Eugene Art Talk

Bob Keefer on art and music around Eugene, Oregon

Category: Culture (page 1 of 5)

Big changes coming to Eugene Art Talk — and for its editor

Your editor at Eugene Art Talk.

Here’s something I bet you didn’t expect: Starting Wednesday, January 11, I will become the arts editor of the Eugene Weekly.

Yes, an actual newspaper job, with paycheck and everything. There I’ll be writing and editing stories about art and music around Lane County.

That’s not much different from the work I’ve done for the past twenty years, first for The Register-Guard and, during the past two and a half years, on Eugene Art Talk. But it’s not quite the same. Writing for an alt-weekly offers not only a different audience but an entirely different newsroom culture, and I’m looking forward to making that change after decades spent writing for mainstream newspapers.

So what’s that mean for Eugene Art Talk?

A couple things. First off, I will continue to write online, although with a somewhat different approach. In general, I won’t be looking to cover arts world news, as that will certainly go to my employers at the Weekly. I will continue to write some reviews, including some of those same-night theater and symphony pieces that have been popular with readers. In general, I hope, as I move forward, to offer readers broader commentary on the state of art and music in Eugene and its surroundings.

Second, I’m going to stop charging subscriptions for the site. When I started Eugene Art Talk in summer 2014, I decided that a reader subscription model was the most straightforward approach. Readers could pay for stories, rather than advertisers. To my surprise, that worked rather well. The idea was that I would lock up the best stories on the site so they could be read only by subscribers who paid $5 a month or $50 a year for access.

There was just one small problem: Locking up the website meant the best stories on Eugene Art Talk couldn’t be read by everyone who was interested. And that often hurt the arts groups who were the subjects of those stories. So after a few months I stopped locking up any stories at all. Readers kept subscribing anyway, which meant they were really patrons. Kind of nice.

But as of today I have canceled all subscriptions, stopped the automatic credit card payments that have been the lifeblood of Eugene Art Talk, and shut down the entire membership/subscription/financial apparatus on the site. The site is now free for everyone, and will remain that way.

It’s been a fun two and a half years. I’ve posted, as of today, 328 pieces on the blog, most written by me, with a few by Suzi Steffen, Serena Markstrom and Susan Palmer.  I’ve broken occasional news of importance to the arts world, written profiles and detailed interviews, and have done a lot of quick same-night performance reviews.

Thanks to all who have supported this little experiment in local journalism! I’ve really liked the opportunity to continue to write about the arts here and get paid a bit for it. And I’ve enjoyed the interactions that the site created with readers.

Now, I’m looking forward to continuing to write about the arts for a different publication, with a different audience, and getting to know many more readers.

Stay tuned, and Happy 2017!

Eugene’s arts year in quick review

Bary Shaw and Rebecca Nachison in Shrimp & Gritts: She’s Gone at OCT

Happy almost New Year! Seems like a great time to look back at what was good and what was not so good in the local arts world in 2016. I didn’t get to everything, so I’m certain I missed some real gems, but here are my picks for the best I saw and heard all year long, and a few notes about the bad out there.

The Good

Shrimp & Gritts: She’s Gone at Oregon Contemporary Theatre. Eugene playwright Paul Calindrino created a sweetly sardonic reflection on contemporary love, and it was expertly performed last summer under Brian Haimbach’s direction. Bary Shaw and Rebecca Nachison were amazing in the lead roles. Best local play of the year.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Lane County is enjoying an incredible renaissance in theater, and it’s being led by OCT.

Timothy McIntosh and Martha Benson as Hamlet and Ophelia at Cottage Theatre

Hamlet at Cottage Theatre.  Did I mention great theater is being performed around the county? Even in Cottage Grove? Under Tony Rust’s direction, Timothy Mcintosh, as Hamlet, made the indecisive prince entrancingly believable in this smart, watchable production.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at Actors Cabaret of Eugene. ACE specializes in fun, diverting musicals, and I Love You, You’re Perfect was perfectly staged in this show directed by Joe Zingo. I think I could have stayed in my seat and watched it a second time.

Quality of Life at Very Little Theatre. Storm Kennedy led a very strong cast in this searing drama of love, age, and death, directed expertly by Carol Horne Dennis.

