Bob Keefer on art and music around Eugene, Oregon

Category: Culture (Page 2 of 5)

We’re back in business!

One story that got delayed is about artist Heather Halpern, shown here at the Out on a Limb gallery on First Friday.

One story that got delayed is about artist Heather Halpern, shown here at the Out on a Limb gallery on First Friday.

As you may have noticed, Eugene Art Talk has been all but shut down for the past week on account of an invasion of malware. Google banned the site from its listings, and traffic, not surprisingly, plummeted to zero.

After many hours of work and, finally, help from an excellent web consultant, Jim Walker at, the site is online and once more passes muster with Google. Everything is working and safe.

I’d like to stress that no subscriber financial information was ever compromised or in danger, as it is all received directly and stored by the financial institution. I never see it or touch it.

While the site was down, I’ve built up a small backlog of stories. I’ll be posting them all in the coming week.



The city’s “conversation” on the Jacobs Gallery: chaotic and clueless

Collette Ramirez, standing, and Tomi Anderson, seated at right, lead a small group discussion Wednesday evening.

Colette Ramirez, standing, and Tomi Anderson, seated at right, lead a small group discussion Wednesday evening.

Let’s put the best possible spin on this: Eugene cultural services staffers are clueless, not evil.

Well more than a hundred people showed up tonight to a meeting called by the city at the Hult Center, hoping to find out what happened to the Jacobs Gallery, which is the closest thing we have here to a municipal art gallery, and what they might do to save it.

Instead they were met by disorganized and defensive staffers who insisted that what they wanted was a “conversation” on what should be done with the room the popular gallery has occupied for the past 18 years. They need a hundred people to tell them what to do with a room?

The Jacobs board announced in November it would shut the gallery down at the end of this month because of mounting financial problems. The city has supported the Jacobs, a private non-profit, in the past with a cash subsidy, but that has recently been cut to zero, or not quite to zero, or…. well, you couldn’t figure any of it out from anything presented this evening. Behind the scenes, though, there have been whispers of a lack of support from city staff for the gallery over the past two years– whispers I kept hearing tonight.

It was, to say the least, a bizarre meeting. Chairs were arranged in a giant circle in the Hult’s downstairs Studio, campfire style, when people arrived at 5:30 p.m. Once people sat down, Cultural Services Division Director Tomi Anderson spoke only from a far corner of the room, as if afraid to step into the limelight.

“There is a lot of misinformation about what happened to the Jacobs Gallery,” she began. That’s when things began to fall apart.

Unhappy arts patrons demanded some kind of clear explanation. None was forthcoming. Anderson and other city staffers tried to keep people from addressing the large meeting, though several did anyway, with and without microphones and usually without identifying themselves.

After a half hour of this chaos, staffers broke the crowd up into a series of small-group sessions with facilitators, each with a felt tip pen and big paper tablet. At that point, perhaps a third of the people who had attended walked out. “I won’t be treated like a child,” a Jacobs board member said on the way out the door. Even the mayor left, or so I’m told, though it’s not clear why.

It was all too bad. No one from either the Jacobs or the city shed much light on the gallery’s closing – a fiasco that reflects badly, no matter how you spin it, on Eugene’s commitment to the arts. And no one from the city offered anything resembling arts leadership.

Writing bullet points on a poster board just isn’t the same as vision.

Malheur and the militia: Theater of the absurd opens for indefinite run in Oregon’s high desert

Headquarters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in more-peaceful days.

Headquarters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in quieter days.

The armed extremists who took over Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday were hoping to make a dramatic political statement about freedom and patriotism. Cowboys to the barricades! Sagebrush for the people!

Whoops about that.

Their ragtag occupation of the spectacular bird sanctuary has quickly devolved into kitchsy performance art. The handful of extremists, so fueled by Rambo fantasies that they talk with straight faces about “operational security,” planned to create something grandly Shakespearean in the eastern Oregon desert.

Instead they’ve become players in a Monty Python sketch.

My son, Noah, and I have been going to Malheur together for birding and photography for 20 years. While we’re hardly experts, we’re familiar enough with the refuge and its surrounding community that I could have told extremist ringleader Ammon Bundy (if only he had asked!) that Harney County wasn’t going to stand for armed sedition in its midst.

I also could have told them that an awful lot of people in Burns and around the county actually like the refuge – not to mention the tourists it brings to the local economy. (The John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival, held on and around the refuge each April, packs local motels and restaurants, as does a more informal Memorial Day weekend birding extravaganza held annually.)

