Sunday, September 30, 2012

Notes from the Columbia

So, a couple weeks back, the Lovely Bride and the Lovely Bride's Mom (Nardi) and I headed south for a long-planned vacation to Ashland. And en route we chose drive up the Columbia to the Maryhill Museum and back, and take in a couple Confluence Project sites along the way.

The Confluence Project is a series of installations along the Columbia river created by Maya Lin, the artist responsible for the Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC. In this case, she was commissioned to install seven pieces along the Columbia on the route that Lewis and Clark took at the turn of the 19th Century. We had tried to find these sites before, but no one seemed to know about them, even locally, which made them a sculptural scavenger hunt, this time aided by the net.

Land Bridge, with Lovely Bride
The first we visited was the Land Bridge, an overpass that crosses State Route 14 just before Interstate 5 crosses the Columbia into Oregon. Built at the site of the reconstructed Fort Vancouver, it was about what I expected from the artist - a large installation that brought the terrain into the structure itself, with three resting points for Land, People, and River. Done in sand-colored stones and concrete with dark metal accents, the installation gave a chance for meditation above the traffic. I also could give a view of the Columbia itself, though in our case it was blocked by a parked line of train cars along an adjacent rail line.

Being an overpass, it also allowed access from the Fort to the river itself, at the site of the Oldest Apple Tree in Washington, a sad ent  of a tree on life support, situated behind multiple fences, reinforced with guy wires and concrete, kept long beyond its lifespan.

Bird Blind
The second site was the Bird Blind at the Sandy River delta. This one is at the end of a long, dusty mile and a quarter hike in a dog park near Troutdale. The structure was simpler than the Land Bridge, a ramp leading up to a circular blind, with each slat of the blind a two-by-four dedicated to a creature that Lewis and Clark encountered and noted on their trip. Each had the date they mentioned it in their journals, what they called it, what the current name is, the scientific name, and its status (threatened, endangered, or extinct (only one is such)). While we hiking, dogwalkers stopped us and asked what we were doing (since we didn't have dogs). No one we spoke with knew about the installation. Sculptural scavenger hunt, indeed.

The third site was at Celilo Park, above the Dalles Dam. Before the dam was installed, the Dalles were a set of rapids and waterfalls, which made it both a site of salmon fishing and a hub for native trade. All of that is under the water now. The site, which dealt with the salmon fishing, was to be completed by fall of this year, but when we were the looked unbegun, a rough breakwater sticking out into the river, with a pair of local fishermen with numerous lines at the end.

Maryhill Museum
Maryhill Museum is a small museum just beyond that site, located on the bluffs overlooking the Columbia. Built by Sam Hill (the "good roads" Sam Hill, not the "What in the" Sam Hill), as a mansion which overlook his utopian community, it was turned into a museum after his wife booked out and his ideal community fizzled. As a result, it is an odd collection of material grounded in the turn of the 20th Century. Marie, the Queen of Romania came all the way west to dedicate it, so there is a large display of her regalia and furnishings. Her highness was in the mob that Hill ran with. Actually, that's a good description of Maryhill in general - stuff from the crowd Hill ran with. Sam Hill did the art patron thing with a number of Americans in France and Britain before the Great War, such as the dancer Loie Fuller, who was romantically involved with the sculptor Auguste Rodin, bought a lot of his works, got into financial trouble, sold her Rodins, convinced Hill to pick up her Rodins, and convinced Hill to turn his abandoned house into a museum. She was also in tight with the (you guessed it) Marie, the Queen of Romania. Which is why there are a large collection of Rodins on a bluff overlooking the Columbia in Washington State.

Rodin. Yeah, that guy.
The collection is interesting and eclectic. The Rodins are the big attraction center, but there is the Romanian regalia, and a large number of works from the collection, which they have increased over the passage of time. The have a large but unimpressive collection of Native American Art. They also have a hall on Fuller, who made her name as a dancer. The upper house is unchanged, but they have done a lot of extremely imaginative expansion on the cliff-side - most of it for things like a cafe and educational facility, but also expanding out the basement for more room for other works. Right now, the new acquisitions seem to be sculpture, and are pretty darn impressive.

Maryhill is near another Sam Hill project, the Stonehenge re-creation, which I've talked about before.

Back down the Columbia, evening at a snazzy hotel in Portland, then the long haul along the width of Oregon to Ashland. I've talked about Ashland before, so I will summarize for this trip - Anne Hathaway's is an excellent B&B (we stayed in the Annex a few doors down, which had a nice sense of privacy for us), recommended restaurants include Kobe (excellent sushi) and Beasleys (they bragged about the clam chowder, and yeah, it is worth bragging about). Great chocolate torte from Coquina down by the railroad track (so good we went back the next evening just for desert).

And now on to the plays. More on those later (I hope),