Bob Keefer on art and music around Eugene, Oregon

Category: Books

Pictures at an exhibition: Aliens, Monsters, and Madmen opens at the JSMA


I always loved comic books as a kid. This engaging new exhibit at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art goes a long way toward explaining why.

Opening for Aliens, Monsters and Madmen, exhibition of classic comic book art, at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

The only magazine my parents ever forbade me to read as a child was Mad. (The prohibition, I’m happy to say, didn’t work.)


What would an opening be without snacks?


The museum has mounted the show with a touch of P.T Barnum.


Some of the art work in these panels looks a lot like Old Master prints.


The exhibit runs through July 10.

Writing for just one reader, Jeff Geiger snags himself a two-book deal with Disney-Hyperion


Jeff Geiger had to hit bottom as a writer before he really learned to write.

The 35-year-old Eugene man had been writing seriously since he was 20, turning out speculative fiction in the sci-fi/fantasy vein of the Wordos, a long-running Eugene writing group he was part of for several years. The Wordos have included such well known writers as Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Ray Vukcevich and Eric Witchey.

But things weren’t going well for Geiger. He was getting small pieces published here and there, but not anywhere that many people were really reading them.

And then one day he was coming home from a writer’s retreat near Seattle, where his latest work had failed to get much reaction. “I had brought this work in progress,” he explained. “And it obviously wasn’t working.”

His ’93 Buick broke down in rural Washington, and he found himself stuck in a cheap motel, debating whether to abandon the car and take the bus back to Eugene in time for his day job – he worked full time then as a program officer at the Oregon Community Foundation.

And that was when he hit dead bottom. He gave up.


“I said to hell with it,” Geiger said over a glass of wine one day last week. “I am not going to sell a book. I am never going to sell a book. I thought I had hit bottom before about not selling a book. But I hadn’t, until then.”

Geiger talks like a born story teller, stretching out the suspense just enough to keep his listener attentive but never impatient. He’s honed those skills for six years as director of the small theater group No Shame Eugene, where aspiring playwrights and actors can produce short pieces in front of a live audience once a month on First Friday. You get five minutes on stage to tell your story. Then the lights go out, whether you’re done or not, and the next act takes the stage.

He wasn’t done with writing. What he was really done with was the marketing merry-go-round that every post-Internet writer is sadly familiar with. Sell your brand. Sell yourself. Reach out to the public. Make sure you have a huge online presence. Tweet as fast as you can.


Geiger ran the other way. “I unplugged from Twitter,” he said. “I unplugged from Facebook. I didn’t go to any more conferences. I stopped every manifestation of marketing. I just stopped.”

He stopped querying agents and thinking about contracts.

He started over, with a new sense of purity about his mission. He wanted simply to write.

He told himself this: “I am just going to write a book like you would write a letter. Like just one person would read it – I would write a book that just one person would read.”

Two years later he finally showed that book to a small group of friends. One, a published author, told him it was the best thing he had ever written.

Encouraged, Geiger went back to that same retreat near Seattle again and showed the work around. This time he found himself talking to an agent, who said the book sounded really interesting. She actually wanted to read it. He sent it.

Cut forward a few months. Geiger, to his continuing surprise, last February signed a two-book deal with Disney-Hyperion for the book he wrote as a letter to a single reader, as well as for one more book he hasn’t even written. The book in hand is called “Wildman” and is scheduled to come out in spring 2017.

In “Wildman,”a valedictorian’s carefully-planned life goes off the rails when his car breaks down 300 miles from home.

I gently inquired, and he gently declined to say, how much money the deal was for. But the best answer is this: In June, Geiger quit his full time at job at OCF, now working part time for the foundation on specific projects.

Part of his success involved shifting from speculative fiction to the growing genre of young adult fiction, or YA.

Geiger grew up reading Roald Dahl and a lot of comic books, from Batman to Spiderman.

YA comes naturally to him as a writer, Geiger said. “I wanted to write authentically about the young adult experience and do it in a way that was respectful of the intelligence of young adults. And writing without a market in mind freed him to do the job right.

“Unplugging from marketing and social media let me stop thinking about what would sell and write in a way which was truly personal,” he says. “The same way I would write a letter.”

Meanwhile, he’s thrilled with the prospect of publication to a broader public.

“It’s exciting! What an opportunity, to have two books that will be read by an actual audience. I had resigned myself to the idea of of only ever having five readers.”


CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly described the title and plot of the book coming out. That has been fixed.

Eugene preschoolers can get free books of their own from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the Eugene Public Library Foundation

A few of the books available -- for free -- to all Eugene preschoolers through Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.

A few of the books available — for free — to all Eugene preschoolers through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Reading is one of the best habits for kids to cultivate, but many children, here and elsewhere, don’t have easy access to their own books.

