Ashland City Band: Rain dance parade & other stories (Part 4)

The couple who moved to Ashland to play in the City Band.
Guanajuato “Rain dance parade!” 

Who told me these stories?

This series of four articles about the Ashland City Band is based primarily on a 2019 interview with three men (Don Bieghler, Ed Wight, and the late Raoul Maddox) who between them have 164 years of experience with the Ashland City Band. 

The couple who moved to Ashland to play in the City Band

Band director Don Bieghler shocked me when he said: “We’ve had people move to Ashland so they could play in the Ashland City Band.” He was talking about Peggie and Herb Greuling. They had been living in Florida, where Herb had just retired from the U.S. Air Force band. 

As Peggie told the story to a Seattle Times reporter, she and her husband wanted to retire in a college town with four seasons, but not too cold. They hoped to find “the kind of place where they have band concerts on Sunday afternoons.” The couple flew to Portland, rented a car there, and drove thousands of miles exploring the West Coast. They were frustrated. Nothing struck them as a new “home.”

When they returned the rental car in Portland, they expressed their frustration to the rental car clerk, who responded: “You should have tried Ashland.” Former band director Maddox remembers receiving a letter from the Greulings, and responding with detailed information about Ashland and our City Band. That sealed the deal, and the couple moved to Ashland.

They lived in Ashland for more than 26 years. Yes, both played in the Ashland City Band, Peggie on saxophone and Herb on bass clarinet. 

Ashland City Band
Peggie Greuling playing saxophone with the Ashland City Band.
(still from the RVTV YouTube video, no date)

Peggie was an especially accomplished musician. In addition to playing in the band, Peggie was a school music teacher for many years. She played 11 instruments in order to be able to work with all the students! Her specialty instruments were saxophone and violin. She even volunteered to teach violin, by the Suzuki method, to Talent Elementary School first graders. And she bought the first violins to get them started.

I was happily surprised to find a YouTube video of the Ashland City Band in the 1990s playing several songs that Peggie Greuling wrote. Leona Mitchell was the vocalist and Peggie played saxophone solos.

Peggie passed away in 2018 at the age of 93, just weeks before the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary. 

City Band uniform colors through the years

Have you ever gone to an Oregon Ducks home football game and checked the team’s uniform color schedule to see what color you should wear to the game?  I learned that the Ashland City Band did something similar many years ago.

Prior to 1977, the band’s uniform colors were black slacks with a white shirt. In Raoul Maddox’s first year as conductor that year, he decided to change the uniforms to brighter colors. According to Maddox, “Every week we would change the color of our shirts, and so would the audience. So if we were wearing red, most of the audience was in red. If we were in yellow, they were in yellow. It got so they kind of liked it.”

The next year, Maddox decided on standard uniform shirts that included a swan, then the symbol of Ashland. 

Ashland City Band, 2008
The Ashland City Band marched in Ashland’s July 4th parade in 2008. They still wear teal color shirts and white pants. (photo by Peter Finkle)

In 2011, when Bieghler was conductor, it was time to buy all new uniform shirts for band members. He couldn’t find the same green color they had been wearing for a number of years. Bieghler agonized about the decision, to the point of having sleepless nights. He finally chose a teal color, and was relieved when band members told him they liked it a lot. They still wear teal color shirts to this day.

I asked for more stories. Bieghler and Maddox came up with two from the band’s trip to our sister city Guanajuato, Mexico.

Thunder in Guanajuato

Guanajuato, Mexico
This is the Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato, where the Ashland City Band played.
(photo provided by Don Bieghler)

One interesting story was on our trip to Guanajuato,” Bieghler said. “We were on stage in the opera house, and we were doing this dramatic-sounding song. There was a period of silence in the song, and all at once there was a tremendous crash of thunder and lightning outside that just filled that gap. It was like an act of God.” 

The “Rain dance parade” in Guanajuato

According to Maddox, the band was drenched as it marched in a parade in Guanajuato. But not just any parade. He laughed as he told me, “It was a parade to bring on the rains to fill the reservoirs. Halfway through the parade it started to rain, and by the time we got through, the rain was bouncing ten inches off the ground! Everybody was just soaked. So we came around this place avoiding all the gargoyles that were spitting water out from the freeways and the buildings, and went into a parking garage. A lot of the other companies that were in the parade [Mexican bands] were already in there when we came in. We were all like drowned rats; we were wet! They greeted us and then pretty soon we were all entertaining each other, and it was just like a wonderful homecoming. There were probably a couple hundred people in the parking garage trying to get out of the rain. It was a lot of fun. And it was a successful parade!” 

Supporting school bands

Band members are proud of their cooperation with Lions Club of Ashland, which sells ice cream at the evening band concerts. 100% of the proceeds from ice cream sales are donated to the Ashland Middle School and High School band programs. According to the Lions Club website, “Over the period of 2008-18 we donated $28,265 in support of the [school] bands.”

Declaration of Independence every 4th of July in Lithia Park

As many long-time Ashlanders know, the Declaration of Independence is recited in full each 4th of July at the Lithia Park bandshell. That tradition seems to go back more than 100 years.

Ashland 4th of July 1916
1916 4th of July Patriotic Program in Lithia Park, from the Ashland Tidings of July 3, 1916. Note the line: “Reading of the Declaration of Independence…Miss Minnie Bernice Jackson.”
Ashland 4th of July
Barry Kraft recited the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July at the Lithia Park bandshell in 2019 — and in many other years. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Gettysburg Address at 4th of July City Band concert

2013 was the 150th anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. That year, local actor Bob Jackson Miner spoke the powerful words of the Gettysburg address after the Declaration of Independence was recited. 

Ashland 4th of July
Bob Miner (dressed as President Abe Lincoln) delivers the Gettysburg Address on July 4, 2013. (photo by Peter Finkle)

It was a hit with, so the following year, band conductor Bieghler and Miner came up with an idea to add to the emotion of the Gettysburg address. In 1998, the City Band had played a piece called “American Civil War Fantasy” that has a long drumroll during the piece. They planned the timing of the Gettysburg address during the drumroll with only one rehearsal before the concert.  

After the 2014 concert, one of the band members told Bieghler that “I had tears coming down my eyes” as they played the piece. Community members who heard the speech were so moved that Miner has spoken the Gettysburg address each 4th of July since then. 

Closing Words from Director Don Bieghler 

“One of the things I most appreciate about the band is the wonderful audiences that come to the concerts every week. We have good community support. People come up to me that I see every week, to make a comment or give a compliment. They’re curious about what we do and they appreciate that the city supports the band.”

Ashland City Band, 1920s
Big crowd to watch the Ashland City Band play in Lithia Park in the 1920s. They are playing in the original elevated bandstand. (“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.”)
Ashland City Band
100 years later, in 2021, the Ashland City Band played in Lithia Park at the ‘new’ bandshell.
(photo by Peter Finkle)

References:

Anon. Peggie Greuling obituary accessed 11/13/2019

Ashland City Band website, accessed November 2019. 

Ashland City Band video, with Peggie Greuling. YouTube. (Accessed online, March 2020)

Author in-person interview with Raoul Maddox, Don Bieghler and Ed Wight, July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for proofing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.

Godden, Jean. “How Special People Make a Difference,” The Seattle Times, June 25, 1997. (Accessed online 11/13/2019.)   

Tree of the Year 1988: Monterey Cypress

Massive tree planted in 1905.
See the tree in 1915, 2001 & 2020.
In front of Briscoe School.
Ashland’s first Tree of the Year!

I have been impressed by the huge Monterey cypress in front of Briscoe School ever since I moved to Ashland in 1991. It is an awe-inspiring sight along North Main Street. 

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
Monterey Cypress, Tree of the Year 1988. This photo was taken in 2020. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Did you know that Ashland has a Tree of the Year?

Did you know that Ashlanders vote each year to choose one Tree of the Year? Years ago, when I first heard about our Tree of the Year tradition, I was happy to learn that the voters’ very first choice – in 1988 – was this Monterey cypress. I will share a little of this tree’s story with you, including photos from 1915, 2001 and 2021.

Our 1988 Tree of the Year grows at the corner of North Main Street and Laurel Street. This corner was part of early Ashland, all the way back to the 1860s. This is far from the oldest tree in Ashland, but it has lived more than 115 years. The sign on the tree says it was planted in 1905 by Ross Eliason. Ross was an early Ashlander and an active member of the First Methodist Church across the street from the Monterey cypress tree. I visited the church to see what I could learn. 

Former church member David Mason told me: “Somewhere in my archives is an autobiography written by Ross Eliason. Myself and another Ashland tree commission member cut the sidewalk around that cypress tree in 1992 or so and we put up a brass plaque on the tree. Don’t remember what it said.”

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
This photo shows how the sidewalk was cut around the base of the trunk.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The brass plaque is still there, so you can see for yourself what it says.

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
Plaque on Tree of the Year 1988 says: “Cypress, Planted April 1905 by Ross Eliason.”
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The tree in 1915

We are fortunate to have a 1915 photo of the old West Side School, which was at this site before Briscoe School. On the left edge of the photo is a small tree (see arrow), which must be the young ten-year-old Monterey Cypress.

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
This photo of the West Side School (where Briscoe School is now) was taken in 1915. The red arrow points to the 10-year-old Monterey Cypress. It has grown a lot in the past 106 years! (photo at the City of Ashland website, Tree Commission section; from the Terry Skibby collection)

About 40 feet up in the tree, “There are millions of ants, biting ants!”

Casey Roland

Tips from arborist Casey Roland

I visited the tree with arborist Casey Roland. He told me that he climbed way up into this tree to prune it a couple times when he worked for Tom Myers at Upper Limb It. I learned a lot as I listened to him.

First, I learned something that surprised me. The “center” of the large Monterey Cypress branch that was cut in the early 2000s is not at the center! The hardest core wood for supporting the branch is very close to the top. Casey pointed to the branch’s core wood in this photo. 

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
In this photo, Casey Roland points to the location of the hardest core wood that supported this large branch that was cut off the Monterey Cypress. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

If you look closely at these photos, you can see that the annual rings of the branch growth are much more widely spaced toward the bottom of the branch than at the top. Casey said, “It’s the same number of growth rings top and bottom, just a difference in how close together they are.”

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
This photo shows the annual growth rings of a large branch that was cut off the Monterey Cypress. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

I learned that when he prunes a Monterey Cypress, he cuts as few branches as possible. This is because the branches tend to overlap as they grow. When this happens, the branches support and protect each other. “The fuller you have the canopy, the less likely they are to break in a strong wind or after snowfall,” Casey said. 

The tree in 2001 and 2020

Heavy snow did severely damage the 1988 Tree of the Year sometime after the photo below was taken in 2001. You can see how full the tree was in 2001, from the top almost all the way to the ground. I took a photo in 2020 from almost the same spot as the 2001 photo. You can see that many lower branches were totally removed by 2020, and even some of the upper branches had to be cut back. The massive trunk now stands out more than it once did. The Monterey Cypress is not ‘the tree is once was,’ but it is still quite impressive.

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
This photo of the Monterey Cypress in front of Briscoe School was taken in 2001. You can see how full the tree canopy is compared with the 2020 photo.
(photo from the City of Ashland website, Tree Commission section)
Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
This photo of the Monterey Cypress in front of Briscoe School was taken in 2020, from almost the same spot as the 2001 photo. You can see how many large branches the tree has lost since 2001 – but it is still massive. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Finally, another addition to my knowledge of trees. As I wrote above, Casey has been high in this tree. He told me that about 40 feet up in the tree, “There are millions of ants, biting ants!” That sounds very uncomfortable for the arborist. I got the impression that these ants live their entire lives up in the tree.

The natural home for Monterey Cypress trees

Monterey Cypress
1906 postcard of Monterey Cypress trees in their natural habitat in Monterey County, California. (postcard from Wikimedia Commons)

Monterey Cypress are naturalized only along the central coast of California, near Monterey. Hmm, I wonder how they got their name. These coastal trees are wind-blown from constant coastal breezes. As a result, they normally do not get very large or tall, and they tend to be gnarled in their growth patterns.  

Monterey Cypress
Monterey Cypress trees along the coast in Pebble Beach, California.
(photo by Amy Halverson, on Wikimedia Commons, 2008)

They now grow around the world

Monterey Cypress are now widespread in New Zealand and grow in many other countries around the world. They prefer cool summers and coastal areas, but as you can see from many healthy Monterey Cypress in Ashland, they are adaptable. 

For a “sneak preview” of my 2004 Tree of the Year article, you can visit the huge Monterey Cypress at the corner of Scenic Drive and Wimer Street. Why are these Ashland trees so large despite our hot summers? According to the San Francisco Botanical Garden website, “Monterey cypress that are planted in watered, protected areas away from the ocean grow bigger, taller and straighter.” Regarding water, Casey Roland believes that both the 1988 and 2004 Monterey Cypress Trees of the Year are growing above either a spring or an underground stream that nourishes their roots.

 A brief history of the site where this tree is growing

This tree has seen generations of Ashland students pass under its branches. However, a school was here even before the tree was planted, going all the way back to 1872. That is when Methodist minister J.H. Skidmore founded the Ashland Academy here. It was most likely a two-year college.  

Ashland Academy
The Ashland Academy, with students and faculty, in the 1890s. According to Southern Oregon Digital Archives, “The rock on the right of the image was used by children to mount horses and is presently located next to Briscoe School on Laurel Street.” (“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.”)

