- Jennifer Anderson
- Portland Tribune - News
Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer that helps you boost your Rose City IQ.
Q: What's the origin of the strange, alienlike sculpture that sits in a plaza at Northwest 27th Avenue, between Thurman and Upshur streets?
A: This one's certainly a curiosity, if you've ever seen it up close. Part of the mystique of this whimsical 8-foot structure is the plaque on its concrete base, which offers a few lines of illegible chicken scratch as if it's an alien artifact that landed in the middle of the city.
In fact, the sculpture is called 'Mimir,' installed by Portland artist Keith Jellum in 1980 after being commissioned by the Portland Development Commission and Tom Walsh of Tom Walsh Construction.
The piece is grounded in Norse mythology. According to one legend, the god Mimir was sent by Odin to rival gods to help resolve a dispute, but Odin received his envoy's head in return. Since Mimir was noted for his wise counsel, Odin mounted the head as an oracle for his Aesir gods.
'I'm not sure where (the image) came from,' 67-year-old Jellum told Stumper. 'It's just at the time I was doing a whole lot of drawings, and it just popped out and sort of appealed to me. It's part fish, part space creature.'
Jellum said he added the hieroglyphic inscription on the plaque as a 'play upon plaques. You see all these plaques around and they give all this 'important' information. I thought it was just irrelevant to the piece. I like the idea of putting something up there that didn't have any information on it.'
Jellum's sense of humor isn't limited to that piece. He has numerous hand-forged bronze works on display around Portland, including the 11-foot fish sculpture 'Transcendence,' which appears to be stuck in the brickwork above South Park Seafood Grill and Wine Bar at Southwest Salmon Street and Ninth Avenue; and the 'Electronic Poet' at Southwest Morrison Street between Ninth and 10th avenues, which consists of an LED light board he programs to display his favorite poetry from around the world.
We'll see more of Jellum soon - he's currently working on two pieces, a 30-foot painted aluminum sculpture at the base of a tower in the South Waterfront, and a piece he calls 'Braille Rail' for the Oregon Commission for the Blind.
That one will consist of railing outside the renovated state Commission for the Blind building, on Southeast 12th Avenue, with a haiku printed both in Braille and English - to delight both people with and without sight.
'I take art very seriously,' Jellum says, 'but then I also don't take it too seriously, so it's kind of a contradiction I juggle.'
Next week's Stumper: The seal of the city of Portland pictures a female figure with a six-pointed star above her head. What's the significance of the star?