Tag Archives: history

Vanport Mosaic: Memory Activism

The short version: During World War II there was an urgent need for ships; Kaiser Shipyards needed workers to supply that need, and they came from all over the country.  Kaiser, working with the federal government, built homes on a flood plain that became Vanport (between Vancouver, WA (Van) and Portland, OR (Port)), homes meant to be temporary. Although the need for ships dwindled after the war, about 4000 people remained. Vanport was Oregon’s largest city and the nation’s largest public housing, a thriving community until May 30, 1948 when the flooding Columbia River demolished it in 45 minutes.  For the long version, see this OPB hour long program.

In 2014, recognizing that the place and the flood were fading from the collective memory, Laura Lo Forti began interviewing and videotaping Vanport residents still alive. In 2016 Co-Directors Laura Lo Forti and Damaris Webb (with the help of many) presented the first Vanport Mosaic Festival.  I attended that first one and learned the history, missed the second, then attended the greatly expanded version this year.

The bus tour took us around today’s golf course and race track to show us where buildings had been. The guide for the tour I traveled with had lived in Vanport as a 6-10 year old; he had many stories to tell.

The only tangible remnant of Vanport is the foundation of the theatre.

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Besides the tour guide, there was another passenger who had been a resident. They searched a school photo to find themselves.

a Vanport residents

The tour started from the Expo Center; inside were impressive exhibits created by middle school students. First the Vanport sequence.

a overviewa WWII ship 2a Vanport women 2

Several students pointed out that the school was integrated, but the living assignments were segregated.

Two  other middle school projects concerned the Japanese incarceration during WWII. This is related to Vanport in that some Japanese people returning –whose homes had been either destroyed or occupied by others–moved into Vanport homes vacated by ship workers whose work was over. And so they were dispossessed twice: by the internment and by the flood.

One project dealt with peoples’ experiences, each student summarizing, illustrating, and reflecting on one person. Here is one sample, Jack’s history:

a Jack's experience 2

And the student reflection:

a Jack student reflection 2

Another told of a Japanese-Peruvian man, an aspect new to me. For a fee (I think it was 2 million dollars) U. S, housed Japanese-Peruvians in the centers. At the war’s end, U. S didn’t want them, Peru didn’t want them back, so they were sent “back” to a Japan they had not known.

The other project explored the various concentration camps.

It included a description of the temporary holding center, here at Expo Center, where people were held until the internment centers could be constructed.

a relocation text 2

At the Expo Center there is a permanent memorial, several torii with metal tags for each person imprisoned here and on the poles, embossed replicas of various news articles related to their forced leaving.

a Torii at Expo Center 2

Memory Activism: Remembering in order to honor and to act differently.

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Reading Instead of Sewing, Again

Facts & Fabrications-Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery: 8 Projects 20 Blocks First-Person AccountsFacts & Fabrications-Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery: 8 Projects 20 Blocks First-Person Accounts by Barbara Brackman

The history is in summary form, but there are endnotes with further sources.

The book opens with a brief discussion of myth Vs. historical method. This is followed by an abbreviated history of slavery from the beginning of the slave trade to emancipation and migration. Although I am fairly familiar with the topic (having read The Great Migration, I learned some new detail (the migration to the plains). And the quotations from diaries and WPA recorded oral histories added an important dimension.

Brackman links each stage of the history to a quilt block by the name of the block, a story telling method she links with the 20th century. The idea is to create a mnemonic for remembering the history.

The block patterns and quilt layouts are clearly explained and illustrated, but she refers readers to other how-to books for basic quilting instructions. She also includes suggestions for adapting the history and sewing to children (in formal and informal settings)  and includes possible discussion questions.

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London Roads x 3 and an Oops

The sketch from several days ago has become three blocks. First the block like the one in my 1980s Sampler.

London Roads

15 1/2 x 15 1/2

This block amused me so much with its dead ends. And it may be named “London,” but it could be any city with one way streets.  I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has driven in a strange city and found  intersections of one way streets forcing me to go a different direction than I had intended.(I don’t recall the dead-end problem, though.) ETA: I do remember one time when I was an hour late because a freeway had been built in Baltimore. I was visiting after a few years; I had refused directions because I  “knew” how to get there; I could see the house across the freeway. I passed the same man mowing his lawn several times. He kept trying to tell me how to get across, but I kept missing one of the turns.

