By Midge Pierce
Eight recent art installations along the new Division Streetscape are a testament to the powers of observation and imagination.
The title, This All Happened More or Less, was inspired by encounters along the street artists describe as great for people-watching with the street’s flourishing shops, businesses and restaurants.
“Division is loaded with characters we could draw from,” says Crystal Schenk. Schenk and her husband, fellow sculptor Shelby Davis, devised the miniature figurines that sit upon boulders flanking both sides of the street from 11th to 36th.
She says none are based on specific individuals, but are composite depictions of everyday people. The whimsical images range from a girl reading a book to a small boy playing hide and seek. A few sport scarves are left by passersby. Over the holidays, a tiny, ribboned present was left for one of the figures.
“We love that people are interacting with our sculptures,” says Davis, adding that they are designed with an element of mystery open to interpretive storytelling.
Children on the street love finding them. “With such small-scale figures, we had to be careful that they weren’t too cute.” The contemplative realism of paintings by Edward Norton provided suitable inspiration.
The bronze figures are molded around steel rods driven into dolomite limestone. “The boulders provide a natural setting and the cityscape is their stage.” says Shelby Davis.
The collaborative design and execution required trust and compromise by the husband-wife team. Davis was great at building up the sculpture, says Schenk, while she focused more on details. They traded back and forth as the characters emerged.
“It’s a wonderful process, combining and editing. He works for a while then hands off to me.” She adds that egos sometimes had to get out of the way to get the most out of the process.
Among the challenges was transporting massive boulders, but the couple is used to working with large and small objects. Their art has ranged from sculpting a life-size semi-truck to developing storefront designs featuring wildlife such as flying owls and ravens.
To make a living with their art, the couple wear many hats patchworking together studio commissions, teaching courses at local colleges and applying for grants.
The Division Street project was funded by the City’s 2% for Art ordinance. Peggy Kendellen, public art manager of the Regional Arts and Culture Council says that out of 26 nominations, Davis and Schenk were unanimously selected by Richmond and Hosford-Abernethy neighbors and other local artists.
“Portland is a wonderful environment for making art, but it’s a terrible place to sell art,” Schenk laments.
“Yet, to have your art along an entire street is a privilege,” says Davis.
For information about works by Schenk and Davis, take the tour at crashstudioart.com.