Oregon loses an artist, curator and friend

Yesterday, we met tragic news on our morning blog tour. Barry Johnson at Art Scatter posted a rushed announcement that curator and photographer Terry Toedtemeier had died in Hood River, following a lecture and book signing for his recently released opus, Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, 1867–1957. Last night, D.K. Row posted a lovely obituary at OregonLive, with a shorter article running in this morning's Oregonian. (The online version is worth a visit because it has a more heartfelt, personal voice).

Others will have much more to say about Mr. Toedtemeier in the coming days, and will say it more eloquently than I ever can. I met Terry just once, several years ago, when I conferred with John Laursen and him about grant writing and funding prospects for the book project that became “Wild Beauty.” The pair conveyed vision and infectious enthusiasm for the project, as well as a genuine, warm collegiality. As we talked, Terry pulled out beautiful prints from a portfolio case to give a hint of how magnificent the publication would be. My plate was overflowing at the time and I was unable to help them out beyond that initial conversation. They certainly didn’t need my help, but I regret not having the opportunity to get to know them better.

“Wild Beauty” is indeed a crowning achievement for a career and life distinguished by both artistry and scholarship. But it was only the first of what was to be the Northwest Photography Series, a project that Terry and John envisioned as an ongoing collection of finely designed and crafted photography books with a regional focus. While they were planning and raising funds for "Wild Beauty," they were already thinking excitedly about the next books in the series, including one based on a fascinating collection of photographs of Portland's Romany (aka "gypsy") community before it was pushed out of downtown. I'm saddened to think that Terry's passing may mean that we won't see the fruit of all that creative planning.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about Terry Toedtemeier in the context of contemporary dance, not photography. Since seeing Oslund+Company/Dance perform a few weeks ago, I’ve made several false starts on a blog post about choreographer Mary Oslund, a dear friend and an artist I greatly admire. I’ve long been curious about the mysterious (to me) process through which Mary creates abstract dance from source material that is often quite representative, including books, films and photographs. I’ve written many grants for Mary, acting as a translator converting her singular artistic voice into more standard proposal language (while trying to not water it into mush). In so doing, I gain early insight into how she's thinking about her creative work, often starting with an enigmatic working title alone. However, I admit that Mary's creative process is still a deep mystery to me.

Several years ago, Mary created Kinder Weather, describing it as a work inspired by her study of photographs of basalt formations shot by Terry, her colleague, friend and supporter. I've seen it performed at least twice, and it is a wonderful piece. However, I've never quite spotted a clear connection between photos of basalt columns and the precise, abstract movement on stage--if the thread is there, it's thin and subtle. Last night I checked to see if I might have a DVD of Kinder Weather to watch for the link again. (Many grant applications require video work samples, so I end up with a few extras lying around). Unfortunately, I could not find a reference copy and still can't answer that question.

My inability to connect the dots from Mary's source material to the final dance doesn't matter in the end—let the creative muse remain veiled. I can appreciate the dances without needing to understand them. In the case of Kinder Weather, the one thing I will assume is that part of what inspired Mary was her abiding respect for Terry Toedtemeier as a fellow artist and a dear friend. I know that there are other friends and colleagues who feel the same and who are grieving today.


The Portland Art Museum, where Terry served as curator of photography, has posted remembrance. And the visual arts blog site PORT has posted a story here.

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