Visual Arts:
Western Dimensions
Claywork at Clarke, paintings at Alder

Convincing Proof
Lord Leebrick premieres Auburn work.

Guilt-Free Turf
Try a less than perfect lawn.

Vitamin G
Plant your own personal stash of garlic in October.

Western Dimensions
Claywork at Clarke, paintings at Alder

No other material is as versatile as clay, whether used for functional purposes — from bricks to porcelain tea services — or as an art medium. The diversity in the latter is on show at the Karin Clarke Gallery. Gil Harrison, curator and ceramicist from Cottage Grove, chose non-utilitarian or sculptural work of national quality by professional artists never before viewed in this community. Thirteen West Coast artists each bring about a different sensibility and style.

Lyn Sedlak-Ford's (Portland) recent "paintings in clay" depict cozy interiors with windows opening onto cityscapes or landscapes. A cat, books, flowers contribute to the impression of peaceful, domestic scenes, yet the paintings are filled with vitality and movement because of the highly textured surfaces — her skies and fields are clear references to Van Gogh — and bright raku glazes.


Sedlak-Ford also plays with depth perspective: She juxtaposes two-dimensional illusion of depth with three-dimensional carving without necessarily coordinating the two so that the latter sometimes contradicts the former. For instance, in Midnight Snack, the moon and buildings outside the window jut into the room and are on the same plane as the flowers on the table. In other pieces, the scenery comes through the windowpanes into the interior and toward the viewer. Somehow it all works and only enlivens the pictures. Some of the hand-carved slabs are framed with raku-fired tiles; others are unframed, playful free-forms.

The show provides varied examples of clay sculpture. Katy McFadden's art is figurative in a suggestive rather than mimetic way. The Current Regime: Five Pieces shows a group of figures whose massive bodies and tiny heads bitingly implies swollen egos, inflated importance, and lack of thoughtfulness in current politicians. "As an artist," says McFadden (Portland), "my role is to witness the events of my time and how they affect society, family, friends and the environment." Her hand-built, monumental figure, The Ancient One, gazes up into the distance. Her face, smiling and serene, is merely outlined, leaving it to the viewer to fill in details.

James Robinson (Phoenix, Ore.) creates coil-built forms of essential simplicity, either stylized or abstract, and uses sintered matte glazes so that no gloss detracts from form. Despite the ascetic spareness, sensuality is retained, especially in the most abstract pieces, with their fullness of form and suggestion of fertility: Creation Form, sienna-colored, is reminiscent of a bulging seedpod cracking open along one side, while Gemini, a wall-piece, consists of twin seed forms in a red earth tone.

Victoria Shaw (Portland) creates totems out of large numbers of modular pieces stacked together. Coiled or thrown, they vary in size and shape — spherical, pyramidal or disk-like. Dark colors textured with hatchings alternate with pieces in smooth blue, green, or shiny metallic glazes. One of the totems features gleaming ball bearings telling a haiku poem in Braille.

Jim Koudelka (Portland) shows a single, wonderfully whimsical piece, Boiler Boy. Koudelka is interested in "architectural, mechanical and industrial images," and Boiler Boy looks like an old metal antique with cracked paint, but it's all clay. His pieces are the result of throwing, hand-building and use of molds made from found objects. Surface treatments include salt firing, followed by sandblasting, re-glazing, and re-firing to "further develop layers of texture, color, and imagery."

Laurie Hennig's (Boulder Creek, Calif.) pieces, also figurative, include a naked piper in cowboy boots, one huge cowboy boot and a giant stogie.

Her husband, Dan Hennig, combines sculpture — of Southwest creatures — and vessel. One jar has an iguana head for a spout; a parrot is perched on the rim of a flowering-cactus vessel.

Other artists opt for sculptural vessels instead, and the teapot is a recurring motif. "Teapots are a starting-point for imaginative designs," Harrison said. Gina Freuen (Spokane) is one of the artists who reinterprets the teapot shape into whimsical porcelain sculpture. Freuen's pieces are straight from Alice in Wonderland, and each has a personality. You would not be surprised to see them dance around and sing. Do lift the lids, and you may be rewarded with another diminutive teapot.