The Academy failed financially, closed in 1879, then reopened in 1882. With a small boost due to recognition as a Normal School (a teacher training school) by the state of Oregon, the college had four teachers and 42 students in 1882. This ‘life’ of the college only lasted until 1890. However, Ashland’s college has had as many lives as a cat, and it finally settled in 1926 at its current location on Siskiyou Boulevard – as a Normal School, then a State College and now a University. 

A building here at North Main Street and Laurel Street replaced the Academy and was used for Ashland High School from 1890 until 1911. It was initially known as West Side School and later was called Washington School. By the 1940s, Washington School was in poor condition. Briscoe Elementary School was built here in 1949. Still here, it is not currently used as a school due to Ashland’s declining elementary school age population.

I think you will enjoy a brief visit to the 1890s, courtesy of the “horse mounting rock.” See the photo below.

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
The rock used by Ashland Academy students of the late 1800s as a booster to help them mount horses is in the foreground of this photo. The 1988 Tree of the Year is behind it.
(photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The Briscoe School logo 

Briscoe School
Briscoe School: 1997-1998 student directory. Note the Monterey Cypress tree logo. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

The majestic tree next to Briscoe School touched generations of school children, teachers and administrators. I learned from the mother of long-ago Briscoe students that it was even adopted as the school’s logo. Look at this Student Directory from 1997-1998. 

The Briscoe School song

Briscoe School had a school song, written by Jill Joos Rothman. It was called “Briscoe: Roots to the Future.” If you attended Briscoe, you may remember singing it. Here are the words to the chorus:

            Roots to the future, seeds in the past.
            Branches reaching to the sky.
            Knowledge we gain here will last and last.
            Briscoe will carry you inside.
            Briscoe will carry you inside.

There is our 1988 Tree of the Year again, part of the school song – “Branches reaching to the sky.”

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
Looking up from the base of the Monterey Cypress, 1988 Tree of the Year. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Introduction to our Tree of the Year program

Finally, I would like to introduce the Tree of the Year program for readers not familiar with it. The city Tree Commission was established by Ashland City Council in 1983. One of its first goals was to establish Arbor Day tree planting and education in town. A few years later, in 1988, the commission began the annual Tree of the Year tradition.

Each year, the Tree Commission collects Tree of the Year nominations from citizens. The nomination form on the city website says that “Nominated trees should be visible from the street and NOT located within a city park or right-of-way.” Commissioners visit the nominated trees and narrow the field to about five finalists. Then “we the people” make the final choice. Tree commissioners have told me that very few people vote for Tree of the Year. I hope my articles will increase interest and participation!

During the next few years, I will feature each Tree of the Year with its own photo essay. I will learn from arborists, historical research, tree websites, neighbors and more, then share what I learn with you. I also hope to learn stories about these special trees from readers.

In closing, I like this summary of the benefits of trees.

“From the Tree Commissioners: An ongoing responsibility of Ashland’s Tree Commission is to promote public awareness about the trees and associated ecosystems that comprise our community forest. All the city’s trees, shrubs or bushes, whether standing on public or private property, absorb water and prevent soil erosion, contribute oxygen to the local atmosphere and add plant matter that becomes compost in our soils. Trees, apart from these beneficial physical contributions to our environment, have long captivated humans with their graceful forms and silent beauty. Every time we appreciate their intricate shapes or seasonal colors, we realize again that trees bring a powerful if intangible richness into our daily lives.” [Todt & Holley] 

Ashland Tree of the Year 1988
Artistic photo of Ashland Tree of the Year 1988. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

References:

Anon. City of Ashland website, page with a link to photos of each Tree of the Year, many with a historical photo of the tree.

Anon. City of Ashland website, page with a photo and map location of each Tree of the Year.

Anon. San Francisco Botanical Garden website. (accessed June 2021)

Darling, John. “150 years of faith,” Ashland Tidings, Jul 10, 2014.

Holley, Bryan. Former Tree Commission member. Interview June 2021.

Mason, David. Personal communication, June 2021.

McKay, Dan. Personal communications, June 2021.

National Register of Historic Places, Skidmore-Academy Historic District, prepared August 1, 2000 by George Kramer with Kay Atwood.

O’Harra, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing Inc. 1986.

Roland, Casey (arborist). Interview and personal communications, June 2021 and other dates.

Todt, Donn & Holley, Brian. “Understanding Ashland’s Green Heritage,” draft of article published in Ashland Daily Tidings, 2003, provided by Brian Holley. 

Ashland City Band: Typewriter concert and other stories (Part 3)

Three times through the 4th of July parade!
Typewriter as an instrument!
100-year-old City Band member.

This series of articles is based on an interview with three men who between them have 164 years of experience with the Ashland City Band, along with other research. 

4th of July parade story – three times through 

Who has been in Ashland’s 4th of July parade three different times in one parade? Only Raoul Maddox of the Ashland City Band. Here’s how it happened.

The Ashland City Band has led the 4th of July parade for decades. (photo by Peter Finkle)

First time through: The City Band has always marched at the front of the parade, right after the motorcycle police and color guard that lead the parade. Several band members have also been in the Firehouse 5 band that played the parade route on the back of a pickup truck or an old fire truck. 

Firehouse 5
Firehouse 5 in the Ashland 4th of July parade, circa 1965 – not the year Raoul Maddox was in the parade three times. (photo by Morgan Cottle)

Second time through: When Maddox was in the Firehouse 5 band, he kept his car on Water Street at the end of the parade route, then drove as fast as he could through the residential streets back to the parade starting point for his second time through. 

Now, third time through: For three years, in the late 1960s or early 1970s, there was also an Ashland High Alumni Band that marched in the parade. These were former high school band members who came together just for fun. Well, and also for the incentive of a keg of beer from Cook’s Tavern downtown after the parade, so they could “tip a glass or two with their old friends.” During these years, Maddox somehow had to make it back to the parade start one more time to march with the Alumni Band.

4th of July parade story – backwards through the parade

Ed told me his father Dave Wight (City Band Conductor from 1968-1976) would sometimes get a police escort back to the parade starting point, so he could make it for his second time through the parade with the Firehouse 5. In those days the Firehouse 5 would meet before the parade in an office downtown where one of them worked.  To get in the proper spirit of the parade, they consumed plenty of local ‘spirits’ beforehand.  One year when Dave played, they drove the fire truck backwards in the parade – possibly the result of a rather conspicuous consumption of local beverages that day.

Typewriter as an instrument!

2008 witnessed the centennial of American composer Leroy Anderson’s birth.  In honor of the centennial, Don Bieghler conducted a different Anderson piece during every concert that year.  One Anderson composition was a short novelty piece for typewriter and band, written in 1950.  Percussionist Yvonne Rowe was selected to perform the solo on her trusty Remington typewriter.

Sadly, I do not have a photo of percussionist Yvonne Rowe playing the piece with the Ashland City Band. This photo shows Leroy Anderson’s typewriter concert in a still from a video by Brandenburger Symphoniker on April 12, 2012. Link to watch video is below.
(photo from YouTube video)

When it came time for the piece, Yvonne surprised the band and truly made it fun.  First her husband brought out an authentic early 20th-century typewriter stand. Then Yvonne came out dressed for the part with a big grey wig, cake makeup, and long-skirted secretarial attire from 60 years earlier.  It delighted everyone, and after a great performance the band gave her a standing ‘O.’ I wish I had a video of Yvonne and the Ashland City Band performing this piece. The best I could do was find a version for you on YouTube. Here is a link to the one I liked best. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW8dGwa2zRw

Guest conductors

James DePreist was the conductor of the Portland Symphony and the Britt Festival Orchestra. Raoul invited him to conduct encores several times at the Ashland City Band. One encore piece was a University of Michigan football fight song, and DePreist asked Maddox, “What’s a wolverine?” 

Ed Wight tells a story of two “surprise” guest conductors. The City Band closes every concert with a couple marches.  For one concert in 1979, Raoul Maddox spotted two former City Band conductors in the audience.  On the spot, he invited both Irv Myrick and Dave Wight to conduct the marches that night. Even the guest conductors were surprised.

Martin Majkut

Martin Majkut is the conductor of the Rogue Valley Symphony. Many people don’t know that his first conducting experience in the Rogue Valley was not with the symphony, but was conducting the Ashland City Band. Majkut moved here in the summer of 2010, but the symphony season didn’t start until the fall. That summer he conducted the City Band in an arrangement of a Czechoslovakian tone poem.

In the summer of 2019, in honor of his 10th year in the Rogue Valley, I got to see Majkut guest-conduct a second time with the Ashland City Band.  

Virginia and the trap door

Ashland City Band, 1916
This photo shows an Ashland City Band concert in Lithia Park, probably 1916. This is the original bandstand with the trap door in the floor. (“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.”)

This is a story from the 1940s about Virginia Westerfield, a long time clarinet player in the band. To get into the old bandstand, you had to enter through a trap door. You had to climb up narrow steps, then the door in the bandstand floor was swung back to let musicians in. Before the concert could begin, the trap door had to be closed for all the musicians to fit on the stage. Apparently, Virginia was late in arriving one day and found the trap door shut tight against her. We don’t know if the conductor intentionally closed the trap door to keep her out, or if he didn’t realize she was coming up the stairs. But after that, she was never late again during all her years with the band!

A 100-year-old City Band member 

Ashland City Band
Preston Mitchell played tuba for the Ashland City Band until he was nearly 100 years old.
(photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

According to Bieghler, “Preston Mitchell, who played tuba in the band starting in 1989, was 100 years old in September 2017.  We surprised him by playing ‘Happy Birthday’ at a park concert. Preston retired at the end of the 2017 season.”   

Bieghler went on to say he gets frequent requests to play ‘Happy Birthday’ during a concert. To avoid awkward moments turning people down, the band came up with an ingenious solution. They only play ‘Happy Birthday’ “for those who are 100 years old.” So far, the only one to meet this threshold besides Preston Mitchell was an audience member – Sadie Williams – in 2016. 

More to come 

There are still more City Band stories to tell. I will share more humorous and meaningful band stories in Part 4 of this series about the Ashland City Band. 

References:

Ashland City Band website, accessed November 2019. 

Author in-person interview with Don Bieghler, Ed Wight and the late Raoul Maddox on July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for proofing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.

Ashland City Band: Since 1876 (part 2)

145 years of City Band history.
Why the band has ‘so much fun.’
One rehearsal is all they get!

It all began in the year…

How many names has the Ashland City Band had since 1876? What makes our City Band unique? All this and more in this article, part 2 of 4. It is based primarily on a 2019 interview with three men (Don Bieghler, Ed Wight and the late Raoul Maddox) who between them have 164 years of experience with the Ashland City Band.  

Ashland City Band, possibly 1880s
This is the earliest photo of the Ashland City Band I have seen. It was called the Brass Band at the time. This photo may be from the late 1870s or in the 1880s. (photo from Ashland City Band website, from Southern Oregon Historical Society)

Founded as the Ashland Brass Band in 1876, our City Band has had four (and possibly six) names in the past 145 years. There is a photo on the Ashland City Band website taken between 1880 and 1895 labeled “Ashland Band.” After 1890, when Otis Helman (Ashland co-founder Abel Helman’s son) was named the conductor, this band was also known as the “Helman Red Suit Band.” The city band became the Ashland Concert Band in 1915. Then in the 1940s, the name was Ashland Municipal Band. Finally, in 1952 the band got its current name. 

1916 and the dedication of Lithia Park

Ashland City Band, 1916
This photo shows an Ashland City Band concert in Lithia Park, probably 1916. The current Lithia Park Bandshell is in the same location as this original bandstand. (“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.”)

1916 was a big year for Ashland and for the City Band. Lithia Park was dedicated in July 1916 during the largest 4th of July celebration in our town’s history. Four local city bands played at the bandstand and other park locations during the three-day extravaganza. In addition to Ashland’s city band, bands from Medford, Grants Pass and Central Point played for three days in a row. According to an article in the Table Rock Sentinel, each band had about 20 members in 1916.

The Ashland City Band continued to play at the Lithia Park bandstand all summer, as shown by this article from the Ashland Tidings.

Ashland City Band 1916
“The Ashland band will give two concerts a week,” says the Ashland Tidings article of May 25, 1916. (photo of newspaper on microfilm by Peter Finkle)

City support for the band

In 1938, voters of the city of Ashland approved a small tax to support their city band. I consider that a huge vote of confidence in the band by the people of Ashland. However, state Measures 47 and 50 in the 1990s overrode local funding of the band. The city band is still part of the Ashland Municipal Charter, but its annual financing now comes from the city General Fund. 

The Municipal Charter states that “The City Band shall present not less than ten concerts, including the Fourth of July parade, during each summer season.” And they do (except when impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021).

Wight and Bieghler did research and found only one other city band in the state of Oregon (Corvallis) that has a full slate of summer public concerts. Having our City Band funded by the city makes it even more unique. Most city bands throughout the United States have to depend on donations and fundraising to continue playing.

Size of the City Band

The brass band started out small in the late 1800s. After Lithia Park’s dedication in 1916, the band size was limited by the size of the park bandstand. It could accommodate a maximum of 25 to 27 musicians.

During Dave Wight’s time as conductor, the number of players was usually in the 40s. Maddox conducted from 1977 to 1997 and increased the band size to between 75 and 80 musicians. 

Raised bandstand

Lithia Park bandstand, 1915 or 1916
This photo shows the original Lithia Park raised bandstand soon after it was built in 1915 or 1916. (“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.”)

In 1947, Maddox’s first year with the band as a 14-year-old, the band still played at the 1916-era raised bandstand in Lithia Park. The only way up was through a trap door in the middle of the bandstand floor. Once the time came for the band to play, it was closed, and no one else could get in. 

