PORT LANDIA TURNS
30 It’s Sunday morning, Oct. 6, 1985, and Her Majesty Portlandia, our Queen of Commerce, all 36 feet of her, has all but shut down the city. Roads are closed, bridges must be drawn, and trees have been cut back for clearance. It’s a happy spectacle, a day of the people, however haphazard and unofficial. The three-year wait for the sculpture’s arrival is finally over, and you’re either intentionally avoiding the scene or you’re funneling toward the commotion amid cheering and camaraderie with everyone else.
by Matt Stangel Two days from now, on a “chilly but sunny Tuesday morning” as the papers will describe it, the official unveiling of Raymond Kaskey’s Portlandia sculpture will take place in an invitation only ceremony, but today she completes her journey from Maryland to Gunderson Marine, where she was assembled, and up the Willamette River by barge to take her perch atop the Portland Building’s previously empty second story platform. Nine months from now, novelist and new journalist Tom Wolfe will write about this morning in the July 14, 1986, edition of Newsweek: “I looked, I blinked, I looked again, I blinked some more, I rubbed my eyes...Great Godalmighty...A gigantic woman, made of hammered copper, glorious, goddesslike, gleaming in the sun, her hair pulled back, a Greek toga draped from her shoulder, her immense right arm reaching down, down, down toward the multitudes.” But on this October morning, Mayor Bud Clark boisterously paddles a canoe up the Willamette in lederhosen, “his King of Diamonds beard visible from the shore,” as Wolfe observed—though it was the previous mayor, Frank Ivancie, who’d worked so hard to sell Portlandia to those who needed convincing. In 10 years, they’ll say her westward gaze is in the wrong direction, that the east holds Portland’s commercial future. Just before the turn of the century, they’ll try to move her to the river, ostensibly forgetting her roots as an architectural statement altogether, and they’ll be beaten back. Ten years after that, her name will be borrowed for the title of a TV show. But now, in 1985, MAX lines are under construction, and as yet there’s no Moda Center blotting out the eastern city, no Oregon Convention Center spires caught between sheets of cloud. Now, the big news is a glinting figure strapped unnaturally to a boat, plodding slowly upriver, and 10,000 Portlanders collecting for a view of the giant woman who stepped out of the city seal with the color of a new penny to kneel above the masses in an affixed neoclassical position.
“I felt six-and-a-quarter tons lighter,” says artist and architect Raymond Kaskey from his Maryland home, recalling that Sunday morning in 1985 when Portlandia was finally hoisted to the pedestal that architect Michael Graves had designed for her. The weeks, months, and years leading up to the monument’s big moment had been anything but smooth for Kaskey. After beating out hundreds of entrants in 1982’s national call for a sculpture to accompany Graves’ new Portland Building—the competition hosted by Portland’s Metropolitan Arts Commission (now known as Regional Arts & Culture Council), the sculpture funded by the One Percent for the Arts program—Kaskey was awarded a $198,000 commission to create what would be the largest copper repoussé (hammered copper) sculpture in the country, next to the Statue of Liberty.