Terri Hopkins

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.


Year-end indulgence

This arts writer’s version of a sculptor’s requisite bed piece

I have a number of reasons I don’t like to do year-end reviews or best-ofs; or rather, I have written them in the past, shouldn’t have, and would avoid doing so if I could kick the overriding need to reflect and make an accounting that comes with December.

The Art Center in Corvallis

The Arts Center in Corvallis

First of all, my art viewing, like my arts writing, is a some time thing, which makes me considerably less than an authority. I’m mostly a stay-at-home guy who hangs out in my low-residency (formerly referred to as my dungeon) basement working on other projects and occasionally scanning Facebook for updates from other artists, writers and friends in general. That said, I guess I do look at a lot of art because I follow links. (I suppose if I was a serious info junkie I’d hang out on Twitter instead, but social media = social contract and who has the time?) What I don’t do often, but should, is make the trip to larger cities within fifteen to seventy miles of my home to look. I know I’m missing a lot of worthy, non-virtual exhibits. For instance, there’s always Ditch Projects in Springfield, and Disjecta has considerably improved their programming over the years, as has Corvallis’ The Arts Center. I do regret not getting to these and many other venues more frequently.

Secondly, I want to find it prudent to avoid superlatives, which a summary “grading” of the previous year’s events surely implies. While this may make me a poor (reluctant) critic, admittedly, I have my favorite artists and have opinions about what galleries show consistently good work or are not afraid to push the envelope, but there’s this little voice in my head that asks “Who am I to make such pronouncements?” (See above paragraph.) It has the faint odor of boosterism, self or otherwise, which oddly enough becomes exclusionary. (As my mother says, “Don’t interrupt your work if it speaks for itself.”) To my mind this can quickly become the drugged teat from which malcontents suckle their spew. I’ve seen it happen. The hunger. The horror. The hunger.


Sorting through the records at the Oregon Arts Commission, Blake Shell to the Art Gym

Public records on the firing of Christine D'Arcy leave basic questions unanswered, Blake Shell succeeds Terri Hopkins at The Art Gym

When you do a public records sift, you can find out some interesting stuff, which is what The Oregonian’s David Stabler did with the firing of Christine D’Arcy as executive director of the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Oregon Arts Commission, where she’d been for 19 years. His story is well worth a read, especially if you’re interested in the emails leading up to the firing and D’Arcy’s 2010 performance report.

Those documents hint at the case against D’Arcy (dissatisfaction with her leadership in the arts community and management style), without proving any of them—they are simply assertions. And the story makes it clear that there’s another way to interpret her performance, though those are simply counter-assertions.

So, if you are trying to evaluate whether it was time to replace D’Arcy or not, those emails and counter-quotes don’t help that much. Which isn’t that surprising. It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a journalist to figure out the performance level of a manager in a bureaucracy, especially one without clear metrics for success. The reason is simple: some people will like the manager, some people won’t, and political and/or personal considerations are often involved in those judgments, anyway. Often, there are legal ramifications to talking about personnel matters, so bosses and employees don’t or can’t talk about them. Sometimes it’s just a matter of civility: So far, none of the principals in this matter has attacked another in public.

Did D’Arcy do anything “bad”? No. Was her firing illegal somehow? No. Do people disagree with the decision? Of course. Would it be worthwhile to go over the past 19 years of her service at the arts commission to attempt to figure out what she did “right” or “wrong,” the opportunities to move the arts forward in the state that she seized or missed? I would love it if someone did! The hours involved and impasses the analyst would encounter are both gigantic.

Going forward, though, I think it’s a reasonable expectation for the Trust and Arts Commission boards, in consultation with the governor’s office, to talk openly about what the role and expectations for the executive director are, and for that matter, what those expectations are for the boards themselves. And I’d love to see a clear statement from Governor Kitzhaber, who just announced that he’s running for a fourth term as governor, about what he thinks the role of the ARTS are in the state and what he thinks a reasonable arts funding level should be. Stay tuned and we may even have some more suggestions later this week.


Blake Shell will replace Terri Hopkins as the new leader of The Art Gym

Blake Shell will replace Terri Hopkins as the new leader of The Art Gym

One of the toughest acts to follow in the arts community is Terri Hopkins, who steps down as director and curator of The Art Gym at Marylhurst University in January. Hopkins founded The Art Gym, and she’s made it a vital player in the arts world here. (I wrote about her resignation and a larger “challenge” endowment grant for the position going forward back in August.)

Marylhurst has announced that Blake Shell will replace Hopkins at The Art Gym, and add the new Belluschi Pavilion to the portfolio. She begins next week, December 16, though Hopkins will be around to help with the transition through mid-January, according to the press release.

