“Inorganic Compound” – Art on the Calle Guanajuato stairway

Learn how it was made, step by step.
Rock + Steel = River?
Bonus: Stained glass masterpieces.
Artist: Kevin Christman.
Ashland Public Art Series.

“Making an impact that continues to resonate with people long after I am gone, I feel like that’s the highest calling I can think of for what I do.” 

Kevin Christman

How were the rocks wrapped in metal?

Inorganic Compound sculpture
Close-up of Inorganic Compound by Kevin Christman. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Look at those large river rocks. Do you wonder how they were wrapped in steel as you look at the sculpture? I sure do. The sculptor would say, I want you to wonder about that. 

The steel looks like it grew around the large rocks, or perhaps melted around the rocks. It is all so seamless, so organic looking for a sculpture called “Inorganic Compound.”

If you keep reading, I will tell you what I learned from Kevin Christman.

Impact of the Almeda fire: “It’s as if I’m starting over with my sculpture.”

Kevin told me he wants to create more “public works of art that inspire people, and hopefully you walk away feeling better after you experience it than when you came to it. Part of the impetus of doing a sculpture out of the ashes of this fire is to affect people and have them resonate with it and feel hopeful; you have obstacles in your life, you overcome them, and you’re better because of it.” 

Kevin was in the process of moving from one art and sculpture studio to another. In the meantime, he had packed almost everything from his studio in a large, seemingly safe storage container. Sadly, the Almeda fire destroyed everything he had stored there. Some things, like his tools, can be replaced. Others, like a lifetime of drawings and sketches organized in file cabinets, are irreplaceable. The hardest blow of all is the loss of all his sculpture molds, which allowed him to make and sell additional copies of his most popular sculptures. All are gone.

The massive community loss, combined with his personal loss, stimulated Kevin’s idea to create a public artwork for the Talent/Phoenix area to be made using scrap metals left from homes and businesses destroyed by the devastating Almeda fire. He sees this as a way to both remember the devastation and also to provide hope for rebuilding, renewal and new life.

“Everything Kevin has done, he has done with a community mindset.” I think of these words Libby Edson told me as I marvel at Kevin’s response to this tragedy. 

Kevin’s artistic journey 

“When I was eight, my father signed himself and me up to take the art class with the parish priest. That was my first formal training.” 

Kevin Christman

Kevin loved art from age six. “Everyone in my family knew that I could draw and would give me charcoal and art books for every birthday and holiday gift.”

He continued, “When I was eight years old, I was an altar boy at the Catholic Church in St. Martin, Minnesota, where I grew up. The parish priest there was really good at painting oil paintings of chapels and churches. He had large paintings in his house and he was going to be teaching an art class on how to paint.”

After Kevin took the priest’s art class, all he wanted to do was paint. In high school, he had the keys to the art room. After school, other kids would play sports and then take the athletic bus home after practice ended. Kevin went to the art room every day after school to paint and draw, and then joined the other kids on the athletic bus to go home. 

Kevin’s detour from art

Surprisingly, he took a detour from art. After an engineering degree, he worked in the aerospace industry for a few years. It was exciting to work in the Research & Development Department on the B-2 Stealth bomber at Northrop Corporation. But he wasn’t painting, so there was a huge hole in his life.

B-2 “Stealth” bomber in 2006. (photo from U.S. Air Force, on Wikimedia Commons)

Painting landscapes in every state!

Kevin returned to painting in 1988 through classes at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. When he realized his painting style was not a good fit for the college, he had a crazy idea to travel the United States and paint landscapes in every one of the “lower 48” states – and he did! He and his first wife lived out of a Jeep for a year as he made this crazy idea a reality. Kevin described it as “a real eye-opening year. That’s when I thought, ‘this is the beginning of an art career…this is where it starts.’”

Kevin Christman painting
This photo shows Kevin Christman painting on location in France. He has also painted on location in Italy, Germany and the Caribbean, preselling his paintings to collectors.

Following that cross-country trip, he settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1990 to work in a foundry. He became passionate about sculpture there and eventually apprenticed with many of the finest sculptors in the Santa Fe area. He assisted them in making molds and sculptures, while beginning his own sculpture career.

“Why did you move to the Ashland area?”

In response to my question, Kevin began: “My fiancee’s cousin was involved in the Ashland Elks Lodge. He had settled here and kept saying, ‘You have to come to Ashland. You have to check it out. It’s really a beautiful place.’”

Kevin married in 1997 and the newlyweds visited the Oregon coast for their honeymoon. Afterward they stopped in Ashland for a few days and were struck by the sense of safety in town, which was very different from their experience of living in Santa Fe.

They moved to Ashland the following year. In the years since then, Kevin has lived both in Ashland and Talent. He currently resides in rural Talent and loves the community. To him, “It feels like home.” 

Kevin laughed as he told me, “I was sort of reluctant to move to Talent, only because when you are corresponding with artists outside the area, or in New York, for an artist to live in a town named ‘Talent’ is just a little too cliché.” But he has made his peace with that “problem.”

I will tell Kevin’s complete story of the “why” behind his move to Ashland in another article. 

Public art along this stairway

I previously wrote three articles about three Ashland public artworks located along the “Bandersnatch Trail art walk.” I discovered another three-piece public art walk in Ashland, on the Calle Guanajuato stairway between Ashland Creek and Granite Street. 

(#1) Inorganic Compound by Kevin Christman is located along the stairway, towards the bottom. (#2) Fall Splendor by Annette Julien is located along the stairway, towards the top.  (#3) Rio Amistad by Sue Springer and Karen Rycheck is at the top of the stairway, next to Granite Street.

Inorganic Compound sculpture
This is Inorganic Compound. Further up the Calle Guanajuato stairway, you will find two other Ashland public artworks. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

“What does the sculpture mean to you?”

Kevin replied that he likes public art that relates to its environment. He doesn’t like artists who tell viewers what they “should” see in the artwork. However, he thinks it can provide a richer experience for the viewer to know how the artist sees the artwork. As Kevin said, in addition to the natural setting, “I am part of the context of the piece.” 

Kevin gave me two ways that he sees the sculpture. One is that is looks like a molecular compound, the living microscopic world blown up using rock and stone for us to see in the macro world. 

Inorganic Compound sculpture
The Inorganic Compound sculpture in process, in the studio. (photo by Kevin Christman)

He was also influenced by the natural setting along Ashland Creek. He told me, “With this piece in particular, it’s the feeling of the river flowing by. So the stones sort of represent the rocks that are sitting in the river and the metal encasing them is like the water flowing over them.” 

How the Inorganic Compound sculpture was made

Drawing on that inspiration, the rocks in this sculpture are actual river rocks. Kevin found them on a friend’s property along Carberry Creek in the Applegate valley. The metal is mild steel that was forged around the stone. 

Inorganic Compound sculpture
River rocks were collected for Inorganic Compound, then wrapped in steel. (photo by Kevin Christman)

If you are like me, you might be wondering right now how Kevin got steel and rock to flow together so tightly.

Kevin said he took the steel and “bezeled it on to the stone.” When I looked up the word “bezel,” the descriptions I saw referred to setting a gem or design in fine jewelry. Ten pound stones are a little bigger than fine jewelry!

The mild steel was weld-forged onto the stone. This is how Kevin described the process. “I started off with a 2” wide strap of metal and clamped it to the stone. Then I heated it with a torch until it turned red and pounded it to the contour of the stone until I came all the way around. After I formed it and welded it, I had a narrow bezel.”

“Then I would add another band on the side of that. I’d weld as I’d go. There are three or four strips of metal, all welded together.” I interrupted Kevin at this point, “Wait a minute. That’s a lot of welding. I can’t even see any of the weld marks.” He replied, “That’s good. It’s sort of a mystery. I wanted it to feel like jewelry as well, with the bezel. But how do you wrap 1/4” thick steel around a stone? I wanted it to be from a technical standpoint somebody would look at it and think, ‘How did they do that?’”

Dedication, public art and community

Inorganic Compound was installed and dedicated in 2009. Kevin’s sculpture was first considered as part of a rotating art plan for the Calle Guanajuato stairway. The idea was to have artwork on loan from artists for a year or two along the stairway. Though a good idea, it was too complicated to make it work in practice. I spoke with Libby Edson, who was on the Public Arts Commission at that time. She told me she suggested that the city buy Inorganic Compound because of the quality of the sculpture, which was done.

Libby added to my understanding of public art as we talked. We discussed the impact of where public art is placed, as well as the impact of public art on community. For Libby, both of these elements are crucial for a deep understanding of Inorganic Compound. 

She sees the sculpture’s placement along Ashland Creek as a perfect fit. The sculpture expresses the connection with nature through river rocks, but the way they are stacked and wrapped in metal expresses the intersection of humans and nature. She sees Inorganic Compound as representing “people living in harmony with nature, with a strong bond to protect nature.”  

In our discussion, Libby kept coming back to the importance of community. It takes community to realize the value of public art and to preserve it through the decades and centuries. It takes community to realize the value of the natural world that surrounds us and to preserve our environment. Art reminds us of these values.

The concept of community also ties in with the placement of this piece, per Libby. “It is on the Calle Guanajuato, which represents our relationship with our sister city in Mexico. It represents those community bonds as well.”

How to find the sculpture 

map
Arrow shows the location of Inorganic Compound along the Calle Guanajuato stairway, between Calle Guanajuato and Granite Street. (map from google maps)

You can reach the Inorganic Compound sculpture from Granite Street or Calle Guanajuato. 

The top of the stairway is on Granite Street, near the intersection with High Street. At the top of the stairway you will find a bench and a mosaic artwork, another piece in the Ashland public art collection. Near the bottom of the stairway, you will find Inorganic Compound.

From Calle Guanajuato, cross Ashland Creek to the path on the west side of the creek. You will see Inorganic Compound from the path, situated near the bottom of the stairway.

Other art by Kevin Christman

St. Mary’s School Chapel

St. Mary's School Chapel
St. Mary’s School Chapel exterior. (photo by Ezra Marcos)

The new chapel at St. Mary’s School in Medford is the most meaningful artwork of Kevin’s long artistic career. He told me it took “five years of work all in one building.” For this huge project, he created 32 stained glass windows and 16 bronze bas-relief sculptures! Here is a taste of the beauty there. 

Kevin Christman stained glass
St Mary’s School Chapel stained glass by Kevin Christman. This panel is called “The Parable of the Sower and the Seed.” (photo by Ezra Marcos)

My wife and I had an opportunity to visit the chapel in person on a sunny day. The sun’s rays lit up Kevin’s brilliant colors of stained glass on three sides of the intimate building. 

Kevin Christman stained glass
St Mary’s School Chapel stained glass by Kevin Christman. This panel is called “The Resurrection”. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The 16 bronze bas-relief sculptures are not as bright as stained glass windows, but like the windows they invite extended viewing to look for meaningful details. 

Kevin Christman sculpture
St Mary’s School Chapel bronze bas-relief by Kevin Christman. This panel is called “St. Damien of Moloka’i.” (photo by Ezra Marcos)

A beautiful book has photos of the stained glass windows and bronze bas-relief sculptures, plus a description of each one and an “artist’s statement” about each one. It is available for $35.00 by contacting Bethany Brown, Director of Advancement at St. Mary’s School. If you would like to see St. Mary’s School Chapel for yourself, please contact Bethany Brown first to set up an appointment. Bethany’s email address is bbrown@smschool.us.