The City of Ashland funded construction of the current band shell in 1949.

Soloists and community sing-along

From the 1930s through the 1960s, the audience would occasionally join the band in a “community sing-along.” We have lost that aspect of community singing in our nation’s culture over the decades since then.

Vocal soloists were also a much more prominent part of the band concerts many years ago. Ray Tumbleson, music professor at Southern Oregon College from 1963 to 1983, provided many vocal solo performances with the band. He was just one of many popular local singers who would perform with the band.

Boost in City Band quality

Ed Wight said, “When I was in high school, seven of my high school classmates were in the band. This was when it was 45 to 55 musicians. I looked around three or four years ago, now that the band is 75-strong. You would think there is even more room for high school kids. Well, there were only two, and they were both state champions on their instruments! The band under Raoul Maddox didn’t just get bigger, it got better.” The photo below shows the late Raoul Maddox in 2015.

Ashland City Band
Raoul Maddox played trombone for the Ashland City Band for 50 years, and also conducted the band for another 21 years. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

In recent years, the City Band has been able to draw musicians who play in other bands during the fall, winter and spring. One was the Rogue Valley Wind Ensemble, which first performed in 1968 and later grew into the Rogue Valley Symphonic Band. Another was the Hillah Temple Shrine Band, founded in 1909, which evolved in around 1991 into the larger Southern Oregon Concert Band. Both of these bands indirectly improved the City Band in another way.  Unlike before 1988, most players now show up for the City Band season each June in top performance condition, having just played concerts with the other bands.

One other factor also improved the quality of the band’s performance. In the mid-1950s, the band had five different conductors in five years.  That changed in 1958.  Since that year, there have been only four conductors, and each enjoyed many years at the helm:  Herb Cecil (1958-1967), Dave Wight (1968-1976), Raoul Maddox (1977-1997) and Don Bieghler (1998-present).  That individual longevity provides the stability and consistency of leadership necessary to maintain and improve overall performance standards.

“So much fun”

“We’re all having so much fun that nobody’s leaving the band. Over half the band is more than 60 years old now.” 

Don Bieghler and Ed Wight

One reason the band has so much fun is because current conductor Don Bieghler is willing to be creative. For example, at the July 29, 2021 concert, the audience and band members heard alphorns being played. What a fun sight and sound!

Ashland City Band 2021
Rogue Valley alphorns group played with the Ashland City Band at their concert on July 29, 2021. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Why is the City Band different from other bands? 

A major reason: the band has only one two-hour rehearsal for each show. The musicians walk into each Wednesday evening rehearsal and open a folder of pieces that they will play at the Thursday evening concert. That’s ten pieces to learn in two hours! How is that possible?

Here is a brief exchange during my interview to give you a little appreciation for the level of musicianship in the Ashland City Band.

Me: “The whole band concert takes 45 minutes to an hour, doesn’t it?”

Don: “Yes.”

Me: “So how can you fit a whole rehearsal into two hours…”

Don, Raoul, Ed: [laughter]

Me: “…playing the whole pieces, plus going over the challenging parts?”

Don: “I know that a piece of music is going to take four minutes to play, so I can allow eight minutes for it in rehearsal. A one-hour concert becomes two hours in rehearsal. So that’s the kind of guide I use.”

Me: “You’re really pushing…”

Ed: “It’s a challenge for the players. Not all good musicians are also good sight readers. You have to be a good sight reader – able to play a piece well the first time you see it – to play in the Ashland City Band.” 

There is no “luxury” to practice a piece for a few weeks, or even days, and then be ready for the concert. Current band conductor Don Bieghler explained that it starts with his selection of the music. “It has to be music at a level that we can read it. I have to select music that the audience will enjoy, so they want to come back. And I have to select music that the band enjoys playing.”

He gets suggestions for pieces from band members, but he makes the final selections. Bieghler also keeps detailed records, so that a popular piece is not played more than once every three years (except for marches). 

Bieghler told me that he usually chooses only one very challenging piece each season, which would take two or three weeks of rehearsal for that piece. Then he explained something that surprised me again, and took my respect for the band up another level. “Now if we have something that’s more challenging, and takes more time in rehearsal, then the piece before that and the piece after, we could probably sight read it at the concert. So, if needed, I choose something that’s simple enough to sight read while playing at the concert.”

The City Band and Jefferson Public Radio 

For about 20 years, radio station KSOR (JPR) would broadcast Thursday evening summer City Band concerts. “For several years,” said Maddox, “we would raise money for the station by having a guest conductor, and people would bid money to have their uncle come in and conduct one number with the band. The band would know the number by heart, so they didn’t have to watch the conductor at all.” 

Ashland City Band 2021
Ashland City Band plays in Lithia Park on July 22, 2021. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Conclusion

Why do band members and audience members come back each summer, year after year, decade after decade, to Ashland City Band concerts in Lithia Park? I’ll let long-time band member Ed Wright have the last word in this part 2 of 4 article. 

“It’s so much fun to play in an ensemble this good, and to get an incredible variety of music, and each concert is different. If you’re a musician who loves band music, to play with musicians this accomplished is nothing short of a thrill. Top to bottom, it’s one of the very best bands in the state, because we get the symphony wind players, the music teachers who want to play during the summer, and the SOU faculty members, all these people who are too busy to play in the community bands during fall, winter and spring. 

“Just one example: The French Horn section of the Ashland City Band is led [in 2019] by Cindy Hutton, Jennifer Cartensen and Linda Harris, and those are the top three horn players in the Rogue Valley Symphony. Additionally, the first chairs throughout the entire City Band brass section all play in the symphony. There’s such a high level of personnel sprinkled throughout the band, it increases the pleasure in performing good band repertory to hear all parts played so well.”

More to come

There are still more City Band stories to tell. I will share more humorous and meaningful band stories in Parts 3 and 4 of this series about the Ashland City Band. 

References:

Ashland City Band website, accessed November 2019. 

Ashland Tidings articles: April 14, 1877, July 18, 1879, September 26, 1879.

Atwood, Kay. Jackson County Conversations, Interview with Almeda Helman Coder, Jan 1974. 

Author in-person interview with Raoul Maddox, Don Bieghler and Ed Wight, July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for reviewing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.

Ashland City Band: Meet the Conductors (Part 1)

Raoul Maddox: 71 years with the Ashland City Band!
Don Bieghler: 56 years with the Ashland City Band.
Ed Wight: ‘only’ 37 years with the Ashland City Band.

The Ashland City Band will play Thursday evenings at 7:00 pm on July 22, 29 and August 5, 12, 19 in 2021. Bring your chair or blanket and join them at the Lithia Park Bandshell.

164 years

Have you ever wondered about the people behind the 4th of July concert and the summertime Thursday evening concerts in Lithia Park? Today you will meet three musicians who between them have 164 years of experience in the Ashland City Band. Yes, you read that correctly — 164 years of experience either playing in or conducting the Ashland City Band!

Roots to 1876

Ashland City Band, 1916
The Ashland Concert Band (as the City Band was then called) was photographed in 1916 on the elevated bandstand in Lithia Park. (photo from the Southern Oregon Historical Society)

The Ashland City Band is truly an Ashland institution. Its roots go back to 1876, and funding for the band was even written into the Ashland City Charter by our citizens in 1938. It is one of only two city bands in the state of Oregon that give a full slate of weekly concerts each summer.

Meet the conductors

On July 7, 2019, I sat around a dining room table with them. I felt honored. I learned a lot. I want to share what I learned with you. Let me introduce you to the musicians who joined me around the dining room table at Raoul Maddox’s home. 

Raoul Maddox 
Ashland City Band
Raoul Maddox played trombone for the Ashland City Band for 50 years, and also conducted the band for another 21 years. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

First was Raoul Maddox, with the Ashland City Band for 71 years, from 1947 to 2018! Of those 71 years, he was the band conductor for 21 years, from 1977 to 1997. Maddox joined the band as a trombone player at age 14, while attending Medford High School. Sadly, Maddox passed away in September 2020. In case you are interested, his first name is pronounced ‘rail,’ as in ‘railroad.’

Don Bieghler
Ashland City Band conductor, 2015
Conductor Don Bieghler of the Ashland City Band. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

 The second was Don Bieghler, now the longest serving conductor in the history of Ashland City Band.  If you attend band concerts, you hear his informative introductions to each piece of music. He has been conductor for 22 years, from 1998 until now (2021), so he just passed Maddox’s record. However, he has been with the band in total for ‘only’ 56 years. Bieghler joined the band in 1963 as a clarinet player, and then transitioned to conductor in 1998 when he took over from Maddox. Wight described Bieghler as “truly beloved,” one reason why band members are so loyal, returning to play year in and year out.

Ed Wight
Ashland City Band
Ed Wight is a clarinet player in the Ashland City Band, and his father conducted the band. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

 The third was Ed Wight, not a conductor…but the son of a conductor. Wight tried to join the band in 1965, when he auditioned with his clarinet as a 14-year-old. He was disappointed to be turned down, but he came back at age 15, auditioned again, and was accepted into the band. You might call Wight a band “princeling,” because his father Dave Wight conducted the band for nine years, from 1968 to 1976. Since Ed lived outside of Ashland for a number of years, he has now played in the band for 37 years. He has also served as Band Librarian for 28 of those years.

Creative conducting

 Ed told me a funny anecdote about his father’s creativity. A few minutes before he was to conduct a concert, his father Dave discovered he’d left his conductor’s baton at home.  There was no time to get it, so Dave broke a tiny branch off a tree and used it for the concert.

Three special conductors

Bieghler, Maddox and Wight described three 20th century conductors who stand out for their transformative influence on the band.

Ward Croft, conductor from the 1920s to 1941, established the summer tradition of Thursday nights in Lithia Park (which we still enjoy). Earlier city bands contained almost exclusively brass instruments. Croft expanded the band to include a full complement of woodwind players (flutes, oboes, clarinets, saxophones and bassoons). It was now a full concert band. As an aside, Croft even featured the “Little Symphony” orchestra for some Thursday concerts in the park during the early 1930s. This Little Symphony was a precursor to today’s full Rogue Valley Symphony.

Glenn Matthews, conductor in 1947 and from 1951 to 1954, gave the band its modern title – Ashland City Band. It had previously been called the Ashland Municipal Band for many years. You might be surprised to know that for decades the National Anthem was played at the end of each concert. Matthews began our current tradition of opening each concert with the Star Spangled Banner. He also standardized the ‘extra concert’ during the July 4th week. You may have noticed that if the 4th of July is not on a Thursday, the City Band plays two concerts that week. This maintains the tradition of summer Thursday evening concerts started by Matthews.  Back in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the band usually played only one concert that week – on July 4th.

Bieghler and Wight also praised Raoul Maddox, who was sitting at the table with us. While conducting from 1977 to 1997, Maddox expanded the band from about 55 players to 75-80 players. More important than quantity was the boost in performance quality during Maddox’s tenure. Ed told me “the band is not only bigger, it’s better – as it now draws consistently on Rogue Valley Symphony wind players, SOU Faculty members and local band teachers who want to play during the summer.” 

Ashland City Band, 2015
This photo shows the entire Ashland City Band in 2015. It was taken at the bandstand in Lithia Park. (photo by Greg Badger, 2015)

“…the audience spontaneously stood as one – and that brought tears to my eyes.”

Ed Wight

Uplifting moment

 Ed Wight described a moment in the band’s history that deeply moved him. “While we get a partial standing ovation at the end of every concert, we almost never get one during the concert itself.  I only remember one such occasion. In 2012 we performed a medley of Irving Berlin tunes.  It was a glorious arrangement, and closed with one of his two most famous songs – ‘God Bless America.’  It was such a beautiful, heartfelt version, the audience spontaneously stood as one – and that brought tears to my eyes.”

This is one small example of how the Ashland City Band uplifts us and brings us together as a community. We are fortunate to have this dedicated group of musicians in our midst, summer after summer, year after year. 

Ashland City Band, 2015
This photo shows the beautiful Lithia Park setting for Ashland City Band concerts. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2015)

Magical

I will close with this quote from an audience member that really struck me: “The Ashland City Band is magical. It reminds me of the movie The Music Man, which I loved. Not that the band is the same as the Music Man, but there is a similar flavor and feeling of an old-time place. It’s the flavor of a place where people in the community come together to sit in the park on the lawn, eat ice cream and listen to music.”

More to come 

There are many more City Band stories to tell. I will describe the band’s history and share other funny and meaningful band stories in Parts 2, 3 and 4 of this series about the Ashland City Band. 

References:

Author in-person interview with Raoul Maddox, Don Bieghler and Ed Wight, July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for proofing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.

Nourishing Our Community: Public Art in Stone on Lithia Way

Hard stone, tender words.
In memory of three Ashland community leaders.
Great location: Lithia Way and Pioneer Street.
Artist: Lonnie Feather.
Ashland Public Art Series.

“The basalt columns represent the strength of family and commitment to community. The embedded glass roundels include words of support…. This is about people; the people who make a difference in our lives.”

     From the Public Arts Commission web page

Rock from Northwest quarries, worked by Oregon artist Lonnie Feather, in memory of three Ashland community leaders of the 20th century. That is the artwork called “Nourishing Our Community.” It sits at one of the busiest intersections in Ashland, at the corner of Lithia Way and Pioneer Street. 

