Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Word-less (Late) Wednesday Wandering. . . Back to Portland. . .

You know how much I like street art, right? So guess how delighted I was to stumble upon the Lovejoy Columns when wandering Portland's Pearl District one sunny afternoon last month! The sun and shadow, plus the reflective surface of the columns' protective encasing, plus my limited camera skills might result in you being less impressed than I was, but trust me, if you get to Portland it's worth tracking these down and having a look for yourself.

For the art itself, yes, but also for the story.  The concrete columns themselves once formed the support for a freight viaduct, the Lovejoy Ramp. Built in 1927, the viaduct was demolished in 1999, but a coalition of admirers of the art worked to preserve some of the art as it was painted directly on the columns -- and to display these alongside photographs taken of them in their original site.
No wonder they did. Not only is the art itself compelling (with a naïf flair that seems drawn from, drenched in, mythology), but the story of its painting. . . .
Apparently, between 1948 and 1952, a Greek immigrant Athanasios Efthimiou (Tom) Stefopolous,  while working as a night watchman, would draw his images first in chalk, and then paint them as he had time and access. As he explained in the interview quoted in the photo above (click on the photo to enlarge to legibility): "When trains stop at crossing, waiting for other trains to switch, I climb on top of boxcar next to painting, reach out like this, and paint. Sometimes, when I'm not finished, the train wait a minute--I paint -- then climb down and wave her on."
In the fairly superficial research I've done on these columns (much of what I've outlined here was gleaned from this Wikipedia article) I note considerable relief and satisfaction that the columns have been preserved at least this much, but I've also inferred some impatience that anything further is being done to ensure this bit of Portland's history is maintained and featured.
There are some wonderful photos of the painted columns when they were part of the freight viaduct, back in the late 1980s, well worth clicking over to peek at.
Do any of you remember seeing these columns in Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy? It's so long since I've seen that film, but since reading that it featured these paintings, I'm determined to watch it again. . .

I suppose these trees will have changed to fall colours now, and then will drop their leaves, revealing "Tom"'s painting more starkly.
I'd love to go back and see it in different seasons. . . .
For now, I'm inspired by the notion of someone working at night, in a fairly dark, industrial setting, and creating such beauty, persistently, over two years. . .

What say you? It's almost worth a little pilgrimage, no?
Thank you, by the way, for all your comments on my last post. There are several points I'm hoping to follow up on, and I count on us carrying the conversation forward. 


  1. The history behind the columns is interesting. That in itself is good preservation. The art is a bit dark for my taste. That said, something for everybody is always a good thing.

    1. It's true, chacun à son gout. I'm assuming you mean too dark, colour/tone was rather than in terms of content, but perhaps it's the latter. And it is good that the history has been preserved so far.

  2. Your pictures make me think it is time for my husband and I to go and explore Portland!

    1. So much to discover there, L, especially for a foodie! And Powell's Books is a destination all its own!


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