Leslie Lee's (Jacksonville) Hatching News Teapot Form consists of a bust of a woman with two birds on her head. One, singing into her ear, is the handle; the other's open beak is the spout. The lid is a bird's nest nestled in her hair.

Most of Lee's work is autobiographical or associated with a story. Refilling the Empty Heart shows a bust of her husband clutching a sheath of poems he wrote to deal with grief. Peter Potter's Pack o' Peckers, inspired by an exhibition of Mexican sculpture, depicts a red-hued snake-charmer charming penis-headed snakes out of a basket on his lap.

In Dennis Meiners's (Jacksonville) playful teapot, Death Takes Time Off to Go Bowling, the lid is Death's hooded head, the handle his bent arm, and the spout is part of the scythe. His other pieces include stoneware wall-platters with delicate motifs in blues, ochres and red.

Mark Heiman (Estacada) infused with playfulness not teapots but a group of four jugs, Drinking Buddies, that appear quite tipsy and balance-impaired, an impression reinforced by wavy lines incised on their ochre surfaces. His other vessel forms are inspired either by Japanese or Viking art forms and calligraphy. All are fired with wood in an anagama kiln. Magically, during firing, glazes crackle or elegantly peel off like bark in just the right spots.


Gil Harrison's vessels are about form rather than whimsicality. Their rich, shiny, black glaze, reminiscent of lacquer, lends them drama and stateliness. In earlier pieces, Harrison used the shape of Asian roofs as a starting-point for form, but his later ones are inspired by the shape of falling drops and set up on tripod feet to preserve their drop form. His pieces, thrown and finished with characteristic pulled strands of clay, exhibit exquisite balance and proportion.

Patrick Horsley (Portland) is strongly influenced by architecture. His focus is also on form, his vessels transcending function to become sculptures thrown and altered with an unerring eye for line, volume and structural harmony. His glazes, unreflective so that nothing distracts from form, are not decorative but instead a constitutive, element of design. Color is used with sobriety and precision using a wax-resist technique: bluish-purple or ochre against black or a stunning black-on-black..    

This is an exhibition not to be missed: Major Works in Clay, through Oct. 18, Karin Clarke Gallery.



Some 40 years ago, Sarkis Antikajian settled down on Oregon farmland and made it his home. His love and appreciation for Oregon landscapes, including his own garden is expressed through his paintings of local rural and coastal scenes, of still lifes with flowers from his garden. His love of painting, however, comes first.

Though his main medium is oil, Antikajian paints very quickly, seldom spending more than a few hours on a painting. He uses his colors pure, straight from the tube, rather than first mixing them on a palette. Since he works with wet paint only, decisiveness is crucial — he can't afford to rework the colors or they would turn muddy. Indeed, this blunt, decisive brushstroke is Antikajian's hallmark as a painter.

Up close, one may notice only a jumble of long brushstrokes. Yet step back and the paintings not only acquire coherence, but the viewer is seized by their liveliness and energy, which are precisely due to Antikajian's way of applying paint — a technique borrowed from the Impressionists to which he adds an expressive energy that more properly belongs to post-Impressionism. At a distance, his colors turn vibrant rather than overly bright, and become the proper subject of the paintings.

As exemplified by his Newport coast painting, Oregon Coast #1, Antikajian's style is particularly suited to coastal landscape with a tumult of rocks and sea. Oregon Coast #1 follows a yin-yang pattern of composition that bisects the canvas diagonally, forming one blue triangle to the lower left while the upper right is dominated by greens, reds and browns. Each color scheme reappears in the other part as a balancing accent.

Yet I find Antikajian at his best in his paintings of human figures. Diane is a vivid portrait in warm tones against a cool green background. It catches not only the pensive mood of the subject, a certain wistfulness, but something in the young woman's pose also hints at the restlessness of youth, its readiness to get up and go.

