By Claudia Elliott
I learned a lesson in Portland — look up!
I wasn’t. We were walking along SW Fifth Avenue in search of the statue, Portlandia. I had my phone, with Google navigator open, in my left hand. My other hand had a firm grip on an umbrella. We had only a day in Portland, so of course, it was raining. But I was determined.
I pointed ahead with the umbrella as we crossed Main Street.
“Portlandia should be in this next block,” I told my husband.
I saw that the building on our left was closed and recognized it from an earlier walk past its other side, on SW Fourth Avenue, where signs of renovation in progress were evident. We had crossed the street to avoid the sidewalk disruption while walking from our motel toward Voodoo Doughnuts that morning. I thought it was a handsome building, with an art deco vibe. I didn’t know at the time that it was The Portland Building, believed by many PDX residents to be the ugliest building in town.
But back to my search for Portlandia. Our time in Oregon’s largest city was running out, and I wanted to see as many sights as we could manage on our walking tour. When I first saw the word, “Portlandia,” displayed on my phone map, I thought it had something to do with the TV series. I haven’t watched the show but had heard of it.
Wikipedia is my constant companion, though, and a quick read revealed that the Portlandia on SW Fifth Avenue in downtown Portland is a statue. Sometimes a quick read misses the finer points, I soon learned.
We were halfway to the next corner, and no statue was in sight. But my phone was talking to me: “You have arrived at your destination.”
I tipped my umbrella back to look at my husband.
“The navigator says it should be right here,” I said.
We looked around. Inside a glass-fronted building across the street, I saw an image of a woman, possibly in a long robe. A woman wearing classical garb who is part of the City of Portland’s seal inspired Portlandia’s design (again, per Wikipedia).
“Maybe it’s across the street,” I said, and we headed to Madison Street and crossed.
There was a bed of beautiful tulips across the street, but further inspection of the glass-fronted building revealed that it did not house a statue.
We walked to the curb and looked across at the building.
“You see anything across there,” I asked my husband.
He did not.
And then, in exasperation, I looked up.
Oh. My. Gosh.
There she was, Portlandia! Caged by scaffolding, she was visible above the entrance to the building. Yes, that’s precisely what Wikipedia said, but somehow I missed that important detail. Above.
It was sad to see her nearly hidden. I did more research when we returned home from our trip and learned that The Portland Building, which is next door to Portland City Hall and houses governmental offices, is undergoing reconstruction ($195 million worth). The project is to be complete by the end of 2020. I hope to return then to see Portlandia properly displayed.
From Wikipedia, I learned that Portlandia is the second largest copper repoussé sculpture in the world, next to the Statue of Liberty.
Repoussé is a metal-working technique used to create low relief by hammering from the reverse side. Portlandia is more than 34-foot-high, but she’s a distant second to Lady Liberty’s 305-plus feet (from the ground to the tip of the flame).
American sculptor Raymond Kaskey created Portlandia. Installation of the statue on October 6, 1985, was accomplished after pieces were floated up the nearby Willamette River on a barge.