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

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

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

Karen Rycheck

Try the Bandersnatch Trail art walk

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

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

“When did you first create art?”

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

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

“How did you become a mosaic artist?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How “Water is Life” was chosen for this site

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

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

Karen Rycheck

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

Karen and her “Reclining Nude” mosaic tile sculpture.

Meaning of the sculpture

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

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

Bottom (first) level

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

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

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

Second level

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

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

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

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

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

Delightful details — notice the pebbles

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

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

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

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

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

More delightful details — notice the plant leaves

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

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

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

Third level

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

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

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

Fourth (and top) level

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

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

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

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

How Water is Life was made

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water is Life dedication

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

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

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

Other artwork by Karen Rycheck

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

Karen Rycheck

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

Talent Bee City U.S.A. mosaic

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

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

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

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

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

“Home of the year” in St. louis

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

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

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

“mosaic marathon” healthcare mosaic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenview Drive, Ashland

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

Ashland trails

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

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

Ashland trails

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

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

Ashland trails

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

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

Ashland Public Art series – Links to other articles

Elevation by Cheryl Garcia

Pacific Fisher by Jeremy Criswell

Street Scene by Marion Young

References:

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

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

Seffinger, Stef. Interview and communications, August 2020.

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

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

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

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

When I first saw the Pacific Fisher sculpture

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

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

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

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

Jeremy’s artistic journey

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Criswell’s mentor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Watershed Art Group

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

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

How the “Pacific Fisher” sculpture was made

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Real” leaves on the base

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

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

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

Introduced to the public in June 2015

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

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

Dedication in October 2015

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

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

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

Why is it named “Marty?”

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

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

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

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

What is a Pacific fisher?

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

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

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

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

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

How to find the sculpture on the Bandersnatch trail

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

Glenview Drive, Ashland

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

Ashland trails

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

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

Ashland trails

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

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

Ashland trails

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

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

Other art by Jeremy Criswell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, what is a Bandersnatch?

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

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

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

More articles about Ashland Public Art

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

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

Ashland Public Art map

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

Main, Marty. Interview, September 2020.

Marsh, Pam. Email communications, September 2020.

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

Morse Avenue: 2020 update photo essay

Ashland High School outdoor art.
Cheryl Garcia’s metal art.
The Inspire House classroom.

Morse Avenue street sign on Siskiyou Boulevard. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

I took photos on Morse Avenue, which runs between Siskiyou Boulevard and East Main Street, in April 2018 and again May 2020.  Most of the east side of Morse is taken up by the Ashland High School track and field.

Homes and apartments fill the west side of the street.  Morse Avenue is only a couple blocks long, as are many streets in Ashland, so this will article will be mostly photographs.

Garden Highlight

The garden highlight on Morse Avenue was 33 Morse.  This home used to belong to Southern Oregon artist Cheryl Garcia and her husband Criss. Cheryl specializes in metal art, and you can still see her work around the garden.

Metal art by Cheryl Garcia at 33 Morse Avenue. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

Cheryl Garcia’s website is www.greatmetalwork.com.  I have had the pleasure of knowing Cheryl for the past few years.  She does create great metal art projects, both small and large. You may have seen her huge flowers just inside the main entrance of the Britt Music Festival, at Walker School in Ashland or the bright yellow-orange metal poppies in the vineyard as you drive into Jacksonville on South Stage Road (photo below).

Poppies by Cheryl Garcia near Jacksonville. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

When Cheryl and Criss sold the home on Morse, she told me that she hoped the new owners would honor and keep her artwork in the garden – and they have.  Here are more photos of her art at 33 Morse.

Cheryl Garcia’s metal work at 33 Morse Avenue. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)
Garage at 33 Morse Avenue, Cheryl Garcia metal art. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

There is an unusual tree at the corner of the garden where Morse Avenue meets East Main Street.  I think it’s a weeping Blue Atlas Cedar that has been trained to grow in two directions from the sturdy trunk.  It is dramatic!

Blue Atlas Cedar, corner of Morse Avenue and East Main Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)
You can see how the Weeping Cedar has been trained to grow over the archway garden entrance. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Ashland High School track

During my 2018 walk, the deer of Ashland were represented on Morse.  I was admiring the new AHS track recently installed after a huge community fundraising campaign.  Then I noticed that three deer were also admiring the track, perhaps discussing how fast they could run a 100 yard dash.

