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Powerhouse Project packs an artistic punch

Artists produce an ode to power stations on the Clackamas River


by: SUSAN SCHENK - 'Tools of the Giants' is a piece of collage art created by Wilsonville artist Susan Schenk for the Powerhouse Project. by:  JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville artist Susan Schenk is one of more than two dozen metro area artists to take part in the Powerhouse Project.In today’s regulatory world it’s hard to imagine anyone carving a rail line through virgin forest simply to supply building materials to a massive and expensive building project in the wilderness.

Nearly a century ago, however, that sort of project was not only within the realm of imagination, it was standard fare for the men of the Portland Railway, Light and Power Company. Between 1921 and 1931, the company, a forerunner of today’s Portland General Electric, constructed the Oak Grove Powerhouse on a remote stretch of the Clackamas River. The adjacent Three Lynx village was thrown together using the Aladdin company’s popular kit homes and used to house up to 1,700 workers at the project’s peak.

Today, an old school and other buildings still remain in Three Lynx, while the power station still harnesses enough hydroelectric power today to light up 22,000 metro area homes. But that’s not all it’s generating.

The classic art deco lines of Oak Grove and three other PGE hydroelectric facilities also are the inspiration of a four-year art project spearheaded by the Estacada Area Arts Commission and PGE.

“Every single aspect of this project is fun. It’s joyful, it flows and it’s one of the best projects I’ve ever worked on,” said Jane Reid, the curator behind the Powerhouse Project and head of the arts commission.

Starting in 2010, the project brought two-dozen artists to the River Mill Dam for an inaugural “art jam,” where they sketched and photographed scenes that were then taken back to individual studios for use with the creative process.

This ended up producing the work seen in a 2011 traveling exhibit that made stops at the Estacada Public Library, Clackamas County Developmental Services Building in Oregon City, PGE headquarters in downtown Portland and, finally, the Clackamas Community College annex in Wilsonville.

The following year brought the artists to Oak Grove and Three Lynx for a 2012 exhibit at the same venues.

Now, the 2013 exhibit is making the rounds with a display of art produced by last year’s art jam at the historic Faraday Powerhouse on the Clackamas. And in 2014 the project will conclude with a fourth and final show of work featuring the North Fork Dam, which was visited for an art jam by the project’s artists in May.

The exhibit currently is on the last leg of its 2013 tour and will be on display at the Wilsonville annex of Clackamas Community College through Sept. 13. It is available for viewing during normal business hours in the main lobby.

With more than two dozen works of art spanning a variety of disciplines and styles, it is a powerful rendition of a time in American history when growth and development ultimately triumphed over the Great Depression.

“I’ve done nothing like this artistically in the past,” said Wilsonville artist Susan Schenk.

Schenk uses scraps of paper, fabric and other materials to create captivatingly detailed scenes. Her work has been shown all over the metro area and has allowed her to carve out a niche in the local arts scene.

“This was my fourth trip (to Clackamas River facilities),” she said, “and it’s a challenge to try and capture something that caught your attention and that, at the same time, you’re technically competent to do, and also to capture the spirit of the place.”

Schenk’s latest work, “Tools of the Giants,” focuses on the massive machinery and tools found inside the Faraday Powerhouse, which contains six turbines that produce enough electricity to power more than 16,000 homes.

“The building vibrates, there’s a constant hum and you have to wear earplugs,” Schenk said. “It can be overwhelming, and yet, you’re trying to bring home a piece of it so others can see it. I’m always impressed by the variety of things people try to do to capture the sense of that place.”

The Powerhouse Project has found a home away from home at CCC’s Wilsonville annex. There, grant money paid for new display lights, while the campus recently hosted work by the internationally renowned painter William F. Reece.

“We don’t do it for the money or anything, we do it for the locals,” said Joyce Gabriel, who serves as the college’s student services and facility coordinator and was instrumental in bringing the show to Wilsonville. “I just think the uniqueness of it and the diversity of the media is so neat and so different.”

Like the two shows before it, as well as the North Fork Dam exhibit scheduled for 2014, the work that came out of Faraday Powerhouse is unique and a product of the Depression-era architecture, Reid said.

“The windows really grabbed a lot of the artists, and that was a real contrast to the dam we were at last time,” Reid said. “(The facilities) still work, which is great. They’ll be going forever. It’s a very historical picture and you can’t help but think when you’re in these places, the men who created them, their vision of this, you realize they had a lot of hard work to do.”

At a glance:

‘Estacada on the Clackamas: The Powerhouse Project’

An exhibit featuring the work of 24 artists is on display at the CCC Wilsonville campus, 29353 SW Town Center Loop East, and will continue through Sept. 13.

The artists’ work in a variety of mediums has been on display in several locations in the county and at PGE headquarters in Portland.

Stereo photographs by Clackamas Community College-Wilsonville webmaster Dean Walch are among the work on display.

For more information, contact Joyce Gabriel at 503-594-0950.

2013 Artists:

Sue Allen, Steven Amick, Eileen Belanger,Nina Bradford, Leslie Cheney-Parr, Shannon Covington, Am Griswold, Katherine Hurd, Julius Kuziemski, Thea Kuziemski, Phil Lingelbach, Earleen Marsh, Christopher Moone, Leslie Peterson, Neal Philpott, Pam Randall, Annette Reisbick, Susan Schenk, Jeff Schnabel, Jean Thomas, Nolene Triska, Dean Walch

susanschenk.com




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