Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, August 21, 2016

22 Hours in Portland

This weekend I took a trip to Portland to see the exhibit Native Fashion Now at the Portland Art Museum. For various reasons I decided to keep it short. I took the 6pm train from Seattle, and the 7pm out of Portland the next day.

It was a perfect little trip, except for an issue with my Business Class seat which I HAD PAID EXTRA FOR and I narrowly escaped going into full-on, Ross Geller, First World Problem meltdown mode.

But it got sorted out and I ended up having a lovely train ride and an even lovelier evening in my hotel room. Is there any feeling in the world quite like walking into a nice hotel room which you have all to yourself? It is fantastic. You dump your stuff on the floor, make a throne out of the sixteen pillows they gave you, and see if Say Yes to the Dress is on TLC. 

The next day, I was off to the Portland Art Museum.  

Native Fashion Now was originally created for the Peabody Essex Museum and is now on tour. Despite the name, it is actually more like 60+ years of Native Fashion, because it starts with some 1950s designs by Lloyd Kiva New.


The main point of the show was to show the diversity and the skill of many different kinds of Native fashion designers. Some are reinterpreting traditional designs and techniques, some are experimental and avant-garde, and some are just making awesome, wearable clothes. 

I lusted after this skirt:

Virgil Ortiz collaboration with Donna Karan

Loved this outfit but knew that I could never pull it off:

Jamie Okuma

This was another favorite:

Dorothy Grant "She-Wolf Tuxedo"

Overall the mannequins and the presentation was top-notch. 

The only thing that seemed weird to me was how most of the jewelry was shown on full torsos. It just felt like too big of a display mount for relatively small objects. 

and the mannequin boobs are keeping it from hanging flat! 

Actually one more thing. While it is always nice to see something fuller-figured in a fashion exhibit, it highlights yet another pitfall of mannequins with heads. If you fill out the body, the head starts to seem...small. 

Sorry mannequin, I'm not trying to body shame you! It is just that, with more minimalist forms, the body can be whatever shape it needs to be, without limbs and heads calling attention to a "standard" size.

After that I wandered around the rest of the museum and saw more cool stuff. I loved this painting where baby Jesus shows us that his textile game is on point: 

Thou shalt put a bird on it

And this trompe l'oeil painting that recreates the experience of finding something old in a museum collection and realizing no one ever properly cleaned it. 

WTF there are PEANUTS back there?!?!

There was also a gallery of contemporary Native art with some serious social messages. This rug was titled Resist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchal Colonization.


I also came across this sculpture and at first I was like Awww cuuuute but then I saw it was maybe crushing a bird with its body?

And then the title of the piece is Seal + Penguin 4 Ever and now I'm even more delighted and confused. 

Next I headed over to the Oregon Historical Society. On the stairs up to their main Oregon history exhibit they had this fun display of artifacts:

This is a great idea, because often you have quirky stuff in the collection that doesn't fit in the main narrative of your core historical exhibit.

I also liked this case which was a great way to get a bunch of your random hats and shoes out on display, and visually say "Oregon is made up of many different kinds of people!"

But I didn't end up taking tons of pictures of this exhibit. There weren't even that many mannequins to make fun of. 

I did find these guys, which I guess are worth a chuckle 

But then I found this amazing wall decal and got a selfie:

Potential rival to the Kansas cow selfie