This photo shows the location of Nourishing Our Community artwork by Lonnie Feather. It is at the corner of Lithia Way and Pioneer Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Why Lonnie jumped at the chance to do this commission

Lonnie Feather told me why she wanted to make this artwork for Ashland. “Community has always been important to me,” she explained. “It’s the heart of where we live.” Community, to her, is what makes a place, a town or city, thrive and grow. It encompasses family, neighbors, neighborhood, city and even beyond.

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
“HOPE” detail of Nourishing Our Community artwork by Lonnie Feather. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

She tried to capture the essence of community in the words and images that accompany the large stones of “Nourishing Our Community.” 

HOPE
SUPPORT
CHERISH
NURTURE
ENCOURAGE
COMMUNITY

She loves public art because it’s out in the open, where it can be enjoyed by so many people and contribute to building a sense of community.

Everett Henry McGee made this artwork possible

In 2003, the McGee family contacted the Public Arts Commission (PAC) with good news. At his passing, Everett Henry McGee made a bequest in his will to fund a public art sculpture in Ashland. His wish was to honor members of the McGee and Neill families who had been especially active in Ashland community fraternal groups, business and politics through the 20th century. I want to introduce you to the three men he listed in his bequest.

Let’s begin with Everett’s father. James McGee, born in 1877, was one of many Midwesterners to move to Ashland. In 1905 he and Ashland native Olive Wing were married in Portland. I guess she enticed the couple to settle in Ashland. James had trained as an osteopath, but may have practiced for only a few years. He became active as a merchant in Ashland, primarily in dry goods. He was part of the Beebe, Kinney and Drake store (where Brickroom Restaurant is now) and later founded McGee Dry Goods and Ready to Wear on the ground floor of the Elks Building. He was also one of the first to build at Lake of the Woods. 

Talk about active, James was active in the Chamber of Commerce, Lithians, Masons, Shriners, Elk’s Club and Kiwanis Club, plus he was an early Oregon Shakespeare Festival supporter! He also served on the Ashland School Board and Ashland City Council. James and Olive had three children, all boys.

Everett McGee was born to James and Olive in Ashland, July 27, 1909. He followed in his father’s footsteps, both in the grocery business and in Ashland community involvement. Everett’s first grocery experience was one summer operating the store at Lake of the Woods. Moving his business to Ashland, he purchased the East Side Grocery at the corner of Morse Avenue and Siskiyou Boulevard. In 1942, he built the larger Market Basket grocery across the street at Siskiyou Boulevard and Beach Street. In 1942, Everett also began a decade as minister of the Church of Christ in Phoenix, Oregon.

Richard (Dick) Neill is the other family member memorialized by this sculpture with a theme of community. Life brought them together when Everett married Dick’s sister Donzella in 1931.  Dick was co-owner with Everett of Market Basket and of Pioneer Village by the Old Ashland Armory, as well as sole owner of Plaza Grocery from 1957 to 1961. 

Dick was a community leader in Ashland for many years. He was instrumental in getting the Ashland Community Hospital built. After four years on the City Council, he was elected Mayor in 1953 and served until 1968 – that is 16 years as Mayor! He found time to be a member of the Ashland Elks Lodge, Masons and Shriners, in addition to serving as a state-level director of both the League of Oregon Cities and the Independent Grocer’s Association of Oregon. 

Highlights of the Public Arts Commission request for proposals

Here are two sentences I like a lot from the Ashland Public Art Commission’s request for proposals. “The McGee & Neill families have nourished and helped to sustain this community both literally – through their business – and figuratively through their lifelong service to the community. Therefore it is appropriate that we continue this tradition by nourishing the community with a beautiful piece of art that enhances a very visible area at the corner of two important streets in the downtown area.”

As I read about the grocery careers of father and son McGee and Dick Neill, my imagination took off and I envisioned the sculpture in a community garden. Then I read the Public Arts Commission minutes from October 2004 and learned that “Nourishing Our Community” was almost placed in front of the Ashland Food Coop store. That would have been appropriate for a memorial to community and grocery store owners! In the end, it was decided to place the sculpture on public property at its current location, which makes sense for an artwork owned by the City of Ashland.

Lonnie Feather’s proposal to PAC

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
This illustration is part of the proposal Lonnie Feather submitted to the Public Arts Commission in 2005. Her design was chosen. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

Based on this illustration that Lonnie submitted to PAC in 2005, she was awarded the commission to create the Nourishing Our Community public artwork. 

The challenge of working with stone

“To think about and create a public art piece involves so many parts of the brain.”   

Lonnie Feather

“It was an exciting commission for me,” Lonnie told me. “I had never worked in stone. I just loved the idea of the permanence of the stone pillars, carving into them and adding the glass elements. I wanted to make it interesting to walk around the artwork, for people to consider the meaning of words like ‘support’ and ‘community.'”

artist Lonnie Feather
Lonnie Feather created the lettering for Nourishing Our Community. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

“All of it was a fun challenge for me. I got to put the hard hat on to work with the stone. I had to call the truck to bring the large stones over to my studio. Then in Ashland to be involved in digging the hole and the installation. That whole process was so fun for me: thinking out the logistics, how to do it, what’s safe, what fits the Ashland community, what’s the aesthetic I’m going after. To think about and create a public art piece involves so many parts of the brain.”

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Lonnie Feather sandblasted the letters into stone. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

She came to Ashland a couple times to meet with the Public Arts Commission. She also had meetings with the public in Ashland, both to present her idea and to hear from Ashlanders.

Installation and dedication of the artwork

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Stones for Nourishing Our Community were unloaded at the site in May 2006. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

Lonnie hired a company to help install her stone sculpture. They sucked the dirt out of the hole where it is located. About one-third of the height of the stones is underground, so we see only the top two-thirds. The hole was filled with layers of gravel, concrete and dirt to stabilize the sculpture. 

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Installation of Nourishing Our Community, with Lonnie Feather in the background. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

The artwork dedication took place on June 12, 2006.

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Nourishing Our Community was dedicated June 12, 2006. Here is a copy of the dedication flyer. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

The meaning of Nourishing Our Community

“I wanted to represent the circle that builds thriving, compassionate community.”

Lonnie Feather

To Lonnie, both the feeling and the practice of community are essential for a town to not only survive, but also to thrive. The practice of community can be very practical, she said. “It’s about how people solve problems, how they decide about what to build or not build, how they want their community to look. I think it’s important in this day and age that we get back to the idea of what is our community.” 

In a deeper way, it’s about the connections we have with each other on multiple levels. “How do we support each other? How do we honor each other? How do we cherish what we have?” In her inner vision and in her art, she sees community reflected in circles. One small circle is the family unit. Most people care deeply about their family. Branching out, the circle gets bigger. Do people also care deeply about their neighborhood and city, and participate in helping them be good places to live? “Then it blows up to, how are we taking care of our planet?” Definitely the big picture! 

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
Glass hands detail of Nourishing Our Community artwork by Lonnie Feather. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

You will notice that the glass insets are circles. Lonnie said, “Using hands, I tried to represent the human to human connection in those circles of glass.”

How an artist was created

“In my family, it was never called ‘art.’ It was just part of our lives.”

Lonnie Feather

Before art can be created, the artist has to be created. When I asked Lonnie how she became an artist, she immediately gave credit to her family. She grew up with a father, grandmother and grandfather who all created objects of utility and beauty as part of their daily lives. Then she surprised me when she added, “In my family, it was never called ‘art.’ It was just part of our lives.” Her father enjoyed drawing and sculpture. His many woodworking projects were both practical and beautiful. For example, when the family needed a sofa, he designed and built one from the ground up – from initial sketches to final upholstery. 

Her grandmother taught Lonnie about making candles and creating delicious food. When Lonnie was in high school, her grandfather took a class in stained glass. She told me, “I looked at him doing that and thought, ‘That would be fun.’ So he set up a table in his basement, and we got to make little stained glass ornaments together.” 

In her 20s, she decided to make art more of her life. She opened up a little stained glass business: taught classes, sold supplies, did private commissions. 

It wasn’t until she studied glass art for two summers at Pilchuck Glass School that she began to think of herself as a “professional artist.” This was a turning point in her life, when she decided glass would be her specialty going forward. In the decades since then, she got an art degree at Portland State University and she has continued “growing and making and thinking and exploring” in order to stay creative. She grows through traveling. She finds inspiration in nature, which she brings back into the studio and incorporates into her current artwork.

Lonnie lives and works in Portland, Oregon, where she was also born and raised. Her website ( https://www.lonniefeather.com/#/ ) describes her “variety of mediums and techniques which include painting on glass, glass sandcarving, cast glass, murals, mixed media with glass, wood carving and stone sculpture.”

Other artworks by Lonnie Feather

Here are several selections from her lifetime of artwork. 

Artwork by Lonnie Feather
“It Begins Within the Circle” consists of two large artworks at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford. The artist is Lonnie Feather. (photo from Oregon Percent for Art website)

I am very impressed by the two large pieces (photos above and below) that were installed on the first floor and third floor of the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford in 2008. Lonnie told me: “The title, ‘It Begins Within the Circle’, reflects the idea again about the circle of community and life in the beautiful southern Oregon valley. I combined two techniques in glass – the colored areas are sandblasted and painted on plate glass and the clear is a relief with cast glass with a design reminiscent of swirling water as the beginning of that circle.”

Artwork by Lonnie Feather
“It Begins Within the Circle” consists of two large artworks at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford. The artist is Lonnie Feather. (photo from Oregon Percent for Art website)

The example below shows some of her current work. She combines her love of water color painting with cast stone. Part of her series Dreams of Water, this piece is called Roots of Life. 

Artwork by Lonnie Feather
This piece, titled “Roots of Life,” is an example of current art by Lonnie Feather. (photo courtesy of Lonnie Feather)

Closing words

The corner of Lithia Way and Pioneer Street has pluses and minuses as a place for public art. On the plus side, its location between the large Lithia Way parking lot and Oregon Shakespeare Festival (as well as East Main Street) means that thousands of people see the sculpture every day. On the minus side, this spot is far from meditative! It is not a spot that draws you to linger for a while and appreciate the artwork. Too much concrete and asphalt.

Nevertheless, I encourage you to slow down the next time you walk by this corner. Walk slowly around the powerful stones that are likely to be here for many human lifetimes. As you read the word “HOPE,” try to feel the hope that Lonnie Feather put into this art. Reflect on the words carved into stone to encourage thriving, compassionate community.

Nourishing Our Community, public art in Ashland, Oregon
“Cherish” detail of Nourishing Our Community artwork by Lonnie Feather. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

References:

Anon. Obituary for Everett Henry McGee, Oregon Obituary and Death Notice Archive, at GenLookups.com.  (accessed April 19, 2021)

Anon. “Request for Proposal: McGee-Neill Memorial Sculpture, Nourishing Our Community, March 23, 2005,” City of Ashland.

Anon. Minutes of the Public Arts Commission, City of Ashland website, October 15, 2004 and other dates.

Anon. State of Oregon Art Collection, Percent for Art program. (accessed May 12, 2021)

Feather, Lonnie. Interview and other communications, April 15, 2021 and other dates. Thanks to Lonnie for sharing her photos with me.

Feather, Lonnie. Link to her website

A WalkAshland VIDEO! (Painted Utility Boxes video tour)

Peter leads a Railroad District art + history walk.
Video by Sailor Boy Media.
Here’s how it happened. Ashland Public Art video.

If you want to go straight to the video, click the image below. If you want to read my story about how the video came to be, keep reading.

In the video, you will meet artist Ann DiSalvo

Ann painted two of the utility boxes we will see on our video tour, including this one showing the swans that used to live in the Lower Duck Pond at Lithia Park.

Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street near Fourth Street as it was being painted by Ann DiSalvo in 2009. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)

In the video, you will learn Ashland history highlights

Here is one of the spots we visited during the video walking tour.

My photo essay led to this video

On February 3, 2021, I published an article about painted utility boxes in the Railroad District. I learned that in 2009 Ashland’s Public Arts Commission had initiated this project to brighten the town by commissioning artists to paint some of the drab, dark green utility boxes. It was a good story. I did research and found “before and after” photos of all seven utility boxes that were painted in July 2009. I walked the streets and took my own photos, then published the story as a photo essay. CLICK HERE to see that photo essay.

Keegan Van Hook said, “Are you interested…?”
I said, “Yes!”

Videographer Keegan Van Hook read my article and was intrigued by the possibility of turning my photo-essay walk into a video walk. After asking him a few questions and seeing some of his work, I replied with an enthusiastic “Yes.”

A graduate of the Southern Oregon University Digital Media program, Keegan founded Sailor Boy Media with his friend Tripp White. They have an active website and YouTube channel that specializes in video interviews with local people on issues of the day. CLICK HERE to visit their website.

Filming the video

I met Keegan and Tripp at 11:00 am on February 24 to film the video. Keegan asked me questions and Tripp did camera work. I had notes with me, but I spoke extemporaneously at each utility box and at our historical sites. We walked and talked for two hours, including having the bonus interview with artist Ann DiSalvo.

After the filming, I sent Keegan several historic photographs that enrich the video’s Ashland history sections. Tripp and Keegan edited the two hours into an enjoyable, educational and interesting 24 minute video. Here, again, is a link to the video on YouTube. Thanks for watching, and I hope you enjoy it.

References:

Sailor Boy Media website

“We Are Here” Honors Native Americans (Part 3 of 3)

(Part 3 of 3: Wood carving at SOU Hannon Library, 
stories from 2012 to 2020)

38 photos!
How the 20′ tall sculpture was moved.
Every carving on sculpture described.
Quotes from Grandma Aggie.
Ashland Public Art Series.