Karla Bonoff at the Shedd

Karla Bonoff at the Shedd. The Shedd Institute continues its mission of bringing unusually interesting talent to town — sometimes people you’ve heard of, and sometimes not. Bonoff has long been one of those under-the-radar singer songwriters known mostly to a few fans and to the better known singers (Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Wynona Judd) who performed her work. Her show here in April was gorgeous.

Eugene Onegin by Eugene Opera. As perfect a performance as I could imagine enjoying. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we have an opera company at all in a town the size of Eugene — much less such a good one.

The Eugene Biennial. After the non-profit Jacobs Gallery closed at the beginning of the year, the annual Mayor’s Art Show was left without a home, and quietly died, too. Gallerist Karin Clarke stepped up with the idea of a juried Eugene Biennial at her downtown gallery, keeping the all-comers show alive, and even expanding its reach to all the counties abutting Lane County. Good job.

Aliens, Monsters and Madmen at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

Aliens, Monsters and Madmen at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. You’ve got to love it when the bad habits of your youth — comic books and Mad magazine, for example — become high art in your old age. This was one of the few arts shows in town I went to see twice, spending a long time in the gallery during each visit.

Stephen Hough with Eugene Symphony. The concert pianist’s performance of Beethoven’s third piano concerto was magnificent. Hough, recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, redeemed the whole idea of piano concertos with his playing. To add to the fun, we got to hear the orchestra play work by several high school students.

 

The Eugene Review. Dark clouds sometimes have silver linings, and The Register-Guard’s steady firing of arts and entertainment writers finally produced a local arts website that’s got solid talent behind it, including Randi Bjornstad, Serena Markstrom and Suzi Steffen. The Eugene Review, which kicked off late in the year after Bjornstad got the axe, is a lot newsier and has a greater range of voices than Eugene Art Talk.

 

Out of town

 

Yeomen of the Guard at OSF

The Winter’s Tale and Hamlet and Yeomen of the Guard at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. OK, I could practically have listed every one of the eleven plays OSF did this past year. But Winter’s Tale was beautiful, Hamlet was crazy with heavy metal rock and roll, and Yeomen of the Guard let me — and perhaps fifty other audience members — wander around stage right during the show.

Russell Childers at Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Childers’ haunting, evocative sculpture had never been the subject of a retrospective. The Hallie Ford, which is the best museum of Oregon art, stepped up this past year and remedied that problem with an excellent show of work by the late artist, who was institutionalized for much of his life.

 

Wendy Red Star’s Apsa’alooke Feminist 3 at PAM

Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy at Portland Art Museum. A well thought out and compelling show, put together by the museum, of work by Native American photographers reacting to Edward Curtis.

 

The bad

Art censorship at the UO. No, they didn’t go after figure drawing this year.  The project I have in mind is the blackface appearance by UO law professor Nancy Shurtz at a private Halloween party in her own house. Not art you say? Come on. She was dressed in costume, portraying a current book, Damon Tweedy’s memoir, “Black Man in a White Coat,” about discrimination people of color face in the medical profession. Sounds like art to me.  For this, her job is threatened and she is widely vilified as a clueless racist. Bad taste, maybe. Clueless, perhaps. But no one has disputed Shurtz’ claim that she did it to provoke a discussion of racism in the professions. The university administration’s inept handling has drawn national publicity.

R-G housecleaning.  Randi Bjornstad, a former colleague and current friend, was dismissed by her bosses on Chad Drive for her work as a union president in behalf of former entertainment writer Serena Markstrom, who was also fired by the paper. See a trend here?

 

The Jacobs Gallery. It’s been almost a year since the private non-profit Jacobs closed, its budget ground down by cuts in city financial support. The city bobbled the whole thing even more with a disastrous public meeting that shed little or no light on what the future might bring. Today, almost a year after the gallery went under, a sign over the gallery’s former front door still says “Jacobs Gallery,” and the defunct gallery’s hours are still posted on a sign outside the Hult Center. In the real world this kind of thing might indicate ambivalence. When is the city ever going to make up its mind about support of the visual arts?

 

People we’ll miss:

There were too many deaths in the arts world here locally in 2016, just as there were around the country. Here are some of the locals whose deaths touched me.