Shell was the director of the Archer Gallery at Clark College from 2009 to 2012, and now works as project manager for the Stroemple Art Collection in Portland. She’s also been a curatorial assistant for the Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College.

Hopkins was part of the effort to find her own successor, and I asked her about Shell. “Blake Shell is an energetic, creative and skilled curator,” she said. “Several years ago, the shows she organized for the Archer Gallery at Clark College in Vancouver drew my attention and led to my belief that when the time came, there were amazing young curators ready to take The Art Gym into the future. I am very pleased to pass the baton to Blake and am excited to see her take on the contemporary art of our region.”

Which sounds like a very good endorsement indeed.

The Farewell Tour: Terri Hopkins prepares to leave the Art Gym

In 33 years, director and curator Terri Hopkins made The Art Gym central to art here and secure for the future

As director and curator of Marylhurst University’s Art Gym, Terri Hopkins has followed the development of artists attentively in the Portland area since she founded the gallery with Paul Sutinen and art department chair Kay Slusarenko in 1980. Hopkins followed art here in the way curators do—specifically, openly, critically and imaginatively.

The Art Gym, 1980, before it became the Art Gym.

The Art Gym, 1980, before it became the Art Gym.

So, the announcement that she was retiring from this engaged vantage point at the end of this calendar year (though she says she’ll see the opening of one last exhibition in January through to the end) was alarming. Hopkins’ view of the city’s artists, distilled and clarified through some 150 shows in her 33 years on the job, has been an organizing principle for those of us concerned with local culture.

Hopkins’ accomplishments include:

  •  Getting The Art Gym started.
  •  Keeping it going financially while programming more than 150 exhibitions and overseeing (at least) the printing of more than 60 publications (from pamphlet size to much larger monographs) about Portland artists.
  •  Renovating The Art Gym space into the flexible, beautiful place it is today.
  •  Figuring out a way to endow her position so that her successor will be full-time.

“Not bad for part-time,” as she says, because she was never a full-time employee of Marylhurst. And she did lots more, of course, from personal encouragement of artists and curators to participation on various public panels. But when I talked to her this week, we focused on those four, especially since the last of these involved specific news: That the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation was going to endow her position at The Art Gym.


ART-terri-hopkins-sq 2Slusarenko first imagined that a massive storage space, once used as a gym and a theater, in the Marylhurst administration building could better serve as an exhibition space for art, and according to Hopkins, talked the administration into giving it to the art department. At the time, Hopkins was Slusarenko’s assistant, hired in 1978, after studying art history (and playing the cello) at Oberlin College. She was the child her parents gave art supplies, even though she was more inclined toward music.

With the space in hand, $1,500 invested in its renovation and more than 400 volunteer hours of labor, The Art Gym was born.

What should its mission be? “We felt we could do a regional exhibition program well,” Hopkins said. “This is where we are; no one was doing it the way we could do it—carefully curated with publications.”

The first show was a Marylhurst art faculty exhibition, and maybe I saw that one, because Sutinen was the art critic of Willamette Week’s Fresh Weekly, where I was editing at the time. I know I saw many of the exhibitions those first few years—Mel Katz drawings, Lucinda Parker paintings (she was working with big pink triangles, as I recall), work by Jay Backstrand, Lennie Pitkin, Christine Bourdette and others. “They were doing us a favor,” Hopkins said of the artists. “That was part of the Portland art community.”

From that beginning, the next 30 years opened up, though Hopkins didn’t have a time period in mind as she curated The Art Gym: “I did this on an ‘as if’ basis: I will do this as if I have forever.” So, she followed the development of artists along, often including them in group shows before signing them up for a full solo exhibition of their own. The set of publications she produced provides a fabulous, ongoing record of artists here the past three decades, all available digitally.

Hopkins mentions David Eckard, Dianne Kornberg, Lee Kelly, Nanda d’Agostino (who has a show coming up in October), and many others. A glance through those catalogs is sufficient to announce the scope of Hopkins’ curation: Bill Will, Ken Butler, Judy Cooke, Linda Hutchins, Mike Russo, Carl Morris, Tad Savinar, Sally Haley, Bruce Conkle and Marne Lucas, Melody Owen, on an on.

The publication regime has picked up steam lately, thanks to sizable gifts from the Ford Family Foundation and ongoing support from the Schnitzer CARE Foundation, pushing The Art Gym overall budget (not counting Hopkins’ salary or the cost to run the space, provided by the university) close to $80,000. That was money Hopkins raised in various ways, mostly in small amounts, on an ad hoc basis or year-to-year, at the same time she was doing the myriad tasks involved in running an art gallery and curating its exhibitions.