Some “spectators” at the new Ashland High School track. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

The track was declared unfit for use in May of 2017, so a huge community fundraising campaign began. $360,000 of private funds was raised to replace the understructure of the track and lay down a state of the art surface layer.  It looks great to me.  I hope the high school athletes love it.

New Ashland High School track. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
This is one of a newly-planted line of Ginkgo trees along the Morse Avenue side of the Ashland High School track. Ginkgo trees put on a beautiful show of golden colored leaves in autumn. Ginkgo trees are slow growing, but they can live for longer than 1,000 years.

AHS Inspire House

The Ashland High School Inspire House on Morse Avenue serves a small number of students. I found this explanation at the school website: “The AHS INSPIRE Program serves students who have special needs, with an emphasis on hands-on activities that directly transfer into independent life skills.”

Rebecca Bjornson is the teacher for Inspire House students. I didn’t know about Inspire House when I first wrote about Morse Avenue in April 2018. Since then, I had the pleasure of leading Rebecca and the Inspire House student group on an Ashland History Walk through the Railroad District.

60 Morse Avenue is the site of the Inspire House program. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Inspire House front door. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
This unusual bench is located in front of the student garden next to Inspire House. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

AHS Morse Avenue artwork

I enjoyed seeing this mosaic at the high school as I walked the sidewalk on Morse Avenue.  If someone knows the story behind the mosaic, please share it in the comments.

Ashland High School mosaic, along Morse Avenue. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Detail of the mosaic at Ashland High School, along Morse Avenue (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)
The mosaic wall partially encloses this Ashland High School student garden. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
This Ashland High School parking lot at the corner of Morse Avenue and Siskiyou Boulevard was once the site of the “Sweet Shop.” If anyone would like to share a personal story of the Sweet Shop in the comments, I would love to read them.

Beach Street update April 2020

Meet the “Beach Street bear”
Walk Ashland’s 2-year Anniversary!
Update of my first article

Let’s begin with a sight that I believe is unique to Beach Street.

Beach Street Unique

Writing about Beach Street was my first “Walk Ashland” blog post, published April 12, 2018. So this is our 2-year anniversary!

Beach Street starts at Siskiyou Blvd and ends uphill at the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains. You’ll find a mix of modest homes, large homes, apartments and condos as you walk Beach Street.  The street has open space at Lincoln School, plus many large Ponderosa pines, firs and oaks.

The “Beach Street bear”

Without further ado, let’s get right into stories about the “Beach Street bear,” which even had its photo in the Ashland Daily Tidings in 2006.  I have two personal “Beach Street bear” stories and one told to me by a neighbor.

My sad bear story is encapsulated in the photo below.  The bear was doing what bears love to do…go fishing, in this case in my backyard pond.

“Beach Street bear” with a koi (photo taken by my neighbor Jake)

A bear goes fishing

My wife and I have enjoyed a small pond, with plants and colorful koi fish, for the past 15 years. The first ten years were uneventful. We had seen a cinnamon-colored bear eating plums from a tree in a neighbor’s yard a couple times, but no sign of bears in our yard. Then in 2015 a bear discovered the eight healthy (and mostly fat) koi in our backyard pond.

The first koi to become bear food was our 10-year-old black and white koi named Larry. Within a week, the bear had returned and fished out two big beautiful bright orange koi named Big Guy and Dreamsicle. We couldn’t handle seeing them all picked off one by one, so I got in the pond with a fish net and captured the survivors so we could take them back to the shop where we bought them.

Here is the happy (so far) ending to this story. The youngest of our eight koi, a three-inch long almost-baby named Prospero, eluded my attempts to catch him. He disappeared, probably hiding among the pond’s thick plants. Then, as if by magic, he reappeared two months later. After he survived one year all alone in the pond, we got Prospero a “buddy” the following year. We know we could lose them at any time, but as of spring 2020 (“knock on wood”) we have two koi to watch as we sit by the pond.

A warm summer evening bear encounter

My other bear story was dramatic in a different way.  On a warm summer evening in 2006 shortly after the Daily Tidings article, I was stretched out in a lounge chair in my back yard reading the newspaper.  Our cuddly, chunky female cat GG was stretched out half-asleep next to me.  Ah, a nice relaxing Ashland summer evening.

