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20 local artists create works inspired by 'The Book of Unknown Americans'. Exhibit is open through the end of the month at Lakewood Center Foyer Gallery, then will move to the Lake Oswego Library before it starts a yearlong tour of the state.

Artist Haelyn Y, a Korean immigrant, was inspired by The Book of Unknown Americans to create this self-portrait titled Geum Jool, which means Golden String of charcoal and ink on paper. The golden string signifies her rebirth as an American citizen.

The waiting is almost over. The Lake Oswego Public Library is preparing to launch its much anticipated, award-winning Lake Oswego Reads citywide reading program.

More than 30 events and presentations are planned starting Feb. 1, to enrich readers' interpretation of "The Book of Unknown Americans," by Cristina Henriquez, this year's selected title.

Library staff describe the story as being "about love, guilt, hope, promise and despair, as it examines the relationships between husband and a wife, parent and a child, and the newcomer and the outsider, in the fertile yet fragile landscape of the American dream."

Mojdeh Bahar explains the inspiration behind her piece titled #PassionateFluxofHope.

A well-loved tradition of the program is the exhibit of local artists' interpretations of the book. Starting in late August or September the 20 artists read "The Book of Unknown Americans," and then created art inspired by the book.

The public is invited to view the art at an opening reception to be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 4 at Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 S. State St. The artists will present their works and attendees will have an opportunity to learn firsthand how the story inspired the artist.

"'The Book of Unknown Artists' reveals many important perspectives," said artist Jan Rimerman, curator of the exhibit.

"As a former teacher of individuals from many countries, an avid traveler and being part of a not-so-distant immigrant family, this book brings up many emotions and personal memories. The daily challenges of trying to make a living for the family, fitting into a new environment and to be recognized as a valued part of the community is difficult enough without being transplanted from a different country."

She said the group includes many immigrants, including Mojdeh Bahar and Haelyn Y. Originally from Iran, Bahar is proud of her Persian heritage and equally proud to be a U.S. citizen. Y came to the U.S. from Korea.

"Henriquez's novel brings a renewed awareness of the founding of this country," said Rimerman. "Except the Native Americans, all of us were foreigners, speaking many different languages and bringing new customs to this land. By learning from one another rather than being suspicious or frightened, we stand stronger as a people and as a nation. This is a most important point in the current climate of which we live in today."

"My painting is a reflection of the constant flutters of hope and disappointment," said Bahar, who created a watermedia piece titled #PassionateFluxofHope. "Constant flux of hope and hopelessness, constant fueling the passion of hope and hopefulness. Beyond flutters of hope lays the passionate love of life that fuels our hopes and dreams."

In her artist statement, Y writes: "Alma, who came to American leaving everything behind and being vulnerable, reminded me of myself as a new bride from Korea. Having left Korea for the first time, I felt like a toddler learning to walk and talk.

"Geum jool means 'golden string' in Korean and traditionally represents an arrival of a newborn in a home. The portrait of myself in a traditional Korean wedding gown with geum jool symbolizes myself being reborn as an American through marriage."

Susie Cowan created The Altar of Compassion, inspired by her own experiences in Central American and the book for LO Reads.

In her piece, "The Altar of Compassion," Susie Cowan aimed to blend her experiences traveling in Central America and her impressions of the story.

"A sense of shattering and unification abides," she writes in her artist statement. "We all live, love and die on the same planet, raise our flags under the same moon and stars, and revolve around the same sun each year, sharing the human experience ... this is my call for Compassion."

Mary Burgess piece Snow Before the Storm captures the character Maribel's joy at seeing her first snowfall.

Mary Burgess aimed to capture the character Maribel's moment of joy in her piece titled "Snow Before the Storm."

"As Mayor and Maribel delighted in the first flakes of snow on their rogue field trip, a brewing storm set in motion by the actions of these two young people and their families was about to change the course of their future.

"In this painting, I intended to capture Maribel's moment of joy and adventure before the unforeseen and tragic events began to unfold," she writes in her artist statement.

Debby Neely uses the Lake Oswego Reads art project to experiment with mediums other than her regular printmaking. This is an example of digital graffiti.

The artists include Stuart Adams, Mojdeh Bahar, Bill Baily, Mary Burgess, Leslie Cheney-Parr, Susie Cowan, Shelly Durica-Laiche, Jenn Ferrante, Bonnie Garlington, Jani Hoberg, Sue Jensen, Dyanne Locati, Debby Neely, Kara Pilcher, Jan Rimerman, Beth Verheyden, Barbara Wagner, Lisa Wiser, Natalie Wood and Haelyn Y.

The opening reception will feature refreshments by Casa Pequena Taqueria, wine and desserts plus live classical guitar music provided by Maria Olaya, an immigrant from Columbia. The event is free and open to all.

Rimerman said several themes of the book are represented in the works, including that of blending in.

Beth Verheyden created The Ties that Bind of watercolor and charcoal.

"As artists we are either revered or seen as outcasts," she said. "We are constantly trying to blend in. But perhaps we need a change of perspective — to be more accepting and tolerant of others' life and culture."

"It takes tremendous courage to start over in another culture, with high hopes for a better life," says encaustic artist Sue Jensen in her artist statement. "I had a picture in my mind of the family entering this new world, and the questions they had to be asking themselves. What will befall us? In so many ways, they hang tight to each other on this journey into the unknown, (as) unknowns themselves."

All art in the exhibit is available for purchase. The exhibit will remain at Lakewood Center until Feb. 27, when it will be rehung at the Lake Oswego Public Library until the end of March.

The exhibit then travels to Oregon City, Salem, Stayton, Sandy, Scio, Silverton and finally Wilsonville, where it will hang until the end of November. Purchased art will be delivered to buyers by mid-December at the end of the tour.


More book-inspired art

The Arts Council of Lake Oswego will present "HERE Now: Art Inspired by the Immigrant Experience" Feb. 15 through April 15, and open the exhibit with an artist's reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 15 at ARTspace, 510 First St., Lake Oswego. All are invited to attend and meet the immigrant artists who now call the U.S. home.

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