TWO PINS AND A THREAD: An artist looks at 50
While Paul Missal loved his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and his family there, after receiving a master's degree in fine art from Yale University he was beginning to feel confined. He needed a new atmosphere and new people to help him grow as an artist and as a man, he thought.
So he began searching for jobs in other states and when two came up — one in Seattle and one in Portland — he took two pins and a piece of thread and measured the distance from Cleveland on an atlas.
Portland won — it was farther away.
In 1972 Missal took a teaching job at the then-Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art) and immersed himself in his new life as a Northwesterner. When a meandering motorcycle ride lead him to the terminus of Boones Ferry Road in Wilsonville, a chance stop brought him to the one of the community's oldest buildings, a 1900 behemoth then being used as an antique shop. Finding it for sale, Missal's mind began to fill with the possibilities: a home with well-lighted space for a studio, a gallery
and room for teaching art classes — all within a familiar-feeling, friendly small town.
"It was a good fit for me here, close enough to the big city and my work and far enough to get away from all that," he said.
It wasn't long after buying the structure on the corner of Fifth Street and Boones Ferry Road that Missal realized his home had once been the epicenter of social life in the town. A day did not go by without one of the "old-timers" (farmers and business owners who had lived for decades in the Old Town neighborhood, which was then Wilsonville's business district) strolling through his front door and plopping down in a chair, ready for a chat.
Missal was enchanted to hear the tales from his home's former owners, brothers Carl and George Misterek, who moved the former dance hall, movie house and fellowship hall to its current site and remodeled it into a feed and farm store during the Depression.
Sure enough, according to the brothers, it was just like you see in the movies: a deep porch lined with
chairs for visitors and heavily grooved wood floors inside, where a big stove kept lingerers warm in winter.
He also received regular visits from Estace Tauchman, son of longtime Boones Ferry operator, Emil Tauchman. Tauchman regaled Missal with tales from the days when enormous log rafts clogged the river and all-comers boxing matches were held for the betting entertainment of farmers.
On the professional front, Missal started offering art classes in his remodeled garage and opened a gallery in the front of his house. But he soon found the "open door" concept of these spaces brought him too many visitors and not enough time to complete much work of his own. And since he already was commuting to Portland to teach every day, he was short enough on time.
So Missal closed the gallery and stopped teaching out of his home, instead concentrating on his art, which had changed considerably since his student-era abstract style. Eventually Missal began adding commission and commercial art to his career portfolio, using the enormous upstairs to complete 30-foot murals used as decor in commercial spaces.
"I didn't stay with abstract art very long," he said. "I always come back to the narrative, to the story." Missal also switched from oil to acrylic paints mid-career due to an allergy, a tough technique change.
He's still in the big place in Wilsonville, which today is filled to the brim with the detritus absorbed after losing two family members and inheriting their belongings. "I bought this place because I needed the space at the time," he said. "I had no idea I'd fill it up." The ramshackle building, paneled inside with newspaper-insulated boards from a 19th century Wilsonville tavern, is home to decades of Missal's art, a handful of stray cats he's adopted, and — on occasion — a rescued dog or two.
"When I moved here I was the new guy," Missal said chuckling. "Now I'm the old-timer."
Today Missal, who never married, is retired — kind of. He still teaches at PNCA, but only one class a week and it's at night. And he teaches at his church in Lake Oswego, New Thought Center for Spiritual Living. And, of course, he still paints and sells his art at Blackfish Gallery, an art co-operative he co-founded in Northwest Portland in 1979. The gallery is celebrating its 40th anniversary this spring and in March featured a retrospective of Missal's art over the past 50 years.
"I still do portrait work, too," he said. "I consider it a privilege, meeting all these wonderful people and getting to know them."
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