prints and Christmas cards from the paintings.

As the company changed names and locations, the paintings were gathered and stored – until last December, when NGIC officials finally made the decision to send the original paintings on to the caretakers of the buildings depicted.

So, on Thursday, February 25, at the Oaks Pioneer Church at the foot of Spokane Street in Sellwood, SMILE Board Member Nancy Walsh, and Lorraine Fyre, who manages the church and SMILE Station, met with local NGIC representatives to receive the original painting.

The church is one of the oldest in the state of Oregon, having been built in Milwaukie in 1851. Around 1960, when it was slated to be demolished and replaced, the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood saved it, floating it down the Willamette River on a barge, and joining with Portland Parks in siting it on city parkland overlooking the river, just north of the east end of the Sellwood Bridge.

“This painting was commissioned and used for holiday cards in 1989,” revealed NGIC Operations Manager Ian Vickrey, as he unwrapped the framed painting.

“The company focused on different cities where they had partnerships or offices located,” Vickrey said.

What was best about the presentation, for him, Vickery said, “is the experience of actually being here in this historic church, experiencing some of the Portland area’s history.”

NGIC Vice President Rick Pierce sent along his greetings: “The collection was a meaningful part of the history of our company, but now the proper place for it is in your community.

“On behalf of all of the retirees, employees, and agents of National General Insurance, we are delighted to make this gift,” Pierce wrote.

Admiring the painting, Walsh, who is also the Chair of SMILE’s Church Committee, said she was delighted to receive the painting on behalf of the neighborhood association.

“This painting will make a pleasant addition to the church,” Walsh said.

The artist, Craig S. Holmes, still lives and works in Inner Southeast Portland, primarily doing architectural illustration.

Lorraine Fyre later told THE BEE that the company also donated a box of full color prints of the painting. “Anyone who was married at the church is welcome to a copy. Call and let’s arrange a time for you to receive a print.” (And, it’s not too late to get married there in order to qualify for a print!) You can reach her by phone: 503/233-1497. The church's website is: www.oakspioneerchurch.org