The Manor of Art is a collaborative event where over 100 Portland artists, ages 15 to 80, were invited to renovate a retired nursing home. Each artist, given their own room, could do what they wanted, independent of one another. What a great crucible to see what bubbles up!
It’s hard to believe that less than a month ago, I was walking the halls of this creepy, dead building wondering how I could possibly overcome the smell (I have been blessed with a dog nose) and create something interesting and beautiful in the decrepit space.
I couldn’t help but notice on my walk that we warehouse our elderly and sequester them from our sight, how we leave them to die alone. I saw this installation as an opportunity to rewrite the definition of the Manor as an old folk’s home and inject some joy and life. During the initial tour, I knew instantly that I wanted to create a beautiful room about sight that would have something to do with encaustic (my current medium and love), beeswax and bees. I wanted to make something that would honor the former tenant and hopefully make the ghost smile.
The first thing I did was send out a call for interns on Craigslist for help. There was no way I could put this together in 3 weeks by myself during the summer with my kids out of school. I had 35 replies in less than 24 hours and chose 7 interns: Elizabeth Lamb, Rose Barbaro, Carl Jansen, Jesse Cunningham, Allie Tepper, Luci Neises and Rebecca Davison. My intention was to create a team of good humored, talented and committed people who enjoyed collaborating. I got it and then some. Boy was I lucky!
Working with these 7 amazing artists, we tackled a blistering heat wave, troublesome tissue paper, numb fingers and boredom (yes, cutting out those flowers got boring. Thank gawd for shark week!), and more problems with the heat. We reclaimed room 350, establishing community through the project and bringing life to the space. Before we knew it, the building was burgeoning with creativity and energy built by the collaborative efforts of all the artists involved. The artists brought back life to a dead retirement home. It was exciting to work at my studio and pop into The Manor…so much energy and inspiration!
We glazed the walls with Aglaia beeswax glaze, dipped flowers in beeswax (ah, the smell), planted 200 flowers into the walls, created sculptures from a retired bee smoker, waxed bees (bees died of natural causes) and eyeballs dipped in wax, made UV simulating glasses (thanks to Lloyd Center Cinemas for donating recycled 3-D glasses) and a honeycomb to hold them, collaborated on the animation video, printed 50 facts about human bee sight and dipped them in beeswax, made encaustic paintings and hung them.
The opening night was wild! I couldn’t leave my room there were so many visitors. People swam past doors like salmon at the Bonneville Dam fish ladders. It was amazing! And the comments people made were so satisfying from “beautiful paintings” to “cool! I see like a bee!” to “it smells like a girl!”. Some people even did a bee dance which was appreciated by all.
This project was not only fun but incredibly satisfying. Opportunities like these give artists a chance to contribute to the collective creativity and grow. I not only made new friends, appreciated different art styles and met people I normally would never meet in my circles, but my art grew. I learned new things about myself and my process during the project that I will take forward. And, I believe that my vision to create a beautiful room about sight was achieved. On one level the “see” installation in room 350 is about how a bee sees, how a human sees and how I see as an artist. And, on a deeper level, it’s about how we all see and experience one another.
The Manor of Art at Milepost 5 runs through August 24th. Visit Portland City Art for a schedule and be sure to buzz by room 350! The 10-day festival ends this weekend but isn’t over yet. You can still catch live music by local bands, theater and performance art, artist round tables, and daily guided tours of the 100+ exhibits. The Studios is phase 2 of Milepost 5, formerly the Baptist Manor Retirement Home which was founded on the property in 1915.