GOLDENDALE — Maryhill Museum of Art's collaborative printmaking project is taking the Columbia River Gorge by storm.
The Exquisite Gorge Project took its inspiration from Surrealist art practice known as exquisite corpse. In this case, the Columbia River will become the unifying element in a flowing 66-foot artwork telling 10 conceptual stories of the Columbia River and its people.
The project features 11 artists working with communities along a 220-mile stretch of the Columbia River from the Willamette to the Snake River confluence.
Each artist was assigned a stretch of the river and is working with input from community members to carve images on 4 x 6 foot wood panels. The woodblock panels will be then joined end-to-end to form a massive 66-foot steamrolled print completed Aug. 24 on the Maryhill grounds.
Some sections have been carved, while others are still in progress, with each artist taking a different approach to developing creative content by engaging with the local community.
Neal Harrington, a printmaker from Russellville, Arkansas, worked with community members in The Dalles, Oregon, to learn more about the stretch of river he was assigned and develop motifs he used in his final woodblock design.
Students and art faculty from Lewis & Clark College were assigned an area of the Columbia that extends from just east of Portland to just west of Cascade Locks.
The stretch of river encompasses much of the area affected by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, which is the focus of their print. After interviewing residents and geologists, as well as hiking the area and studying aerial photographs, the students chose to draw attention to the boundary between urban and wilderness areas, in both literal and metaphorical terms, as well as the cycle from fire-damaged forest to new growth.
Molly Gaston Johnson, a printmaker from Lake Cuomo, New Jersey, sought input from students at Hood River Valley High School, asking them to write haikus to capture their thoughts and feelings about the river.
Portland artist Roger Peet was assigned section seven of the project — Miller Island to the John Day River — and invited community members to help carve the woodblock at a local library.
Mike McGovern, also from Portland, is working on his block during a residency at Little Bear Hill in The Dalles through July 23. He is collaborating with students from the Wahtonka Community High School, who are helping him direct imagery for the block.
Drew F. Cameron of the collective Combat Paper will visit the region in early August to complete section nine from Roosevelt to Hat Rock. Cameron plans to work with Columbia Gorge veterans and The Columbia Gorge Veterans Museum to create an original woodblock.
The public is encouraged to follow the project on social media, searching #exquisitegorgeproject or visiting the dedicated web page maryhillmuseum.org/exquisite-gorge-project to see images of artists’ works-in-progress.
Once all of the print blocks have been carved, Maryhill Museum of Art will host a day-long event on Saturday, Aug. 24 where the public can meet the artists, engage in hands-on printmaking activities and watch as the blocks are inked and a steamroller runs the length of the giant piece of paper to create one large, continuous print. The print will be on view at the museum from Sept. 3-25.
Colleen Schafroth is the executive director of the Maryhill Museum of Art. For information about this project, specific artists and/or images of their work-in-progress, Schafroth at email@example.com or 509-773-3733 ext. 23.