In New Mexico Vendors, four bundled-up street vendors with red blankets on their laps sit on portable chairs against a wall, their wares at their feet on a pink blanket. Despite the bright colors, a certain sadness pervades the scene, entirely suggested by the vendors' posture, which evokes resignation to a hard life together with feeling cold.

I wish therefore that the exhibition would entail more portraits and human figures, or even landscapes, and less still lifes, a subject matter I found generally difficult to warm up to. Amateurs painting still lifes, on the other hand, will probably feel gratified by the traditional compositions.

Painting by Sarkis Antikajian, through Nov. 11, Alder Gallery, Coburg. The gallery also hosts an exhibition of the Eugene Glass School's Goblet Competition.    

Convincing Proof
Lord Leebrick premieres Auburn work.

They say there's a fine line between genius and insanity. The sensitive, ruefully funny play Proof by David Auburn deals with the question of how to know when you've crossed it.


A brilliant mathematician, Robert (Bary Shaw), attempts an answer: If you can ask yourself "Am I crazy?" he says, then you are not. The only problem with this, points out his daughter Cathy (Jennifer Coombs), is that despite being able to question himself, Robert is insane. The wry Cathy must wrestle the demons raised by the legacy of Robert's mental illness, and his death, before she can grasp at her own future.

Sensitively directed by Craig Willis, Lord Leebrick's new artistic director, the Pulitzer-winning Proof plays out the tumultuous tide of Cathy's emotions against the calm, tree-shaded back porch of a run-down university house. The setting in the intimate Lord Leebrick Theatre places the audience literally in Cathy's leaf-littered Chicago yard.

Cathy's at a loss when her father dies: Once a gifted student, she had dropped out of school to care for him. Her emotions are stretched tight as a drum, she has no plans for the future, no means to support herself beyond her older sister's charity, and no college degree. After five years of playing parent to a father who would vacillate infuriatingly between coherent ideas and intelligent-sounding babble, she says simply, "I'm tired."

Coombs puts in a heartbreakingly vulnerable performance as Cathy, combining a complex emotional spectrum with sardonic comic timing. Conflicting emotions — insecurity, amusement, anger, pride, betrayal — flicker across Coombs' face, making her scripted lines only half of her onstage dialogue. The scenes between Coombs and Shaw are wonderful to witness, both father and daughter clearly sharing a love for each other and for mathematics, all while under the looming shadow of Robert's mental illness. Shaw's deterioration from a self-possessed professor to a shivering old man is full of pathos.

Coombs' expressive face also exposes Cathy's unease and increasing bitterness toward her older sister Claire (Valerie McMahon), and her blossoming relationship with her father's former student, Hal (Liam Drumm). When she tells Claire steadfastly about Robert, "I'm glad he's dead," Coomb's words are poignantly unconvincing.

Home for the funeral, the business-like Claire has been working in New York all the years Cathy has been at home taking care of their father. The two sisters are clearly out of sync with each other, and Coombs and McMahon use ironic pauses to great effect to show the disjoint in their relationship. Chic and cosmopolitan, Claire is the outsider in the mathematical world shared by her sister and late father, and she never really gets it. McMahon as Claire puts across a discernible bewilderment at Cathy, trying to "fix" whatever she sees. It goes to McMahon's credit that I wanted to wring her sweetly domineering neck.

So where does the title of the play come from? It refers mainly to mathematical "proofs" Robert scribbled away at in dozens of notebooks during his last mentally imbalanced years.

Hal, a young math professor and Robert's former student, thinks there may be something of value in those notebooks. Drumm plays Hal with great comic timing, an earnest math geek often speaking of the partying prowess of his kind and their rock band. But when it's time for the comedy to stop, Drumm has a harder time holding up his end of the fort. His expressions lack emotional depth, and the sexual chemistry between him and the prickly, vulnerable Cathy can be unconvincing.

