The two best artist responses to the University of Oregon’s cancellation of figure drawing on campus last week come from Eugene artists Jud Turner and Heather Halpern.
Turner, a sculptor with a broad following here and elsewhere, protested the decision by putting a yarn “fig leaf” — knitted by yarn artist Janet Harris — over the genital area of the large Great Blue Heron sculpture he made that the UO owns at 13th Avenue and Alder Street.
“We have made a large fig leaf to cover the heron’s genitals to make sure that no one is offended or has ‘wrong thoughts’ about a naked bird,” he wrote in a letter, posted on Facebook, to Brook Muller, dean of the UO division of Architecture and Allied Arts, which contains the art department.
Muller explained in an email last week that the informal weekly drawing sessions, which employ nude models for artists to draw, would be canceled over security concerns. The sessions had run for decades without problem and were popular with many artists, including Turner, who said he attended them when a student at the UO.
Earlier, Will Mitchell, who has been coordinating the sessions, said he was told by Carla Bengston, head of the art department, that the unclothed models might provoke “wrong thoughts” in people — though Muller’s subsequent email said that the actual concern was “our inability to ensure a safe environment for the models and participants” and the cost of the sessions.
Meanwhile, artist Heather Halpern posted her own hilarious and articulate response to the situation on her website.
“If The University of Oregon is concerned that nudity might encourage exhibitionists and ‘wrong thoughts,’ it should also limit all Internet access, as naked bodies are just a click away,” she writes. “Art and anatomy books should be burned. Locker rooms should not exist. A dress code should be enforced. Cheerleaders should cover up. And, for God’s sake, put some pants on your mascot!”
I’ve emailed questions about the situation to Dean Muller and to Carla Bengston and will let you know if I get a response.