Baker City Oregon

State of mind

A short examination of three artists toward a general note of caution

In Part One of this two-part look at the La Grande and Baker City art “scenes,” I briefly mentioned the course my adventure took. My wife called it my “vision quest,” because even though I would be sleeping in the back of my truck with its canopy between me and night critters, I would be alone and on my own, deprived of both the conveniences and distractions of home. What I was really hoping for was to get the “flavor” of the area and find a context for much of the art I thought I would be seeing.

Not that I really needed context, for even though the center of our state, between Bend and Baker City, is considerably more wide open and with considerably fewer humans than the Willamette Valley, the populated areas are similar to what I experience every day. Both La Grande and Baker City are larger than the town I live near, and their sensibilities are quite similar. Of course, there are folks who are exceptions to this generalization, and I really hoped to find them.

My first night found me sharing a campground with a single group of three people. They were young, and while initially loud, eventually quieted down enough so I could sleep. The Super Moon had put a damper on my plans for a star-filled sky, so I doused my campfire and climbed into the bed of my truck. It was a cold night on Slide Mountain (in the Ochoco Mountain Range) and I opted to sleep in fleece sweats and fingerless wool gloves. It wasn’t until I crawled into my new sleeping bag that I discovered it was a tight fit making it nearly impossible to shift sleeping positions, but at least I knew I’d be warm. When I finally quit squirming, I was surprised at how absolute the quiet was around me.

I did not sleep well. I first woke after a couple hours and opened my eyes to have a look around in the bright moonlight. I was not prepared for what I saw. The windows of my canopy seemed to have several large, red parameciums affixed to it. Accustomed to an occasional visual anomaly such as “stars” or colors, I didn’t get too excited about this event and fell back asleep. I awoke again a couple hours later to find all of my windows decorated with large, pale white dogwood blooms. This time I became a bit more perplexed but figured it to be a matter of sensory deprivation—not lunacy—and made a mental note to have a radio softly playing the rest of my nights camping (a choice between country and religious but it worked) and sleep with my bag unzipped.


A tale of two community art centers

Baker City and La Grande, Oregon

I went to the east side of the state a few weeks ago with the expressed purpose of learning a little about arts organizations in both La Grande and Baker City and the artists who live there. Having never been on the other side of the Cascades in the ten years I have lived in Oregon, I thought it was high time to encounter that geography while also bringing a little more “Oregon” to “ArtsWatch.”

My plan was to cover a lot of miles on and off of Route 26, take as many back roads as daylight would allow and camp for a few days before re-entering populated areas. In my mind—as naive as it may seem—the need to isolate myself was also an immersion, a necessary transition to get my head into the mindset of the folks on the other side of the Cascades. I was and remain aware of a perceived ideological line drawn between those who live (and vote) in the Valley and Oregonians who make a life for themselves in less-populated areas. After all, I live in a part of the Valley where many folks dream of retiring to the East Side, which they see as the real Eden of Oregon. They don’t care two licks about Portland or Eugene.

Of course, these are all false constructs, for no matter where one prefers to live, or whether one prefers the Beavers over the Ducks, the conversation is always more diverse and the factors involved, more complicated; it is only a tendency toward a specific preference that can color perceptions and I am no less guilty than the next person. I make no secret of my lack of enthusiasm for pastoral art, but I also recognize and admire the proficiency of the artists who engage in that practice. I have a similar attitude toward much craft-based art, but again, that has not stopped me from curating exhibits consisting solely of crafts. And, as I would be reminded, not every small town is like another.

As soon as I crossed over the Santiam Pass I knew I was in new territory. The geography seemed harsher with evidence of wildfires from the recent and distant past. The architecture was decidedly more dated, sometimes as a façade, but there was nothing fake about abandoned and collapsing log structures. There was much greater distance between towns and once I got away from Prineville, vehicles were more scarce. Big RVs outnumbered cars, and I sometimes had to slow down for cattle in the road. But I had little trouble finding a breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns with a small side of biscuits & gravy or a decent burger for a later meal, as long as it was before 8 pm. The truck radio could find religious and country stations quite readily but nothing else, yet I surprisingly had phone service on some pretty remote stretches of road.


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