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Art Beat welcomes painting great Harry Widman
Photos and Story by James Hill
From wild stories to wild use of color, Oregon painter Harry Widman is never boring. This is great, considering Widman has been selected to be the featured artist for the 2008 Art Beat Festival at PCC.
He is a well-known and respected exhibiting artist, juror and writer for The Oregonian. He has exhibited his work at local galleries like Blackfish and Butters; regionally in Seattle and Salem; and internationally, in cities such as Rome, Italy. Widman has been a regular presenter and lecturer for Portland State University, Oregon College of Art and Craft, Oregon Historical Society Portland Art Museum and Cincinnati Academy of Art, to name a few, during the past 30 years.
At Art Beat, Widman will put on workshops and will have his featured piece, titled "Mother and Daughter," installed at the annual kickoff ceremony held this year at the Southeast Center.
Art Beat will spread across all three PCC campuses and the Southeast Center from May 12-16, offering students, staff, faculty and the community access to local, regional and national artists, as well as an extensive collection of visual art, dance, music, theater and literary events. It is free and open to the public. To learn more, visit the Art Beat Web site.
Widman is described as having been exposed to the Willamette Valley style, which was inspired by Cezanne and based on color theory and interaction with oil and watercolor paints.
His personal history is one that writers love to write books about. In fact, one is. Roger Hull at Willamette University is writing a catalog on Widman for a lifetime retrospective at the Hallie Ford Museum to be held in 2009.
Born in 1929, Widman began his lifelong love affair with painting as a kid when he would draw copies of picture and, from there, moved to painting. He now sports a process by which every painting he does – whether big (12 or so feet tall and many more wide) or small – is connected to one another.
"Doing this has its own history," Widman said, showing off his studio full of paintings of all sizes. "This is the culmination of years for work where pieces have connections with other pieces. The work itself becomes the history for the next piece. There are many versions and the ideas continue on to the next project."
After graduating from Syracuse University in 1951 with an art degree, Widman went into the Army and was stationed at a troop replacement depot in Germany. When he returned to the United States he moved in with a photographer friend in Brooklyn, where he spent a year and a half soaking in the New York art scene.
"I could see a patch of the New York skyline from my window," Widman recalled. "To live in New York City and see the art shows; it was fantastic. I walked out of my apartment and could go to a gallery. I took full advantage of that. I did see a lot of art. It was a tremendous advantage for me."
Armed with the G.I. Bill, Widman wanted to move to the West to enroll in graduate school. He landed at the University of Oregon to further his education. He even was allowed to teach courses as he finished his graduate degree in 1956. There he learned to treat painting as a theorist and to interpret his craft in a way that couldn’t be learned from a textbook.
He used that experience to teach for the Extension Division in Roseburg, Coos Bay, Grants Pass, Port Orford and a few points in between from 1956-60. While living in Roseburg with his wife at the time and their two sons and one daughter, Widman got caught up in art politics, which found him in the social circle of timber baron Ken Ford’s wife – Hallie.
His connections grew and soon he was helping local art patrons set up galleries or put on shows. Widman worked with an active patron of the arts and head physician of Keizer Hospital. The physician’s wife was a good artist who established a gallery at the hospital with help from Widman.
"I was pleased to be in on it right away at the beginning," Widman said. "Keiser was ideal supporter of the arts in their community."
Widman was a teacher and later dean of the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, from 1960 through 1981. When he was there, Widman established the Alumni and Friends Association to support the artists and students. He has a history of supporting all things art and his involvement with PCC’s longstanding art festival seems to be no different. And the college is happy to have him.
"Art Beat typifies the college’s mission by exposing our students and community to different art forms and cultures," said President Preston Pulliams. "We want an agile learning environment that is responsive to the changing educational needs of our students and the communities we serve. Art Beat facilitates growth and development of our district communities by making PCC an educational resource to the community.
"But more to the point – Art Beat is always entertaining and fun," he added. "And it would not exist without the efforts and passions of people throughout the college and community. We all work together to create this wonderful event."