If you’ve ever had questions about Vancouver’s neighbor to the south that you were too shy to ask, or appreciate colorful quilts, flip open “Pieces of Portland: An Inside Look at America’s Weirdest City.” It’s a 258-page snapshot of the city, created by friends and quilters Marie Deatherage and Joyce Brekke. Deatherage, who lives in Portland’s Buckman neighborhood, provided the words, while Brekke, a resident of Carter Park in Vancouver, provided the photography.
The book project got its start as part of an exhibition of quilts Deatherage was creating, many inspired by places in Portland. “I decided my quilts needed some sort of context next to them, so I asked Joyce if she’d go around the city with me taking pictures of quilts.” That led to the rediscovery of Deatherage’s teaching materials on the city from her geography classes at Portland State University.
“Pieces of Portland” is surprising in its depth and variety, from the history of “Keep Portland Weird” stickers to its flora, fauna, geology, waterways and bridges. The pair talked with artists, entrepreneurs, city officials, activists, musicians and dreamers who have shaped the city.
It also examines what’s propelled Portland to this point, warts and all. From the Native Americans, the immigrants, both past and present, and the impact of city policies on its minority communities.
“I think both of us felt very, very strongly that (these issues) had to be part of the book from the very beginning, especially these days,” said Deatherage. Much of the city’s history isn’t taught in schools, she said. “They don’t have a clue what happened to Albina and the people who lived there, not to mention the Chinook people from the very beginning. You can’t admire and laugh at and take delight in what is weird and fun and quirky without understanding the not-so-great stuff that happened along the way.”
“I think it’s really to Marie’s credit, she covers those topics in the book with an honest but loving tone,” said Brekke.
And the quilts become almost another character, with them draped over statues, attached to walls or held by interview subjects in the 400 color photographs by Brekke. To get a photo of former Mayor Bud Clark with the statue he famously flashed, Brekke had to navigate around a sculpture engulfed by scaffolding, said Deatherage.
One chapter is devoted to Portland’s love of signs. “Once you notice people are doing interesting things to signs, then you notice them everywhere,” said Deatherage. “It really reflects Portlanders’ love to express themselves.” From a pedestrian sign modified to look like the comic book character Wolverine to the pair’s discovery of sticker nerds.
“Marie and I have been friends going on 50 years. It’s been a joy and pleasure to work with her on this,” said Brekke.
“I couldn’t imagine doing this with anyone else, we’re really different in a lot of ways, but we used our differences to create a lot of strength,” said Deatherage. “For us, when we look back on (the book) it’s all the memories we made, there’s a richness. We have a story behind the story which we’ll always treasure.”
“Pieces of Portland: An Inside Look at America’s Weirdest City” can be found at Powell’s Books, Music Millennium, Multnomah County Library and the many Portland quilt shops. The pair hope to get “Pieces of Portland” in the libraries of Vancouver too. For more information, visit www.piecesofportland.com.
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