Introducing ‘Connective Conversations: Inside Oregon Art’

Photographer Sabina Poole visited 70 artist studios around the state for a new book

In the summer of 2014, I began my travels around Oregon to photograph the artists who had received studio visits from the curators and critics of the Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art program for the years since the program’s inauguration in 2011. From the list of addresses, I knew the 70 artists would be sprinkled throughout the state, and for me, this was a chance to enjoy and observe artists in their own spaces, to go deeper into the place we call home and meet people here who are doing amazing work.

The book, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 The Ford Family Foundation and University of Oregon

The book, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 The Ford Family Foundation and University of Oregon

Here’s the official announcement of the new book that resulted, in part, from those visits:

The Ford Family Foundation with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts are pleased to announce the upcoming October 2015 release of the book, Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014. Connective Conversations is The Ford Family Foundation’s Curator and Critic Tours and Lecture Series program, conducted in partnership with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts. The full-color book will be available at the 2015 Oregon Arts Summit’s Visual Arts Ecology workshop, supported by The Foundation; and, subsequently, will available for purchase [locations TBA].

The book is a collaborative work representing the series launched in 2011, which brought national curators and critics to visit Oregon artists in their studios across the state, to present lectures and to participate in community dialogue. The book contains images of the 70 Oregon artists and their studio spaces visited between 2011-2014.

Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014 | The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon Curator and Critic Tours
Edited by Kate Wagle | Design and Layout by Pace Taylor | Photography by Sabina Poole | Advised by Carol Dalu and Kandis Brewer Nunn

I knew it would be an adventure to document the homes and studios of the 70 artists involved. Realizing this was an absolute privilege, I embarked upon the project with a keen sense of enthusiasm and a little bit of adrenaline. Despite being familiar with their artwork (some more than others), most of these artists, as people, were complete strangers to me, and I had never before visited some of the locations of their studios. Before each photo shoot, I did not have any idea what I would encounter, and the unexpected nature of these visits made the project all the more attractive to me.

My method was, I hoped, unobtrusive. I organized a shoot primarily via email—leaving the choice of time and place up to the artist. The studio, the place where the work was done, needed to be tantamount. I chose to arrive simply, unencumbered—no lighting equipment, one camera, no superfluous accessories. My role was to document the artists in their unique environment—in the lighting they were used to, in the rooms they lived and worked in, surrounded by the things they loved and cared about, even if that meant dogs and children or other unanticipated creatures.

What you will see in the weekly posts that follow are little snippets of these studio photo sessions: close encounters with remarkable people who have chosen to live in extraordinary places, while doing exceptional things with independence, creativity, resolute determination, confidence, and success while surrounded by things they find captivating, in locations of inspiration, all with a quintessential Oregon-ness.

A favorite pastime for Renee Couture: sitting outside her studio in the evening light, doing research and planning next projects. The first installment of this series features Couture./Sabina Poole

A favorite pastime for Renee Couture: sitting outside her studio in the evening light, doing research and planning next projects./Sabina Poole

Above all, the 70 people I photographed were not only artists of amazing calibre but also individuals who help define this region. In the coming weeks, Oregon Arts Watch will introduce some of the artists included in Connective Conversations from a closer perspective. The book will show you a photo or two of each studio, an image of each artist, and several examples of their work. The book will illuminate career highlights and biographical information. Here, in an Oregon Arts Watch exclusive, you will get a closer glimpse of each artist’s work space, the objects that surround them, the light sources they rely on, and the things that make each studio a unique place to create in. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. These Connective Conversations studio portraits will, I hope, enable a greater understanding of these artists and how their work relates to and is made within the studio.

To get started, you can jump immediately to the first subject: Renee Couture and her “trailer” studio in Peel, Oregon. See you there!

Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art is part of The Ford Family Foundation’s seven-pronged Visual Arts program launched in 2010 to honor the interests in the visual arts by the late Mrs. Hallie Ford, a co-founder of The Foundation. Principal goals of the overall program are to help enhance the quality of artistic endeavor and body of work by Oregon’s most promising visual artists and to improve Oregon’s visual arts ecology by making strategic investments in Oregon visual arts institutions. Some program components The Foundation directs; others, it elects to work with regionally-based institutions such as it has done in partnering with the University of Oregon with the first four years of the Curator and Critic Tours and Lecture series. Such collaborations are invaluable in maximizing the delivery and impact of the program components for which The Foundation is most grateful.

Renee Couture: A trailer with a view

Sabina Poole's series of studio visits to artists around the state starts with Peel's Renee Couture

“I’m very much tied to my property; my life ebbs and flows with the seasons.”Renee Couture, Oregon artist living in Peel.

Peel, Oregon. It’s near a place called No Fog. No kidding.

Peel is a bit of a drive eastward from Roseburg, past the only place in the world where rivers collide, the Colliding Rivers of the Little River and the North Umpqua, and down the road from the recession-knocked about town of Glide, (population about 1700 in 2010—it seemed less when I drove through). Miles and miles of human-planted forest spanning mountain upon mountain are visible from the road: Despite the lack of old growth, the forests still hold up the sky out here.

Real work is done in these parts: As in days gone by, burly men wear suspenders over plaid flannel shirted-shoulders and have work-worn, oil and dirt stained hands. Here, for summer fun, the teenagers throw themselves off the cliff into the emerald cold of the Colliding Rivers, much to the stunned Instagram-delight of tourist passersby. On a drive through Glide, rivers rumble right next to the roadside and thundering logging trucks lurk around the next corner.

 Renee Couture looks up at her artist studio “trailer” situated on acreage in the central Southern Oregon region./Sabina Poole

Renee Couture looks up at her artist studio “trailer” situated on acreage in the central Southern Oregon region./Sabina Poole

I arrived at my motel around 5 pm and find that my room key had been left under the doormat of my room’s front entry (motel staff had left me a voicemail). I drove up to Renee Couture’s homestead property around dinnertime. She was outside cooking in well-seasoned cast iron pans on a stove and kitchen she had set up beneath a breezeway connected to a cabin-like home. She told me she loves to cook—and even more so if she’s cooking food she has grown in her garden. A couple of big, fuzzy dogs provided a cacophony of canine sounds while Renee and I got acquainted.

[Editor’s Note: Sabina Poole visited 70 artist studios last summer to illustrate a new book published by The Ford Family Foundation with the University of Oregon, Connective Conversations: Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014, due out in October. You can read her introduction to this series here. She will publish a new installment each week at ArtsWatch. Stay tuned!]

Renee explained the outside kitchen was necessary in the heat of summer; and she proceeded to saute homegrown vegetables—it smelled delicious, both home-cozy and wilderness camp-like. Once dinner was made, but with her husband yet to arrive to join us, we took a tour of the property. The big attraction was her studio—which she had informed me was in a “trailer.” By tour, I should clarify, it was more of a hillside hike.


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