 

Mark Clarke in his home studio in 2008.

Mark Clarke. One of the best painters in the state, and one of the sweetest people you could ever know. Clarke was the father of gallerist Karin Clarke and husband of painter Margaret Coe.

Richard Haugland. A deep-pocket patron of the arts, he funded — among many other things — Eugene Ballet’s brand-new production of “The Snow Queen,” which is to debut in 2017.

Rick Bartow. An amazing artist with an amazing personal story, Bartow died this past spring just a year after the Schnitzer Museum mounted a big exhibition of his work.

John Evans. The former executive director (though he had other titles) of the Oregon Bach Festival, which he ran from 2007 until his resignation in 2014, the former BBC producer could be prickly at times, but attracted a lot of donor money to OBF.

Don Hunter. A geek’s geek, Hunter — an avid collector of sounds — founded the University of Oregon’s audio-visual department in 1947 and ran it for 30 more years. “I especially loved sounds that were disappearing,” he once told me.

 

 

After Wyoming, and that election, tonight’s symphony was a sumptuous version of heaven.

The view from Mezzanine Center F 209

The view of five young composers from Mezzanine Center F 209

OK, I’m back from Wyoming. It’s taken me a week and some to readjust to being home — first, because I loved spending an entire month doing nothing but hiking in the Wyoming mountains and making art in a studio at the wonderful Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, but also because I happened to fly back home on election night, and landed in Eugene at the stroke of midnight to discover I had entered some kind of parallel universe I had never imagined inhabiting.

But tonight’s Eugene Symphony concert went a long ways toward restoring sanity.

The program featured pianist Stephen Hough, a British keyboard celeb (composer, performer, poet, MacArthur genius grant recipient), who turned out one of the best piano concertos I’ve ever  heard performed. Hough’s rendition of Beethoven’s third piano concerto, Op. 37, wasn’t flashy and it wasn’t dramatic. What it offered instead was a steady, reserved brilliance that went on and on without a break for more than half an hour.

I may have been swayed by the seats I got at the Hult’s Silva Hall — just about dead center on the mezzanine — which, in that very uneven hall, offered the best and most seamless blend I’ve heard there of piano and orchestra. But I don’t think it was just acoustic perfection. Hough’s playing was eerily right at every single moment, without his showing the least strain. It was like he could kick out perfect Beethoven in his sleep.

I wanted to talk with him, but Hough was too big a fish to land for an interview, despite my best efforts. He saves his energy for talking, it seems, to outlets like the New York Times and The Economist.

The concert opened with a piece called Ode to the Future: Variations on Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy,’ which was put together by five young — very young, as in high school age — Oregon composers. The five — Marissa Lane-Massee, Joseph Miletta, Wesley Coleman, Cayla Bleoaja and Katie Palka — each worked out a variation on the last movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. The five short movements were then combined and performed together as a single piece.

How do I put this, so Eugene Symphony understands. DO THIS MORE! Do this at every concert! Play more new music, not just by high schoolers but by college undergraduates just exploring music for the first time and by grad students looking at it as a career. We have a music school here. There should be new music on every single concert program!

OK. End of lecture.

The evening concluded with Shostakovich’s symphony No.11, a very brooding, intense, Russian piece that’s, sadly, terribly appropriate to today’s world a full century and some after it was written.

I was able to tuck back into my seat and be taken to  place where suffering is universal, and accepted, and where the president to be just seems another distraction from all the beauty that is out there, if only we can look and listen.

 

 

 

 

 

A letter from the ranch in Wyoming: A month-long residency at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts

Near Medicine Bow Peak.

Near Medicine Bow Peak.

Every day, for the last three weeks, I’ve gotten up at dawn, eaten a quick breakfast, packed a small lunch, and headed out for eight to ten miles of hiking and photographing in the high sagebrush country of southern Wyoming. Then I come back, settle in to a private studio for the afternoon, and work until dinner on hand-coloring photos, painting them at an easel for the first time in my life instead of on a drafting table.

All this time I’ve been holed up at a luxury dude ranch in southern Wyoming with five other artists – all more accomplished than I, by far – at the posh Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts.