Summary of “We Are Here” – Parts 1 and 2

“We Are Here” is a sculpture that honors the First Nations of the Rogue Valley. In addition to a sculpture, it has been called a wood carving, a Spirit Pole and a Prayer Pole. The bronze replica is located where North Main Street and Lithia Way meet, a very visible location just one block from the Plaza. 

This article (Part 3 of 3) is about the original wood carved prayer pole, which was moved from North Main street to Southern Oregon University Hannon Library in December of 2012. This map shows the location of Hannon Library.

"We Are Here" Ashland
Map showing location of “We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. (map from Google)

“I felt very honored to work with Matthew Haines and Russell Beebe, and it was a great honor to be able to do this for our people, for the Old Ones.”

Grandma Aggie

Local attorney and arts patron Matthew Haines funded the wood carving after he felt a calling to have it made. Russell Beebe, of Anishinaabe Native heritage, was the sculptor (wood carver). 

Russell Beebe (standing) with Matthew Haines (right) and Grandma Aggie at the “We Are Here” dedication in 2006. (photo from the Russell Beebe collection)

Grandma Aggie performed ceremonies for the tree and then the Prayer Pole, including at the original September 30, 2006 dedication. Within a few years, Beebe and Haines realized that the soft alder wood of the sculpture would deteriorate irreparably if it continued to be exposed to the elements for many years. There was only one way to save “We Are Here” — to move it indoors. But that meant losing this visible, public location for an artwork that honors Native people of the Rogue Valley.

Bronze sculpture artist Jack Langford was hired to make a bronze replica of the wood prayer pole. Because of the size and complexity of “We Are Here,” it took 55 small flexible molds to capture every detail of the wood. Each of the 55 flexible molds was transformed in a multistage process into heat-resistant fused silica molds. These were filled with molten bronze at 2,000 degrees F, after which the 55 bronze pieces had to be fit together seamlessly. The entire process took Langford nearly a year. The bronze replica was installed on North Main Street in May 2013.

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” bronze replica on North Main Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2013)

“We Are Here” alder carving moved, December 18, 2012

On December 18, 2012, “We Are Here” was moved from North Main Street to the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Ashley Powell, co-chair of the SOU Native American Student Union, smudges before it is lifted from its site on North Main Street. (photo by James Royce Young)

Matthew Haines had asked Grandma Aggie’s permission for a bronze replica of “We Are Here” to replace the wood sculpture outdoors at the “Ashland Gateway” location. She said yes and suggested that the original wood statue be moved to the Hannon Library at Southern Oregon University. The City and University agreed, and the move took place on December 18, 2012. 

As a photo description of that snowy morning put it: “A fresh snowfall caused the lifting crane to be one hour late. The schedule, planned to the minute, became completely irrelevant and we were on Indian time the rest of the day. It was a beautiful morning.” 

This photo shows “We Are Here” being lifted from its site on North Main Street. (photo by James Royce Young)

The crane lowered it onto a huge steel-railed rolling dolly, where it was tightly chained on a flatbed truck for transport to SOU Hannon Library. I spoke with Dan Wahpepah, who coordinated the move. He said that “We Are Here” was strapped in the U-shaped dolly with come-alongs on both sides, so they had flexibility to maneuver the large statue through the library doors and then on to the new base installed in the library. Come-alongs are winches that incorporate ratchets for better control. Once in the library, it was bolted to a hinge on the concrete base and then lifted. Lifting it upright from the dolly took careful planning, clear guidance, chains, strong ropes, three wooden poles and many strong hands. 

“We Are Here” being moved into the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This photo shows the invocation before the final lift into position at Hannon Library. (photo by James Royce Young)
“We Are Here” being moved into the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This photo shows one of the two pulling teams on the second floor. (photo by James Royce Young)

Wahpepah told me the move followed Native American traditions. With an important move, it is traditional to stop four times to honor the four directions. Assisting Wahpepah were community members and students of the SOU Native American Student Union. 

A new base for “We Are Here” at library

“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This photo shows the 5,000 pound concrete base being moved into position. (photo by James Royce Young)

A new base was created for the library location of the “We Are Here” wood prayer pole, beginning with a 5,000 pound foundation of concrete. After “We Are Here” was in place on this concrete, Jesse Biesanz began the process of adding a round dome of mortar and river rocks to complete the prayer pole base. He had a short window of time in January to complete the project, when students were on break.

“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This detail shows Jesse Biesanz creating the base mound of river rocks. (photo by James Royce Young)

He experimented with different colored mortar mixes to find a warm color that would complement the color of the wood. At the bottom, he began with rectangular stone. Then he inserted river rocks of various colors and sizes. Finally, he embedded four animals carved in sandstone at the four cardinal directions of the base.

"We Are Here" Ashland
Looking down on the base of “We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Russell Beebe’s three carved benches, as well as two of the animals he carved from the creation story, can be seen in this photo of the base. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

A creation story on the base

The carvings on the base depict four animals from the Anishinaabe creation story. Russell Beebe, who carved the wood prayer pole, also carved the four animals in sandstone. Beebe is of Anishinaabe tribal heritage. You can read his description of the creation story on the wall of the library near “We Are Here.”

“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This detail shows Russell Beebe carving the HellDiver from the Anishinaabe creation story. (photo by James Royce Young)

Carved wood benches for “We Are Here” at library

Russell Beebe
Russell Beebe with tree trunk section that will be used to carve one of the benches for SOU Hannon Library. (photo from Russell Beebe collection)

Beebe carved the three beautiful benches by the statue in Hannon Library from the trunk of one large pine tree. One is Bear, one is Cougar (or Mountain Lion) and one is Salmon.

Grandma Aggie wrote in her book: “Russell carved eight-foot benches for people to go and meditate or to have any type of classes there; they would have room. … So he has carved these big eight-foot benches around the spirit pole, and I thought that way people could come and pray, or you could have some sort of a program here about the tree where people could come and sit quietly or whatever.”

Symbolism in “We Are Here”

Here is a brief introduction to the animals and people carved in the “We Are Here” statue. For thousands of years, Southern Oregon tribes lived a sustainable lifestyle in balance with the land, animals and plants of the region. Because it was a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the local population remained small and spread out. Each tribal group had slightly different beliefs and ceremonies. However, all felt a kinship with the animals and plants they depended on for their survival. Russell Beebe brought that sense of kinship into his carving of “We Are Here.”

Grandma Aggie expressed the concept of kinship in her book. She wrote, “The First Nations include not only the Takelma, Shasta, Tututni and other tribes, but also the Salmon Nation, the Bear Nation, the Tree Nations, and all the species of life in this region.” She had a true “big picture” perspective embracing all of life. 

Ashland’s North Mountain Park online pamphlet about local Native American history gives an insight into the importance of animals in their daily life. “Animal parts, including hides, fur, claws, hooves, teeth, bones and antlers were critical in the manufacture of needles, awls, wedges, fishhooks, digging stick handles, scrapers, bow strings, arrows quivers and ceremonial decorations, among other items.” This list doesn’t even mention that animals provided food, clothing and shelter for the people.

Here is a brief description and photo of each human and animal carved on the prayer pole. 

Beebe told me that he only had room to represent two of the local tribes, and he chose the Takelma and the Shasta. The Takelma woman and Shasta man each have a child, who represent the future.  

Takelma Woman and child
Grandma Aggie in front of “We Are Here” on dedication day, September 30, 2006. The Takelma woman on “We Are Here” is modeled on Aggie when she was in her 30s. (photo by James Royce Young)

Russell Beebe used Grandma Aggie as a model for the Takelma woman. He carved her as she looked in her 30s, wearing her regalia clothing. Beebe told me with a laugh, “I got the blessing from her daughter Nadine. She came out one day and looked at my depiction of the 30-year-old [Aggie]. She said, ‘That’s mom.’ So I got it right.”

The Takelma people lived primarily along the Rogue River and to the south as far as what is now the Ashland area. They were a small tribe in the 1850s when settlers arrived in the Rogue Valley. However, they and other ancestral tribes had lived in the area for at least 10,000 years before they were forcibly removed in 1856 to the Siletz Reservation in northwest Oregon. 

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” detail of the Takelma child. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2006)

Grandma Aggie and many other Native Americans have moved back to Southern Oregon. This sweet photo taken at the original dedication of “We Are Here” in 2006 shows four generations of Grandma Aggie’s family.

Four generations! From left, Chantele Liratos, Aggie’s great-granddaughter; Grandma Aggie; Nadine Martin, Aggie’s daughter; Tanya Narvrez, Aggie’s granddaughter; bottom right is Felicia Florindo, friend of the family. Taken September 30, 2006. (photo by James Royce Young)
Shasta Man and child
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of the Shasta man and child. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The Shasta people lived primarily in Northern California, though in their northern territory they shared the Bear Creek drainage (now the Ashland/Medford area) with Takelma bands. American settlers James Cardwell and Thomas Smith visited the Ashland area in the winter of 1851-1852. They described a Shasta winter village of perhaps 100 people along Ashland Creek, near the current location of Ashland Plaza.  

With spring and summer warm weather, both Shasta and Takelma would spread out in smaller bands at higher elevations to hunt meat and gather wild foods. The two tribes fought at times, but also intermarried, traded and shared hunting grounds.

Canada Goose
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This detail shows the Canada goose. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Canada geese are easy to see – and hear – in the Rogue Valley at certain times of the year. Geese and ducks were among the animal foods hunted and eaten by Rogue Valley Native Americans. 

Stag (Deer)
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. This detail shows the stag with its antlers, the little bird and the Takelma woman. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Deer provided food, clothing and tools. Shirts, hats, buckskin trousers, skirts and moccasins were all made from deer or elk. 

According to Karen Rose in her 2002 essay, “The Takelma would light fires in the shape of a horseshoe to drive deer toward the bottom of the semi-circle where the women stood rattling deer bones and the men waited to shoot them. They also would use this method to drive the deer into elaborately constructed brush fences where they could be taken in snares. The Takelma also regularly burned their hunting area to produce better grass with which to attract wild game and maintain their habitat by reducing the underbrush.” 

Edward Sapir gave another version of the Takelma deer hunt, writing that deer were often hunted by groups of men with the help of dogs. They would be driven towards a fenced area with traps to entangle the deer’s legs, so they could be killed. For long-term food storage, “hard dough-like cakes of the [deer] fat were put away for use in the winter.”

Bird in Grandma Aggie’s hand

The bird in Grandma Aggie’s hand represents her connection with nature and the web of life.

Eagle
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of the eagle. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

In her book, Grandma Aggie described the eagle. “Same way with the eagle. It’s a messenger. Long before Congress made it the national bird for us, our Native people throughout the land had already had the eagle that way because he could fly the highest and see the farthest and carry our messages to the Beloved. It was already one of our totems.”

“You know it’s unusual, but you know that the Creator let me know that we’re in the right place, doing the right thing. Like when they dedicated this mountain up here after me. Five eagles up there. Bless you, Grandfather. Whoa! That’s great.” Read more about the mountain dedication below in the section about Dragonfly.

Russell Beebe was given the honor of placing an Eagle feather high on “We Are Here” at the 2006 dedication. If you go see “We Are Here” in the SOU library, you will see an Eagle feather hanging from the Shasta man’s headband and several Red-Tailed Hawk feathers hanging from Grandma Aggie’s hand.

Dragonfly 

“Every place I have been around the world – I have traveled a lot – the dragonflies always come. I always say it is the Creator’s messengers.”

Grandma Aggie
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of dragonfly. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Sculptor Russell Beebe told me why there is a dragonfly on the prayer pole. “The dragonfly was put there just for Aggie, because the dragonfly is one of her spirit animals.” Grandma Aggie wrote in her book that “dragonflies have been a phenomenal thing in my life.” “Like when they named the mountain over here at Ashland Taowhywee Peak, there was dragonflies all over my head, and five eagles. Every place I have been around the world – I have traveled a lot – the dragonflies always come. I always say it is the Creator’s messengers.” 

Taowhywee Point, elevation 3,707 feet, is located four miles to the northeast of Ashland. The peak was formally named for Pilgrim’s great-grandmother. In her book, Grandma Aggie explains who she was. “As I said, my Native name, Taowhywee, was given to me a long time ago through my great-grandmother Margaret, whose name was Morning Star. She was a great shaman of the Takelma people here in Southern Oregon.” 

Salmon

“In 2007, the [salmon] ceremony was moved to the place where it was held for thousands of years: the Tilomikh (Powerhouse Falls), on the Rogue River near Gold Hill, Oregon.”

National Park Service website
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of salmon. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The most important animal foods for Rogue Valley Native Americans were river fish such as salmon and trout. They were caught using nets, fishing lines made of plant fiber or long spears. Traditionally, ceremonies were conducted each year at the beginning of the salmon hunt.

We turn to Grandma Aggie once again. She was the driving force behind restoration of an ancient salmon ceremony. The National Park Service (NPS) website says in an article about the Takelma tribe: “In the 1970’s, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians began to reorganize. The confederation arose out of the tribes that had been relocated to the Siletz reservation as one, larger, intertribal group. Their first elected chief was George Harney, a full-blooded Takelma. George Harney’s granddaughter, Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, continues to educate others about her heritage.”

Grandma Aggie
Grandma Aggie sitting in the Story Chair by Ti’lomikh Falls on the Rogue River, near the village site of her Takelma ancestors, 2012. (photo by Stephen Kiesling)

“In 1994, for the first time in over 140 years, an ancient ceremony took place to welcome and give thanks for the returning salmon, on the Kanaka Flats of the Applegate River. People of all heritages were welcomed at the annual Salmon Gathering on the Applegate River until 2006. In 2007, the ceremony was moved to the place where it was held for thousands of years: the Tilomikh (Powerhouse Falls), on the Rogue River near Gold Hill, Oregon. Since then, the ceremony has taken place annually in its traditional location, demonstrating that the Takelma culture is alive and will continue into the future.”  