Havurah Shir Hadash stained glass window

Kevin Christman stained glass
Stained glass window representing the Tree of Life, at Havurah Shir Hadash in Ashland. Artist is Kevin Christman. (photo by Havurah Shir Hadash)

Another work of religious art, at the Havurah in Ashland, also has deep meaning to Kevin. “When I did the stained glass window for the Havurah, the feedback I got from that, knowing that people were spiritually affected by a work of art that I did, was really impactful. It was an eye-opener to the power of art in a public setting and how it can affect people well beyond my lifetime.” 

“Making an impact that continues to resonate with people long after I am gone, I feel like that’s the highest calling I can think of for what I do.” 

Ashland Public Art on the Bandersnatch trail (three articles)

You can read about the Elevation sculpture here.

Read about the Pacific Fisher mosaic here.

My article about the four-level Water is Life mosaic is here.

References:

Note: The feature photo shows sculptor Kevin Christman with his public artwork “Inorganic Compound” in October 2020. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Christman, Kevin. Interview and personal communications, October 2020. Kevin graciously shared some of his personal photos with me.

Edson, Libby. Interview and personal communications, October 2020. (Libby Edson is a former member of the Ashland Public Arts Commission.)

St. Mary’s School. The St. Mary’s Chapel: The Jewel Box of St. Mary’s School, L&R Publishing, 2020. 

“Water is Life” – Mosaic Art on the Bandersnatch Trail

Karen Rycheck’s amazing artistic journey.
Honoring watershed animals.
29 photos!
Artist: Karen Rycheck.
Ashland Public Art series.

“In this sculpture, I was trying to make people aware of all the life that is supported by the Ashland watershed; how important it is to keep it clean, not just for our use but also for the wildlife in the area.” 

Karen Rycheck

Try the Bandersnatch Trail art walk

“Water is Life” is a dramatic sight as you ascend the Bandersnatch trail from Lithia Park up the hill toward the Siskiyou Mountains. It is the third, largest, and most complex sculpture you will see on this art walk. If you don’t know the Bandersnatch trail, I give instructions to the trail at the end of this article.

Water is Life on the Bandersnatch Trail in Ashland. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

“When did you first create art?”

Artist Karen Rycheck replied: “I’d say before pre-school. I started taking art classes when I was five with the local art association. My dad was instrumental in that, because he was an amateur photographer.” In her Oklahoma K – 12 schools, she didn’t get much support for art. For example, the art teacher was a football coach and they had to bring their own art supplies from home. 

During her high school years, she thought she would become an architect. Jon Keith Swindell, a professor and mentor at University of Kansas, inspired her to pursue fine art. She also pursued furniture making for a while.    

“How did you become a mosaic artist?”

Karen’s response turned into a fascinating story. “I kind of fell into mosaic art,” she told me. “There was a guy in St. Louis who was a sculptor. He was also a real estate mogul, which is how he supported being an artist. He would buy up old buildings, rehab them and flip them. In the process, he bought a 10-story building that had been vacant for a long time.” The photo below shows the 10-story building after he developed it into a museum.

St. Louis City Museum
Exterior of the St. Louis City Museum. Notice the full size school bus “driving” off the roof. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I interrupt the story of Karen’s artistic journey for a brief description of this no-longer-vacant building from the City Museum website: “Housed in the 10-story, 600,000 square-foot warehouse of the International Shoe Company, City Museum is a mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of found and repurposed objects. The brainchild of internationally-acclaimed artist Bob Cassilly, a classically trained sculptor, City Museum opened for visitors in 1997.” I looked at the website and wished I could transport myself to St. Louis to see the astounding place they have created. If you want to see it, including a drone video tour, here is the link: https://www.citymuseum.org

In Karen’s words, “He turned the building into a huge art experience. People started donating materials to him. A large donation came from a ceramic factory in Oklahoma, which donated two full truckloads of tile, seconds from the factory, all different colors and shapes and sizes.” What to do with them? The warehouse floors were cement, like a parking garage. Cassilly decided to mosaic the huge expanses of floors, thousands of square feet. Initially a couple women with some ceramic tile experience began laying the donated tile on the floors, a little each day. 

St. Louis City Museum
Intricate mosaics at the St. Louis City Museum. (photo from St. Louis City Museum website)

This brings the story back to Karen Rycheck. One day in 1997 she was waiting by the elevator to go to an upper floor and paint the ceiling. Cassilly saw her there and said, “Hey, have you ever done this mosaic thing?” Rycheck replied, “No, but it looks really cool. I’d like to try it.” He said, “Then go over there, where they are laying tile.” And for the next year and a half she laid mosaic tile every day, 8 to 12 hours a day. It was an intense learning-on-the-job experience, and she has loved working with mosaic tile ever since.

That brings us to Karen’s creative mosaic sculpture called Water is Life.

How “Water is Life” was chosen for this site

Karen submitted a design idea to the Watershed Art Group for a sculptural mosaic piece. She highlighted flora and fauna that are present in the Ashland watershed, especially animals and plants that people might not notice. Her proposal was accepted and she built the piece over the next year or so.

“I like to look at the big picture, and also focus on the tiny little critters and plants that we take for granted or don’t even know are there.”  

Karen Rycheck

This was only Karen’s second sculptural mosaic artwork! Her first sculptural piece, a reclining nude made in 2010 or 2011, is displayed at Paschal Winery in Talent (and is for sale). 

Karen and her “Reclining Nude” mosaic tile sculpture.

Meaning of the sculpture

I asked Karen about the overall meaning of the Water is Life sculpture. She replied, “I was trying to make people aware of all the life that is supported by the Ashland watershed; how important it is to keep it clean, not just for our use but also for the wildlife in the area. [The watershed] supports a lot of plants and animals, many of which are not found anywhere else in the United States. The Siskiyou region is a really unique area biologically, so protecting the land here is really important.” 

Each of the four levels of the sculpture depicts different plants and animals. Let’s learn in Karen Rycheck’s own words what she portrays in each level, starting with the bottom.

Bottom (first) level

Water is Life by Karen Rycheck
Water is Life, bottom (first) level. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

“The bottom layer is imagery of the forests and mountains. I moved here from the Midwest, the flatlands. We went to the mountains on family vacations. That’s where my love of the mountains originated, so I wanted to have that as a base.”

The bottom level shows the Ashland watershed’s “greater ecosystem, a forested mountainous area.”   

Second level

Water is Life by Karen Rycheck
Salamander on level 2 of Water is Life. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

This level honors small, ground-dwelling creatures in the watershed. The small native salamanders live in moist areas near streams. Karen: “They tend to hide out so you’re not likely to see them unless you are looking for them, and that’s one reason I wanted to bring some attention to them. They are dependent on moisture and plant life in the area.” 

Notice the variety of plants in the mosaic design around the salamander. Karen took walks in the area where her sculpture was going to be installed. She found local plants to feature. Near the salamander’s head is a small, easily overlooked native flowering plant with tiny purple blooms. Above the salamander is a fern and by its tail another local plant. The green tiles below the salamander represent the mosses in its habitat.

Water is Life by Karen Rycheck
Rough-skinned Newt on level 2 of Water is Life. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

On the other side of the second level is a rough-skinned newt, another animal in the watershed. Karen explained that “They have a pebbly-textured skin, so I found some tile that had a lot of texture to it.” You can see the texture difference in the photo and feel it on the sculpture.

Delightful details — notice the pebbles

Water is Life by Karen Rycheck
Notice the pebbles the artist found in Ashland Creek and incorporated into her sculpture that honors the Ashland Watershed, its animals and its plants. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Here’s why I like to talk with the artist, when possible. I didn’t notice this detail when I viewed the sculpture. I didn’t even notice this detail as I looked at my photo of the salamander on the second level of the sculpture. 

Take a look at the salamander’s front foot. What is it resting on? Those are not mosaic tiles. Those are pebbles that Karen picked up in Ashland Creek! This truly gives her mosaic creation a sense of place. 

Water is Life by Karen Rycheck
Notice the pebbles from Ashland Creek making up the “creek bed” on level 3 of Water is Life. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Again, look for the pebbles in this detail photo from the third level. The third level features fish amidst the flowing multi-colored blue hues of river water. What is below the water, in the real world and in the sculpture? Pebbles in the creek, and from the creek. I love that creative touch. Learning that little detail helps me appreciate the entire piece even more.

More delightful details — notice the plant leaves

Each of the small ceramic tiles needs to be cut to shape. This is much more challenging in a rounded mosaic artwork like Water is Life than in a flat mosaic. Now look closely at the leaves next to the salamander and the newt on the second level. Unlike all of the other tiles, which have smooth edges, many of the leaves have serrated edges. 

Water is Life by Karen Rycheck
Detail showing the serrated plant leaves on level 2 of Water is Life. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

I asked Karen how she could add that kind of detail to hard ceramic tiles. She explained that most of her tiles with smooth edges are hand cut. However, to create the serrated leaf shapes she needed to use a tile “wet saw,” which has a diamond-encrusted grinding blade. In fact, she had to use different kinds of wet saws to give the leaves their individual details. I haven’t counted the leaves, but that’s a lot of individual serrated leaf creation. 

Third level

Water is Life by Karen Rycheck
Level 3 of Water is Life contains stylized steelhead or salmon. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

A variety of blue-themed shapes, colors and sizes of tiles make up the flowing stream in which the stylized steelhead or salmon are swimming.

Back to details, notice how many tiles shaped as small scales are on each fish. “Each of those little tiles I shaped like scales was hand cut and then ground on a glass grinder to shape the curve better.” Karen added, “At the time I was doing this, my dad was in the hospital. I would go to the hospital with my tile and my nippers and a clear plastic bag. I would sit there and I would nip the fish scales by his bedside. It was my therapy as I was there with him.”  

Fourth (and top) level

Water is Life by Karen Rycheck
The Bald Eagle is soaring on level 4 of Water is Life. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

This is the level of sky and birds. The Bald eagle is soaring above (and within) a green forest in a blue, cloud-filled sky. 

Water is Life by Karen Rycheck
One of Karen Rycheck’s favorite local birds is the Spotted Towhee, here on level 4 of Water is Life. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

On the other side is a Spotted towhee, a favorite of Karen’s and one of the common birds of the Rogue Valley and Ashland watershed. 

How Water is Life was made

I was surprised when Karen told me that the core of each sculptural level was made of 2” or 3” thick insulation foam board laminated together. I had assumed the cores would be made of concrete, but that would have made them much too heavy for a four-level sculpture at this location. The recycled foam board was much lighter than a concrete core would be, and she could hand carve it to just the right boulder shapes. Karen told me insulation foam board is used a lot in creating theater and movie sets. 

Water is Life by Karen Rycheck
“Boulder” base made of foam board. (photo by Karen Rycheck)

The ceramic tiles were attached to fiberglass mesh, which was attached to the foam board base with Thinset cement.  

Here is the bottom level showing tiles attached to fiberglass mesh. (photo by Karen Rycheck)

Each tile was attached individually, glued on with Thinset, a special type of mortar made for attaching ceramic tile. Early in the process, Karen created drawings and a small model of the sculpture. For the flatter areas of each level, she was able to transfer her drawings to the concrete as a guide for placing the tiles. The curved areas were much more challenging and often required cutting tile pieces smaller to make them fit. 