Part of Brush Creek Ranch, a 15,000-acre, $1,000-$1,500 a night resort that caters to some fraction of the one percent, the art foundation has been in existence for five years. The ranch is where Girls star Allison Williams was married last year to much notice in the celebrity press.

Like other arts residencies around the country and the world, Brush Creek Foundation offers a quiet place to live and work, in extraordinary surroundings, for perhaps 50 artists each year. For free. Did I say for free? Artists and art lovers tend to complain about a lack of support for the arts in the U.S. Well, this is support.

At work in my studio.

At work in my studio.

When I arrived three weeks ago, I was picked up in Laramie – the closest commercial airport – and shuttled some 70 miles across southern Wyoming’s mountain and sagebrush country to my own little piece of Paradise: a small hotel style bedroom in a log building next to a second log building where I’ve got my private art studio, complete with high ceilings, a sink, a big wooden easel, desk, tables and basic supplies. And a great view of the rimrock outside.

I’ve never worked in a studio this spacious or elegant. Best of all, like all four visual art studios here, it comes with a Barcalounger, perfect for afternoon or evening naps and other deep inspired contemplation.

The only question I’ve got is, why have I never done this kind of thing before?

The other five artists here with me for the month are all easterners, oddly enough: Three New Yorkers, a Bostonian and a French Canadian.

New York performance artist Pat Oleszko on Open Studios day.

New York performance artist Pat Oleszko on Open Studios day.

Among us we are two photographers, two orchestral composers, a novelist and a performance artist who was once arrested in Rome for impersonating the Pope (as part of an art project, natch).

Four of us are in our 60s. Two are, ahem, younger. We get along amazingly well, considering we eat every dinner and many lunches together, and we see few other people day to day. The other artists tell stories about residencies wrecked by the occasional misfit. None of that has happened here. It’s a serious, good-humored group of actual adults. We’ve gotten together once to watch a presidential debate, and a few of us took a high-altitude hike near Medicine Bow Peak the other day. One resident, photographer and ceramicist Warren Mather, rented a car for the month, and has been generous with rides to town.

The weather has been spectacular. We got four inches of snow one day early on, but it all melted off in a couple more days, leaving us to enjoy sunny warm afternoons and cool evenings, sometimes spent around a fire pit well stocked with cut and split logs.

But mostly we work. Brush Creek offers what is called a “no expectations” residency, which means just that. No obligation on our part to do anything in particular at all. You can work, you can hike, you can take naps. You can present your work to the other artists (which we have all done) or not. No one judges.

Dinner.

Dinner.

And you can just breathe the clean Wyoming air each morning and think, “What did I ever do to deserve this?”

The biggest artistic challenge I’ve faced is this: Since I decided to fly here, rather than drive 1,100 miles and back in uncertain weather, I don’t have my computer printer. So each day I shoot and edit photos, but can’t print them; instead I work on a stack of old black and white photographs I shipped to myself ahead of time via UPS. So I’m photographing Wyoming and painting Oregon each day. I’ll live, somehow.

No one seems to take days off. What would be the point?

Dinners and lunches have been catered by a Peruvian chef named Monika, whose husband Alejandro also works in the main lodge kitchen. Our meals have been opulent, night after night, almost to a fault. Monika and Alejandro finished their contract for the season the other night, so we celebrated with a full-on prime rib dinner with the works, leaving everyone stunned and satiated.

Pre-dinner cocktail hour by the firepit.

Pre-dinner cocktail hour by the firepit.

The first resident to present his work to us was Jerome Kitzke, a New York composer who has performed all over the world. Tall, rangy and gray haired, with a long pony tail, he spends his days holed up in a cabin here called The Schoolhouse, which I guess used to be one; now it’s restored, looks a bit like a church inside, and sports one of the best 9-foot Steinway grand pianos I’ve heard played. (The other music studio has a Bösendorfer.)

One evening early on, Jerome invited us to the The Schoolhouse to hear him play a piano setting he wrote perhaps 15 years ago to Allen Ginsberg’s 1953 poem “The Green Automobile.” The poem is perfect for here, about an imagined road trip taken from New York to the West by Ginsberg to see Neal Cassady.

With a week to go before returning to Oregon, I find myself picking up the pace of photography, painting and just plain thinking. It’s hard in real life to find time like this to work on anything, and I don’t plan to lose a moment.