But local opposition to the takeover is not just about money. It’s about values.

The anti-government warrior wannabes who seized the refuge are completely out of touch with the deep American values held by the vast majority of Harney County residents.

Harney County Sheriff David Ward, hardly a bleeding heart type, told journalists that though the extremists claimed to support local ranchers, “these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.”

He wants them to go home.

I don’t know the sheriff – have never met him – but have been impressed this week with his restraint and professionalism. He’s had to endure a lot of sniping by people on the political left who think law enforcement should go in with guns ablazing.

That, of course, would play right into the extremists’ Armageddon fantasies. And the fact, so often observed this week, that police elsewhere have not shown similar restraint when people of color have demonstrated in, for example, Ferguson, doesn’t make Sheriff Ward wrong any more than it makes the other violent police responses right.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty pissed at what the extremists are doing. Noah and I would be planning our annual winter trip to the refuge right now, if only it weren’t held by cowboy thugs. But to go in with flash bangs and high powered rifles would only make things worse – not to mention probably destroy the stately old refuge buildings, constructed by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the 1930s.

Far better is to let the widespread international mockery continue, while the handful of ardent true believers holding the refuge headquarters gets colder and lonelier by themselves out there in the desert.

Meanwhile, it’s been fun – if sometimes aggravating – to watch the national media struggle to understand a story set in a state whose name most of them can’t even pronounce. Most national accounts have been cadged together from the Oregonian’s stories, augmented with Wikipedia and stock photos; a  bird photo from the refuge that ran in the Washington Post was actually shot by Noah a few years ago for an online stock photo site.

Many national writers have spun a fairytale version of the story that bears little relation to reality.

In one of the most stupidly misleading accounts, Newsweek writes that the extremists “stormed” the refuge (in fact, they drove up in their $50,000 urban cowboy pickups and walked into an unoccupied and often unlocked complex). It describes them as “holed up” (they’ve been routinely photographed standing in plain sight outdoors, warming their hands around burn barrels) and in an “armed standoff,” which would imply there was another armed party there against which they stood. (There isn’t, so far. Not a cop in sight.)

The real story is far more subtle and interesting than any of this nonsense. Yes, the extremists are potentially dangerous. I want them out of there, and facing charges.

But so far they’ve made total fools of themselves on the international media stage. What kind of revolution starts with taking over a bird sanctuary? And then asks people to mail them snacks?

As much as I’d like for Noah and me to be able to make our winter visit to the refuge, I’m willing to wait until their egos are so cold and tattered they’re begging to go home.

What if they gave a revolution and everyone just snickered?

What would the Duke do?

What would the Duke do?

Update: Want to know what actual Oregon ranchers think of the cowboys with guns who took over the refuge? Check out this article from the Capital Press, an ag industry publication,  on a statement by the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. It says, in part: “OCA does not support illegal activity taken against the government. This includes militia takeover of government property, such as the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.”

Rumor mill: New Register-Guard publisher is already gone


N. Christian Anderson

The Eugene Weekly’s Camilla Mortensen is reporting tonight that sources tell her that N. Christian Anderson, the new publisher of The Register-Guard, has left his job after just a few months running the paper.

I have no independent confirmation.

If this is true, it’s astonishing news, certain to throw Eugene’s already ailing daily newspaper into more turmoil. Anderson, as I wrote in May, just before he started work here, was previously chairman and publisher at The Oregonian in Portland. There, he basically dismantled the newspaper, laying off newsroom arts writers by the score, and forcing the paper into a shallow digital-first model.

It will be interesting to see what’s next on Chad Drive.



Radio star Peter Van de Graaff headed to Eugene to take job at KWAX

Peter van de Graaf at WFMT in Chicago

Peter van de Graaff at WFMT in Chicago

When Caitriona Bolster announced last spring that she was leaving Eugene’s classical music radio KWAX, a lot of people — myself included — wondered how on earth the station would ever replace that sultry, mellifluous voice.

I think KWAX found a way.

Her replacement will be none other than Peter van de Graaff, known to classical music fans around the United States as the soothing voice of the late-night syndicated “Through the Night With Peter van de Graaff,” carried on scores of radio stations. To give you perspective, in case you’re not a fan of late-night classical music radio, the first person I mentioned this to said, “THE Peter van de Graaff?”