I found this block in copies I had made of an old catalog. In the 70s we didn’t have all the pattern books that are available now. We had books that taught how to draft patterns and The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt by Carrie Hall, who had set out to make a block from every pattern she knew. Between the two, I could make many blocks. I also had thumbnail size diagrams in catalogs I’d copied–one was dated 1900. But it was the only title page I had copied.  I copied pages from three different catalogs as blocks appealed to me. We could get photocopies at the library (no Kinkos yet) for a quarter per page,so at that rate, one skipped title pages. (That was before I was interested in quilt history.) I don’t remember if any of the companies of the catalogs were still in existence, but I doubt it. If the were, I think the quilters who shared them would have told how to order a new copy. Quilters kept old catalogs for reference. The “London Roads” block came from one of those dateless, titleless catalogs.

When I got Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, I looked to see if I could get more information. She listed two blocks named “London Roads,” but neither was exactly like mine. This one was close.

#1677b

It had one less dead end than the one I’d made before.  Brackman identifies blocks by number, and this one is 1677b. Its source was the Ladies Art Company of St Louis. LAC numbered their blocks, and the numbers convey the dates patterns were available. This block was #238, which means it was in the 1895 catalog. Brackman identifies LAC as the first mail-order quilt pattern company, in business till the 70s.

Here is Brackman’s second London Roads.

#1658,

This “London Roads” is attributed to “Nancy Page,” a syndicated quilter’s column  written by Florence LaGanke Harris from 1928-1940s. (The block also appeared in LAC as “Mosaic,” #336 in the 1897 catalog.) Brackman notes that “Page” gave it with an all over setting. One wonders if “Page” renamed “Mosaic,” reworked the old “London Roads,” missing the old joke and seeking to be more logical, or if she created what she thought was a new block that reminded her of traffic circles.

It is a two color block, but I added the third because I didn’t like the arrow completely disappearing into the background. Keeping the value the same seemed enough of a nod to tradition.

So those are the three blocks–I plan to make 8 from those three designs, alternating them with the building fabric; each block is 15 1/2 inchs square.

And the Oops.

Like you, I know that one should make one block before cutting everything. Although it is given as a way to test if a pattern is correct, it makes sense to do it when working from one’s own math (especially my math). But I was in a hurry and didn’t this time. So the three-bar square that forms the shafts of the arrows ended up 4 1/2 inches one way instead of 5 1/2 inches square. Since the shafts really needed to be centered, I added 1-inch strips to each side.  (I guess I could have trimmed everything and ended up with a 12-inch block. But I wanted 15.) So not only do I have to make a bunch of strips before I continue making blocks, I’ll have to buy more brown (or improvise).

Maybe the message is that I should be binding that other quilt.

Linking with Needle and Thread Thursday.

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A Bit of Recent Quilt History

Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000 by Roderick Kiracofe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The mix of specialties of the essayists–artists, historians, quilters, and museum curators–creates a conversation from a variety of perspectives. And they don’t always agree. One could wish for a panel discussion where they have a chance to comment on each others’ comments.

Some tell the old story and some revise it. Janneken Smucker, a historian specializing in American Material Culture, does both as she traces early quilting historians’ romanticization of colonial scrap quilting to the revision by later historians who question that reading. She places herself among those later historians, then tells of her further revision prompted by the Kiracofe collection.

Essayists also provide a range of opinion on the question of quilts as modern art. Elissa Author, an associate professor of contemporary art, provides an overview of rebellious fine artists who were influenced by quilts. Amelia Peck, a curator of American Art at the Museum of Modern Art, tells the criteria she uses to select art quilts and illustrates from the collection. Smucker and Ulysses Grant Dietz, another curator, tell the features of several quilts in the collection that appeal to them artistically; Dietz goes on with cultural critique, placing his taste in the era of the “Gees Bend syndrome,” noting the marketing of that collection and trendiness of curation. Alison Smith, an activist artist, probes with this question: “What is at stake in considering paintings and quilts as parallel endeavors? Do we reinforce their differences when we marvel at their similarities?” (158). She proceeds to analyze the differences.

“A Texas Quiltmaker’s Life: An Interview with Sherry Ann Byrd” provides an organizational scheme for my thinking (not for the structure of the book) about the quilts pictured: “precision quilt, M-provisational quilt, and throw together quilt” (52). Her term, “M-provisational” points beyond “improv” to an emphasis on syncopation that she sees in some designs. And Byrd says many in the collection represent the “throw together” category, made extremely quickly for extreme need.

I will confess that though all the quilts were historically interesting, I did not find them all equally appealing visually. However, artistic commentary in the essays and in a few captions led me to revaluate some of those judgments.

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Old Portland in Gingerbread

Front view of gingerbread Old PortlandFor nineteen years, there has been a gingerbread creation at the Benson Hotel; this being the hotel’s 100th year of operation, the creation depicts Portland around 1913. Created by Chef David Diffendorfer, the display involves approximately 100 pounds of gingerbread and 25 pounds of white chocolate and marzipan. (We could smell the gingerbread.)