As Hal combs through Robert's notebooks, Cathy's grief is mixed with fear. For Cathy is afraid that, along with inheriting Robert's mathematical genius, comes the danger that she herself may someday regress into a blithering, eloquent fool. In this poignant play, she must first convince the others around her before she can stop believing it herself.

A 2001 Pulitzer and Tony award winner, Proof appears at the Lord Leebrick Theatre through Oct. 29.



Guilt-Free Turf
Try a less than perfect lawn.

Did you let your lawn dry out and turn brown this summer? If so, now would be a good time to water it. Once the grass has greened up again, feed it with an organic lawn fertilizer. Fall feeding encourages grass to develop a good, deep root system, ensuring a strong come-back next spring and greater resistance to summer drought.

Lawns have come in for some very bad press in recent years. All through the 1990s, writers such as Michael Pollen and Sara Stein dedicated themselves to curing Americans of the lawn habit, and they made some good arguments in the process. Turfgrass offers severely limited habitat for wild things, and lawn care can be time-consuming, water-guzzling, toxic and polluting. But in order to make their case appear stronger, critics always stress the environmental costs of a perfect lawn, with little or no discussion of the most obvious and easily realized alternative: a lawn that is less than perfect.

The environmental costs of a lawn are greatly reduced as soon as you eliminate the herbicides, excessive fertilization and heavy watering that are needed to maintain a lush, weed-free, emerald green turf, and even an imperfect lawn does things that nothing else can. Mown grass is tough and self-repairing. It is also cool, soft and clean, so you can sit on it and even roll in it. If you accept the argument that the purely visual pleasures we derive from lawns (as a foil for flower beds and trees, or as a canvas for changing light and shadows) are culturally induced, maybe you can learn to live without them. But many home gardens have a real, practical need for some inviting surface that is soft yet durable enough to withstand play and foot traffic.

In a place like western Oregon, where grass grows so readily, an organically maintained lawn, weeded by hand (or not at all) and cut with a push mower, is inexpensive by any measure and it does a nice job of preventing erosion and preserving and even improving soil quality. Perhaps we should be questioning the size of our lawns and the type of turf we grow, rather than the whole concept of mown grass.

A turf of mixed grasses and broad-leafed plants lessens the urge to weed, eliminates thatch and increases drought resistance. Nichols Garden Nursery of Albany sells "ecology lawn mixes" tailored for different regions of the country. They are not, of course, tailored for your particular soil, moisture and light conditions. My own lawn was seeded seven years ago with the usual mix of perennial rye-grass and fescues, but it has evolved into a sort of custom eco-mix of air-borne grasses, prunella, clover, cowslip primroses and violets. We weed out dandelions by hand because they would take over if we didn't. The lawn looks a little uneven when it's due for a cut, but it responds very well to mowing.

Because its area is small in comparison to the surrounding perennial beds, we water our lawn in summer. This year it developed some brown patches where water failed to penetrate the heavy, easily compacted soil. Aeration and a top-dressing of mixed sand and compost would probably take care of that. Insect infestations can cause brown patches, too, but so far bugs have not bothered us. Insect and disease troubles are apparently less common in lawns maintained organically. Besides, there is strength in diversity: if one component suffers, something else moves in to take its place.

What is the formula for a guilt-free patch of turf? Start new lawns from seed. Reduce the size of the lawn so you can hand-weed it, and ignore weeds that seem to coexist with grass. If you like, you can over-sow with white clover (I/2 pound per 1,000 square feet is recommended). Clover is deep-rooting and drought resistant, and fixes nitrogen from the air. Gas-powered mowers are shocking polluters, so if you can't manage a push-mower, use an electric one. Cut high, especially in summer, and leave clippings where they fall. Water deeply and infrequently, just enough to keep the lawn green, or simply let the turf go dormant. Letting grass turn brown in summer won't kill it, although it will give dandelions an edge. Crispy brown grass will not withstand foot traffic, however, so stay off the lawn until it comes back to life.