An abandoned cabin up a sagebrush draw on the ranch.

An abandoned cabin up a sagebrush draw on the ranch.

Eugene Art Talk is back. Well, it’s in Wyoming for another week and a half.

_bk32555After some deep technical difficulties – finally, I believe, resolved! – Eugene Art Talk is back online and fully functional.

The site’s been down for the better part of two weeks, and I’ve gotten behind on a few things.

One of the difficulties in handling the web maintenance has been that I am in rural Wyoming, enjoying a month-long artist residency at the spectacular Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. The scenery here is incredibly wonderful, and the chance to work with and around five other artists has been astonishing, but the internet connection at the ranch is a bit, ah slow. So it’s been hard to stay in touch.

Though I’m not in town covering events right now (oh, how I missed the symphony’s Mahler concert), I do have a couple things to write about from here in the wild west.

First is this residency itself. I haven’t done anything like this in my life, and have plenty to say about the experience.

Second is the arrival of The Eugene Review, a new website dedicated to covering the arts in town., with stories by a number of familiar writers. Hurrah!

Finally, I may pull myself out of a disheartening funk and try to write something coherent about the incredible jury verdict in the Malheur occupation. What were they possibly thinking?

Stay tuned, and thanks for your patience. I’ll be back in Eugene and following the arts scene on, of all days, Election Day.

Richard P. Haugland, 1943-2016

800px-r_haugland

Richard P. Haugland, a major financial supporter of Eugene arts organizations, died last night in Thailand after a battle with brain cancer, according to his friends at the Eugene Ballet. He was 73.

With his wife, Rosaria, Haugland was a founder of the Eugene hi-tech business Molecular Probes. With the profits from that company, the couple created charitable foundations that have given large gifts to Eugene Ballet as well as to Oregon Contemporary Theatre and Eugene Opera, among other organizations.

“I first got to know them when their daughter, Marina, studied ballet at our school over 30 years ago,” Eugene Ballet Artistic Director Toni Pimble said today. “He was a very generous, kind and thoughtful man whose philanthropic gifts spread far beyond Eugene. His generous soul touched all who knew him. He will be sincerely missed.”

The Hauglands supported the ballet in its early years and, more recently, gave more substantial gifts that enabled the organization to purchase the building that became the Midtown Art Center on South Willamette Street.

Later he offered funding to Pimble and the company to create a new children’s ballet, and the result was 2013’s “Mowgli, the Jungle Book Ballet.” Pleased with what he saw at the premiere, he immediately offered to support a second new show.

With a $200,000 grant from the Richard P. Haugland Foundation, the ballet is currently at work on an all-new production of “The Snow Queen,” which will premiere here in April.

“We are so very sad that Richard will not see the results of his support for this second work,” Pimble said.

In recent years, Haugland lived in Thailand, where he supported – both financially and with hands-on work – needy children and orphans.

“Eugene is fortunate that he and Rosaria chose to grow their company here and to simultaneously play major roles in the growth of several of Eugene’s arts groups,” said Craig Willis, artistic director of Oregon Contemporary Theatre. “What I find even more inspiring was his dedication to improving the lives of AIDS orphans in Thailand. He so clearly loved these children and found joy in enriching the lives of people who might otherwise be cast-offs.”

 

 

It’s official: Randi Bjornstad has been fired by the Register-Guard

Randi Bjornstad, the Register-Guard features writer who’s been covering the arts for the newspaper since I left in 2013, was fired Wednesday from her job.

randi

Randi Bjornstad from her Facebook page

The reasons given were “dishonesty, insubordination and destroying company property,” she told me over a cup of coffee this morning.  Those reasons, of course, closely reflect the grounds given for the firing in 2014 of entertainment writer Serena Markstrom, whose pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against the paper was thrown out by a judge’s ruling  August 31.

Bjornstad supported Markstrom’s claim against the newspaper and testified extensively at last month’s trial.

She said she plans to challenge her firing through the Newspaper Guild, the union representing most newsroom employees. She is the co-president of the Guild local, and says she was clearly fired for engaging in protected union activity. Bjornstad , a 28-year veteran of the newsroom, was suspended from her job right after the judge’s ruling in favor of the newspaper.