He will start here at KWAX as music director and morning host sometime in 2016, according to a modest announcement on the station’s website. He will continue to host the Beethoven Satellite Network, which carries his late-night show, from here.

Van de Graaff, who lives in Chicago and is based at WFMT there, will move to Eugene with his wife, Kathleen. Both are concert singers; he’s a bass-baritone and she is a soprano. He has performed with orchestras and opera companies around the world, including the Czech Philharmonic, numerous symphony orchestras in the United States, and such opera companies as Lyric Opera of Chicago, Florentine Opera, Milwaukee Opera, Rochester Opera and Chicago Opera Theater.

His on-air voice is authoritative and soothing.

“I’m thrilled that he has decided to move to Eugene,” Bolster said in an email this evening. “Since he and his wife are also very accomplished singers, they will both be a great addition to the community.”

I’ve reached out to him for an interview, and will write more when I’ve talked with him.






Tonight’s Art Walk went sky high, with a drone


These days you know you’re at a trendy event when there’s a drone involved. I looked up at the beginning of Friday’s First Friday Art Walk downtown and saw, for the first time in my life, a small drone, in the wild. It was creating a buzz overhead at the corner of Broadway and Willamette Street.


Half a block away I ran Attic Media‘s Ryan Postma, at right in the photo at top. He and his pilot were having a great time flying over the crowd that had assembled to see live dancers at Kesey Square.

It was a great First Friday — lots of people despite the threat of rain. The biggest crowd I saw was at the Jacobs Gallery, to check out the Mayor’s Art Show.





Here’s the full text of Serena Markstrom’s $525k lawsuit against The Register-Guard



At this link you can read the actual lawsuit that was filed in Lane County Circuit court today by former Register-Guard entertainment writer Serena Markstrom: Complaint-Markstrom.

The claim begins, quite elegantly: “This case arises out of The Register-Guard’s decision to swiftly end Serena Markstrom’s growing career as a talented and devoted reporter because she became pregnant.” It then lays out, over the course of 27 pages, a detailed description of how that happened.

It’s worth a read. There’s a bit more background in today’s earlier post here.

This is, of course, just one side of the story, strictly speaking, although I was there in the newsroom for all of Serena’s time at the RG and watched many of the events described here first hand. As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve asked the RG for a response. Still waiting.

Serena Markstrom filed a $525k sex-discrimination lawsuit against the R-G today

Serena Markstrom after her 2014 firing by The Register-Guard

Serena Markstrom at a demonstration  in front of her former place of work after her 2014 firing by The Register-Guard

Former Register-Guard entertainment writer Serena Markstrom Nugent today filed a $525,000 lawsuit against her former employer, claiming the paper illegally fired her last year after she told managers she was pregnant.

Markstrom Nugent, a well known reporter who wrote about pop music under the byline Serena Markstrom, claims in her suit, filed in Lane County Circuit Court, that the paper illegally discriminated against her because of her gender, created a hostile work environment, illegally retaliated against her, and violated the Oregon Family Leave Act.

I’ll post a copy of the filing when it becomes available. I have also emailed RG editor and publisher Christian Anderson and public relations director Bridget Baker for comment, and will add anything they offer to this post.

Naturally, I know Serena well, having worked closely with her at the newspaper for many years. My sympathies lie entirely with her in this complicated episode, which is described with great clarity and  detail in the legal filing. Apparently, her lawyer — Portland attorney Christopher Lundberg, at Haglund Kelley– really knows how to write.

The lawsuit also comes at an interesting time at the R-G: Anderson just began work this spring as the newspaper’s first non-family-member publisher in decades. My guess is the new guy is going to want to settle this thing and get it behind him as quickly as possible.

We’ll see.





On art and the killing of lions, the late Cecil, the disgraced Walter Palmer and Virgin H. Wanamaker

Lions at the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko

Lions in the Wanamaker Wildlife Wing at the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko

No, that isn’t Cecil in the photo above. But there is a connection to the late, now internet- famous lion who was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe to be shot and killed for sport by a Minnesota dentist, Walter Palmer.

The lions above are among hundreds of  wild animals shot and killed by the late southern California businessman and big game hunter Virgin H. “Jack” Wanamaker. Wanamaker, who lived in Burbank, made his money renting out equipment to Hollywood. When he died in 2003 at the age of 87, his obituary ran in Variety.

His real love was hunting. Wanamaker was a member of the Safari Club International — the same group that Palmer belonged to until he was suspended last week amid worldwide revulsion over the killing of Cecil.