Suddenly I saw a 5′ tall, 200 pound or so black bear climb over the low side-yard fence 35 feet away from me – way too close – and it was no longer a relaxing summer evening.  I stood up, holding the newspaper.  Then the bear saw me.  It stood up. GG-cat took off running back to the house cat door faster than she had ever run in her entire life.  My wife happened to be at the screen door nearest the bear when it appeared, so she started yelling at the bear. Meanwhile, I backed away slowly, newspaper in hand.

Fortunately, the bear was as afraid of us as we were of it, so it shot up the nearest tree.  After looking around from its perch ten feet up, it decided not to stay up a tree in our yard. It came down the tree, climbed over the fence, and then lumbered off through two neighbors’ yards to Liberty Street and hopefully uphill to the forest.

My neighbor Brad’s bear story

Speaking of bears, during 2018 I met my neighbor Brad as he was “playing with rocks,” – as he put it – building a no-mortar rock retaining wall.  We were discussing how all of upper Beach Street a century ago was likely a farm and orchard.  He told me about his old cherry and apple trees, and then declared his frustration that every summer a bear crushes his chain-link fence in order to get in and enjoy ripe cherries.

Little Free Library

This unofficial Little Free Library just appeared on Beach Street in March 2020. You might be able to tell that young children were involved in designing the installation.

Nina’s angels

Changing the subject from bears to angels, I met Nina as I was admiring her front yard full of angel sculptures.

Nina told me a “small world” story.  Decades ago, she worked as an intern for six months at Presidio Hill School in San Francisco.  When her new neighbor moved in, they found something in common.  The new neighbor had followed Nina as an intern at Presidio Hill School, but then stayed on the staff for 40 years…before retiring to Ashland, right next door to Nina!

Historic bungalow style houses

295 Beach Street, historic home built in 1930. According to the National Register survey, this house is a fine example of the early 20th century Bungalow architectural style.
This 1910 house at 329 Beach Street is another classic Bungalow architectural style house. It was built by Nathan Bates of the successful Bates Brothers Barber Shop.

Lincoln Elementary School building

The elementary school was originally used for the teacher training program at Southern Oregon State Normal School (now SOU) one block away. Due to declining elementary school enrollment, Lincoln was closed in 2005, but is still owned by the school district.

Former Lincoln Elementary School, built in 1926, at 320 Beach Street.

Lincoln Elementary School has an interesting history. In July 1925, Ashland’s only elementary school was overcrowded and voters passed a bond to finance the construction of a second school. By 1926, Lincoln School opened, with a dual mission to educate elementary students and to train new teachers who attended the nearby Southern Oregon State Normal School (now SOU).

The Lincoln School building was designed by the same well-known Portland architectural firm that in 1924 designed Ashland’s Lithia Springs Hotel (now Ashland Springs Hotel). The core of Lincoln School, with its formal Corinthian-inspired columns, remains as it was in 1926.

The building was expanded and remodeled several times through the years. In the mid-1940s, elementary schools were again getting overcrowded and there was discussion of expanding Lincoln School. A 1946 fire that destroyed much of the school led to remodeling and soon after that, the addition of three classrooms and a multipurpose room. As Ashland continued to grow, two more classrooms were added to the school in 1955.

Then population trends changed, and by the 1990s Ashland elementary school enrollment was dropping fast. There were five elementary school buildings to keep up and not enough students to fill them. It was an agonizing decision, but the Ashland School Board first closed Briscoe Elementary School in 2003 and then Lincoln Elementary School in 2005.

Now…something different

Colorful, creative yard art at 302 Beach Street, next to Lincoln School.

Do you recognize the “Fortmiller” name?

Up the street a bit, I met someone with a name that Ashland “old-timer” readers will recognize: Fortmiller.  I met Lisa Beach (formerly Lisa Fortmiller), owner of the now-closed A Midsummer’s Dream Bed & Breakfast at 496 Beach Street.  Her parents owned Fortmillers Department Store in downtown Ashland, at the current location of Earthly Goods.  She remembers being able to pick her favorite clothes off the racks as a child.

This house at 496 Beach Street was an early farm house for this area.

Lisa left Ashland for 35 years, then moved back and ran the beautiful B&B for 15 years.  The B&B had been created in 2001 by restoring a 1901 Victorian farm house where the family that owned the old Beach Street farm/orchard had lived.

Some things change…like historic houses being altered beyond recognition (sad face) or being renovated to restore their historical look (happy face).