Meanwhile, two other RG employees who were suspended at the same time in connection with the case have been brought back to work with no discipline, Bjornstad said.

I’ve been holding back on writing a longer piece about Serena’s case against the RG because I do not, for the life of me, understand the judge’s ruling. I don’t simply mean that I don’t agree with it, which I don’t, but that I don’t have a clue what she actually ruled on.

As of a couple days ago, court papers that might explain the judge’s ruling were still not in the public file.  When I get my hands on them, I’ll write more.

 

 

So what exactly happened today at the media trial of the, er, century (Eugene version)?

Serena Markstrom after her 2014 firing by The Register-Guard

Serena Markstrom after her 2014 firing by The Register-Guard

I don’t know, either, and it’s nearly dinnertime.

One of the ironies of the superconnected age we live in is this: Getting news still comes down to having a reporter go to an event and report on it.

The courtroom trial of the case of Serena Markstrom v Guard Publishing Co. was scheduled to open today in Lane County Circuit Court, the Hon. Josephine Mooney presiding. And I assume it did.

And I likewise assume that Serena, my friend and former colleague at the Register-Guard, testified about her experience of being fired by the paper in 2014 soon after she notified her bosses that she was pregnant.

I also have it on reasonable authority that at least the RG and the Eugene Weekly had reporters assigned to cover the story. Maybe some others were there as well — KLCC? KVAL? KEZI? I don’t know.

I didn’t go to the trial today. I had other things to do. But I’ve also been subpoenaed as a witness, and while no one told me I couldn’t attend, it felt to me like it might be inappropriate to sit there and listen to testimony from others, even from Serena.

But I’ve gotten so used to getting news right now that I’m feeling like the whole internet/instant news thing turns out to be kind of a fraud. I mean, lots of people in town are interested in this story. But how to find out what happened today?

News only happens when there is a reporter there to witness it. And write it. And then have someone publish it.

Even today.

(Here’s a link to the original filing.)

Addendum, 6:45 p.m.:  KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert reported earlier today that jury selection would take up most of Tuesday. The radio station  plans to cover the beginning of the actual trial on Wednesday, according to Rachael McDonald on Facebook.

And another update, 8:45 p.m.:  The Register-Guard story by Ed Russo is now posted. It’s pretty complete looking, and covers the two sides’ opening statements in the case.

 

 

 

 

Don Hunter, 1914-2016

HUNTER_DONALD_16_CC_05292016Found-sound documentarian Don Hunter has died at his home in Eugene, according to a family obituary in today’s Register-Guard. He was 101.

Hunter, whom I met and interviewed in 2003, was a grown-up version of the smart, geeky kid who ran the audio-visual stuff in high school — except that he did it on a grand scale, founding the University of Oregon’s audio-visual department in 1947 and running it for 30 more years.

Fascinated by the ability to record sound, Hunter recorded everything: The sound of light switches snapping. The sound of chain saws in the woods. The sound of a telephone operator saying, “Number, please?”

He knew all those sounds would one day vanish, and wanted to preserve them for the future. “I loved getting out and getting the sounds of nature,” he told me. “And I especially loved sounds that were disappearing.”

Hunter was also an accomplished photographer, and was giving slideshow presentations with sound added in, often about the Oregon landscape, before the term “multimedia” had even been invented.

A service will be held at 2 p.m. June 10 at Central Presbyterian Church.

 

 

The unlikely correspondent: How a UO geography professor covered the Malheur refuge occupation in Facebook posts

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UO professor Peter Walker, left, with Malheur occupier LaVoy Finicum at refuge headquarters — annotated copies of the US Constitution in their shirt pockets. Photo by Jason Patrick.

One of the many, many surprises to come out of the 41-day occupation by armed extremists that just ended at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is this: A mild-mannered university professor from Eugene has turned out to be one of the most interesting voices covering the strange events in Harney County.

Peter Walker is a professor of geography at the University of Oregon. He specializes in “the social and political dimensions of human uses of the physical environment,” his staff page on the UO website notes.

As soon as he heard about the occupation, which began Jan. 2, he knew he was headed for Burns.