Wanamaker donated his collection of wildlife trophies — along with enough money to build an entire wing to display them — to the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko, where we happened to see them on a visit earlier this month.


The enormous Wanamaker Wildlife Wing is stunningly weird, creepy and wonderful, all at the same time. Having dropped by the museum to check out the handful of Ansel Adams prints on display there, I wasn’t prepared to walk into a room quite so garishly over the top and compelling.

Scores of wild animals — all well taxidermied — are crammed into exhibits right in front of you. No glass separates you from the African dioramas, and you have to resist the urge to pet the tiger that greets you as you enter the room.

BK3_4478As a kid, I loved museums, which tended to be much weirder — and, as a result, much more engaging — in those days than they are allowed to be now. When our family lived in Charleston, South Carolina, I used to walk down to the Charleston Museum, a few blocks from our apartment, to see the giant whale skeleton that hung in the lobby and the Egyptian mummy, its toe bones visible where the wrappings were worn away, lying in a glass case. (When the Charleston Museum moved to new quarters a few years back, a new generation of curators tried to do away with the whale and the mummy. Fortunately, the public revolted, and they were put back on display.)

So the Wanamaker Wing was like a return to childhood. I loved the animals and I loved the kitsch factor. And the children I saw wandering through the exhibit were as mesmerized as I was. Yes, indeed, it’s sad that all those animals were killed — and, who knows? — maybe their deaths were as pathetic, up close, as the dentist’s killing of Cecil. But that’s past history now. Who knows how the Charleston mummy died? In the greater scheme, I think a big, gaudy profusion of stuffed animals like this might be less offensive than a lot of zoos I’ve seen.

BK3_4466There’s a larger factor at work, too, and that is money — money for wildlife conservation. Palmer is said to have paid $50,000 for the right to go kill Cecil. Big game hunting is a big business, and while the death of Cecil was stupid, depressing and probably illegal, the money generated from aspiring big game hunters seems to be doing some overall good in Africa. (For an interesting explanation of the role of big-game-hunting money in conservation, see this article in Salon.)

The other thing that big money can support is art. Virgin Wanamaker (gee, I wonder why he went by the name “Jack”?) poured a lot of bucks into the Northeastern Nevada Museum when he decided to house his wildlife collection there. That meant more gallery space for the museum, giving it the opportunity to start collecting western art as well as dead animals.




Here are a couple local arts opportunities — and Art Talk is heading to Nevada for the next two weeks, on vacation


John Fawcett was one of OMP's Young Soloist winners last year

John Fawcett was one of OMP’s Young Soloist winners last year

Eugene Art Talk will be taking a break for the next two weeks while I enjoy some vacation. I’ll be off in northern Nevada, exploring the Ruby Mountains, an area I’ve wanted to hike in for a while.

If I get time, I want to drop by the Western Folklife Center in Elko — home of the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering each January — and may file a quick report if I do.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of short items of interest to Eugene area arts lovers:

Oregon Mozart Players will once again be holding a Young Soloist Competition to choose young musicians from around the state to perform with OMP at a regular-season concert in May. Last season’s concert was wonderful.

Details from OMP:

The competition, open to standard orchestral instruments including piano, harp, saxophone, and percussion, will have both a Junior Division (age 13 and under) and a Senior Division (Age 14-18). Up to two winners from both the Junior and Senior Divisions will have the chance to perform as a soloist with the Oregon Mozart Players. Applicants must be 18 years or younger, residents of the state of Oregon, and must not have completed high school.

There will be a preliminary video round, with a submission deadline of January 13, 2016. The final round of the competition will be a live performance with piano accompaniment that is open to the public on March 13, 2016 in Room 190 at the University of Oregon School of Music.

Application forms and more details are available here.

The Jacobs Gallery is planning a two-day original art resale in October.  The fundraiser is designed to sell pre-owned art works from around the community.

The gallery is seeking original paintings, signed and editioned prints, sculpture and fine crafts to sell in the show, which will have an invitational day on October 16 and a public day on October 17. Owners of the art will receive 50 percent of proceeds; the rest goes to the non-profit Jacobs Gallery.

Delivery dates to the gallery are 9 a.m. to noon August 31, September 14 and September 28 — all Mondays.

For more information, email Alex Brokaw at

Update: I am reminded that the Eugene Symphony is also doing its Young Artist Competition, which offers young performers the chance of playing with the orchestra next season, though not as a soloist.  Details here.

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