Some things don’t change…like Lisa (Fortmiller) Beach still having the same reserved seats at Ashland High School football games that have been in her family for 50 years.

Garden highlight

Here is a garden highlight of the 2018 walk — beautiful daffodils, which the deer have left alone for us to enjoy.

I hope you have enjoyed this story.  Please sign up to receive an email each time I post a new story as I walk every street in Ashland.

I will close with a poem I wrote about Beach Street.

Beach Street

Beach Street is not by the sand
or even near the beach.

Named after Ashland pioneer
Henry Beach Carter, it is near
Southern Oregon University,
where thousands of students – and
their teacher/mentors – share
with Beach Street residents and the community
inspiring music, art, sports and learning.

To the north, Beach Street ends at
Siskiyou Boulevard and
Ashland High School,
where young actors, athletes and adults
are shaped and forged.

To the south, Beach Street ends at the
Siskiyou Mountain range,
where mountain hikers and mountain bikers
find a paradise to explore.

Actors, doctors, students, families, business people
and more all share Beach Street with
deer, bears, raccoons and
massive trees full of squirrels and jays.

Peter Finkle   April 7, 2018

References:
National Register of Historic Places, Siskiyou-Hargadine Historic District, September 14, 2002.
Squire, Jennifer. “So long, Lincoln,” Ashland Daily Tidings, May 27, 2005.

Pracht Street: A Legacy of Premium Peaches

Pracht Street:
A Legacy of Premium Peaches

“The ‘Ashland peach’ was known all over the Pacific Coast and marketed in the Eastern states and in Canada.  (The Max Pracht orchards on Ashland Street took World’s Fair premiums in Chicago.) From a few hundred boxes of peaches shipped prior to 1890, the industry grew until the 1899 output was 75,000 boxes, more than 60 railroad boxcar loads.”  (O’Hara page 64)

Ashland, peaches, Max Pracht, Pracht Street

Max Pracht peach box label, likely late 1800s

“Pear Paradise” or “Peach Paradise?”

Today we know the Rogue Valley as a “pear paradise.”  I had no idea peaches were such a huge part of Ashland’s economy in the late 1800’s until I started researching Pracht Street for this article.

“60 railroad boxcar loads” of peaches shipped out in 1899 alone!  That is amazing.

Max Pracht owned the premium peach orchard in Ashland.  Indeed, you could say his was the premium peach orchard in the country!

Take a look at this excerpt from an 1897 essay extolling Oregon fruit:  “In this connection the fact may be noted that the largest apple, the largest pear and the largest cherries, exhibited at the Columbian Exposition [1893 Chicago World’s Fair] were grown in Oregon, and that a special gold medal was awarded to Max Pracht of Ashland for the largest and best flavored peaches.” (The Overland Monthly, June 1987) (emphasis added)

Max Pracht’s House in 1900

Here is what his home and surrounding orchard looked like during the pruning season in 1900.

Max Pracht’s house and orchard in 1900 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

It stands to reason that Pracht Street, where his home and orchard were located, was named after Max Pracht.

According to a July 25, 2013 Facebook post by the Ashland Historic Railroad Museum:

“Do you know that if you live around Pracht Street you are probably living on the old Peachblow Fantasy Orchard land? It was 120 acres of peaches right here in central Ashland. The largest peach orchard in the entire state of Oregon. The peaches were enormous. 20 ounce peaches were common with some as large as 26 ounces.”

Walking Pracht Street

Pracht Street is only two blocks long, with its two ends at Liberty Street and Euclid Avenue.  If you like alleys, you can find one that heads south to Ashland Street and another that goes north to Pennsylvania Avenue.

There is a small one story apartment complex at 800 Pracht Street, and from there to Euclid it’s all single family homes.

Ashland, walkApartments at 800 Pracht Street

As I walked from Liberty uphill to Euclid Avenue, I searched to see if Max Pracht’s house was still standing.  First, let me tell you about the yard art, chickens and skunk that I spotted along the way.

Chickens and Skunk

Ashland allows backyard chickens, and these are among the first I have seen in my walks around town. Then I spotted an unusual afternoon visitor…a young skunk.

First, I was surprised to see it just three feet from the chickens.  Is that normal?  Second, I was surprised to see it out and about in the mid-afternoon.  Pet skunk?  That seems unlikely, considering their potent aroma.  Maybe it was just excited about exploring the trash area.