You can see four real rocks in between the mosaic “boulder” layers. She got these rocks at Leave Your Mark in Phoenix. They were kind enough to drill holes through the rocks for her. A long steel rod holds the levels together and anchors them to the concrete base.

Ashland Parks Department staff assisted with Water is Life installation in early 2018. (photo by Karen Rycheck, 2018)

The levels of Water is Life were assembled on site with the help of Parks Department staff. Karen is very grateful for their help!

Ashland Parks Department staff who helped Karen install Water is Life. (photo by Karen Rycheck, 2018)

Water is Life dedication

A dedication had been planned for early 2018, but it was rained out. Karen laughed as she told me a few people showed up anyway, so there was an informal ceremony in the rain. Except that Karen wasn’t there because she had been told it was cancelled!

Water is Life
Karen Rycheck (on the left) and Stef Seffinger of the Watershed Art Group at the formal dedication. (photo provided by Stef Seffinger)

Fortunately, later there was a formal dedication on a sunny day in September 2018. It was held the same day as the dedication of the nearby sculpture “Elevation,” by Cheryl Garcia.

Other artwork by Karen Rycheck

“I love public art. I love the idea of art being free to everybody. I know that there are a lot of people who never get to go to museums, so I like that they can live with it in their community.”  

Karen Rycheck

Karen makes both private commissions and public artworks. As you can tell from the quote above, she loves to create public art, especially in collaboration with others. See examples below of both public and private pieces she has created.

Talent Bee City U.S.A. mosaic

This community mosaic was designed by Karen Rycheck. (photo by Karen Rycheck)
Detail of the Talent Bee City U.S.A. mosaic. (photo by Karen Rycheck)

Karen initiated and designed this stunning 32′ long mosaic for the City of Talent, Oregon. This mosaic flower garden was once a blank cement wall at the base of a stage that is used for music during the Harvest Festival and other gatherings. Karen told me, “People sat there facing the blank wall and I thought it needed to be brightened up.”

She took her idea to the Talent Public Arts Committee, which loved it of course. They presented it to the Talent City Council, where it was approved.

Karen explained the purpose behind this mosaic. “We tried to focus on plants that were host plants for pollinators in the valley, some native, some non-native. We wanted it to be educational, so people could see what kinds of flowers people could plant in their yards to attract pollinators. It’s around the corner from the Pollinator Garden in front of Talent’s City Hall building.”

This is truly “public art,” as over 100 community members worked on the mosaic with her. Following training by Karen, the individual flowers were initially laid out on fiberglass mesh by many different people. Then Karen put them together in the overall design. The mosaic was dedicated on June 22, 2019 after about a year and a half of community creativity.

“Home of the year” in St. louis

Cover of St. Louis Homes + Lifestyles magazine, 2000.

In the year 2000, this house won the “Home of the Year” award given by St. Louis Homes + Lifestyles magazine. All it takes is a brief glance to see how stunning it is. Using plaster, Karen crafted the snake that surrounds the kitchen entry. Wow! Those are seashells circling the snake.

Karen, Red Keel and one other woman designed and laid the ceramic tile on the floor, kitchen countertops and backsplash.  Following the nature and ocean theme, the floor mosaic is a huge squid.

“mosaic marathon” healthcare mosaic

This mosaic designed by Karen Rycheck (pictured) is at La Clinca Wellness Center in Medford.

This mosaic was created during an Ashland conference put on by the Contemporary Mosaic Artists organization in 2015. Karen designed it, but it was put together by attendees of the conference during a “mosaic marathon.”

Tiles for this project were provided by a Los Angeles group called “Piece by Piece.” Karen worked closely with Dawn Mendelson, the Managing Director of the organization. Since 2007, their mission has been to “provide low-income and formerly homeless people free mosaic art workshops using recycled materials to develop marketable skills, self-confidence, earned income and an improved quality of life.” I looked at their website and was very impressed. Here is a link if you’d like to learn more. https://www.piecebypiece.org

This circular mosaic hangs at La Clinica Wellness Center in Medford. When Karen told me that, I immediately thought of Jeremy Criswell and his mentor Lilli Ann Rosenberg. Mosaic artworks by Jeremy and Lilli Ann are also in La Clinica buildings. At the end of this article, you will find a link to the article about Pacific Fisher, Jeremy’s public art sculpture that is also on the Bandersnatch trail.

How to find “Water is Life” on the Bandersnatch trail

Just above Lithia Park, the Bandersnatch trail is one of the easiest Ashland trails to access. It begins near the swimming hole on Ashland Creek. If you are driving or biking, take Granite Street south to the swimming hole, then turn left on Glenview Drive.

Glenview Drive, Ashland

After a short distance, you’ll see a parking area on the right that can accommodate about eight cars, followed by a larger parking area on the left. If you are in a car, park here.

Ashland trails

Near the smaller parking area is a sign that says, “Waterline Trail” and “To Bandersnatch Trail 820′.” 

Keep an eye out for mountain bikers zooming by in this section of the trail because this section is a multi-use trail. When you reach the Bandersnatch trail, it will be only for pedestrians and equestrians.

Ashland trails

You’ll know you are heading the right way if you pass this gate and sign.

You will reach the Elevation sculpture about 1/10 of a mile from the parking lot, while you are still on the Waterline trail. Next to Elevation is another sign pointing to the beginning of the Bandersnatch trail.

Ashland trails

When you see the Bandersnatch trail sign, head uphill a short distance to see the other two sculptures on this art walk: Pacific Fisher and Water is Life.

Built in 2012 for walkers and equestrians, Bandersnatch trail is 1.7 miles long and intersects multiple trails, so you can hike in a loop or just go straight up and back. 

Ashland Public Art series – Links to other articles

Elevation by Cheryl Garcia

Pacific Fisher by Jeremy Criswell

Street Scene by Marion Young

References:

Anon. City Museum website.
https://www.citymuseum.org

Rycheck, Karen. Interview and communications, August and September 2020.
Karen Rycheck kindly shared some of her personal photos with me for the article.

Seffinger, Stef. Interview and communications, August 2020.

“Pacific Fisher” – Art on Ashland’s Bandersnatch Trail

The “Pacific Fisher” by Jeremy Criswell is part of Ashland, Oregon’s public art collection. I am writing an article about every public artwork in town.

Learn how it was made, step by step
Why is it named “Marty?”
31 photos!
Artist: Jeremy Criswell
Ashland Public Art series

Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
Pacific Fisher sculpture at its site. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

When I first saw the Pacific Fisher sculpture

My wife and I first saw the “Pacific Fisher” sculpture on the Bandersnatch trail in July 2020. As I climbed the hill and saw the front of the mosaic sculpture, I thought, “This is beautiful.” If you are not familiar with Bandersnatch trail, see detailed instructions for finding it at the end of this article. 

Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
Face of Pacific Fisher sculpture, front detail. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Pacific Fisher by Jeremy Criswell
“Front” of Pacific Fisher sculpture. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

When I walked around to the back of the piece, then came the “Wow!” I immediately wanted to learn what a Pacific fisher is and about the artist Jeremy Criswell. This article shares with you what I have learned.

Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
Face of Pacific Fisher sculpture, back detail. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Pacific Fisher by Jeremy Criswell
“Back” of Pacific Fisher sculpture. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Jeremy’s artistic journey

When I asked Jeremy how he started making art, he laughed and told me “As a kid, I was sure I was not an artist. I couldn’t draw. But my grandpa was a potter. So when I got to RCC [Rogue Community College], I took a pottery [ceramics] class. I was fortunate that it was taught by Tom Wilson, who introduced me to sculpture and was an early inspiration for me.” 

This began his process of opening up to what he called “exploring and playing a lot.” His mind opened up to the natural creativity within him. He writes in his Bio: “With ceramics as my anchor, I began to explore other art forms. Painting, sculpture, woodworking, carpentry, and welding all found their way into my life.”

He studied art and ceramics at Humboldt State University for five years, then moved back to Oregon in 2006. He currently makes art in his home studio in the Applegate Valley. He wrote, “I created a space that supports all forms of my artwork, from tile and cement sculpture, to pottery, welding, and woodwork. My primary focus is on art for public enjoyment.”

Jeremy Criswell studio
Jeremy Criswell’s studio, from his website. (photo by Robert Frost)

When he is not making art, you will find Criswell in his fourth year of teaching at Madrone Trail school, a Waldorf-inspired public charter school in Central Point. 

Jeremy Criswell’s mentor

Criswell met Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg when they were in their 80s and still creating public art projects for placement in Oregon and beyond. He and Lilli Ann clicked from the start, and he was her assistant from 2007 until her death in 2011.

Lilli Ann Rosenberg, 2007
This 2007 mosaic by Lilli Ann Rosenberg (pictured) for La Clinica was the first one Jeremy Criswell helped her with. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)

“Everything I know about mosaics I learned from her [Lilli Ann Rosenberg],” Jeremy told me. “For a number of years, I was her assistant. I was her eyes and hands in many ways. My work is incredibly influenced by her. The things that she held important, they became such a part of me … if anything, I think I honor her when I work.”

Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg with sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, 2008
Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg with Jeremy’s first mosaic sculpture (photo by Jeremy Criswell, 2008)

The photo above shows Jeremy’s first mosaic sculpture, made in 2008, which he described as “sort of a self-portrait.” He said: “This was a joyous moment for Lilli Ann and Marvin” because they could see that “what they shared was coming to life in me.”

Lilli Ann had created public art nationally for decades before she and Marvin moved to the Rogue Valley around 1990. In the Rogue Valley, the Rosenberg’s are most known for their incredible ability to engage with people in the community and for their mosaic artworks at many La Clinica buildings. 

In 1978, Lilli Ann’s created what may be her most dramatic piece. It is a 12-ton, 110’ mosaic tile mural installed at America’s oldest subway station – the 1897 Park Street station in Boston. 

Mosaic by Lilli Ann Rosenberg, Park Street subway station, Boston
Mosaic by Lilli Ann Rosenberg, Park Street subway station, Boston. (photo from MBTA)

The Watershed Art Group

The Pacific Fisher sculpture exists because Stef Seffinger, Pam Marsh and Sue Springer formed the “Watershed Art Group” to place public art along a trail above Lithia Park. Their goal — to bring attention to the importance of the watershed. They received support from the City of Ashland Public Arts Commission, with funding primarily from the Haines & Friends art fund. 

They put out a call for artists to propose ideas for a sculpture of a Pacific fisher, an important but little known animal in the Ashland Watershed. When Jeremy began his creative process, he had an idea to include leaves picked in the watershed as part of the design. Criswell’s mosaic design was chosen for this public art commission.

How the “Pacific Fisher” sculpture was made

The first step was design. Jeremy fine-tuned the design he had presented to the Watershed Art Group. Since he makes his own ceramic mosaic pieces, he visualized the colors, textures, shapes and sizes of the mosaic pieces for Pacific Fisher. Then he hand-made all the striped quarter moon tiles for the front side of the piece and the round green tiles for the back side. The glass tiles he used on the back side are hand-made Italian glass.

Ceramic tiles made by Jeremy Criswell
Hand-made ceramic tiles by Jeremy Criswell. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)

He cut out the exact shape and size of the sculpture in 2” thick Styrofoam. You can see in the photo below how he laid out his mosaic design.

Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
Styrofoam mold of Pacific Fisher sculpture on slab of clay. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)

The Pacific fisher was built flat on his large work table. Jeremy began with a huge slab of clay about 1” thick, laid out on the table. The Styrofoam cutout of the Pacific fisher shape was laid on the clay for a mold and held firmly in place. 

He pressed the design of glass and ceramic mosaic pieces for the back side of the Pacific fisher into the soft clay, using gentle taps so the pieces would stay put but not sink into the clay. Each of the hundreds of pieces needed to be exactly where he wanted it. Once the mosaic pieces were in concrete, there was no going back!

Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
Jeremy at work. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)

About half of the concrete (1” thick) was carefully poured into the mold so it would not move any of the small pieces that were pressed into the underlying clay. 

Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
Half of the concrete has been poured into the mold. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)

As the cement dried, it “grabbed” the glass and ceramic mosaic pieces. When the cement was lifted off, the mosaic pieces remained attached to the cement.

After the first half of the concrete was poured in the mold, rebar armature was added for strength and for attaching the piece to its base. 

The second half of the concrete was poured, making the sculpture about 2” thick. While this concrete was moist, the quarter-moon shaped brown ceramic pieces on the other side of the Pacific fisher were placed directly into it. As I listened to Jeremy describe this, I started to get worried the cement would dry before he could apply all 140 or so mosaic pieces exactly where he wanted them. He laughed and told me, “You always have enough time. I used to get very, very frantic and Lilli Ann would tell me it would work.” (Back when he was her apprentice and assistant.)

Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
Applying the tiles to the “front” side of the Pacific Fisher sculpture. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)

Working on his own a few years later, he once again would start to get frantic at this point in the process. Eventually he learned a routine to calm himself. “I would mix the cement, and while it was sitting in the wheelbarrow, I would go make a cup of coffee, just to remind myself that I had enough time.” When he told me there was a three-hour time period to work within before the cement dried, I was able to relax.   

“Real” leaves on the base

The base concrete was formed without a mold, using expanded metal lath as the structure. After hand-forming the base from thick wet concrete in and around the metal lath, he tapped the leaf ceramics into place before it dried. 

The ceramic leaves on the base had been created from fresh leaves Jeremy collected in the Ashland watershed. The multi-step process began by pressing the leaves into fresh clay and applying dark glaze around them. After carefully removing the leaves to preserve some detail such as the leaf veins, he fired the clay for the first time. Using a sponge, he then applied multiple colors of glaze to the individual leaves and fired the clay for a second time.

Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
This photo shows the metal lath for base. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)
Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
This photo shows the still damp hand-formed concrete applied over the metal lath. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)
Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
The ceramic tile leaves have been placed in the base. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)

Introduced to the public in June 2015

Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, Ashland Oregon
Ashland Daily Tidings, April 21, 2015. (photo from Stef Seffinger)

The Watershed Art Group introduced Criswell’s Pacific Fisher to the public during Ashland’s June 2015 Earth Day celebration, held at ScienceWorks Museum. Then it was on display at the Ashland Library until its October dedication on the Bandersnatch trail. There was even a contest to name the mosaic statue.

Dedication in October 2015

Pacific Fisher dedication October 2015
This photo from the dedication shows John Stromberg, an unidentified woman, Stef Seffinger (Ashland Watershed Group member), Ann Seltzer, and Pam Marsh (Ashland Watershed Group member). (photo by Jeremy Criswell)

About 40 people attended the dedication of Pacific Fisher on the trail October 9, 2015. People toasted the first sculpture on this new “Art Walk” with sparkling cider and cookies in the shape of Pacific fishers. Dave Clayton, a wildlife biologist who has studied Pacific fishers, spoke about their role in the ecosystem.

Pacific Fisher dedication October 2015
Jeremy Criswell keeps an eye on his sons Adrian (on the left) and Alden “riding” the Pacific Fisher during the dedication. In the background, Diarmuid McGuire is talking with Barry and Kathryn Thalden.  (photo by Greta Nikkelsen)

Why is it named “Marty?”

At the sculpture’s dedication, Ashland City Councilor Stef Seffinger explained why this Pacific Fisher is named “Marty.” It honors Southern Oregon forester and ecosystem restoration expert Marty Main.

Seffinger added: “This is somebody who has spent over 30 years working in this forest, who has spent his life educating and making sure that creatures in the forest continue to have a home. That the trees in the forest continue to be healthy. He’s one of the most generous and most wonderful men I know. Thank you, Marty.”

Marty Main
Marty Main teaching in June 2012. (photo by Stef Seffinger)

Marty Main has been a consultant to the Forest Lands Commission since 1995, and he is widely respected in the community. Unknown to Main, several people from the City of Ashland Forest Lands Commission nominated the name “Marty.” He attended the dedication ceremony not knowing the sculpture would be named for him. He told me, “They surprised me. I was embarrassed.” 

What is a Pacific fisher?

Pacific fisher
Pacific fisher. (from the KS Wild website)

I asked Marty Main to tell me a little about the Pacific fisher. He explained that they are in the same family as weasels, and are about the size of a house cat. They are now rare on the West Coast, and a healthy, growing population of Pacific fishers in the Ashland watershed is a sign of ecosystem health in our watershed.

Throughout Oregon and North America, the population of Pacific fishers was decimated by the fur trade in the late 1800s, the use of powerful poisons at illegal marijuana grows in federal forests for decades (thankfully fewer since the legalization of marijuana) and the loss of old growth habitat. Pacific fishers nest and rest in large, older trees. They are nocturnal, so they are not very visible. 

What do they eat? Fish, of course…NO, not fish. Their unusual common name is thought to come from the word fiche (or fichet, or fitch, or fitchet), an old term for the pelt of a European polecat, a related animal that 19th century fur trappers were familiar with. 

They actually eat small mammals like mice, squirrels, rabbits, and one that’s a surprise…porcupines! Marty Main told me, “They are one of the few animals that eat porcupines. They have learned to flip porcupines over to get to the soft belly. They are unique that way.”

How to find the sculpture on the Bandersnatch trail

Just above Lithia Park, the Bandersnatch trail is one of the easiest Ashland trails to access. It begins near the swimming hole on Ashland Creek. If you are driving or biking, take Granite Street south to the swimming hole, then turn left on Glenview Drive.  

Glenview Drive, Ashland

After a short distance, you’ll see a parking area on the right that can accommodate about eight cars, followed by a larger parking area on the left. If you are in a car, park here.

Ashland trails

Near the smaller parking area is a sign that says, “Waterline Trail” and “To Bandersnatch Trail 820′.” 

Keep an eye out for mountain bikers zooming by in this section of the trail because this section is a multi-use trail. When you reach the Bandersnatch trail, it will be only for pedestrians and equestrians.

Ashland trails

You’ll know you are heading the right way if you pass this gate and sign.

You will reach the Elevation sculpture about 1/10 of a mile from the parking lot, while you are still on the Waterline trail. Next to Elevation is another sign pointing to the beginning of the Bandersnatch trail.

Ashland trails

When you see the Bandersnatch trail sign, head uphill a short distance to see the other two sculptures on this art walk: Pacific Fisher and Water is Life.

Built in 2012 for walkers and equestrians, Bandersnatch trail is 1.7 miles long and intersects multiple trails, so you can hike in a loop or just go straight up and back. 

Other art by Jeremy Criswell

Lilli Ann Rosenberg, 2007
Lilli Ann Rosenberg in 2007, creating a mosaic for La Clinica. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)

This piece, now at La Clinica in Central Point, was the first artwork of Lilli Ann Rosenberg that Jeremy helped create. It is still very meaningful to him.

Mosaic sculpture by Jeremy Criswell
Mosaic sculpture by Jeremy Criswell at Applegate School. (photo by Jeremy Criswell)

This tree mosaic Jeremy called “Tree of Living Things” was created in 2017 or 2018 when he was the artist in residence at Applegate School. Every one of the school’s 100 students was involved in creating the artwork. Each one drew an animal or plant, pressed the drawing into clay and then painted it. Jeremy incorporated all of these into the mosaic tree. Look closely to see similarities between his hand-made tiles used in this mosaic and the ones used in Pacific Fisher.

Tortoise by Jeremy Criswell at Cantrall Buckley park
Tortoise by Jeremy Criswell, Cantrall Buckley County Park. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The tortoise at Cantrall Buckley County Park is one of Jeremy’s favorite pieces because of the way kids climb on it, interact with it and have fun with its colorful personality. 

Finally, what is a Bandersnatch?

I don’t suppose it’s helpful to know that the Bandersnatch is found in the vicinity of the Jabberwock and the Jubjub bird. It might be more helpful to know that it occurs in the follow-up book to Alice in Wonderland, in which nearly everything is topsy turvy.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Lewis Carroll, from the poem Jabberwocky in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

More articles about Ashland Public Art

“Elevation” – Art on the Bandersnatch Trail
https://walkashland.com/2020/08/28/elevation-art-on-ashlands-bandersnatch-trail/

Street Scene Sculpture: Who Are These People?
https://walkashland.com/2020/05/26/street-scene-sculpture-who-are-these-people/https://walkashland.com/2020/05/26/street-scene-sculpture-who-are-these-people/

Ashland Public Art map

A map at the link below shows City of Ashland public art, from the city website. Photos of the art are by Graham Lewis.
https://gis.ashland.or.us/publicart/

References:

Anon. “Pacific Fisher is One Cool Critter,” KS Wild website, accessed September 22, 2020.
https://www.kswild.org/imperiled-species-profiles/2017/6/12/pacific-fisher

Criswell, Jeremy. Interview and personal communications, August and September 2020. Jeremy graciously shared some of his personal photos with me.

Darling, John. “Watershed Art Trail: Elusive Pacific Fisher to have prominent spot,” Ashland Daily Tidings, April 21, 2015. 

Darling, John. “Mural artist Lilli Ann Rosenberg leaves a lasting legacy,” Medford Mail Tribune, July 23, 2011.

Dickinson, Alec. “Ashland Watershed Art Trail inaugurated with unveiling of ‘Marty,’” Ashland Tidings, October 12, 2015. 

Main, Marty. Interview, September 2020.

Marsh, Pam. Email communications, September 2020.

Seffinger, Stef. Interview and communications, August and September 2020.

“Elevation” – Art on Ashland’s Bandersnatch Trail

“Elevation” – First artwork of three as you walk Bandersnatch trail
Artist: Cheryl Garcia
Ashland Public Art series

Introducing the artist

Cheryl Garcia has loved art ever since she could pick up a crayon. I will describe her artistic journey after I introduce her Ashland public artwork entitled “Elevation.”

Creation of Elevation

The “Watershed Art Group” (originally Stef Seffinger, Pam Marsh, Sue Springer and a few others) wanted to place public art along the Bandersnatch trail above Lithia Park. Their goal was to bring attention to the importance of the Ashland Creek watershed, where we source our drinking water. Three sculptures have now been placed along the trail: Elevation, Pacific Fisher and Water is Life. They received funding primarily from the Haines & Friends art fund.

When you walk the Bandersnatch trail, the first of the three sculptures you will see (just before the trail starts) is Elevation by Cheryl Garcia. Cheryl is a metal artist, and Elevation is made of steel. Her initial concept for Elevation included a poem by Edward Abbey with three small birds flying above it. 