“My area of interest is land-use politics,” he said by phone one night from the Silver Spur motel in Burns, where virtually every other room was rented by out-of-town militia members. “And I think this counts. When the Bundy thing happened, I though, this was meant for me. There was no way I could pass that up.”

Walker is on sabbatical from the university and paid for his own travel. During several extended trips to Burns, including visiting refuge headquarters while it was in the hands of the militants, Walker made numerous Facebook posts describing his experiences. His online writing about the occupation is neither academic nor traditionally journalistic; instead, he combines personal observation with his own knowledge of the people of Harney County – as in this February 1 post describing a demonstration by local people, surrounded by armed out of town militants, at the Harney County courthouse:

Tense face-off in front of the Harney County Court House today. A few hundred mostly-local people protested the ongoing presence of anti-government militia – they chanted, “WE are Harney County, you are NOT our voice.” A few hundred outsider militia (they call themselves “patriots”) protested mainly against the “murder” of LaVoy Finicum and demanded that the FBI leave the county.

I saw a news article that said the community is divided, but I didn’t see that – virtually all local people I saw are calling for the militia to leave.

Meanwhile, from the comfort of southern Nevada, Cliven Bundy (speaking for “We the People of Harney County”!) helpfully declared that he would retain possession of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and called for the four remaining occupiers to stand their ground. Great. No indication that the militia are leaving soon, either. Today’s face-off finally ended when someone (I’m not sure who, anybody know?) handed out free pizza. Maybe that’s the answer. I propose to send lots of free snacks to Idaho.

“My impression was, and is, that the Bundy militia never had much local support, and don’t have much local support,” Walker said.

Charles Goodrich, head of Oregon State University’s Spring Creek Project, which tries to raise environmental awareness through good writing, had this to say – again on Facebook – about Walker’s Malheur posts:

Peter Walker has been spending a lot of time witnessing and reporting from Harney County, and has been a source of solid, compassionate reporting on the situation, especially how the locals have been handling this invasion.

Walker attended a meeting January 18 in Crane, a tiny town northeast of Burns, at which refuge occupiers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and LaVoy Finicum and Ryan Payne talked to local ranchers and tried to enlist them in their cause.

“They told the assembled ranchers and reporters and me that the United States government has no authority to own land outside of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “And Ryan Payne was saying you don’t have to have a driver’s license, because it’s not in the Constitution.”

Payne also tried to convince the ranchers – who Walker said remained unmoved – that they were obligated to resist arrest by federal agents. “Which is interesting,” Walker added, “because when Ryan Payne was stopped (in the arrest of the occupiers’ leaders on January 26) he was the first to surrender.”

At the Crane meeting, Walker went up, a little uncomfortably, and introduced himself to the Bundy brothers. “It was a small room. I stood out, because I clearly wasn’t a rancher and didn’t look like a TV reporter. And those are some rough-looking guys.”

Walker said he didn’t find either of the Bundy brothers to be very articulate or clear in their thinking. “Their story about what they were doing just kept evolving,” he said.

On the other hand, he said, Ryan Payne was smart and well spoken. “And yet the things he said in the presentation were out to lunch.”

“The word that comes to me first is ‘arrogant,’” Walker said. “They came a long distance to tell people in Harney County how to interpret the Constitution. That’s a jaw-dropping level of arrogance.”

Walker was most personally impressed by Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, the Arizona rancher who was shot dead by Oregon state police after, they said, he reached for a weapon while being arrested on January 26. Walker had previously met Finicum at the refuge headquarters – they were photographed together by another of the militants, Jason Patrick – and brought home a copy, signed by Finicum, of the annotated version of the US Constitution the occupiers prefer.

“He was a smart guy,” Walker said of the dead militant. “He knew what he was doing. He was the one person in that group who, if someone were to ask me who in that group wouldn’t surrender, I would have unhesitatingly said Finicum. He was deeply passionate and, in my impression, true to his convictions. He knew exactly what kind of situation he was in (during his arrest) and he had said many times he would rather die than be caged.”

In a Facebook post today, Walker said he was headed back to Burns to join in the local celebration about the end of the occupation. Walker marked the end of the occupation with this wry line:

“At about 10:57 a.m. David Fry had a cigarette and ate a cookie and surrendered. It ends with snacks.”

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