Beauty on Pracht Street

I enjoy finding yard art and other man-made beauty, as well as nature’s beauty.  As I walked the two blocks of Pracht Street, I found both.

Artistic door at 710 Pracht Street

Yard art next to 715 Pracht Street

Ashland, walk

Lovely, rhododendron filled garden at 640 Pracht Street.  I’d like to come back here in April or May when the flowers are in bloom.

Ashland, walk, tree

My favorite tree on Pracht Street (at the corner of Pracht and Morton)

Max Pracht’s house?

I will finish the article with more about Max Pracht, who was an amazing man and a great booster of early Ashland.  I think I found his house toward the top of Pracht at 660 Pracht Street.  Take a look at the two photos below.  The large yellow house at 660 Pracht is much larger than the Pracht house shown in the 1900 photo, but it is not unusual for houses to be expanded over the years.

To me, these two clues give it away:

  • The shape of the two windows facing the street on the third floor attic is identical in the current house to the shape of the same windows in the 1900 photo.
  • The triangular wall section between the two attic windows and the roof is identical in the current house with the shape in the 1900 photo.

What do you think?  Am I right or is this just coincidence?

Ashland, walk, Pracht Street

660 Pracht Street…formerly Max Pracht’s house?

Max Pracht’s house and orchard in 1900 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)

Max Pracht’s Life

Max Pracht was “a Republican of irrepressible enthusiasm,” back when the Republican party was the party of Lincoln, the party that had the courage to hold our country together and outlaw slavery.

He was born in Palatinate, Germany in 1846.  There was unrest and revolution in Germany in 1848, which caused his father to immigrate to America with the family, including two-year-old Max.

According to the Republican League Register of Oregon: “He served in the navy during the Rebellion, and is a comrade of Burnside Post No. 23, G. A. R.”

In other words, he was in the Union Navy during the Civil War.  Then, as a veteran, he joined the Ashland (Burnside) post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Civil War veterans group.

Max moved with his wife and three children from San Francisco to Ashland in 1887, purchased land, planted an orchard, and harvested his first crop of peaches in 1891. As of 1896, he was still waiting to receive the Gold Medal he won as first prize for his peaches at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

In addition to being a grower and marketer of premium peaches, he also developed some of his land for housing after the opening of the railroad led to a population increase in Ashland starting in 1888.  On top of that, this busy businessman owned the huge Hotel Oregon downtown in 1891-1892, and his son Alexander went on to own the Ashland Depot Hotel [see Ashland Depot Hotel article here] after 1901.

Pracht Marketing “Secrets”

The Jacksonville newspaper wrote a detailed article in 1893 explaining in part why Pracht orchard peaches sold for 25% more than the market price for peaches, and why they were shipped all over the country.  In addition to growing large, flavorful peaches, Mr. Pracht also took the extra step of communicating their premium nature to customers on each individual peach wrapper.  In the process, he was a huge booster for Ashland and Southern Oregon.

“People who are fortunate enough to obtain peaches from the ‘Peachblow Paradise Orchards’ of Max Pracht this year will be fully apprised of the celestial character of the fruit, no matter in how distant a clime it may be unpacked and eaten. Mr. Pracht has just had nearly 100,000 peach wrappers printed, each bearing in blue ink on white paper his orchard trademark designed by himself. It advertises the climate of southern Oregon, the city of Ashland, the orchard business of Mr. Pracht, and there will be no danger of retail dealers in Oregon, Washington, Montana or elsewhere selling his peaches as ‘California fruit.’ Neither will there be any likelihood of any scrubby peaches being shipped in those wrappers. Mr. Pracht’s method of paying the strictest attention to the details of selection, packing and marketing, proves its value from the fact that he is able to ask and receive for his peaches 25 percent above the market price.
(Democratic Times, page 3)

 
  • References Quoted:
  • Democratic Times, Jacksonville, Oregon, August 18, 1893, page 3
  • Fulton, R.L. article “The Yamhill Country,” pages 498-503 in The Overland Monthly, January – June 1897, Overland Monthly Publishing Company, San Francisco, California.
  • O’Hara, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing, 1986.
  • Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon: Containing Original Sketches of many well known Citizens of the Past and Present, Chapman Publishing Company; Chicago, 1904.
  • Republican League Register of Oregon, The Register Publishing Company, 1896, page 260.

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COLLABORATORS AND FRIENDS

My thanks to Terry Skibby for the historic photograph.