Ashland public art
Cheryl Garcia’s original concept drawing for Elevation. (photo by Cheryl Garcia)

Over time, the design became three large birds representing the “elevation” you experience as you walk up Bandersnatch trail, as well as a hope for elevation in our spirits through art and nature. 

Ashland public art
Elevation, with a view of trail continuing to the right of the sculpture. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

My question: What brought you to metal art?

I asked Cheryl how she came to love metal art. She replied: “It goes back to my love of junky old iron as a kid. My grandfather was a collector of artifacts. I loved going into his garage and digging around in all of his artifacts and playing around with tools. I loved going around collecting rusty old iron in the canyons of southwest Colorado where I grew up. I fell in love with the material first.”

As a child, Cheryl entered many local art contests, whether it was a coloring contest or who could draw a scene from Mesa Verde National Park the best. 

“I won quite a few art contest prizes as a kid, including a year’s supply of free fountain sodas from a local convenience store.” 

Cheryl Garcia

She laughed as she told me, “I was a popular kid,” and then “I think they didn’t do that [contest] any more after I won it, because I was down there every single day getting my free sodas with my friends.”

After a couple years off from school, when she worked drawing illustrations for archeological digs in the Four Corners area, she took every art class at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. During trips to Santa Fe, she was inspired by the large scale metal art sculptures there. Since welding was not offered at Fort Lewis College, she switched to a vocational school and became a certified welder in 1993. That opened the door to metal working and metal art.

Love at first sight

When she lived in Missoula, Montana for a year to enjoy the music scene there and work as a welder, she met her husband Criss. It was a case of “love at first sight” – not the sappy movie kind, but the lasting real-life, through the ups and downs to this day kind.

It was through Criss that they decided to move to Ashland in November 1996. “It was just what we were looking for.” Her first Southern Oregon job at Medford Fabrication enabled her to save enough money to purchase her own metal work and welding equipment. 

“Living my dream”

Cheryl Garcia
Cheryl Garcia in 1998. (photo by Criss Garcia)

Now that she owned her own equipment, Cheryl said goodbye to the 9-to-5 in order to “live my dream.” She began by making garden ornaments that she sold at the Growers and Crafters Markets in Ashland and Jacksonville.  

Cheryl Garcia
Garden ornaments Cheryl sold at Growers Markets in 1998. (photo by Criss Garcia)

People who bought her garden ornaments started asking her to make gates and handrails for them. She found out that making structural art required a contractor’s license. Dedicated to growing both her skills and her business, she went to Rogue Community College and got the license. Since then, she has made many bright-colored nature-inspired sculptures both large and small, gates, fences, vessels, sacred art and more. 

She is especially proud of a large spiral staircase she built for a private customer, a project that required her to draw upon all of her skills and creativity.

Cheryl Garcia
Spiral staircase by Cheryl Garcia in a private residence. (photo by Cheryl Garcia)

Public art

Though she accepts many private commissions, Cheryl especially enjoys creating public art: “I certainly enjoy the public commissions the most, because they’re reaching a bigger audience. I know the joy and wonder I am trying to put out in the world is affecting more lives than just a private commission.”

Cheryl Garcia

Cheryl is a visible artist in Southern Oregon. If you have been to Jacksonville in the past few years, you may have seen her huge poppy flowers in the vineyard just outside of town. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Ashland public art

If you drive by Walker School on Walker Street in Ashland, you may have seen her large flowers on the school grounds.

Sunflower by Cheryl Garcia at Walker School. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Cheryl Garcia, Britt Festival

If you have been to Britt Music Festival in the past few years, you have walked by her huge flower sculpture at the Britt entrance.

Cheryl Garcia poses with her Brittilaria sculpture at the Britt Festival grounds. It is named for the fritillaria flower.

(photo by Rita Ashley)

Elevation: the artistic process

Cheryl Garcia at work in her studio. (photo by Jim Craven)

Now let’s look in detail at the piece called Elevation, which was installed near the beginning of the Bandersnatch trail. Elevation began with a Corten steel plate, a stainless steel plate, steel posts, more steel plates for the base, nuts, bolts, paints and more.  Corten steel is a quick-rusting steel often used for outdoor installations. The different pieces were each cut out and worked on individually before they could be put together.

This 4-minute video shows an overview of the entire process of creating Elevation.

To complement the video, here is my summary of the steps involved, illustrated with photographs taken from the video. First, the heart of Elevation is the Corten steel plate. Cheryl drew a complex design on the steel, then cut precise holes in the steel with a plasma cutting tool. 

Second are the rigid side-poles that support the Corten steel plate and anchor it to the base. 

Third is the steel base, which in this case required two large pieces of steel with bolts anchoring it both to the sculpture above and to the concrete foundation below. In most of her jobs, Cheryl makes the concrete foundation as well as the metal sculpture. “That’s why part of my contractor’s license is certification in concrete work as well,” she said. In this case, the Parks Department was responsible for the concrete foundation. 

Ashland public art
Steel base for Elevation, showing the mounting bolts. (photo from the Cheryl Garcia video)

Fourth, the three birds were cut out of stainless steel. The steel had to be ground, sanded and buffed until it was smooth to the touch, without sharp edges. 

Ashland public art
Stainless steel birds being painted. (photo from the Cheryl Garcia video)

After each individual part was done, she finally put it all together. The birds were welded to the Corten steel plate from the back side. After they were attached, everything was masked off in order to apply anodized, long lasting industrial paint for the blue color of the birds.

Ashland public art
Corten steel of Elevation before the rusting process. (photo from the Cheryl Garcia video)

Finally, the rusting process is a key part of the artwork that we see but don’t normally think about. Cheryl painted a chemical solution on the Corten steel, which is made to rust quickly. She said, “It [the Corten steel] takes a chemical solution I can put on. The rusting itself takes some finessing as well; I don’t want it to go too far, and I don’t want it to be too little. So I need to use the right amount of chemical solution to get the perfect rust and then neutralize it with a neutralizer, then rinse it all down before the installation.” 

There is so much that people don’t see, including “a lot of grinding” that goes into every piece of artwork. Cheryl summed up, “It is very labor intensive.”

Ashland public art
Detail of Elevation showing the Corten steel on site after the rusting process. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Installation and Dedication

Elevation was installed at the site in June of 2018. The dedication ceremony didn’t happen until September 2018. As it turned out, the dedication for both Elevation and Water is Life (also on Bandersnatch trail) were held on the same day.

Where to find Elevation

My wife and I first walked the Bandersnatch trail to see the three public art sculptures there in July 2020. Just above Lithia Park, the Bandersnatch trail is one of the easiest Ashland trails to access. It begins not far from the swimming hole on Ashland Creek. If you are driving or biking, take Granite Street south to the swimming hole, then turn left on Glenview Drive. After 2/10 of a mile, you’ll see a parking area on the right that can accommodate about eight cars, followed by a larger parking area on the left. If you are in a car, park here.

Ashland trails
Sign near the parking area on Glenview Drive pointing the way to Bandersnatch trail. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Near the parking area is this sign that says, “Waterline Trail >” and “To Bandersnatch Trail 820′.” Keep an eye out for mountain bikers zooming by in this section of the trail because this section is a multi-use trail. When you reach the Bandersnatch trail, it will be only for pedestrians and equestrians.

You’ll know you are heading the right way if you pass this gate and sign.

Ashland trails
Next clue that you are heading in the right direction to see Bandersnatch trail artworks. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

You will reach the Elevation sculpture about 1/10 of a mile from the parking lot, while you are still on the Waterline trail.

Ashland trails

Next to the Elevation sculpture, you will see this sign.

Continue up to the Bandersnatch trail if you want to see the other two sculptures on this art walk: Pacific Fisher and Water is Life. Continue to keep an eye out for mountain bikers until you reach Bandersnatch trail. Built in 2012, Bandersnatch trail is 1.7 miles long and intersects multiple trails, so you can hike in a loop or just go straight up and back.

Ashland trails
Not far past Elevation is the official beginning of the Bandersnatch trail, where you will find the other two works of public art. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

What is a Bandersnatch?

You may be wondering, as I did, “What is a bandersnatch?” It is found in the unusual world of “Alice in Wonderland.” Here is how it is described.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Lewis Carroll, from the poem Jabberwocky in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

Cantrall Buckley County Park

Because I am writing about Cheryl Garcia’s artwork, I want to briefly introduce you to the sculptures being installed at 88-acre Cantrall Buckley county park, located along the Applegate River near Ruch. The park and community have collaborated to raise funds for what has become an Art Walk at the park. 

The art in the park began with concrete and mosaic artwork Applegate Valley artist Jeremy Criswell created for the playground at the park. 

Cantrall Buckley park
Tortoise mosaic and concrete sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, located in the children’s playground at Cantrall Buckley County Park. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Jeremy is the sculptor of the Ashland public art piece on the Bandersnatch trail called “Pacific Fisher.”

He introduced community members to Cheryl Garcia, which resulted in a plan for Cheryl to create eleven metal art pieces that embody local flora and fauna in the Applegate Valley. She has completed eight so far as of August 2020, with three more to go.

Cantrall Buckley park
Mock Orange by Cheryl Garcia, at Cantrall Buckley County Park. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The community group A Greater Applegate wrote: “Art enthusiasts are delighted to see the numerous sculptures in the Educational Sculpture Art Walk series installed near the river. Cheryl Garcia, our very talented Jacksonville artist, completed the first awe-inspiring metal rendition, “The Mock Orange,” in the Fall of 2018. This spectacular 12-foot sculpture depicts the large and beautiful white blossom of this tender but tough native species.”

Cheryl enthusiastically described the project to me, and said, “It will become Southern Oregon’s first sculpture park!” 

If you would like to learn more about Cheryl’s work, her website is GreatMetalWorks.com.

Cantrall Buckley park
Northern Flicker by Cheryl Garcia, at Cantrall Buckley County Park. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Ashland Public Art map

A map at the link below shows City of Ashland public art, from the city website. Photos of the art are by Graham Lewis.
https://gis.ashland.or.us/publicart/

Here is my other Ashland Public Art article published so far.

Coming soon: Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, also on the Bandersnatch trail.

Coming soon: Water is Life sculpture by Karen Rycheck, also on the Bandersnatch trail.

References:

Anon. “Ashland Public Art Collection: A map tour of Public Art installations in the City of Ashland, Oregon,” City of Ashland website.

https://gis.ashland.or.us/publicart/

A Greater Applegate, http://agreaterapplegate.org/cantrall-buckley-park/

Jackson County Parks, https://jacksoncountyor.org/parks/Day-Use/Cantrall-Buckley

Anon. “Cantrall Buckley Sculpture Park Takes Shape, Jacksonville Review Online, June 5, 2018. https://jacksonvillereview.com/cantrall-buckley-sculpture-park-takes-shape/

Garcia, Cheryl. Interview and personal communications, August 2020.

Seffinger, Stef. Interview and personal communications, August 2020.

Alida Street: Flowers, Ghosts and Art


Dramatic trumpet vine at 66 Alida
Writer of Westerns at 81 Alida
The scissors that moved by themselves at 92 Alida
Beautiful mural at 107 Alida
“Lord of the Rings” connection at 180 Alida
Plus 40 photos

Surprising stories

I thought to myself, “It’s only two blocks long. This will be a quick, easy article to write.” Boy was I wrong. I was surprised by the stories I discovered and which I can now share with you.