Vitamin G
Plant your own personal stash of garlic in October.

My goal is never to buy garlic — except when I'm away from my stash. For the last seven years, my homegrown garlic crop has spared me the humiliation of paying for something that should be free. When I do get stuck paying, it feels like I'm lying down with a prostitute.

I don't expect anyone else to share my fanaticism, but I do hope that some of you take a stab at garlic cultivation. In addition to saving — in the case of heavy users like me, a couple hundred bucks — the homegrown is by definition tastier and more rewarding. And for those who like to engage the informal economy of barter, garlic is a valuable commodity. I've currently got a deal in the works by which my garlic will be exchanged for deer meat. This is good timing, since I'm down to my last pack of venison from last year's hunt. Garlic offers the added bonus of rushing out of the gate in early April, quickly growing to knee height, while your neighbors are still hunched over their microscopic peas, carrots and spinach. You will feel like a rock star, and your neighbors will comment. When they do, pull a blade of grass (if it's tall enough), stick it in your teeth, nod your head and reflect, "Yep, crop's lookin' all right this year."

The other day I went into my garage and did a head count. Two hundred and thirty-four heads of garlic, hanging in bunches from the ceiling. That may sound like a lot, but considering how much I've already used, it's clear that between cooking, canning, bartering, gift-making and grazing housemates, I burn through more than a head of garlic every day. It needs to last until mid-May, when you can start eating the new garlic flowers. Soon after, the immature heads will be big enough to pull and eat.

Do the math. There are roughly seven and a half months from now until mid-May. Multiply seven and a half by 30 days at a bulb per day and you get 225 bulbs that I will need in order to avoid paying for it. I have 234. This leaves me in a severe garlic crisis, because it leaves me hardly any for planting.

And planting is the priority. It has to be. I need to plant enough so that next year I won't have this problem, so I'm aiming for 600 heads. One clove of garlic, planted in the fall, will grow into a head by next summer. So I need to plant 600 cloves of garlic. With my variety — Killarney Red — each head contains an average of seven plantable cloves. Six hundred heads divided by seven cloves per head equals 85 heads that I need to dedicate to planting. In order to increase the size of future generations, I plant the biggest ones. This means that from now until May I have to ration myself on 149 small and medium sized heads of garlic. I might have to pay for it.

In our climate zone, October is the month for garlic planting. The things you need to figure out ASAP are where you are going to plant, and what. The where should be an area of your garden, currently vacant, that you are willing to dedicate for nine months toward garlic. Pull out the weeds, dig it up, mix in compost and manure, and do whatever else you need to do to make it buff and ripe for planting.

The what, obviously, is garlic, but what kind? Commercial growers usually save and replant their seed most years, and then order new seed every several years to break any disease cycles that may be brewing. I recommend to home gardeners that they buy their seed at the Farmers Market. Using healthy, locally grown garlic ensures that you are going with a variety that will produce healthy offspring in your home climate. You can also get it at the store, but just make sure it's regionally grown. If you plug California garlic into an Oregon growing season, you're asking for trouble. The reverse can be true as well. It's worth experimenting with different varieties in small batches, but don't bet the farm on an alien.

The fact that you can plant store-bought garlic is a reminder that garlic, like potatoes, oysters, onions and many of the finer things in life, is a live food. This means that when you eat garlic, it is about as fresh as it gets.

When choosing your garlic, look for characteristics that are important to you. Flavor is one, obviously. Another is easy peeling. I like to be able to peel garlic like I peel my women — in one stroke. I don't have time to spend all day picking off cling-on shreds. Another important characteristic is the size and shape of the cloves. Small cloves make small heads. Big cloves — even from small heads — make big heads. I like heads in which the cloves form a symmetrical ring around a central stalk.

I highly recommend that you purchase the book Growing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland, who also sells garlic seed and gives away a wealth of information at his website:

Chef Boy Ari, also known as Ari LaVaux, is currently living and cooking in Missoula, Mont.


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