The Southern Oregon Historical Society is a great resource.  (1) If you like history, SOHS can always use volunteers to help with research, digitizing and transcribing. Learn about SOHS here.  (2) Second, I encourage you to join SOHS as a member to support their work.  The JOIN link is here.

Morse Avenue – Ashland High School and Yard Art

Morse Avenue street sign on Siskiyou Boulevard. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

I walked Morse Avenue, between Siskiyou Boulevard and East Main Street, late afternoon on a pleasant day in April 2018.  Most of the East side of Morse is taken up by the Ashland High School track and field, as well as a high school staff parking lot.

Homes and apartments fill the West side of the street.  I didn’t meet any Morse Avenue residents on my walk, but I saw some lovely sights. Morse is only a couple blocks long, as are many streets in Ashland, so this will be a short article – mostly photographs.

Garden Highlight

The garden highlight on Morse Avenue was 33 Morse.  This home used to belong to Southern Oregon artist Cheryl Garcia and her husband Criss. Cheryl specializes in metal art, and you can still see her work around the garden.

Metal art by Cheryl Garcia at 33 Morse Avenue. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

Her website is www.greatmetalwork.com.  I have had the pleasure of knowing Cheryl for the past few years.  She does create great metal art projects, both small and large. You may have seen her huge flowers just inside the main entrance of the Britt Music Festival, at Walker School in Ashland or the bright yellow-orange metal poppies in the vineyard as you drive into Jacksonville on South Stage Road (photo below).

Poppies by Cheryl Garcia near Jacksonville. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

When Cheryl and Criss sold the home on Morse, she told me that she hoped the new owners would honor and keep her artwork in the garden – and they have.  Here is one more photo of her art at 33 Morse.

Cheryl Garcia’s metal work at 33 Morse Avenue. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

There is an unusual tree at the corner of the garden where Morse Avenue meets East Main Street.  I think it’s a weeping Blue Atlas Cedar that has been trained to grow in two directions from the sturdy trunk.  It is dramatic!

Blue Atlas Cedar, corner of Morse Avenue and East Main Street. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

Animals

During my walk, the deer of Ashland were represented on Morse.  I was admiring the new AHS track recently installed after a huge community fundraising campaign.  Then I noticed that three deer were also admiring the track, perhaps discussing how fast they could run a 100 yard dash.

Some “spectators” at the new Ashland High School track. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

The track was declared unfit for use in May of 2017, so a huge community fundraising campaign began. $360,000 of private funds was raised to replace the understructure of the track and lay down a state of the art surface layer.  It looks great to me.  I hope the high school athletes love it.

New Ashland High School track. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

I enjoyed seeing this mosaic at the high school as I walked the sidewalk on Morse Avenue.  If someone knows the story behind the mosaic, please share it in the comments.

Mosaic at Ashland High School, along Morse Avenue (photo by Peter Finkle, 2018)

Beach Street walk 2018 — Meet the “Beach Street bear”

by Peter Finkle

In addition to highlights of my Beach Street walk, you will read stories here about my up-close and personal encounter with the “Beach Street bear” and about the humans of Beach Street whom I encountered during my walk. Here is a sight that I believe is unique to Beach Street.

Beach Street Unique

Beach Street has imposing trees, interesting people, a former elementary school with a large open space, and proximity to many of the pleasures of Ashland.

This is my first “Walk Ashland” blog post, and it is about Beach Street.  Why?  Because I have lived on Beach Street for 27 years.

Walking Beach Street on Saturday April 7, 2018, here is what I saw and heard, people I met, plus garden, nature, animal, historical and architectural highlights.

Beach Street starts at Siskiyou Blvd and ends uphill at the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains. You’ll find a mix of modest homes, large homes, apartments and condos as you walk Beach Street.  The street has open space at Lincoln School, plus many large Ponderosa pines, firs and oaks.

The “Beach Street Bear”

I saw five deer on my walk, but more interesting than deer is the “Beach Street bear,” which even had its photo in the Ashland Daily Tidings in 2006.  I have two “Beach Street bear” stories to tell you here.

The sad story involves a black bear and a beautiful large orange koi fish (see photo below taken by our neighbor in May 2015).  The bear was doing what bears love to do…go fishing, in this case in my backyard pond.