Alida Street is situated between Siskiyou Boulevard and East Main Street in one of the older parts of Ashland, within the boundaries of the Siskiyou-Hargadine historic district. Residents of Alida Street have a neighborhood coffee shop, with the Rogue Valley Roasting Company around the corner on East Main Street.

Let’s begin our two-block stroll

Alida Street
46 Alida Street, built in 1933 (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Let’s begin our two-block stroll with a small 1933 cottage style house at 46 Alida Street, near East Main Street. According to the National Register of Historic Places, this house is “an example of the small rental volumes that typify much of the infill development in the district prior to World War II.” It looks beautifully renovated at some point in recent years.

Alida Street
Woodland Park Estates apartments on Alida Street (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Across the street is the Woodland Park Estates apartments. This large apartment complex provides much needed housing for single people and couples.

Southern Pacific Railroad engineer

Alida Street
60 Alida Street (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

60 Alida Street was built about 1902 for Judd V. Miller, an engineer with the Southern Pacific Railroad. The original architecture was an L-shaped farmhouse style, but large additions through the years have changed the historic character of this house as well. I do like the attractive new front entry, though it’s not quite large enough to be a comfortable front porch with two or three chairs.

Hipped-roof cottage

Alida Street
63 Alida Street, built in 1908 (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The 1908 Henry Boyd House at 63 Alida Street retains its simple, historic hipped-roof cottage architectural style. Henry Boyd was a local photographer. He and his wife Nettie lived here until 1923.

Trumpet vine

Alida Street
66 Alida Street, home of an old trumpet vine (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

A dramatic trumpet vine caught my eye at 66 Alida Street. The house was built in 1941 in the Cape Cod, Colonial Revival style. As I walked and took photos in July 2020, the trumpet vine was in glorious full bloom, covered with large bright red flowers.

Trumpet vine, Alida Street
Trumpet vine flowers at 66 Alida Street (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Trumpet vines (also called trumpet creeper) have high points and drawbacks. Among the high points, the large bright flowers continue to bloom all summer and they are a magnet for hummingbirds.

Trumpet vine trunks have their own harsh beauty. The trumpet vine at 66 Alida shows how beautiful the gnarled trunk of the vine gets as it ages. This one even provides a level spot for displaying Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity of beginnings, also known as the remover of obstacles.

Ganesha statue, Alida Street
Resting place for Ganesha on the trumpet vine trunk (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

As one website put it, trumpet vine is “A high-climbing, aggressively colonizing woody vine to 35 ft., climbing or scrambling over everything in its path by aerial rootlets.” Depending on its location, this can be a big drawback. Some varieties send out below-ground runners and self-seed nearby, so they can take a lot of care to keep in check. The beautiful, gnarled trunk can also be a drawback as the plant gets older and larger. Moral of the story: be careful where you plant a trumpet vine and keep it under control, so that you can enjoy it. This old trumpet vine is an example of one that has been pruned regularly and kept under control.

Trumpet vine trunk, Alida Street
This is what an old, gnarled trumpet vine trunk looks like (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

George Anderson houses

Warner Mercantile Company ad 1916
Ad for Warner Mercantile Company, where George Anderson worked. This ad was in the Ashland Tidings of November 23, 1916.

George Anderson was a clerk with the Warner Mercantile Company. I found a Warner Mercantile ad in the 1916 Ashland Tidings, but it doesn’t give much insight into what the company sold or where it was located. Anderson had two houses built on Alida Street, both in 1910.

Alida Street
76 Alida Street, built in 1910. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Anderson lived at 76 Alida in a simple hipped-roof cottage. The large rear addition and plate glass windows in front have changed the house considerably, but one can still see the basic character of the 1910 house in the small front section.

Alida Street
75 Alida Street, also built in 1910. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Anderson bought property across the street and had 75 Alida built as a rental house. The National Register document calls it “a fine single-story gabled bungalow with a projecting gable porch.” I keep an eye out for Little Free Libraries around town. You’ll find an attractive one in the planting strip at 75 Alida Street.

Little Free Library, Alida Street
Little Free Library at 75 Alida Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Writer of Western stories and novels lived here

Alida Street
81 Alida Street was the home of William Verne Athanas and his family. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

William Verne Athanas, who lived at 81 Alida Street, was known as a writer of cowboy fiction, but he came from a rich Greek heritage.  He was the son of Panagiotis “Peter” Konstantinos Athanassopoulos, who had been born in Greece in 1890. The family moved to Ashland when Verne was a child. In 1936, he graduated from Ashland High School and married his childhood sweetheart Alice Spencer – a big year!

Marrying Alice Spencer made him the uncle of Julia Woosnam, who grew up across the street at 92 Alida Street and told me his story. Between high school and becoming a full-time writer ten years later, “he slopped hogs, dug postholes, drove trucks, was a railroad brakeman, a gandy dancer, a service station attendant, a stationery salesman and more.” [Archives West]

Verne Athanas had an article in the November 1951 issue of New Western Magazine under his pen-name Bill Colson. (photo from “The Western & Frontier Fiction Magazine Index”)

Once he began writing, he specialized in cowboy fiction, and he was prolific. Athanas has 28 short stories listed in the “Western and Frontier Fiction Magazine Index.” He also wrote for mainstream magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and Esquire. He published three novels, including The Proud Ones that was made into a movie released in 1956. He also wrote scripts for TV westerns in the 1950s and 1960s. Because he wrote under four pseudonyms in addition to his own name, I haven’t been able to track down exactly what and how much he wrote.

The oldest house on Alida Street

Alida Street
84 Alida Street, built in 1890 or 1891. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Built in 1890 or 1891, 84 Alida is the oldest house on the street. It is described as “a fine multiple gable volume set upon a high concrete foundation. The porch at the NW corner is notable for its early-appearing chinoiserie balustrade.”

Early Ashlanders, ghost tales and more

alida Street
92 Alida Street, built in 1920. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The 1920 single story bungalow at 92 Alida Street still has much of its original detailing. Julia Woosnam, who grew up in this house in the 1950s and 1960s, told me stories and shared photos with me. She comes from an old Ashland family. Her grandfather Don Spencer was Ashland’s first postal mail carrier, starting in about 1910. Before that, everyone had to pick up their mail at the post office on the Plaza.

92 Alida Street
Altadena (Dena) and Lawrence Powell pose for a wedding picture in 1929.
(photo courtesy of Julia Woosnam)

Julia’s father Lawrence Powell and mother Altadena Spencer married in 1929. The couple raised a family and lived at 92 Alida Street for more than 40 years.

“Julia’s tree”

Alida Street

Two months before Julia was born in 1954, her father planted a maple tree for her in front of their house at 92 Alida Street. Here is the tiny stick that was to become a tree. (photo courtesy of Julia Woosnam)

Alida Street

Her father took this photo of Julia with “her tree” when she was almost two years old. The maple tree “stick” is a little taller. (photo courtesy of Julia Woosnam)

Alida Street

Here is “Julia’s tree” in front of 92 Alida Street in 2020. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Ghostly personal experiences

“Growing up there, you would just have a sense of somebody else hanging out” in the house, Julia told me. The front bedroom, with a window overlooking the porch as seen in the photo below, was hers growing up.

Alida Street
Julia’s bedroom window looked out to the porch. Julia’s father Lawrence Powell made the wood house number sign that still hangs in the porch area. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

“The front bedroom was my room, and things would slide around in that room. I had a couple of friends in high school, laughing and giggling in there with me when we were best buddies, and a pair of scissors slid across the bureau. One of those friends said, ‘I am not staying in your room again.'”

Intrigued because scissors seem rather large to move on their own, I asked Julia about them. She replied, “I have them upstairs. They were my mother’s really nice dress-making shears.” Of course I said, “May I take a photo of them?” So Julia went and got what she laughingly called “the now famous flying scissors,” and here they are. I held them, and I can tell you they are heavy.

scissors
These heavy dress-making scissors scared three teenage girls who were talking in Julia Woosnam’s bedroom at 92 Alida Street. Read the text to find out why.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Then there was the moving toilet paper. “The toilet paper roll would just spontaneously, slowly start to unroll, then it would go faster, faster, faster, faster, faster, faster until it pretty much emptied the roll. That was seen by several friends.”

“It got to be really mean,” Julia added, laughing. “Someone would go in the bathroom and we would all wait, just to see if it would happen. I had my best friend, who lived in the oldest house [on Alida Street] across the driveway from us, and she went into the bathroom — and I remember my mom and I tippy-toeing down the hallway, waiting — and pretty soon she screams, and she comes running out of the bathroom, just sobbing — and it was the toilet paper had started to unroll before she could even get near it to use it. These things just happened — for whatever reasons, they do happen.”

Another occurrence experienced by many people through the years was a loud thump, with no discernible cause, as if a large ball was being thrown against the wall. “My good friend Ann called it ‘the boulder.’ So we always referred to that sound as being ‘the boulder.’ It was definitely like someone had taken a soccer ball and thrown it hard against the outside of the house.”

100 Alida Street

Alida Street
100 Alida Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The house next door at 100 Alida Street was built in 1939 with an English Cottage style architecture unusual in Ashland. “A one and one-half story period revival structure, the Ruger House is a gable volume with a projecting gable entry element.”

The creative gate combines wood, metal and vines for an attractive entry to the yard.

gate, Alida Street
Creative gate at 100 Alida Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Art for the neighborhood to enjoy

Alida Street
107 Alida Street…can you see the mural? (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The house at 107 Alida was built in 1925 for local banker Gerald Wenner and his wife Grace. The couple lived here for nearly 50 years, until they died in the early 1970s. A simple bungalow style, it still has many of the original 1925 features. 

Before and After at 107 Alida Street

Wall at 107 Alida Street before mural was painted. (photo courtesy of Katherine Holden)
mural, Alida Street
Beautiful mural at 107 Alida Street, painted in June of 2020. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The bright mural on the side of this house is quite new. Katherine emailed me that the mural at her house was painted by two friends, Amy and Glenn, who visited her from the San Francisco Bay Area in June. Her friend Amy added, “Visiting in a pandemic, we wanted a safe way to socialize and create something beautiful for our friend Katherine. We hope that more public art soothes the soul during these transformative times.” Seeing this mural certainly lifted my spirits, and I recommend that you see it when you are in the neighborhood.

The mural creation at 107 Alida Street

I wondered how this unusual group of flowers was designed. It turned out to be a simple but surprising reason. See the photo and caption below.

Alida Street mural
The design of the mural was inspired by this piece of fabric Amy and Glenn found in Katherine’s sewing box. (photo courtesy of Katherine Holden)
Alida Street mural
This photo shows Glenn painting the mural in June 2020. (photo courtesy of Katherine Holden)

I will add that Amy Pete is a somatic bodyworker and Glenn Case is a muralist and sign maker, both living in the Bay Area. 

Another SP worker, and unusual yard art

Alida Street
140 Alida Street, built about 1924. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Southern Pacific Railroad worker Henry Mayberry and his wife Myrtle had 140 Alida Street built for them about 1924. The house retains much of its historic look. The artistic garden fence and yard art are both very modern. For example, having a Buddha-like statue and a gnome sharing the yard is very 21st century.  

