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TRIB TOWN: One Percent For Art program funds project in St. Johns' Cathedral Park
by: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION, Proposed by Donald Fels of Fall City, Wash., this wall-like sculpture in Cathedral Park has windows that will frame views of the Willamette River on one side and of St. Johns on the other.

Last week, Portland Parks and Recreation gave the green light to an art project for St. Johns that has been five years in the making.

The parks agency approved a plan for a wall-like sculpture in the northeast quadrant of Cathedral Park, in the shadow of the St. Johns Bridge.

The project will be funded from Multnomah County's One Percent for Art program. Created in 2001, it requires that 1 percent of major construction projects be set aside for art.

In this case, the project was the county's still-unopened Wapato jail, which generated approximately $600,000 for public art. The first two projects inside the jail cost $255,000, with another $50,000 set aside for lobby art once the jail opens.

But Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto did not want all the money spent at the jail, according to Kristin Calhoun, public art manager for the Regional Arts and Culture Council, which administers the program for the county.

After seeking community input at a workshop in 2001, the arts council determined North Portlanders were interested in artwork that represents nature and also pays tribute to the area's history.

The first nonjail project, called Flows and Eddies, was installed near the canoe launch at Smith and Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area. The $200,000 project is a series of nature-related sculptures, such as tall birdhouses and carved stones, which are meant to attract wildlife.

As the lake projects got under way, the St. Johns art project was put on hold so the neighborhood could establish a master plan for its downtown area. When a logical site for the remaining art did not emerge, Calhoun convened a panel of community members, artists and jail representatives to seek alternative locations for it.

Early this year, the panel put out the call for proposals to Northwest artists. After receiving 60 applications, the group chose sculptor Donald Fels of Fall City, Wash. Fels proposed a sculpture for Cathedral Park that symbolized various historical aspects of the St. Johns neighborhood.

'I tried to design something that would work both from near and far away,' Fels said. 'The park is huge - so it would be aesthetically interesting and engaging from a distance.'

Monument to the past

Fels' called his proposal 'Drawing on the River.' It is a 6-foot wall made of Cor-ten steel, the same crack-resistant, pre-rusted material used by the United States to construct emergency cargo ships - called Liberty ships - during World War II. The material is to honor North Portland's Oregon Shipbuilding Corp., which provided the U.S. military with 322 Liberty ships during the war.

Fels' design uses sheets of steel, welded together, to create a meandering wall that mimics the shape of the Willamette River between Portland and the Columbia River.

In the wall, which runs parallel to the Willamette River, Fels proposed cutting rectangle-shaped holes for windows - without glass - that will frame views of the Willamette River on one side and of St. Johns on the other.

'Those are sort of metaphorical windows to the past, windows to the future,' Calhoun said.

There are two interactive features on the sculpture, including two optical devices that are embedded into the wall. Visitors will peer into the devices, which will have historical slides imposed over the view of the Willamette River.

At either end of the wall will be hand cranks similar to those found in music boxes. One crank will play a fiddle jig, composed for the Lewis and Clark expedition. Cathedral Park was a camp site for the explorers in 1806.

'They (Lewis and Clark) figured they would run into some Indians whom they wouldn't be able to speak to, but they would appreciate music,' Calhoun said.

The second hand crank will play the song 'Up a Lazy River,' which was popular when the St. Johns Bridge was built in 1931.

Process draws fire

Recently, the Cathedral Park project has encountered some controversy - not over the design, but over the way it was commissioned. Joe Beeler, vice president of the St. Johns Boosters business association and executive director of the annual Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, said he believes the community was left out of the decision-making process.

'If they were interested in doing public outreach, it would seem they should contact the biggest users of the park about a project in the park,' Beeler said.

Calhoun said North Portland Neighborhood Services was notified of an Oct. 21 event where the artist sought community input on the project. She said a notice of the event also was printed in neighborhood newspapers.

Only about a dozen people showed up to voice their opinions on the project. She can't explain why the Boosters never were notified of the meeting, but insists that adequate public input was received.

Despite Beeler's protests, the art panel already has disbanded and the project will proceed as planned. Now that the Portland parks department has given the arts council approval for the project, Calhoun will work with the artist to determine a timetable for the project. She says it's too early to estimate when the wall will be finished.

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