This was an invitational show of sixty works by 17 artists who were then serving time in Oregon State prisons. It opened December 11, 2009 and ran through February 13, 2010. An annex show ran simultaneously at Black Market Gourmet Deli and Gallery, around the corner from the museum.
The purpose of the show, as stated in the catalog, was “to make the public aware of the tremendous talent hidden behind prison walls, and also to give prisoners a chance to express themselves to the larger community.” The show was so well received by the community that the idea was formed to have a statewide traveling show of Oregon Prison Art in the year 2011, which came to be called ‘TIME”–and which travelled to 10 venues during that year.
A catalog was created for the show at the Coos Art Museum;copies are available upon request. Below are some of the works which appeared in that show.
VICTORIA TIERNEY ON THE CREATION OF AN EXHIBIT OF OREGON PRISON ART (Click to Expand/Collapse)
The idea for a show of Prison Art was originally suggested in 2002 by the late Rosalie Wilson, while she was serving on the board of the Coos Art Museum.
In 2008 I was approached by Barry Joyce of Lampa Mountain Sweat Lodge. He was working with a group called RED LODGE TRANSITION SERVICES which tries to help imprisoned Native Americans in making a successful transition back into the “outside” world. They were trying to raise funds for a “half-way house” for Native American women being released from Coffee Creek. Toward that end, Native American prisoners from all the facilities in Oregon were invited to donate works of art which would then be matted and framed and sold throughout the state. I agreed to have a show of these works at the Southern Coos Hospital & Health Center, where I have been in charge of four exhibits a year since 2000.
The quality of the work was variable, but some was so astoundingly good that I approached the Coos Art Museum with the idea for a show to include not only Native Americans but all prisoners currently serving time in Oregon State Prisons.
Originally we thought about having this as a juried show, but we learned that once a prisoner sends original art out of the prison it becomes “contraband” and cannot be sent back. So we changed our approach, and invited several of the Native Americans whose work was the finest, as well as artists whose work was on display at the Department of Corrections Headquarters in Salem, a building called “The Dome” on Central Street. Two years ago they initiated a contest for art works, expecting perhaps 50 submissions. Instead they received 365 entries, and the quality of the work was extraordinary.
After selecting what I thought were the most interesting artists, I began a process of letter-writing, and shared the poster from the earlier show, so that they would understand that this was a bona fide exhibition. (Issues of trust are very delicate in the prison system.)
In addition to the four Native Americans (Jeffrey Handsome Dog Cree, Dirk Davenport, Kha Che-Chee, and Joseph LeFever) this show includes works by 14 other artists. The works represent 6 of the 13 facilities in Oregon. Two of the inmates have been released since the inception of this show, but their works are included. Many of these men had never tried to draw before finding themselves serving time. For most the materials are the simplest: paper, pencils, ball point pens. A few with access to the hobby shop at Oregon State Penitentiary have worked in acrylics, tempera paints, and pastels.
The men responded with such enthusiasm that we received more work than could fit into the MABEL HANSEN GALLERY here at the museum (Coos Bay Art Museum). After seeing samples of the work, BLACK MARKET GOURMET agreed to show the overflow pieces at their establishment at 495 Central. Don’t miss this part of the show!
As the works began to arrive, we were struck by the extraordinary attention to detail in a great many of the pieces, and it set me pondering about the meaning of TIME. These men have been “given time” quite literally; they are “doing time” and “serving time”. For many the challenge to make some use of that time is the greatest challenge they face. Their greatest hope is that these years of their lives will not have been entirely wasted. Having the opportunity to present you with this show has been very special for them, and any feedback you might want to offer would be most appreciated. A book is provided for your comments.
Victoria Tierney/ curator
* Prison Art Show curator Victoria Tierney, has been corresponding with Oregon Prison artists and mounting prison art shows since 2008.
COMMENTS FROM THE VISITORS’ BOOK (Click to Expand/Collapse)
“What inspiring work. Gave us both pause.”
“We’re all doing time, serving time, making –taking – time being or not being “on time”/ The creation of Art is timeless… it is being present in the moment… colors, patterns, variations… Thank you for presenting this show, to remember and give thanks to these artists that we may never know, but through this art we see the beauty that they have given birth to through their patience and purpose of being creative.”
“Very inspirational. Many times persons on the outside feel “trapped” in their lives and get stuck in Life. Art is a way out of whatever form the prison takes. As they say, to face one’s soul from these earthly boundaries is our ultimate challenge. These artists have shown us a way – a Beautiful, varied, personal way to express our souls true essence… thank you”
“There are so many more capable, creative, constructive people locked up…. It’s good you’ve shown this small sampling of such. May it lead to additional outreach to improve the human condition and our bogged down society’s psyche.”
“Beautiful detail; the wildlife depicted gives sensory freedom, no doubt for the creator, but also for those fortunate to view what you are doing with your time. Time is what defines you, everyone, and what we do with it is our reflection. Appreciated!”
“It is striking to me how many pictures of birds. Perhaps they are thinking of the old song “If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly…” Beautiful and inspiring. May your found selves re-find themselves in the world.”
“oh my/ oh my/ such depth, such meaning… God works through us all”
“It’s humbling to see the talent this is displayed. I sincerely hope that all the artists represented here and those that weren’t realize that there IS a future for them, where maybe before they didn’t know or see this possibility. Keep the faith and continue to let your talent be your inspiration.”