Alida Street
This is one of my favorite yard art combinations in town. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Alida Street
I wonder if the deer appreciate the hearts when they see that they can’t enter this lush vegetable garden. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Ashland High School 2020 graduate

Alida Street
145 Alida Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Ashland High School’s class of 2020 was not able to have an in-person graduation ceremony due to the coronavirus. On May 26, I noticed a forest of signs placed along Siskiyou Boulevard in front of the high school. I was moved as I saw this creative way of recognizing each 2020 graduate individually. 

Ashland High School class of 2020
Ashland High School, posters for the class of 2020. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Since then, I have seen “2020 GRAD” signs in front of several houses around Ashland. 145 Alida Street is one of them. This post-World War II era cottage, built in 1945, is “a fine example of its type.” The National Register describes it as “a series of connected hip roof volumes with wide board siding and numerous windows. A large brick chimney dominates the streetscape and a matching hipped-roof garage is located at the rear of the lot.”

Alida Street
Alida Street
Apartments at 160-162 Alida Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Another, smaller apartment complex is at 160-162 Alida Street. Built in 1966, I think it is called the Collins Court apartments.

A “fine Queen Anne ell”

Alida Street
172 Alida Street, built about 1900. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

172 Alida Street was built as a rental house by Jacob Thompson around 1900. Architecturally, it is a “fine Queen Anne ell with canted corner on each of two projecting gables, framed below a pent roof line and a shingle-decorated gable end.”

Thompson owned much of the land in this part of Miner’s addition. An interesting aside is that in 1910, he transferred this property to a company co-owned by Thompson and his partner Gwin Butler. You may recognize the name Butler from the Butler-Perozzi Fountain or the Butler bandshell in Lithia Park. Gwin Butler’s contributions to Ashland deserve a full article.

Creative hobbit lovers

mailbox, Alida Street
Creative mailbox at 180 Alida Street, with yard sale going on that day. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

180 Alida Street is a 1926 single story bungalow style house. This house could get an award for creative use of a tree stump. What got me excited, however, was spotting the sign on their gate that says, “Say Friend and Enter” in both English and Elvish. If you have read Lord of the Rings or seen the movies several times, you might recognize that saying as the inscription that puzzled Gandalf at the gate of Moria.

Alida Street
Saying on the entrance to Moria, and on the entrance to 180 Alida Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

I have been a fan of Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien since I was a teenager – which was many years ago! Early this year, I just finished reading the 1,086 page book (1,190 with appendices) for about the tenth time, and I loved it just as much as I did the first time.

The 1901 Frank Nelson house

Alida Street
188 Alida Street, built in 1901. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

188 Alida Street was built for Frank Nelson in 1901, and he lived there until 1919. The style is a simple one and one-half story hipped-roof cottage. Nelson was a partner in the longtime Ashland grocery business Loomis and Nelson, which served the Railroad District at the corner of 4th Street and B Street. 

We have now reached Siskiyou Boulevard, so this wraps up our walk along Alida Street.

Note that two people who built houses on Alida Street worked for Southern Pacific Railroad. See below for a link to my article about the impact of the railroad on Ashland.

References:

Unidentified quotes are from:
National Register of Historic Places, Siskiyou-Hargadine Historic District, September 14, 2002.

Anon. “W. Verne Athanas papers, 1946-1962,” Archives West.
http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv62493

Anon. “The Western & Frontier Fiction Magazine Index,” Verne Athanas and Bill Colson story listings.
http://www.philsp.com/homeville/WFI/s127.htm#A1584

Katherine Holden, personal communication, July 2020.

Pete, Amy. Personal communication, July 2020.

Woosnam, Julia. Personal communication, August 2020.

Ashland Springs Hotel: 95th Anniversary Stories

Read the sad history and amazing resurgence and renovation of this iconic Ashland hotel.

Beginning #1: The Lithia Springs Hotel in the 1920s

Site of current Ashland Springs Hotel in early 1924
Look closely at the sign in the front yard of this house at 212 East Main Street. Within months, the house would be gone and the Lithia Springs Hotel would be rising at this corner.
(This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University Hannon Library.)

Take a close look at this photo of a house at the corner of East Main Street and First Street. It was taken in early 1924. Can you read the sign in the front yard? It says: “Boost Ashland’s Big Tourist Hotel – to be erected on this site.” Next to the sign is a drawing of the soon-to-be-built Lithia Springs Hotel (now the Ashland Springs Hotel). 

Ashland boosters had big dreams, and building a modern luxury hotel for Ashland visitors was one of them. The hopes and dreams were well summarized by hotel operator R.W. Price in this quote from the July 1, 1925 Ashland Daily Tidings: 

“I have every reason to believe that Southern Oregon is sometime, within the very near future, to be the playground of the Pacific Coast. With all the natural beauties and advantages which it now possess (sic), and with the plans of a group of men for developing and advertising these advantages, I am sure that we of this section have good reason to believe this part of Oregon will develop more rapidly than any other district of the state.”

R.W. Price, hotel operator

Local businessman Henry Enders Jr. and his partners in the Lithian Hotel Company sold stock to Ashland residents to raise money for the hotel, and got a tremendous response. 

Ashland Springs Hotel, stock certificate c1924 for Lithia Springs Hotel
This in an original stock certificate for the Lithia Springs Hotel, dated February 27, 1925.
(certificate on the Ashland Springs Hotel “History Wall,” July 2020)

As money was being raised, Enders recommended prominent Portland architects John Tourtellotte and Charles Hummel to design the hotel. They first presented a six-story design, as you can see on the architect’s drawing below.

Ashland Springs Hotel, original 6-story drawing c1924 for Lithia Springs Hotel
Here is the architects’ original 6-story drawing for the Lithia Springs Hotel, probably in early 1924.
(drawing on the Ashland Springs Hotel “History Wall,” July 2020)

After some discussion, it was revised to become a nine-story design, which resulted in Ashland being able to boast of having the tallest structure between San Francisco and Portland for many years. 

For those who appreciate architecture, the Lithia Springs was built with an eclectic design, including Romanesque, English Tudor, Gothic, and Neo-Classical Revival elements. Unusual for reinforced concrete skyscrapers, a decorative material was not attached to the exterior concrete. The concrete itself was featured all the way from the foundation to the roofline, except on the ground level floor.

Lithia Springs Hotel 1925 Grand Opening party

Lithia Springs Hotel 1925 Grand Opening
Lithia Springs Hotel grand opening headline, Ashland Tidings, September 29, 1925.

According to the Ashland Tidings, more than 500 people crowded the new hotel for its grand opening on September 28, 1925. Beginning at 5:30 pm, it took four hours for all to eat their fill from the buffet set up in the dining room. The “eloquent” speeches planned to begin at 8:30 were delayed an hour, but fortunately it was a short program. Hundreds of Ashland locals who were stockholders in the Lithian Hotel Company were excited to explore the huge hotel that they had helped finance. In addition, dignitaries that day included prominent “hotel men” from all corners of Oregon and Northern California and representatives from Chambers of Commerce and many other groups. 

When did Lithia Springs Hotel really open?

Does the photo below look like a hotel that would be open for business in less than eleven weeks?

Lithia Springs Hotel, Ashland Springs Hotel
Lithia Springs Hotel construction on April 17, 1925.
(This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University Hannon Library.)

Construction of the nine-story hotel took months longer than planned. I have read that it opened on July 1, 1925. Looking at this hotel-under-construction photo dated April 17, 1925, that seems to me impossible. I have also read that hotel construction was completed on September 11, 1925 and opened at that time. Remember that the Grand Opening party was on September 28.

Which date is true?

The answer: Both dates are true! 

On July 1 the hotel was still under construction, but proprietor R.W. Price was anxious to start renting rooms, so he did. For the first few months, hotel guests had to brave construction noise and dust as they stayed in the first rooms that had been completed.

By September 11, construction was officially complete (except that the contractor still had to completely repaint the hotel exterior to satisfy the architects!). That’s when planning began for the grand opening party described above.

Lithia Springs Hotel, Ashland Springs Hotel
Photo most likely taken in late 1925, soon after the hotel was completed.
(This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University Hannon Library.)

Through the decades

Here is a brief review of the hotel’s history through the decades. Ashland and the hotel suffered two huge economic shocks within a few years after the hotel opened in 1925. Two years later, in 1927, Southern Pacific railroad routed most of its passenger trains away from Ashland and through the town of Klamath Falls. This reduced tourist arrivals in Ashland. Then the Great Depression slammed Ashland and the U.S.A. from 1929 to about 1939. 

The expected influx of tourists for local spas, natural beauty and “a playground of the Pacific Coast,” didn’t happen. The hotel limped along decade after decade, no longer “luxurious,” always financially on the brink. 

Ashland Springs Hotel, Mark Antony Hotel
Here is a view of the hotel in the 1960s after the name change to Mark Antony Motor Hotel.
(photo on the Ashland Springs Hotel “History Wall,” July 2020.

In 1960, after a contest to come up with a name that would build on the growing popularity of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, it was renamed the Mark Antony Motor Hotel. The new name didn’t boost its fortunes. The building was remodeled in 1951, 1959 and 1978. Nothing helped. 

Ashland Springs Hotel, Mark Antony Hotel
This photo shows the Mark Antony hotel lobby in the 1970s.
(photo on the Ashland Springs Hotel “History Wall,” July 2020)

Beginning #2: Doug and Becky Neuman find Ashland in the 1980s

Doug and Becky Neuman were living in Santa Barbara in the mid-1980s. Doug’s parents wanted to move to the Eugene, Oregon area. Doug went with his father to check out Eugene. Doug didn’t like the wet and overcast weather there, so Oregon looked like a bust.

Before leaving Eugene, Doug played tennis at the club there. Doug was hitting with the tennis pro, who told him, “If I could live anywhere on the West Coast, I would live in Ashland, Oregon.” The next day, Doug and his father drove to Ashland with a video camera, and brought back their impressions of the town. When she saw the video, Becky knew right away she had to see Ashland for herself and that it was likely to be their long-term home. What she and Doug didn’t know at the time is that they would have a future in the hospitality business.

Doug and Becky Neuman
Becky and Doug Neuman, with their dog Sonny.
(photo courtesy of Becky Neuman)

The hotel and the Neumans join forces in the 1990s

In 1998, when the building was bankrupt and falling apart. Doug and Becky Neuman made the huge commitment to purchase the hotel and bring it back to life. As it says on the hotel website: “A complete ‘basement to parapet,’ two-year, ten million dollar restoration followed and the hotel reopened December 2000.”

What is original in the current Ashland Springs Hotel?

When guests enter, the two-story lobby features the original restored 1925 terrazzo floor, lobby chandelier, original stained glass in the front windows and the huge 1925 fireplace.

Ashland Springs Hotel
From East Main Street, you can see the original 1925 stained glass “LH” above the hotel entrance.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Ashland Springs Hotel lobby chandelier
This is the original 1925 lobby chandelier, seen from the mezzanine balcony.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Ashland Springs Hotel
When you enter the lobby, you are walking on the original 1925 terrazzo floor, which was carefully renovated. I took this photo in the summer of 2020, so you can see one small impact of the worldwide 2020 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Businesses in Ashland, and worldwide, placed “Social Distancing” markers to keep people 6′ apart and reduce the spread of the virus.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The mezzanine balconies with their beautiful woodwork and ironwork are original, as are the lobby’s ornate decorated columns and ceiling. 

Ashland Springs Hotel
The lobby has original 1925 balconies and railings. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Ashland Springs Hotel
The lobby’s original 1925 columns were lovingly restored. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The Crystal Room

The Crystal Room, off the lobby, was the original dining room that featured a dramatic (but not original from 1925) crystal chandelier. 

