Tall Tale in a Small Space
In July, eBay’s Portland outpost put out a request for proposals from artists to decorate their new third-floor office spaces. The brief suggested themes like The Portland Horse Project, Beverly Cleary, Rose City Rollers, Darcelle and Paul Bunyan.
As I contemplated sundry possibilities, I kept returning to one of my favorite Portland curiosities: the Paul Bunyan statue in Kenton.
BT: Paul Bunyan has been a frequent muse and mild obsession of mine since my childhood growing up in Minnesota. I have made many an art piece about Paul and Babe over the years, so how could I turn down Mike’s request to collaborate on a full room‽
We quickly cooked up a plan to renovate a small meeting room with WPA-style illustration, a typographic mural, a tree stump work table and Pendleton wool plaid upholstery. We pitched our vision to eBay, they approved and we got busy making.
My main focus was to create a mural inspired by WPA art.
As I was working on the illustration, I was also planning the production and installation techniques. I wanted every aspect to have meaning (design is intentional, dear reader). My fondness for turn-of-the-century commercial art steered me toward wheatpaste. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced to use it.
- The legend of Paul Bunyan was from this era. He and his lumberjack friends would have seen large wheatpasted ads for nightclubs, travel, the circus, booze and cigars on their trips into the city.
- Because wheatpaste is so economical—it’s literally just wheat and water—it’s an egalitarian vehicle for sharing a message. While a large corporation uses it to hock their wares on one wall, students wheatpaste their protests on another. In this way, wheatpaste is an agent of folklore, and the perfect medium for a folk hero.
- Then there are Portland gig posters. Layer upon soggy layer of posters amass around the utility poles in this former logging town. Dead trees wrapped in dead trees, kinda lookin’ like trees—it’s a minor phenomenon, and probably too much like a turducken to spend this amount of reflection on them, but I really do love their poetry. And, while fastened with staples, the wrinkles of rain-soaked pole posters complement the pleats and puckers of hastily wheatpasted wall art.
BT: And what is Paul without his big, blue partner? On the wall opposing Mike’s piece, I wanted something big, bold, and simple to represent Babe the ox. Thinking on the combination of other textures, patterns and graphic elements that I knew would exist in the completed room, I opted for a simple typographic treatment of Babe’s name, sized about as large as would comfortably fit on the wall. My work frequently dabbles in word play, and this piece allows a viewer to contemplate multiple meanings of the word “babe” without the specific context of imagery to define it.
The table is a natural-edge slab of figured maple we found in
Portland. To bolster a small split in the wood at one end, BT inlaid a
bowtie key made from walnut.
BT: I knew from the start that we wanted to make a natural edge work table for the room—something rustic that also doesn’t feel out of place in a modern office. To push the Paul Bunyan concept, I opted to make the legs of the table from a mix of both vintage and new axe handles. The crossed handles of the leg construction feel reminiscent of campground picnic tables to me. The figured maple table top is a real show-stopper, but I’m also happy about the small details such as the walnut plugs I made for the intersection of the legs. Things like that may not get noticed by every person using the room, but are worth the extra effort for the eyes of those people who do notice.
The stretcher supporting the legs is made from a vintage, double-bit axe, with the head doubling as an extra shelf for coffee.
We intended to accent the room with traditional lumberjack garb in the form of seat upholstery. That plan was discarded when we found a pair of perfect stools. Instead, we opted to deck the lower half of the back wall with Pendleton wool plaid. We left the felt bulletin board above it alone.