Country singer Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library provides one solution to that problem. Under the national program, which has been adopted locally by the Eugene Public Library Foundation, any pre-school child living in Eugene can receive a free book mailed to them every month from birth until age five.

The books are all brand new and offer simple suggestions to parents for reading aloud and talking with their children about the stories.

Former KEZI newscaster Doug Barber, who sits on the foundation board, heard about Parton’s program and convinced the foundation to adopt it here last fall. The first books went out in November, and as of this spring more than 2,300 of the city’s 8,000 eligible kids have enrolled.

“People don’t really believe it’s free,” he said. “But it really is — at least to them.” The program, as a national policy, has no income requirements.

The library foundation has taken on the challenge of raising the $150,000 it will cost each year to keep the books coming in Eugene. “We’ve so far raised about $67,000,” Barber said. “And we have a fundraising breakfast coming up in June.”

Parents can sign up their children at birth through the Eugene Library.  The first book a child receives is Wally Piper’s The Little Engine That Could; the last is Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!

“Most kids, by the time they are two or three, really start watching the mailbox,” Barber said.

Get more information on the Imagination Library or sign up a child here.









Eugene historian is finalist for Dayton Literary Peace Prize


Did the cultural revolution of the ’60s get its start in an obscure group of World War II conscientious objectors on the Oregon coast?

Eugene historian Steve McQuiddy made that case in last year’s book “Here on the Edge: How a Small Group of World War II Conscientious Objectors Took Art and Peace from the Margins to the Mainstream,” published by Oregon State University Press. Now the book is a finalist for the $10,000 Dayton Literary Peace Prize, which “celebrates the power of literature to promote peace and global understanding.”

Steve McQuiddy

Steve McQuiddy

His book details the powerful influence created by men interned during the war at Civilian Public Service Camp #56 near Waldport. The group included such luminaries as William Everson, the poet later known as Brother Antoninus, and sculptor Clayton James. Released after the war, the COs headed south to San Francisco, where they formed a nucleus of the Beat Generation, out of which grew such ’60s icons as the Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead.

“Here on the Edge” is one of six finalists in the non-fiction division; six others have been chosen as finalists in the fiction division, which also awards a $10,000 prize.

Winners are to be announced in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 9.






Art detective Joby Patterson brings Norma Bassett Hall prints to light at the Schnitzer Museum


Navajo Land

Navajo Land


Thanks to a persistent Eugene art historian, a new show opening Saturday at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art offers the first public glimpse in half a century at the work of a little known Oregon-born artist.

“Chipping the Block, Painting the Silk: The Color Block Prints and Serigraphs of Norma Bassett Hall” features 68 works by Hall, who was born in 1889 in Halsey. Heavily influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement, Hall created at least 94 prints in her lifetime.

The JSMA show, which runs through Oct. 12, grows out of the detective work of Eugene art historian Joby Patterson, who spent the past 15 years tracking down art works by and information about Hall, whose life had previously been undocumented.

Patterson also wrote a book about Hall, which has just been published by Pomegranate Communications: “Norma Bassett Hall: Catalogue Raisonne of the Block Prints and Serigraphs (Amazon link).” (You can also buy direct from the publisher here.)

The beautifully illustrated book traces Hall’s life and career with her artist husband, Arthur W. Hall, and lists what Patterson was able to discover about the 94 prints she’s found.

The historian first heard of Hall when she was researching a previous book on Bertha Jaques, one of the founders of the influential Chicago Society of Etchers. Hall, Jaques had written in a letter, “does the most delectable block prints.”

Patterson had never heard of the artist. “And coming from Jaques, that was quite a statement,” Patterson told me one recent morning over coffee on the front porch of her south Eugene home.

Washerwomen of Biot

Washerwomen of Biot

Only later did she discover that Hall was born not far from Eugene, in Halsey.

An adjunct professor of art history at the University of Oregon, Patterson specializes in art of the early 20th century. She is also a print collector and a lover of wood block printing, in which the artist carves an image into the surface of wood, then inks and prints it.

When Patterson was looking for a subject for another book, she remembered the obscure artist. “Hall was a color relief-woodblock artist, a woman, and from Oregon,” Patterson said.

That was when, as Patterson says, the trouble began. She couldn’t find much of anything out about Hall. There was no published biography. No one seemed to know where her papers had gone. No one really had any idea exactly how much art Hall had produced.

Her first source of information was eBay, where Hall’s prints were regularly being sold.

Then, one night in 2004, Patterson’s son called her from Portland. “Turn on ‘Antiques Roadshow,’” he said. The show was featuring a Hall print bought at a thrift shop for a pittance. Patterson didn’t get her television on in time to get the print owner’s name. She called her son.

“Don’t worry,” he told her. “I know the owner. She’s on my soccer team.”

From that oddly coincidental beginning, she got in touch with the print owner, and later reached members of Hall’s family. She talked to a great nephew of Hall’s. She ended up talking to relatives in half a dozen states.