Bear
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of bear. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Bear provided food and clothing. Men’s fur hats were made of bear or deer heads, with the ears reportedly left on for decoration. Fur was used for clothing and wintertime blankets.

The bear is also a totem animal. Aggie again: “Like when I am really tired and how that bear medicine comes through. I think, god, I just can’t stay up another minute, but I do. So I attribute it to – it comes from the bear power.”

Coyote
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of coyote. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The native-languages.org website describes Coyote as “the trickster figure of the Takelma tribe. As in other Northwestern mythology, Takelma coyote stories range from light-hearted tales of mischief and buffoonery to more serious legends about the nature of the world.” 

Beaver

“Beaver are nature’s ecosystem engineers….”

Aaron Hall
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of beaver. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Beavers were once abundant in Oregon. Due to demand for beaver pelts in Europe and the Eastern United States, they were nearly trapped to extinction in the 1800s. They have now become reestablished along streams throughout the state. 

Beavers are such an important part of a healthy stream ecosystem that Native Americans would have held them in high regard. According to aquatic biologist Aaron Hall, “Beaver are nature’s ecosystem engineers, felling trees and building dams, and changing waterways for their own benefit. But they also benefit other species in the process, including humans as well as many species that are now in jeopardy at least in part due to the historic loss of beavers. Their dams help to control the quantity and quality of water downstream, which both humans and animals use. Their ponds and flooded areas create habitat for many plants and animals, such as fish, birds, insects, and amphibians. In fact, some species only live near beaver ponds.” 

Snake

When Beebe removed the bark, he was amazed to see a small companion alder tree winding its way up the old alder, almost like a vine. The snake was carved from this vine-like companion alder.

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of snake. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Dennis Gray wrote: “A number of animals were specifically not eaten by the Upland Takelma, such as porcupines, weasels, civet cats (either a spotted skunk or “ring-tailed” cat), screech owls, coyotes, wolves, eagles, snakes, and frogs. It was also stated that certain people would not eat bear meat (Drucker 1940:294). Most of the above mentioned animals, which were not eaten, were associated with supernatural spirits.” According to some sources, the rattlesnake was considered a guardian spirit, but possibly one that inclined people toward evil.

Cougar or Mountain lion
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of cougar (mountain lion). (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Like the beaver, mountain lions are an important part of the natural ecosystem. They were essential to keep the population of smaller animals in balance. 

According to anthropological reports, they were also a minor part of the Shasta tribe diet. I imagine that most other animals were much easier to hunt and kill! 

Raven spirit figure
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” in the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. Detail of Takelma child and Spirit Raven. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Raven stories are found in many tribes of the Pacific Northwest, primarily along the coast. In many of the stories, Raven is involved in creation or in bringing light to the people. 

"We Are Here" - Russell Beebe signature
Russell Beebe’s signature on “We Are Here” wood carving prayer pole. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Closing words

I will let Grandma Aggie have the closing words, from her book Grandma Says: Wake Up World!. She wrote: “I felt very honored to work with Matthew Haines and Russell Beebe, and it was a great honor to be able to do this for our people, for the Old Ones. That’s why I wanted it – for them to be recognized in my background. It was a good feeling. The artist’s name and my name are there to this day. So there it stands, the carving in bronze. I feel very honored that, when I go to the Star Nation, that there will be that spirit pole because, as I say, Ashland is a threshold and there is nothing Native out there. Now we have the bronze that will show there were residents of First Nation people there. I feel very good to have it standing there.” 

Grandma Aggie has now gone to the Star Nation. She will be missed. She will also be remembered whenever someone views the bronze “We Are Here” on North Main Street or the original alder wood “We Are Here” in the SOU library.

Heartfelt thanks

My heartfelt thanks go out to:

Grandma Aggie (Agnes Baker Pilgrim): Inspiration for “We Are Here.” (1924 – 2019) 

Grandma Aggie (Agnes Baker Pilgrim), In Memoriam
In Memoriam sign for Grandma Aggie at the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Grandma Aggie
Grandma Aggie’s hands, during Dedication Day, September 30, 2006 (still photo taken from Julie Norman’s video of the event)


Russell Beebe: Wood carver of the original alder tree “We Are Here” prayer pole.
Jack Langford: Artist of the “We Are Here” bronze replica.
Lloyd Matthew Haines: He felt the calling for “We Are Here” to be created, then funded both the original wood carving and the bronze replica.
The First Nations Old Ones who lived in this area for thousands of years.
Everyone who helped make “We Are Here” possible in both of its forms. 
Those who generously talked with me, shared their photos with me, or reviewed the article for me. They are listed in “References” below.

Part 1 of this series of articles about “We Are Here” described the creation of the original wood carving prayer pole, and its dedication on September 30, 2006.

LINK TO PART 1 ABOUT “WE ARE HERE”

Part 2 of this series of articles about “We Are Here” described the bronze replica that was crafted and now stands on North Main Street.

LINK TO PART 2 ABOUT “WE ARE HERE”

References for Parts 1, 2 and 3:

Aldous, Vickie. “Downtown sculpture to be cast in bronze,” Ashland Tidings, April 18, 2012. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Aldous, Vickie. “Native people sculpture will move to SOU,” Ashland Tidings, November 3, 2012. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Anon. “Native Americans of the Rogue Valley,” North Mountain Park Nature Center, Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, Version 4: May 2010.
http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/Native%20American%20Background%20Booklet.pdf

Anon. “We Are Here,” Book Marks, Hannon Library Newsletter, Volume 24, No. 1, Fall 2013.

Anon. “Takelma Tribe,” NPS.gov.(accessed January 10, 2021)  https://www.nps.gov/orca/learn/historyculture/takelma-tribe.htm

Anon. “Takelma Legends,” native-languages.org website. (accessed January 17, 2021)
http://www.native-languages.org/takelma-legends.htm

Ayers, Jane. “‘Grandma Aggie’ leaves a lasting impact,” Ashland Tidings, December 3, 2019. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Beebe, Russell. Interview and personal communication, June 2, 2020 and other dates. Thank you, Russell, for sharing your photos with me.

Beebe, Russell. Website. (accessed May 14, 2020)
http://www.russellbeebe.com/index.html#

Bernhagen, Jaimie. “‘We Are Here’ Event with Oregon Shakespeare Festival,” Red Earth Descendants website, October 14, 2012. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Biesanz, Jesse. Interview and personal communication, August 2020.

Cardwell, James, “Southern Oregon Pioneers,” Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, July 8, 1882, page 3, from http://truwe.sohs.org/files/cardwell.html

Darling, John. “‘Grandma Aggie’ dies at 95,” Ashland Tidings, November 27, 2019. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Doty, Thomas. Website. (accessed May 14, 2020)
https://www.dotycoyote.com/culture/sculpture_installation_1.html

Gray, Dennis J. “The Takelma and Their Athapascan Neighbors,” University of Oregon Anthropological Papers, No. 37, 1987.

Haines, Lloyd Matthew. Interview and personal communication, May 13, 2020 and other dates.

Hall, Aaron. “Exploring with Beavers, Nature’s Ecosystem Engineers,” Defenders of Wildlife website, September 28, 2016.
https://defenders.org/blog/2016/09/exploring-beavers-natures-ecosystem-engineers

Kuiryamf. “‘We Are Here’ statue relocated to Hannon Library,” The Siskiyou, January 15, 2013. (accessed May 14, 2020)
https://siskiyou.sou.edu/2013/01/15/we-are-here-statue-relocated-to-hannon-library/

Langford, Jack. Interview and personal communication, May 20, 2020 and other dates. Thank you, Jack, for allowing my wife and me to be present at a bronze casting.

Martin, Nadine. Many thanks for reviewing the articles.

Norman, Julie. Interview and personal communication, August 2020 and other dates. Thank you, Julie, for sharing your photos and videos with me.

Paris-Stamm, Glen. 31-minute Video. “Artist on Your Doorstep presents: Jack Langford, Sculptor, ‘We Are Here'(prayer pole now in bronze),” City of Ashland website. (accessed January 18, 2021)
http://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=18059
Also available directly on YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eD73OiZBf6Q

Pilgrim, Agnes Baker (Taowhywee). Grandma Says: Wake Up World, Blackstone Publishing, 2015.

Pilgrim, Agnes Baker. Website. (accessed May 14, 2020)
http://www.agnesbakerpilgrim.org/Page.asp?PID=108

Rose, Karen. May 25, 2002. “Takelma Indians: An Essay on Native Americans in the Rogue River Area,” Hugo Neighborhood Association & Historical Society, Hugo, OR. For the entire essay, go to http://www.hugoneighborhood.org/takelma.htm

Sapir, Edward. “Notes on the Takelma Indians of Southwestern Oregon,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 9, No. 2, April-June, 1907.

Valencia, Mandy. “We Are Here,” Ashland Daily Tidings, December 21, 2012.
https://ashlandtidings.com/archive/-we-are-here–04-27-2018

Valencia, Mandy. 5-minute Video. “We Are Here Dedication Ceremony,” Ashland Tidings website, May 24, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
https://kzclip.com/video/9d5d_FoTkq4/we-are-here-dedication-ceremony.html

Valencia, Mandy. 4-minute Video. Russell Beebe carving eyes in the bronze We Are Here statue, Ashland Tidings website, April 2, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TqrdKFuu-E

Valencia, Mandy. 3-minute Video. Color heating of the We Are Here bronze statue (Jack Langford and Russell Beebe), Ashland Tidings website, April 15, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fB4eP7F88M8

Wahpepah, Dan. Interview, August 10, 2020.

Young, James Royce. James took many of the photos from the creation of “We Are Here” in both wood and bronze, as well as photos of the 2006 dedication and the 2012 move to SOU Hannon Library. I thank James for sharing so many of his photos with me.

“We Are Here” Honors Native Americans (Bronze Replica, Part 2 of 3)

(Part 2 of 3: Bronze replica on North Main Street, 
stories from 2011 to 2020)

Honoring Rogue Valley Native Americans.
Making of the bronze replica. 
34 photos.
Artist: Jack Langford.
Ashland Public Art Series.

“The ‘We Are Here’ sculpture has had a healing effect on the valley.” 

Russell Beebe

Summary of “We Are Here” – Part 1

“We Are Here” is a sculpture that honors the First Nations of the Rogue Valley. In addition to a sculpture, it has been called a wood carving, a Spirit Pole and a Prayer Pole. The bronze replica is located where North Main Street and Lithia Way meet, a very visible location just one block from the Plaza. 

"We Are Here" location map
The red arrow points to the location of “We Are Here” (#1) on North Main Street near where Lithia Way joins it. Other numbers on the map indicate additional additional public artworks. (map from Ashland Public Arts Commission page at City of Ashland website)

Local attorney and arts patron Matthew Haines felt called to have the wood carving made from an alder tree that was cut down. He hired Russell Beebe, of Anishinaabe Native heritage, to be the sculptor (wood carver). The late Takelma elder Grandma Aggie (Agnes Baker Pilgrim) was the model for Takelma woman on “We Are Here,” shown in the photo below.

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” prayer pole, Takelma woman modeled on Grandma Aggie (photo by Peter Finkle, 2009)

Grandma Aggie performed ceremonies for the tree and then the Prayer Pole, including at the original September 30, 2006 dedication. Within a few years, Beebe and Haines realized that the soft alder wood of the sculpture would deteriorate irreparably if it continued to be exposed to the elements for many years. There was only one way to save “We Are Here” — to move it indoors. But that meant losing this visible, public location for an artwork that honors Native people of the Rogue Valley.

From wood to bronze, the story continues

After discussing alternatives, Haines and Beebe decided that a bronze casting of the sculpture would be ideal. However, they faced two daunting challenges: first, find the money for a bronze of this size, and second, find someone local with the skill to cast a bronze from this huge, complicated wood carving. As often happens in happy-ending stories, everything clicked into place. Here is the story as I heard it.

Haines, Pilgrim and Beebe, October 29, 2004
Lloyd Matthew Haines, Agnes Baker Pilgrim and Russell Beebe, October 29, 2004 (photo by James Royce Young)

This was not a simple bronze casting. The statue was not only 19’ to 20’ tall, it was also complex. The carved branches of the tree and the details of the carving called for years of experience with bronze work. It also meant a very large budget. 

As Haines was mulling these problems, a buyer unexpectedly appeared for one of Haines’ buildings that was not even for sale! The purchase took place and he had some extra money. 

Jack Langford

Jack Langford, a local bronze artist, has been a professional sculptor since 1980. He has operated bronze foundries in Israel, Maine and now in Southern Oregon.

At the same time Haines was trying to determine who would have the skill locally to cast a bronze of this size, Langford was hit with a one-two punch that rocked him. He had just completed the complex and expensive process of moving his entire sculpture studio from Talent to Ashland. After only one week in the new studio, the building owner told him to leave, and to clear out within a week! He came out of the meeting with the building owner reeling both mentally and emotionally. His friend Jesse Biesanz, a stone worker, happened to be there visiting. Jesse heard his plight and said, “I have an idea.” The next day, Biesanz brought Haines to meet with Langford.

