bonnie bronson

Lahti wins 24th Bronson Award

The veteran Portland sculptor takes this year's Bonnie Bronson award, legacy of the sculptor who died in a climbing accident

Every year about this time, Oregon art insiders keep their eye out for the latest news: who’s this year’s Bonnie Bronson Fellowship winner? Today, word came: It’s sculptor Cynthia Lahti, who’s been a familiar force on the Portland art scene for 30 years since returning to her hometown after earning her degree from the Rhode Island School of Design.

The Bronson Award is a big deal for artists around here. Named for the Oregon sculptor, who died in a mountain-climbing accident in 1990, it includes a no-strings cash award plus the purchase of work to add to the ever-growing Bonnie Bronson Collection of art by fellowship winners, housed at Reed College. The award always arrives with a bit of mystery attached: you can’t apply for it, chances are you don’t even know you’re up for it, and notification comes through a simple phone call. Plus, selection puts the winners in a sort of honor roll of working artists in the region.

Left: "Foie Gras," 2007; raku fired ceramic sculpture, 18.5 x 9 x 9 inches. Right: "Brown Bathrobe,"  2014; print on archival paper, broken ceramic sculpture, wood base, epoxy, 18 x 13 x 9 inches.

Left: “Foie Gras,” 2007; raku fired ceramic sculpture, 18.5 x 9 x 9 inches. Right: “Brown Bathrobe,” 2014;
print on archival paper, broken ceramic sculpture,
wood base, epoxy, 18 x 13 x 9 inches.

Coincidentally, Lahti has a new exhibition of sculptures and collages, Battle, on view at her Portland gallery, PDX Contemporary Art, through March 28. A release from Terri Hopkins, recently retired curator of The Art Gym and co-chair of the Bronson fellowships committee, quotes Lahti talking about her current work in small ceramic and paper sculpture: “There are so many figures out there in the world, wearing so many poses and costumes; I find those that resonate and interpret them in clay. Each sculpture expresses an intense inner psychological state, its surface effecting a fluctuating quality, part beautiful, part grotesque.”

The awards have been annual beginning with the first, to sculptor Christine Bourdette, in 1992. Winners since then, chronologically, have been Judy Cooke, Ronna Neuenschwander, Fernanda D’Agostino, Carolyn King, Lucinda Parker, Judy Hill, Adriene Cruz, Helen Lessick, Ann Hughes, Malia Jensen, Christopher Rauschenberg, Kristy Edmunds, Paul Sutinen, Bill Will, Laura Ross-Paul, MK Guth, Marie Watt, David Eckard, Nan Curtis, Pat Boas, Wynne Greenwood, Vanessa Renwick, and Lahti.


I started off a little gallery walk this weekend at the Bonnie Bronson retrospective that fills Swigert Commons at Pacific Northwest College of Art with the subtle geometries of Bronson’s wall sculpture as it developed during her life, which ended prematurely in a climbing accident on Mt. Adams in 1990.

Having circumnavigated the commons and taken a few notes, I took off for the Elizabeth Leach Gallery to see Malia Jensen’s installation, which I’d heard about from Jensen fans. It includes a sculpture, photographs and a video: The sculpture is a salt lick in the form of a breast, the photographs show the sculpture in a field surrounded by cattle, and the video puts a smaller group of cattle in motion around the lick. I’d like to point out that steer 7032 doesn’t share well with others.

And finally, I found my way to Blue Sky Gallery and an exhibition called “not Natasha” by Romanian-born photographer Dana Popa. And somehow it illuminated the work of Jensen and Bronson, as different as they are to each other and Popa’s images, demonstrating how fragile the circumstances of both Bronson’s evolution as an artist and Jensen’s subtle investigation of gender really are, how at risk.


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