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Events precede opening of Tilikum Crossing, Orange Line

COURTESY: TRIMET/FRED JOE - Artists Hilary Pfeifer and TriMets Mary Priester at the installation of the totem Pfeifer carved.Normally, a new mass transit line is hardly a reason for artists to get excited.

TriMet’s new Orange Line may be the exception.

Art lovers won’t want to miss the final “Transit on Tap” event before the grand opening of Tilikum Crossing and Portland-Milwaukie Orange Line on Sept. 12.

Like other topics in the series, “Art for Everyone” will be served with a beer or glass of wine. Public art at each of the 10 new light rail stations along the new Orange Line will be discussed.

People also can head out to see some of the new art on foot at a different event.

On Aug. 7, a casual walking tour along the Trolley Trail (including stops at the Southeast Park Avenue Station and an installation on the underside of the Kellogg light rail bridge) is planned.

TriMet’s Public Art Program staff and many of the artists will attend. Brief stops will be made at each of the artworks to hear from the artists directly about their work.

The Trolley Trail curves along the Orange Line’s southern end near the last stop, Oak Grove’s Southeast Park Avenue Station. Each of the wooden sculptures on the Trolley Trail was made from trees cut down to make way for the MAX line. In 2012 the commissioned artists were invited to tag a tree for their project.

The Trolley Trail is a historic streetcar right-of-way that ran in the area from 1893 until 1968. The 6-mile multi-use trail runs from Milwaukie to Gladstone linking schools, parks and business districts. TriMet rebuilt the portion of the trail that runs alongside the Orange Line’s new light rail tracks, between Southeast River Road and Southeast Park Avenue. This short distance is where all of the Trolley Trail art can be found.

Aurora chainsaw artist Toby Johnson made a dynamic bench sculpture that features a giant bear stalking a fish; sculptor Patrick Gracewood’s “To Grandmother’s House” depicts a gentle soul under a canopy with a rabbit in her arms. On a recent visit, neighborhood girls left a small offering of stones and wildflowers at her feet.

Portland-based artist Hilary Pfeifer is one of the six artists commissioned to create art for the Trolley Trail.

TRIBUNE PHOTO:  - Patrick Gracewood admires his piece, To Grandmothers House, that was installed along the TriMet Orange Line route.Pfeifer carved a six-foot totem pole called “Phylogeny” from a Western red cedar tree. The totem is approachable, even if its name, which means life cycles, has you reaching for the dictionary. The totem references Milwaukie’s and Oak Grove’s history and folklore.

Pfeifer used chisels to carve and reduce the wood in her Portland studio, a converted two-car garage.

“I thought I’d use a grinder or two, but once I started I knew it had to be by hand,” says Pfeifer, who typically works with found wood. A carving workshop at Sitka Center for the Arts helped sharpen her skills before she started on the Trolley Trail project.

While Trolley Trail art can be glimpsed from the MAX, it’s best enjoyed by foot or bicycle. The rebuilt trail runs next to the light rail tracks where new pedestrian lighting and landscaping were added.

“TriMet wanted history of the area incorporated into the art,” Pfeifer says. “So the totem is about the animals that were once native to the area, and the companion animals that people may have had,” she explains.

On one side the totem pole depicts domestic animals such as a dog, cat and chicken. The other side features wild animals such as a bear, panther and duck.

While researching Oak Grove history, Pfeifer read of rumors that a panther prowled these parts. The rumors were made up to discourage nighttime wanderings by residents.

The duck is adorned with a grinding stone, a reference to a flourmill that operated near Kellogg Creek. He sits atop a red brick.

“Fisher Pottery was once in the area,” Pfeifer says. “They made bricks for some of Milwaukie’s buildings. You can still find some of the small impressions left by the feet of chickens and cats on buildings today.”

Pfeifer also visited Oak Grove’s New Urban High School to talk about her project and implemented some of the students’ ideas for her second sculpture, Allegany, located in a field near the Park Avenue Park & Ride structure.

The Trolley Trail art is unlike public art TriMet has commissioned before, most of which is made of materials meant to withstand the elements and urban settings.

“We don’t generally have art made of wood,” says TriMet’s Michelle Traver, public art project manager for the Orange Line and Trolley Trail. “It’s ephemeral. We know it won’t last forever.”

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