Ashland Springs Hotel, Lithia Springs Hotel
The hotel dining room featured this elegant crystal chandelier in the 1950s. Note that the date marked on the photo is incorrect. (photo on Ashland Springs Hotel “History Wall,” July 2020)

During the two-year hotel renovation, the Neumans removed the chandelier. By that time, it was missing many of the small hanging crystals and needed too much repair, so they stored it in their barn. It sat there unnoticed for a few years, until Doug came to Becky with a novel idea. He said, “The top of the chandelier is still in excellent condition, so let’s use it by turning it upside down.” At first Becky couldn’t picture what he was describing. When the chandelier was flipped and placed in the room, the simple yet sophisticated new look won her over.

Ashland Springs Hotel
Here is the chandelier in the Crystal Room now, after Doug’s creative idea.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

New — Historic photo gallery

This is part of the new “History Wall,” prepared with help from the Southern Oregon Historical Society, on the mezzanine level. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

If you would like to see many more photos than I can include in this article about the hotel, stop by the new “History Wall” of historic Ashland photos on the hotel’s mezzanine level. If you like Ashland history, I highly recommend it. This gallery was prepared with help from the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

The choice that changed Becky Neuman’s life

Hiring Candra Scott and Richard Anderson as interior designers for the hotel changed Becky Neuman’s life. Becky called the two years of working closely with Candra “a screaming learning curve.” It was a fabulous, joyful and intense apprenticeship for Becky, a two-year interior design education. 

Becky told me that watching Candra go through her creative process “just lit a fire in me.” She learned from Candra how “you go into a space and you get the story of what this space wants to be.” “And I’ve done that since that time,” Becky added, “with each of the hotels I’ve done on my own.”  

What was the inspiration for the interiors of the Ashland Springs Hotel?

“The inspiration,” said Becky, “came through Candra Scott and Richard Anderson and myself after we went to the Southern Oregon Historical Society and found out that people were traveling to Ashland at that time [early 1900s] for two things: the Chautauqua lecture series and the Lithia water.” 

“She [Candra Scott] said we’re going to design this lobby as if it were the personal home of a lecturer for the Chautauqua series.” That lecturer would be a naturalist and would believe in the “great outdoors” idealism of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The vision was to give guests the experience of a simpler time in American life, with a focus on flora and fauna.

Candra went on to create that vision. The lobby has ornithology – beautiful bird collections – and “a fabulous cabinet of curiosities.” It was very popular 100 years ago to bring back unique objects from one’s worldly travels and display them in a cabinet of “rarities.” 

Ashland Springs Hotel
This cabinet of “rarities and exotic curiosities” in the hotel lobby was curated by Candra Scott.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Candra was designing an apartment in Paris at the time, and asked Becky if she’d like her to bring some things for the hotel back from Paris. Becky replied, “Yes, absolutely!” The ornithology collection and the “cabinet of curiosities” in the hotel lobby came from that trip to Paris. In addition, at a Paris flea market she found wonderful mounted pressed herbs, which give character to the guest rooms. Candra found the lobby’s bird illustrations closer to home, at David Ralston’s Jacksonville antique shop (now the Antiquarium in downtown Ashland).

Ashland Springs Hotel
Mounted pressed herbs, found by Candra Scott at the Paris flea market. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Ashland Springs Hotel
The bird illustrations in the lobby were found by Candra Scott. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Even the carpets, chosen by Candra and made in England by Axminster Carpets, carry on the theme of flora and fauna. This company has been making carpets in the small town of Axminster since 1755! “Today, Axminster Carpets™ is still weaving beautifully designed carpets in the Devon town of Axminster for the Royal Household, stately homes, luxury hotels and homes around the world,” per the company website. 

Ashland Springs Hotel
This Axminster carpet was chosen by Candra Scott to complement the hotel theme of flora and fauna.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Becky calls Candra “a creative force, known for renovating historic hotels in the United States.” For example, Scott and Anderson designed renovations for the 1902 Hotel Majestic in San Francisco and the Arctic Club Hotel in Seattle, originally built in 1916.

In addition to the lobby design, Candra designed furniture for all the rooms and arranged for its custom manufacture for the hotel. 

Ashland Springs Hotel custom cabinet
Guest room cabinet designed by Candra Scott. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Ashland Springs Hotel lamp
Guest room lamps and lamp shades designed by Candra Scott. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The building process

The Neumans called their complete renovation a huge “basement to parapet” undertaking. They wanted it to be a full historic renovation, so everything was not only approved by the Ashland Historic Commission, but also met numerous federal historic preservation requirements. 

Ashland Springs Hotel during renovation, year 2000
Here’s what the lobby looked like during the 1999-2000 renovation.
(photo on the Ashland Springs Hotel “History Wall,” July 2020)

The entire hotel was upgraded with new plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical systems. Many of the original 100 guest rooms did not have a private bathroom. After the renovation, there are now 70 guest rooms, each with a private bathroom and charming custom touches.

The outdoor fire escape you see in earlier photos of the hotel was removed. New elevators were added. One of the upgrades I most appreciate was conversion of a second floor pool area into a lovely light-filled indoor Conservatory and attached outdoor English Garden, located next to the Grand Ballroom. I have attended many community events there, from Jefferson Public Radio wine tasting fund-raisers to food festivals to Christmas Eve inspirational talks. 

Ashland Springs Hotel conservatory
The lovely Conservatory is between the Grand Ballroom (to the left) and the outdoor English Garden (to the right). (photo courtesy of Ashland Springs Hotel)
Ashland Springs Hotel patio and garden
Here is a cozy seating area in the English Garden patio. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Ashland Springs Hotel patio and garden
As you can imagine, many weddings and community events have been held here in the English Garden. (photo courtesy of Ashland Springs Hotel)

Managing the hotel and restaurant

Since Doug and Becky Neuman had never worked in the hospitality industry, they hired a management company from Portland when the renovated hotel opened in the year 2000. The company had experience with both hotels and restaurants, so it seemed like a good fit. The first restaurant was called the Bulls Eye Bistro, with a games theme and regular live music. I remember hearing and dancing to great local bands there. When walking downtown on warm summer evenings, I often paused as loud music spilled out the open doors to the street. 

By the fifth year of the restaurant, Becky didn’t like the food enough to eat in her own restaurant! She also heard too many complaints from guests about difficulty sleeping when bands played at the Bistro until 2:00 am. She and Doug decided to take over management of the Ashland Springs Hotel themselves. 

They were fortunate to find someone who could lead the operation on an upward trajectory. They hired Don Anway, who had experience as General Manager at Red Lion hotels. According to Becky, Don brought an unusual combination of skills to their hotel and their growing company. “Don has a lot of heart, but he’s also a numbers guy. In addition, he started hiring really wonderful people who had a passion for what they were doing.” This allowed the company to stabilize and grow. Becky summarized their success since 2005 this way: “It’s our team that creates our success. We [Doug and Becky] provide the vision.”

Becky took on the challenge of creating a new restaurant at the hotel to replace the Bulls Eye Bistro. She knew from talking with guests that they wanted regionally sourced food. She and her staff reached out to local farmers, making them early adopters of the now popular “farm to table” restaurant movement. 

Choosing the head chef

In choosing a head chef, Becky stressed two themes: local food and comfort food. In addition to offering cutting edge food combinations to patrons, she also wanted the menu to include her favorite comfort foods – meatloaf and fried chicken. Not just any meatloaf and fried chicken, mind you, but really delicious meatloaf and fried chicken.  

That became a key question as she interviewed prospective head chefs. She might find one who waxed poetic about local, organic foods. Then she would ask, “How’s your meatloaf?” If the person mumbled about meatloaf not really being his “thing,” that was the end of the interview.  A number of otherwise good chefs were disqualified in this way. 

One day she was having a good interview with another chef enthusiastic about locally grown foods and partnering with farmers. Then she asked the key question, “How’s your meatloaf?” He replied, “I use my grandmother’s meatloaf recipe and it’s great.” Becky laughed as she jokingly told me her next words were, “You’re hired!”

How Larks Restaurant got its name

Larks Restaurant, Ashland Springs Hotel
Interior of Larks Restaurant. (photo courtesy of Ashland Springs Hotel)

I love origin stories. How Larks got its name is a small origin story that means a lot to Becky. As you know by now, the natural world, and birds in particular, play a large role in the ambiance of Ashland Springs Hotel. When Becky was researching names, she learned that the state bird of Oregon is the western meadowlark. 

According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, “In 1927, the Oregon Audubon Society sponsored a contest among schoolchildren to choose the state bird. The western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) won by a large margin (40,000 out of 75,000 votes), and Governor Isaac L. Patterson officially proclaimed it the state bird.”

Becky was thrilled to learn this, since she grew up in Kansas, another state that has the western meadowlark as its state bird. As in Oregon, the Audubon Society got schoolchildren in Kansas to also vote for a state bird during the 1920s. In 1925, 125,000 schoolchildren in Kansas voted for the western meadowlark, with the bobwhite and northern cardinal coming in second and third.

It was obvious the new restaurant at the hotel should be called Meadowlark, right? Her husband Doug derailed the plan. In his opinion, Meadowlark sounded more like a laid-back retirement home than a cutting-edge restaurant. He wanted something bolder and catchier. 

Becky was willing to compromise, but only if the name had a connection with nature. Doug suggested “Larks Restaurant” and Becky said “I love it.” It has been Larks ever since 2005, with a second Larks Restaurant now at the Neuman’s Medford hotel called Inn at the Commons.

“Useful birds of America” on the walls

bird illustrations in Larks Restaurant
Bird illustrations by Mary Emily Eaton in Larks Restaurant. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

When you visit Larks for their delicious food, take a few minutes to notice the bird illustrations on the walls, which have a fascinating history. They are reproductions of illustrations by Mary Emily Eaton, best known as a botanical illustrator for the New York Botanical Garden from 1911 to 1932.  

Eaton’s bird illustrations were funded by the makers of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, a company that traces its roots to 1846. Beginning in 1888, small 2” by 3” bird trading cards were placed inside Arm & Hammer Baking Soda boxes to set them apart from their cheaper competitors. I found this quote describing the bird trading cards from a book with the delightful title: Oology and Ralph’s Talking Eggs: Bird Conservation Comes Out of Its Shell.

“These colorful cards originally came in Arm and Hammer Baking Soda boxes, and later they could be ordered by mail. At a time when many wild birds were being killed for their meat and feathers, the Church and Dwight bird cards featured the theme of ‘Useful Birds of America’ and a simple message: For the Good of All, Do Not Destroy the Birds.”

When you look closely at the illustrations on the walls at Larks Restaurant, you will see the Arm & Hammer logo and the date 1922. Eaton’s drew her 1922 illustrations for the company’s “Third Series” of bird trading cards.

bird illustration in Larks Restaurant
Can you spot the Arm & Hammer logo? (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

A closing thought from Becky Neuman

I love the image Becky used to describe her early vision of the hotel to me: “I felt like the lady had been asleep a long time and she was ready to wake up and put her party dress on, to be a light for the town.”

Thanks to Becky, Doug and the entire team at the Ashland Springs Hotel, “she” is wide awake and shining on her 95th anniversary!

At 95 years of age, “the lady” is “awake and shining”