Jack Langford
Jack Langford (left) and Kevin Christman at a bronze pour at Jack’s studio. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Langford’s extensive experience working with bronze met Haines’ need. Haines offered Langford the “We Are Here” commission. Soon after, Langford found space at Jackson Wellsprings where he could work on it. The bronze casting project was underway.

Bronze casting of “We Are Here” 

Jack Langford worked on the bronze casting of “We Are Here” for almost a year. With his son as assistant, he began in June 2012 by erecting a scaffold around the wood statue and making a mold of it. Writing “making a mold” oversimplifies the complex process. With a statue this large, they could only create molds a small section at a time. “We Are Here” required 55 molds all together to create the bronze replica!

Starting at the bottom, they made each mold by painting a flexible polyurethane material over the wood of a small area.

This material captured every detail of the wood carving – cracks, knots and all – without harming it. They then applied a rigid epoxy-like material over the flexible layer. 

This photo shows flexible polyurethane molds in Jack Langford’s studio. Note: These molds are for a different sculpture, not “We Are Here,” but the process is the same. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
"We Are Here"
“We Are Here,” Jack Langford applying polyurethane flexible molds. (still photo from Glen Paris-Stamm video)

After the two layers were removed together, each flexible mold was transformed through many steps into a rigid mold made of fused silica powder.  Fused silica molds could withstand the heat of liquid bronze. Each individual bronze casting is a complex, multi-stage, labor-intensive process. It is an art and a science, and both have to be balanced every step of the way. 

Finally, Langford would have to reassemble the 55 small bronze castings back into one sculpture. We will get to that in a moment. 

The rigid ceramic molds are made, through a multi-step process, in this room of Jack Langford’s studio. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

2,000-degree melted bronze was poured – very carefully, wearing padding and face protection – into each of the 55 silica molds!

Jack Langford
Kevin Christman (left) and Jack Langford are carrying a ceramic crucible filled with liquid bronze, melted at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Note: This bronze is for a different sculpture, not “We Are Here,” but the process is the same. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Jack Langford
Photo of liquid bronze being poured into ceramic molds. Note: These molds are for a different sculpture, not “We Are Here,” but the process is the same. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Brief video of liquid bronze being poured into ceramic molds. Note: These molds are for a different sculpture, not “We Are Here,” but the process is the same. (video by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Hammering freed each bronze casting from its silica mold. I winced when the hammering began. Jack assured me, with a laugh, that he was not damaging the sculpture.  

Jack Langford
Jack Langford is breaking the rigid ceramic mold off of a cooling bronze casting. Note: This mold is for a different sculpture, not “We Are Here,” but the process is the same.(photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

The photo below shows what the bronze looked like just out of the mold, with lots of silica sand still stuck to it. Precision sandblasting removed every bit of the silica.

"We Are Here"
“We Are Here” bronze casting process. Shortly after this piece was removed from the silica mold, some of the white silica is still attached to the bronze.(still photo from Glen Paris-Stamm video)

Finally, the molds were combined back into one piece. It took a surprising amount of  pounding, clamping, tacking, welding, torching, grinding and polishing to get the bronze “We Are Here” that we see at North Main Street and Lithia Way today.  

Here is a peek at the welding.

Here is torching of the sculpture. Langford used a patina torch to apply a concentrated flame to the entire surface of the bronze replica. Then, while the bronze metal was still hot, he and Beebe ground the entire surface with small wire brushes to smooth out rough spots. The patina torch and wire brush sanding were both done twice.

"We Are Here"
“We Are Here,” Jack Langford applying patina torch to bronze. (still photo from Glen Paris-Stamm video)

The final step was polishing the entire surface of “We Are Here” with carnauba wax, followed by buffing with a soft cloth. This was also done twice.

Two changes from the wood sculpture to the bronze replica

Before Langford began his work, he and carver Russell Beebe met at the wood statue. Langford explained that in the transition from wood to bronze, he could make adjustments to the statue if Beebe wanted any. Beebe considered this and requested two changes.

The first change was thinner wings for the Canada goose at the top of the statue. As he was carving the tree, Beebe kept the wings thicker than he would have liked in order to be sure the wood didn’t crack or break. For the bronze replica, Langford made molds for only the outer side of the wings. Then Beebe came to Langford’s studio and sculpted thinner, more detailed wings in clay for the bronze casting.

"We Are Here"
“We Are Here” – Russell Beebe is carving the clay mold for Canada goose inner wings on bronze replica. (still photo from Glen Paris-Stamm video)

These two photos show the comparison. Wings on the bronze “We Are Here” are much thinner, with beautiful detail that is missing from the original wood statue. We as viewers benefit from the close cooperation between the wood carver artist and the bronze worker artist.

Second was another detail I had never noticed. Because of the shape of the tree in the original carving, Beebe had to carve the stag (deer) antler connecting with the Canada goose, as if it were goring the goose. When the bronze casting was created, Beebe and Langford made a slight adjustment in this area so the stag antler is free standing and no longer appears to be goring the goose.

You can compare the two for yourself by viewing the original wood “We Are Here” prayer pole at Southern Oregon University Hannon Library and the bronze replica on North Main Street one block from the Ashland Plaza. Currently (April 2021), the SOU library is closed to non-students. However, “We Are Here” is placed near a large window. You can’t walk all around it and see it up close, but you can see it through the window.

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” at SOU Hannon Library. This is the original wood sculpture. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2015)

A memorable day

One of Langford’s most memorable days creating the bronze was October 29, 2012. On that day, Oregon Shakespeare Festival hosted an evening event featuring Grandma Aggie, Russell Beebe, Dan Wahpepah, Brent Florendo and others. Grandma Aggie gave a talk about the Oregon Trail of Tears in 1856.  

After dark, Langford poured bronze into a mold, as Grandma Aggie and 80 other people looked on. This was his final bronze casting for “We Are Here.” Fittingly, this casting was of Grandma Aggie’s face near the top of the sculpture. 

This photo shows Grandma Aggie and her daughter Nadine Martin looking on as Russell Beebe uses a hammer to remove the ceramic mold from the bronze casting of Grandma Aggie’s face. As mentioned above, this was the final bronze casting for the bronze replica of “We Are Here.” (photo by James Royce Young)

The bronze replica base

Jesse Biesanz made the base for the bronze replica, and also used his boom truck to lift the bronze sculpture into place on the base. This base has a theme of river rocks, as does Biesanz’s base for “We Are Here” in the SOU library. 

"We Are Here" Ashland
River rocks on base of “We Are Here” bronze replica, base created by Jesse Biesanz. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

“This is about healing.”

Grandma Aggie

Installation and Dedication, May 2013

"We Are Here" bronze replica dedication
At the dedication for “We Are Here” bronze replica in May 2013. From left, Jack Langford, Dan Wahpepah, Matthew Haines, Grandma Aggie. (still photo from Mandy Valencia video, May 24, 2013)

The bronze replica of “We Are Here” was installed and dedicated in May of 2013. Continuing the theme of ceremony associated with “We Are Here,” there was a small blessing ceremony with Grandma Aggie, her daughter Nadine Martin, Matthew Haines and Jack Langford when the sturdy steel band to anchor the sculpture was bolted into place. More ceremony, with offerings and songs, took place at the bronze replica dedication.

"We Are Here"
“We Are Here” bronze replica is being installed at its site, May 2013.(still photo from Glen Paris-Stamm video)
James Royce Young took this wonderful photo of wood carver Russell Beebe shaking hands with bronze artist Jack Langford at the dedication of the “We Are Here” bronze replica. Russell Beebe carved the original wood “We Are Here” from the alder tree. It is now at SOU Hannon Library. Jack Langford made the bronze replica from the wood original. (photo by James Royce Young)

Langford did not work closely with Grandma Aggie on the bronze replica, as he did with sculptor Beebe. However, Langford told me he was deeply moved by Grandma Aggie’s words to him the day his bronze replica of “We Are Here” was installed. She told him that she felt the presence of Spirit just as strongly in the new bronze replica as she did in the original alder tree prayer pole.

When the bronze replica was installed at the site, Grandma Aggie said, “What a gift Jack has. I want to praise and thank him too. My name is Taowhywee, my Native name. My English name is Agnes Baker Pilgrim, and I’m the oldest living descendant of the Takelma Indians that once lived in this valley for 22,000 years that we know of. I’m very proud to stand here today and honor this statue that they’ve done, that the bronze man Jack has done. What a beautiful spiritual thing it is to my heart. It will touch the lives of people that come by. Now this will be here into perpetuity. It is a great honor to the ancient people of this land that lived here for over 22,000 years.”    

Detail photos of bronze replica

See some details of the bronze replica below. When I view it up close, I am amazed by how many details of the wood carving – including cracks and knots in the wood – are captured by the bronze replica.

Part 1 of this series of articles about “We Are Here” described the creation of the original wood carving prayer pole, and its dedication on September 30, 2006. Click on the image below to read Part 1.

Here is a link to Part 3 of this series of articles about “We Are Here.” It describes the challenge of moving the original wood carving from North Main Street to Southern Oregon University Hannon Library. Here is a preview photo.

PREVIEW photo: “We Are Here” in the process of being moved to SOU Hannon Library, December 18, 2012. (photo by James Royce Young)

References for Parts 1, 2 and 3:

Aldous, Vickie. “Downtown sculpture to be cast in bronze,” Ashland Tidings, April 18, 2012. (accessed 5/21/2020)

Aldous, Vickie. “Native people sculpture will move to SOU,” Ashland Tidings, November 3, 2012. (accessed 5/21/2020)

Anon. “Native Americans of the Rogue Valley,” North Mountain Park Nature Center, Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, Version 4: May 2010.
http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/Native%20American%20Background%20Booklet.pdf

Anon. “We Are Here,” Book Marks, Hannon Library Newsletter, Volume 24, No. 1, Fall 2013.

Anon. “Takelma Tribe,” NPS.gov. (accessed 1/10/2021) https://www.nps.gov/orca/learn/historyculture/takelma-tribe.htm

Anon. “Takelma Legends,” native-languages.org website. (accessed January 17, 2021)
http://www.native-languages.org/takelma-legends.htm

Ayers, Jane. “’Grandma Aggie’ leaves a lasting impact,” Ashland Tidings, December 3, 2019. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Beebe, Russell. Interview and personal communication, June 2, 2020 and other dates. Thank you, Russell, for sharing your photos with me.

Beebe, Russell. Website, accessed May 14, 2020.
http://www.russellbeebe.com/index.html#

Bernhagen, Jaimie. “’We Are Here’ Event with Oregon Shakespeare Festival,” Red Earth Descendants website, October 14, 2012. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Biesanz, Jesse. Interview and personal communication, August 2020.

Cardwell, James, “Southern Oregon Pioneers,” Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, July 8, 1882, page 3, from http://truwe.sohs.org/files/cardwell.html

Darling, John. “’Grandma Aggie’ dies at 95,” Ashland Tidings, November 27, 2019. (accessed May 21, 2020)

Doty, Thomas. Website, accessed May 14, 2020.
https://www.dotycoyote.com/culture/sculpture_installation_1.html

Gray, Dennis J. “The Takelma and Their Athapascan Neighbors,” University of Oregon Anthropological Papers, No. 37, 1987.

Haines, Lloyd Matthew. Interview and personal communication, May 13, 2020 and other dates.

Hall, Aaron. “Exploring with Beavers, Nature’s Ecosystem Engineers,” Defenders of Wildlife website, September 28, 2016.
https://defenders.org/blog/2016/09/exploring-beavers-natures-ecosystem-engineers

Kuiryamf. “’We Are Here’ statue relocated to Hannon Library,” The Siskiyou, January 15, 2013. (accessed May 14, 2020)
https://siskiyou.sou.edu/2013/01/15/we-are-here-statue-relocated-to-hannon-library/

Langford, Jack. Interview and personal communication, May 20, 2020 and other dates.

Martin, Nadine. Many thanks for reviewing the article.

Norman, Julie. Video of the dedication day and dedication ceremony.

Norman, Julie. Interview and personal communication, August 2020 and other dates.

Paris-Stamm, Glen. 31-minute Video. “Artist on Your Doorstep presents: Jack Langford, Sculptor, ‘We Are Here'(prayer pole now in bronze),” City of Ashland website (accessed January 18, 2021)
http://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=18059

Also available directly on YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eD73OiZBf6Q

Pilgrim, Agnes Baker (Taowhywee). Grandma Says: Wake Up World, Blackstone Publishing, 2015.

Pilgrim, Agnes Baker. Website, accessed May 14, 2020.
http://www.agnesbakerpilgrim.org/Page.asp?PID=108

Rose, Karen. May 25, 2002. “Takelma Indians: An Essay on Native Americans in the Rogue River Area,” Hugo Neighborhood Association & Historical Society, Hugo, OR. For the entire article go to http://www.hugoneighborhood.org/takelma.htm 

Sapir, Edward. “Notes on the Takelma Indians of Southwestern Oregon,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 9, No. 2, April-June, 1907.

Valencia, Mandy. “We Are Here,” Ashland Daily Tidings, December 21, 2012.

https://ashlandtidings.com/archive/-we-are-here–04-27-2018

Valencia, Mandy. 5-minute Video. “We Are Here Dedication Ceremony,” Ashland Tidings website, May 24, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
https://kzclip.com/video/9d5d_FoTkq4/we-are-here-dedication-ceremony.html

Valencia, Mandy. 4-minute Video. Russell Beebe carving eyes in the bronze We Are Here statue, Ashland Tidings website, April 2, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TqrdKFuu-E

Valencia, Mandy. 3-minute Video. Color heating of the We Are Here bronze statue (Jack Langford and Russell Beebe), Ashland Tidings website, April 15, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fB4eP7F88M8

Wahpepah, Dan. Interview, August 10, 2020.