Cottage in Skye

Cottage in Skye

Despite years of trying, including travel all over the western United States, Patterson never found the mother lode of information she had hoped for about Hall. Instead, over a period of years, she cobbled together the story of Hall’s life and work, one single bit of information at a time.

Hall studied art at the school run by the Portland Art Association, and later at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. She spent two years studying and working in Europe. She began her professional life as a watercolorist, but soon began making the serigraphs and wood block prints for which she is known today.

Her work is colorful, well composed and finely done, and it shows the distinct influence of the Arts & Crafts movement, a late 19th and early 20th century reaction to the cold, impersonal look of industrially manufactured goods.

Hall especially came under the influence of artist and educator Arthur Wesley Dow, who valued the elements of composition more highly than literal representation of anything in nature.

“She learned from Dow the principles of design, composition and color,” Patterson says.

In the absence of much other firm information, Patterson has dated Hall’s prints based on the work itself, from paper type to the evolving monograms that Hall often used as a signature. “No two prints have exactly the same monogram,” she said.

One of the problems in dealing with a little know artist is that the lack of published information makes it easy for her work to be misrepresented.

By the end of her life, Hall was primarily making photoengravings, a much more commercial and less subtle form of reproduction. Some of those later photoengravings have been sold, in the current market, as silkscreens – and a few have had signatures added to them.

“It’s amazing that an artist – especially a woman – in this period managed what sh managed,” Patterson said. “Her family was not greatly supportive of her art. She was just talented – and determined.”

Chipping the Block, Painting the Silk: The Color Block Prints and Serigraphs of Norma Bassett Hall

Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Saturday, August 23, through October 12

Patterson will share her adventures in uncovering Hall’s life and work and lead a tour of the exhibition at 2 p.m. Saturday, August 23. A reception and book signing will follow.

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is located on the University of Oregon campus at 1430 Johnson Lane. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens. Free admission is given to ages 18 and under, JSMA members, college students with ID, and University of Oregon faculty, staff and students. For information, contact the JSMA, 541-346-3027.

Best bets this weekend: The Mayor’s Art Show, Noah Strycker at White Lotus


Mixed media painting by Katy Keuter.

The 2014 Eugene Mayor’s Art Show opens with a reception at 5 p.m. Friday in The Studio at the Hult Center, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street. Expect speeches by the likes of Mayor Kitty Piercy, a huge supporter of the arts, and lots of people crammed into the Jacobs Gallery when the doors officially open at 5:30 p.m. to check out 54 art works selected by the MAS jury from 197 pieces submitted by Lane County artists. Music by Mood Area 52. Free.

Full disclosure: I was one of the three jurors who picked this show, so you can expect it to be totally brilliant 😉 The other two were arts administrator Tina Rinaldi and artist Ann Bumb Hamilton. The exhibit runs through Oct. 4.

And, speaking of things in which I have an interest, nature writer Noah Strycker will show slides and talk about his new book, The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, at 2 p.m. Saturday at White Lotus Gallery, 767 Willamette Street. The book has gotten hugely favorable reviews in publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.

The gallery is showing “Kacho-ga: Japanese Prints and Paintings of the Natural World,” which contains a lot of bird images, though Sept. 20. Free.

And, yes, he’s my son.





















I’ve been going to the Mayor’s Art Show in Eugene for at least the past 20 years — always as a reporter and an art lover.

This time I’m viewing the show from a different lens entirely — that of a juror. I was one of three jurors this year — the others were Tina Rinaldi, former executive director of the Jacobs Gallery, and Ann Bumb Hamilton, an artist and art techer — who spent most of a recent Monday sitting down and going through slides from 198 Lane County artists who wanted to be in the show.

TarotFirst off, that number is down — a lot. In past years, if I remember correctly, there were more like 500 entries.

It’s not that there are any fewer artists in Lane County. What happened was, the gallery started charging an entry fee to submit work. In the old days, you could enter a work for free. Then WHEN, a $5 fee was charged. This year the fee has climbed to $20, reflecting the loss of a long-time corporate sponsor that in the past kicked in $6,000 to finance the exhibit.

The other big change in recent years, of course, has been the shift from jurying actual works of art — you used to haul your painting or sculpture or art motorcycle — down to the Hult Center so the jury could see for themselves. Now, like just about every other art show in the universe, it’s all done by looking at digital images. That’s OK. I won’t whine too much about this inevitable and, almost certainly, permanent change in the nature of the show.

As a result, the three of us hunched together and went through more than 200 images on a single computer screen. We were given a CD with all the images in advance, so we had all sorted through the pile at least once before.

I have to say, for once I wasn’t shocked by the bad quality of too many of the images that were submitted. For the most part, artists have either figured out how to use a camera or found someone who already knows.




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