“Beach Street bear” with a koi

A Warm Summer Evening Bear Encounter

My other bear story was dramatic in a different way.  On a warm summer evening in 2006 shortly after the Daily Tidings article, I was stretched out in a lounge chair in my back yard reading the newspaper.  Our cuddly, chunky female cat GG was stretched out half-asleep next to me.  Ah, a nice relaxing Ashland summer evening.

Suddenly I saw a 5′ tall, 200 pound or so black bear climb over the low side-yard fence 35 feet away from me – way too close – and it was no longer a relaxing summer evening.  I stood up, holding the newspaper.  Then the bear saw me.  It stood up. GG-cat took off running back to the house cat door faster than she had ever run in her entire life.  My wife happened to be at the screen door nearest the bear when it appeared, so she started yelling at the bear. Meanwhile, I backed away slowly, newspaper in hand.

Fortunately, the bear was as afraid of us as we were of it, so it shot up the nearest tree.  After looking around from its perch ten feet up, it decided to leave, and lumbered off through two neighbors’ yards to Liberty Street and presumably uphill to the forest.

My Neighbor Brad’s Bear Story

Speaking of bears, during my walk I met my neighbor Brad as he was “playing with rocks,” – as he put it – building a no-mortar rock retaining wall.  We were discussing how all of upper Beach Street a century ago was likely a farm and orchard.  He told me about his old cherry and apple trees, and then declared his frustration with a bear that keeps crushing his chain-link fence in order to get in and enjoy the cherries each summer.

Nina’s Angels

Changing the subject from bears to angels, I met Nina as I was admiring her front yard full of angel sculptures.

Nina told me a “small world” story.  Decades ago, she worked as an intern for six months at Presidio Hill School in San Francisco.  When her new neighbor moved in recently, they found something in common.  The new neighbor had followed Nina as an intern at Presidio Hill School, but then stayed on the staff for 40 years…before retiring to Ashland, right next door to Nina!

Nina lives near Lincoln School, which was built in 1926.  The elementary school was originally used for the teacher training program at Southern Oregon State Normal School (now SOU) one block away. Due to declining elementary school enrollment, Lincoln was closed in 2006, but is still owned by the school district.

Lincoln School

On the edge of the Lincoln School grounds, I saw two young men with a slack line tied between two trees. I stopped to talk, and found out that Bryant was teaching his friend David how to walk a slack line.

Bryant teaching Dave how to walk the slack line

Do You Recognize the “Fortmiller” Name?

Up the street a bit, I met someone with a name that Ashland “old-timer” readers will recognize: Fortmiller.  I met Lisa Beach (formerly Lisa Fortmiller), the owner of A Midsummer’s Dream Bed & Breakfast at 496 Beach Street.  Her parents owned Fortmillers Department Store in downtown Ashland, at the current location of Earthly Goods.  She remembers being able to pick her favorite clothes off the racks as a child.

A Midsummer’s Dream B&B on Beach Street

Lisa left Ashland for 35 years, then moved back to run the beautiful B&B.  The five bedrooms are all charming.  Each comes with a marble fireplace, a relaxing spa tub and an elegant glass block shower.  The B&B was created in 2001 by restoring a 1901 Victorian farm house where the family that owned the old Beach Street farm/orchard had lived.

Some things change…like the old farm house becoming a new B&B.

Some things don’t change…like Lisa (Fortmiller) Beach still having the same reserved seats at Ashland High School football games that have been in her family for 50 years.

Garden Highlight

Here is my favorite garden highlight of the walk, beautiful daffodils, which the deer have left alone for us to enjoy.

I hope you have enjoyed this story.  Please sign up to receive an email each time I post a new story as I walk every street in Ashland.

I will close with a poem I wrote about Beach Street.

Beach Street

Beach Street is not by the sand
or even near the beach.

Named after Ashland pioneer
Henry Beach Carter, it is near
Southern Oregon University,
where thousands of students – and
their teacher/mentors – share
with Beach Street residents and the community
inspiring music, art, sports and learning.

To the north, Beach Street ends at
Siskiyou Boulevard and
Ashland High School,
where young actors, athletes and adults
are shaped and forged.

To the south, Beach Street ends at the
Siskiyou Mountain range,
where mountain hikers and mountain bikers
find a paradise to explore.

Actors, doctors, students, families, business people
and more all share Beach Street with
deer, bears, raccoons and
massive trees full of squirrels and jays.

Peter Finkle   April 7, 2018