Young, James Royce. James took many of the photos from the creation of “We Are Here” in both wood and bronze, as well as photos of the 2006 dedication and the 2012 move to SOU Hannon Library. I thank James for sharing so many of his photos with me.

“We Are Here” Honors Native Americans (Part 1 of 3)

(Part 1 of 3: Original wood carving on North Main Street, 
stories from 2004 to 2012)

Honoring Rogue Valley Native Americans.
Creation of the original wood carving.
Introducing Grandma Aggie.
The 1856 Oregon Trail of Tears
Sculptor: Russell Beebe.
Ashland Public Art Series.

Setting the scene

Grandma Aggie speaks to the Gateway Alder, October 29, 2004. (photo by James Royce Young)

“On October 29, 2004 Agnes Baker Pilgrim met with a small gathering of people at the base of the Gateway Alder [tree]. There she led us in a ceremony that was the beginning of a path. Grandma Agnes began the ceremony by offering tobacco and lighting fires, one fire for each of the Four Directions, in tins around the Gateway Alder. She then asked for blessing and guidance from the Sprits of the Four Directions as she communed with the tree. Here she is seen speaking directly to the Gateway Alder.” 

James Royce Young
"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” prayer pole detail, Takelma woman modeled on Grandma Aggie (photo by Peter Finkle, 2009)

What is “We Are Here?”

On his website, Russell Beebe wrote: “From the Blessing of Ashland’s Gateway Alder Tree has emerged a 20 foot monument to the First Nations of Southwest Oregon. The tribes honored in this work are the Shasta (male figure) & Takelma (represented by the inspired likeness of Agnes Baker Pilgrim) Nations. The sculpture is titled ‘We are Here.’ Designer and Sculptor is Russell Beebe – of Anishinaabe Native heritage. Special thanks to Lloyd Matthew Haines.”

“We Are Here” is a sculpture that honors the First Nations of the Rogue Valley, and is part of the City of Ashland public art collection. In addition to a sculpture or statue, it has been called a wood carving, a Spirit Pole and a Prayer Pole. 

When American settlers arrived in the early 1850s, they found the Shasta, Takelma and other tribes living in the Ashland area and throughout Southern Oregon. When Hargadine and Helman made the first donation land claims in January 1852 in what is now Ashland, there was a Shasta winter village called K’wakhakha at the site of the Ashland Plaza. 

The late Grandma Aggie said that her people, the Takelma, had performed a sacred Salmon ceremony on the Rogue River for 22,000 years. “We Are Here” remembers the Native Americans who lived on this land before the settlers came and “claimed” it.

Between 1852 and 1856, there were four years of conflicts and broken promises as local Native Americans tried to defend their ancestral land. Suffering from diseases and hunger, as well as deaths from the fighting, the remaining Shasta and Takelma were forcibly marched in 1856 to the Siletz Indian Reservation, 150 miles north along the Oregon coast. Through the years, Native Americans have moved back to Southern Oregon, some like the Shasta and Takelma because it is their ancestral homeland.

Where is “We Are Here?”

"We Are Here" location map
The red arrow points to the location of “We Are Here” (#1) in downtown Ashland, on North Main Street near where Lithia Way joins it. (map from Ashland Public Arts Commission page at City of Ashland website)

We Are Here is located where North Main Street and Lithia Way meet. It is a very visible location at the west gateway to downtown Ashland, one short block from the Plaza. 

The first challenge

Lloyd Matthew Haines owned the sort-of-triangular lot where North Main Street and Lithia Way come together, which you can see on the map above. He wanted to build there, but it was challenging. Two groups of people opposed his plan. One loosely organized group opposed just about any downtown development, and they were very vocal. The second group objected to cutting down the large 53-year-old alder tree on the property.

Alder tree cut for "We Are Here"
The Gateway Alder tree before being cut down, October 29, 2004. (photo by James Royce Young)

Haines instructed his architects to try to design the building around the tree, thus saving it. The architects concluded that the lot was too small for that to work. They said the tree had to go.

An inner calling

Haines felt an inner calling that the tree should be made into “a piece of art that represented the Native American people and their presence in the valley.” As he put it, he knew “that’s what I needed to do.” He contacted wood carver Russell Beebe, of Anishinaabe Native heritage, and Takelma elder Grandma Aggie (Agnes Baker Pilgrim) to ask for their help. 

How Matthew Haines first met Russell Beebe and Grandma Aggie 

Haines knew the two of them from a tree carving project at his house a few years before. An oak tree had died from old age. Rather than cut it up for firewood, Haines thought of honoring the tree and the land by carving something from it. He contacted the Siskiyou Woodcraft Guild to see if someone would be interested in the project. Russell Beebe responded, and within two days of seeing the tree he came to Haines with a plan for a sculpture that was eventually called “My Relatives.” 

Russell Beebe carving
Russell Beebe is shown carving the sculpture called “My Relatives” from a white oak tree, 2003. (photo montage by James Royce Young)

Russell Beebe wrote of his design for “My Relatives”: “At first glance the big tree gave me an indication of how my design would evolve, from the juncture of the first large branch down to the base. The very uniform trunk offered freedom to create while the divergence of the branch above would dictate form. This and Mr. Haines’ desire that the sculpture honor the Tree, our Wildlife and the Native Peoples who once lived in the area gave me the spectrum to create.”

Beebe introduced stone worker Jesse Biesanz to Haines at this time, and Biesanz later went on to build the stone base for each “We Are Here” sculpture.

When “My Relatives” was complete, Beebe invited his friend Grandma Aggie to see the carving. This was when she and Matthew Haines first met.

Opposition and resolution

Now back to the alder tree and the proposed building at North Main Street and Lithia Way. There was still the large group opposed to new downtown development, with enough power to have stopped several other downtown projects in previous years. The building project was appealed to the City Council by opponents. Appeals like this tend to be contentious. 

At the Council meeting, Russell Beebe presented plans for the alder tree carving. Grandma Aggie followed him and spoke on behalf of the project. She said that Haines’ plan for the “We Are Here” sculpture was a small but important step toward honoring Native people. Haines and Beebe both told me they could feel the entire energy of the room shift as Grandma Aggie was talking.

“This is about healing.”

Grandma Aggie

She reminded council members and the audience that people whose ancestral lands these are were nearly wiped out. Since then, Native people have been consistently ignored and marginalized for more than 150 years. Despite the painful history, she said, Native people have returned to the Rogue Valley and Ashland.

Then she said something that cut through all the bickering. “You wouldn’t know that we exist. There’s nothing visible of Native people anywhere here except Dead Indian Road.” Beebe described that moment to me: “Everyone was stunned and that was the end of the protest.”

After her talk, the City Council approved the building and sculpture with little opposition.

Russell Beebe envisions “We Are Here” design

Russell Beebe wrote in 2006: “The original design for this sculpture evolved in just a few hours as I sat by the living alder tree. With Mr. Haines’ thought of ‘family’ in mind, the ‘story of old’ came through in my sketches and remained constant regardless of changes made. All I had to do was visualize and understand what the tree showed me, then let my hands do their work.” Beebe felt that his design represents “the story told by the old ones about our duty to walk in balance with nature.” 

When I interviewed Beebe in June of 2020, he added to the story. He told me he was sitting in a bar and restaurant by the alder tree that day. “So I got a hamburger and I sat at the table and just looked at the alder. By the time I finished the hamburger, I had my design figured out. It was that quick.”

Blessing the alder tree

Haines asked Grandma Aggie to perform a ceremony of blessing and thanks for the alder tree before it was cut down (see first photo above). A few people gathered with her on October 29, 2004 for ceremony and prayer. 

Haines, Pilgrim and Beebe, October 29, 2004
Lloyd Matthew Haines, Agnes Baker Pilgrim and Russell Beebe at the initial blessing ceremony, October 29, 2004 (photo by James Royce Young)

She wrote in her 2015 book that “we talked with that tree about what we were going to do with it, that it is going to be made into perpetuity. ‘We are going to carve on you, we’re going to make you beautiful. You’ll live forever, but we’re going to move you up here.’ We talked to it like a human being.”

This intentional beginning with ceremony started “We Are Here” on the path to be more than just a statue. When the wood carving was installed on North Main Street in 2006, there was ceremony in the context of a community celebration. When the wood carving was moved to Hannon Library at Southern Oregon University in 2012, there was ceremony. When the bronze replica was installed on North Main Street in 2013, there was ceremony. 

"We Are Here"
Grandma Aggie blessing the finished sculpture of “We Are Here” during installation September 19, 2006. (photo by Julie Norman)

Why is the Alder tree referred to as “mother?”

According to Beebe, the alder is not a long-lived tree, but it plays an important role in the natural process of regeneration, a role so valuable that it is called “mother.” Alder trees grow along streams all over the world. When flood or fire destroys the stream-side landscape, alders are among the first large plants to grow back. They grow quickly and spread their branches and leaves. Slower growing trees and plants then get established beneath the protection of the “mother.” With a smile, Beebe ended this story: “And after about 60 years, she says ‘okay children, you’re on your own.’ Then she’s done.”  

Moving the alder tree to Russell Beebe’s studio

When the alder tree was cut, it turned out that it was near the end of its short life. According to the arborist who took it down, it had about ten years to live. 

Beebe said, “When they cut the tree down, they were going to lower it down on to Main Street, so they stopped traffic for a bit. When they lowered it down on to the street, whoever was at the controls [of the crane] let go a little too quick, so they kind of thumped it on the street. When they did that, it broke a big branch off, one that was going to be part of my design. So, what to do? My original design was quite different.”

“Faced with this tree with a broken limb, my original design was gone,” Beebe continued. “I had to go with what was given me. So everything changed and evolved, and was way better because of that broken limb. Now everything kind of emerges from the tree, represents the soul of the tree.”  

Russell Beebe carves the alder tree

This is how the alder tree looked when it arrived at Russell Beebe’s studio.

Alder tree used for "We Are Here"
The Gateway Alder tree at Russell Beebe’s studio, before carving, November 30, 2004. (photo by James Royce Young)

I had the honor of being able to spend several hours with Beebe at his rural outdoor studio. When I visited, he was nearing completion of an Iroquois teaching pole carving for someone in upstate New York. Here is a photo of it in process. 

Russell Beebe sculpture
Iroquois Teaching Pole, carved by Russell Beebe. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Unlike the straight Iroquois teaching pole that was laid on its side for carving, the “We Are Here” sculpture with its large branches was carved with the tree upright. Beebe set up scaffolding around the tree and began carving from the top down.

"We Are Here" - Russell Beebe carving, 2005
Russell Beebe stood high on scaffolding as he began carving “We Are Here.” This photo shows him carving the stag, February 21, 2005. (photo by James Royce Young)

The Shasta Man and Takelma Woman are both toward the top of the sculpture. Before he started on the Takelma Woman modeled on Grandma Aggie, Beebe asked Aggie to bring him traditional Takelma garb, a cradle board and whatever else she wanted to bring. He said, “I wanted to get that right.” 

As he was carving the tree, neighbors would stop and look and ask questions about it. “One of my neighbors suggested putting more fish in there,” Beebe told me. At that point, the main salmon was partially carved. The neighbor asked, “Wouldn’t that look cool to have more fish? What do you think about that?” Beebe thought about it, and decided to add more fish. He liked that it became a community sculpture, not just “his” sculpture.

"We Are Here" Ashland
“We Are Here” at SOU, salmon detail showing “more fish.” (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Beebe wrote: “The more than 1,000 hours I spent carving this piece were delightful.” “Emotionally, this work brings forward those ancient ones of my own distant native roots and touches my heart. I feel the steady drumbeat of the seasons.” Through this wood carving, Beebe tried to capture not only the spiritual history (and current presence) of Rogue Valley First Nations people, but also the spiritual history of his own people. 

His grandfather was his first teacher in carving wood, and also introduced him to tribal traditions. Beebe is a descendant of the Anishinaabe tribe in the north central United States and south central Canada. As an adult, Beebe received his “spirit name” Wabashkigamash. He tries to express his Native traditions in his work and in how he lives his life.

Russell Beebe carving "We Are Here"
Russell Beebe carving “We Are Here,” showing the scaffolding that surrounds it, 2006. (photo by James Royce Young)
"We Are Here" - Russell Beebe signature
Russell Beebe’s signature on “We Are Here” wood carving prayer pole. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

What is represented on the alder tree carving

Beebe said, “Where we live now, once were the Takelma, the Shasta and many other tribes. I couldn’t put them all on here, but I included those two.” The Shasta Man and Takelma woman each have a child, who represent the future.  

Representing the Takelma is Grandma Aggie as she looked in her 30s, wearing her regalia. Beebe told me with a laugh, “I got the blessing from her daughter Nadine. She came out one day and looked at my depiction of the 30-year-old [Aggie]. She said, ‘That’s mom.’ So I got it right.”

Then he included many animals without whom the Native people would not have survived: the deer (stag), the eagle, the salmon, bear, beaver, coyote, snake and cougar. The spirit figure of Raven is included. “The dragonfly was put there just for Aggie,” he added. The dragonfly is one of her spirit animals.

Grandma Aggie wrote, “The First Nations include not only the Takelma, Shasta, Tututni and other tribes, but also the Salmon Nation, the Bear Nation, the Tree Nations, and all the species of life in this region.” She had a true “big picture” perspective embracing all of life, as I learned when I attended her deeply emotional memorial service in 2019.

"We Are Here"