Having been a Portlander for only two years, I didn’t recognize many of the buildings; however, a desk clerk gave us a crash course in Portland history.

Center view

The building with the medallion is the Benson Hotel itself. The tan building with a little dome at the left is Pioneer Court House, still a functioning courthouse. In front is the Willamette River.

Amusement ParkHere is a view a little to the left to show Council Crest, in those days the site of an amusement park known for its big roller coaster. Today it is a city park, a workout of a hike with the reward of a great view of the city.

Union StationIn the foreground is Union Station which has been restored and still functions as an Amtrak station. Up at the top left is Pittock Mansion, another hike with a rewarding view of the city as well as the option for a tour of the house. The tour I’ve done; the hike not. I should have moved to Portland when I was younger.

Visiting the gingerbread creation will become one of my Christmas traditions, now that I know about it. And as this time, so in the future, lunch at the Palm Cafe: the mushroom melt was wonderful.

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Lan Su Chinese Garden

It is December, so we wondered about visiting the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, OR, now. But my son-in-law, who had heard my daughter and me rave about it, wanted to see it.  In addition, we were assured that it was an all season garden.  Architecture is as much a part of its beauty as artfully placed plants.

Persimmons clinging to tree

The garden is modeled after an ancient scholar’s garden, and as such is an extension of the home. There are sheltered spaces and open spaces; there are private places for the scholar and his close friends to discuss ideas and open spaces for conducting more public business. There are paths for strolling and contemplation.

The Painted Boat in Misty Rain pavilion represents the journey from Suzhou to Portland; though a stationary pavilion, the visitor is meant to feel as if on a boat while in it.

Suzhou, sister city to Portland, provided inspiration, guidance, artisans, and materials for the project. The “Su” in the garden name signifies Suzhou as well as meaning arise.  The “Lan” is taken from “Portland” as well as meaning orchid. Thus the name signifies the link between the two cities as well as naming the garden, “The Garden of Awakening Orchids.”

The persimmons clinging to the tree provided color as did other seed pods and a few flowers.  Roses bloom till December here, and there were a couple brave ones left along with other unnamed flowers.

Next visit I will pick up the guide to plants of the garden and learn some of the names as well as enjoy looking at the flowers.

Brave red rose

yellow flowering tree

Yellow flower detail

The plum blossom is especially hardy and blooms in February, making it one of the three friends of winter along with bamboo and pine.  Its sturdiness is shown through the tile design, “Plum blossom on cracked ice.”

ground tile design

Throughout the garden, the ground is covered with tile designs like this, all named and each extending the theme of its area. In addition, guests are invited to remove shoes and walk over the varied textures for foot massage.  Needless to say we saved that pleasure for a future warmer visit.  Quilters would enjoy the garden for the design inspiration of the various floors.

The garden covers a city block in the midst of Chinatown.  Generally I was not aware of the city outside, but sometimes it got into my photos, as in this one.

a garden in a city

The garden feels much larger than an acre because of its design.  The guest walks in various loops as the scholar once would have, and perhaps the guest contemplates as well.  Poems are part of the overall design (English translations in pamphlets) to aid the contemplative experience.  Our contemplation consisted of listening to the tour guide.

Besides the loops to stroll there are structural elements of view within view, creating the illusion of distance.

keyhole arch

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Triangle: The Fire that Changed America

I had heard of the Triangle factory fire and the locked doors and that it changed labor law and I think the union movement. But reading the book made it so much more harrowing.

Although the book gets off to a slow start in setting up the political background, that background is necessary. I have not yet finished it, but the fire is finished along with 146 workers’ lives.

David Von Drehle provides a look at factory life, and  the book starts to get more interesting.  The vignettes about various people add to its life.  It is interesting that the owners of the factory started out as immigrants just like their workers. And as is so often the case, they are satisfied to be owners and are not thinking of reaching to pull others up with them. One learns about Russian Jewish immigrants, and how their backgrounds prepared them to organize, and about Italian immigrants fleeing natural disaster.

It is one thing to know, somewhat abstractly, that a fire occurred and workers were trapped and killed.  But once details of some workers’ lives are given, the tragedies become real, and I felt anger at the fire escape that did not lead to the outside, at the inspections promised but not followed up on,  and at the doors that not only opened to the inside, but also were locked. I felt the fear and despair of the workers who had to run through flames to get to the roof.

The author describes the fire floor by floor, eighth, tenth, and ninth. He helpfully links what was happening on tenth to what had happened at the same time on eighth, etc, to keep us oriented.  The fire lasted 30 minutes. It is difficult to imagine so much action happening in that short time or a blaze intensifying so much. The author compensates for this by reminding us after long descriptions that only three minutes have gone by, or whatever number is relevant.

And now to read to the end.

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