A view of David Eckard's "Deployment," Art Gym

A view of David Eckard’s “Deployment,” Art Gym

Five years ago, Hopkins told administrators at Marylhurst that she was thinking about retiring, and at that point they would have to decide whether to continue The Art Gym or close it down. If they chose to continue it, then two things would have to happen. First, the space itself needed a major renovation to make it appropriate for all kinds of art. The high ceilings (remember: “gym”) and numerous huge windows always made the big room problematic for art. Second, she thought her position needed to be endowed for the long term and made full-time. “We needed to prepare the gallery and prepare the position,” in Hopkins’ formulation.

The university wisely agreed, and the renovation work started. Although the HVAC is ultimately contingent on upgrades to the entire building, the rest of the renovation is almost done (three windows remain). The David Eckard show last year demonstrated the flexibility of the space for various kinds of art (Eckard’s work is particularly diverse) and its general elegance and simplicity.

The endowed position was an entirely different proposition, just because of the cost, more than $1 million. The participation of the Eichholz foundation started with a much smaller gift, $10,000, still a large sum for The Art Gym, which arrived in the mail out of the blue. As Hopkins said, “Moral Number One: Open your mail.”

The check came from the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation, and Hopkins knew Michael Davidson, who sits on the foundation’s board and is a principal of A&E Tax Services as well as Mercedes Eichholz’s son. Davidson had visited her classes at Marylhurst to talk about how artists need to prepare for the business part of their careers. They had a drink together, and the subject of an endowed curator position arose, among other topics.

Perhaps because the foundation had funded the curatorship for modern and contemporary art at the Portland Art Museum in 2012 (now held by Bruce Guenther) with a $2 million gift, Davidson thought the board would be open to funding Hopkins’ position, too. He helped the university shape its proposal, and the result was this week’s announcement: a $250,000 gift outright, and a $1 million matching gift, distributed over four years, which gives the university time to match. The gift is the largest Marylhurst has ever received from a foundation.

One more point of intersection: The new full-time curator will also be responsible for the Belluschi Pavilion at Marylhurst, a small house designed by architect Pietro Belluschi in 1951 and moved to the campus. Mercedes Eichholz was a friend of Belluschi’s when she lived in Portland in the ‘30s and ‘40s (she now lives in Santa Barbara), according to a story by David Row about the art museum gift, so the inclusion of the pavilion in the mix made sense, both personally and theoretically.

In the press release, Davidson explained the gift this way: “It is our hope that this grant will honor Terri Hopkins’ life’s work and will allow The Art Gym to continue to be a powerful force in the arts of Portland and the entire Pacific Northwest.”


Fernanda D'Agostino's "Imagining the Other Side," 1996.

Fernanda D’Agostino’s “Imagining the Other Side,” 1996.

Before she leaves, Hopkins has some work ahead of her. The 2013-14 season opens October 6 with a preview reception for Fernanda D’Agostino and her exhibit, “The Method of Loci,” and in January she opens a show dedicated to Native American artists, including Joe Feddersen, Robert J. Gehrke, Rick Bartow, Wendy Red Star, Nicholas Galanin, and Terrance Houle. Both are complex and challenging to install.

And then? “Do you want to hear the answer people like to hear?” Hopkins asks. She’ll continue to work on individual projects and panels, keeping an eye on Northwest art as she’s always done. “Do you want to hear the answer people don’t like to hear?” She’s going to spend some time just staring out the window.

“I’m a daydreamer; I’m a really good daydreamer,” she said. Which fits with her approach to looking at art. “It’s like reading: What I’m looking for in art is for it to trigger a train of thought I have not had … Why does this work? What are they thinking about?”

Hopkins’ approach hasn’t been theoretical or particularly academic. “I go to the movies, but I don’t know a lot about film. I want people to go to art galleries they way they go to movies.” Or ski. Some slopes are double diamond expert trails and some are for beginners, she said. “I don’t believe in accessibility. People are smart. If they see enough art, they will figure it out.” Which is why visitors to The Art Gym don’t face lengthy wall panels explaining the art (though if they want, they can often get a publication that will explain things in detail).

I think what I’ve liked about shows at Marylhurst is that they seem fresh, even the retrospectives, as though they are at some sort of starting point for the artist. In a way, that’s what an exhibition can be, a fresh start, either for the artist, for those of us looking at the art in this new context, or both. And maybe that part of it was all in the daydreaming.

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