PORTLAND ART MUSEUM, Portland OR – To Jan 3, 2021
by Allyn Cantor
This extensive exhibition takes an in-depth look at the iconic Mount St. Helens to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its great eruption on May 18, 1980, a momentous day in the Pacific Northwest. The impressive range of work includes telling examples that reveal both modern and historical relationships with the powerful geological force.
Many artists in the Portland and Seattle areas were eyewitness to the awe-inspiring event. Some of Portland’s most well known, like Henk Pander, George Johanson and Lucinda Parker, painted works inspired by the eruption. Seattle glass artist Paul Marioni collected ash the day of the explosion and melted the silica material to create a blown glass piece made entirely from St. Helens’ ash. Ursula Le Guin, the well-known author, was so taken by the event she created a series of pastel drawings. Le Guin passionately referred to the mountain as “The Lady.”
The Indigenous tribes whose ancestral lands were within eyesight of the mountain have considered it a sacred place for thousands of years. The show includes precontact Native American objects of beauty and utility made from various forms of the volcanic rock basalt.
Toward the end of the last eruptive period (1800-57), the fi rst known depictions of St. Helens were created by explorers. Henry James Warre and Paul Kane both documented the mountain with steam and ash venting off the north side during the 1840s. In subsequent years, artists such as Albert Bierstadt painted the conical peak in gorgeous landscape vistas, as did many others before the mountain’s appearance radically changed in 1980.
Stunning black-and-white photography captures the stark post-eruption details in monochromatic ash-covered landscapes. Frank Gohlke and Emmet Gowin are both acclaimed for their photo essays on the subject, chronicling the evolving rebirth of the landscape a decade after the massive 1980 eruption.