The continuance of three exhibitions of the drawings and woodcuts of Leonard Baskin—and the reading of the Baskin Manifesto: “The Necessity for the Image”—have given both the city’s avant garde and rear guard fuel for thought. Recently at Portland Art Museum, the Artist Membership presented six panelists whose subject for discussion was a question raised in Baskin’s New Image. The question was: “Can an art which is wholly devoid of figurative elements hold such wonder and glory as does so much of the art of the past?” The presence of the opposing forces which met for the debate in the sculpture court was too much for the question. After considerable verbal jousting among panel members, only mild attempts were made thereafter to answer it.

Jack Wilkinson, Associate Professor of Art at the University of Oregon, called Baskin’s drawings for the Iliad “graphic art—a granite opera and a Wagnerian one at that.”

Norma Heyser, who though that Baskin’s ink sketches “didn’t go far enough for Homer,” believed that Baskin’s query should have been reworded to read: “Can an art which is wholly devoid of figurative elements hold such wonder and glory as does so much of the art of the PRESENT?”

The wife of Ron O. Peterson and a “new” painter, took issue with another statement from the printmaker’s pronunciamento; i.e. “Is abstract art simple minded?” Approximately at this point, Mrs. Heyser presented a Marlene Gabel canvas before the audience for consideration.

“I don’t consider ‘simple-mindedness’ a derogatory term,” said Mrs. Heyser. “I think it’s flattering. I respect the ‘simple mind’ which comprehends the most difficult concepts.”

Robert Colescott, Instructor in art education at Portland State College, came out strong for the image. “Some think Van Gogh committed suicide because he was becoming an abstract expressionist,” said Colescott. “The abstraction has become as much a part of the tradition as the landscape and still life,” he added. Colescott called the drift toward the non-objective “trendism” and for a reason offered “The artist in this age, too, fears being alone.”

Painter-of-images Michel Russo found the subject “strange for our time” and noted that “1200 years ago churchmen were also debating whether the image had any place in art. Some decreed what El Greco did to the figure was improper, but his work survived. . . . The image is an acceptable subject, though there are always those who would have you think otherwise,” he stated. The Museum Art School instructor, not a follower of Baskin, nevertheless endorsed the printmaker’s work: “Baskin reasons his point of view with passion and vigor. He’s an originator of a new image and he’s used abstract means.”

Painter-sculptor Duane Zaloudek, sitting next to Robert Colescott, said “If art expresses anything, it expresses emotion.” Zaloudek was critical of Baskin, citing the Iliad drawings for what he thought was a rather weak and obvious use of the action painter’s techniques; namely, the drip. “Lambasting the work of another is no way of justifying your own, however. The subject of the human image in art is irrelevant. Art is more than criticism of life,” Zaloudek concluded. Other members of the panel were Byron Gardner, painter, and Don Wilson, sculptor.

Running concurrently at the museum is “American Painting and Sculpture, 19th and 20th Century.” It’s an exhibition that represents a major part and cross-section of what the permanent collections of the Portland Art Museum now contain. Fortunately, the majority of works are worth viewing. There is an athletic oil sketch by Thomas Eakins, “The Oarsmen,” which is from his best period; there’s a Levine “Street Scene,” seething with acid color and biting insight; a demonic portrait of Bill Cummins by the then-young Morris Graves, a hypnotic Josef Albers “Homage to the Square”; and a witty, fractured “George Washington” by Alfred Maurer. Milton Avery’s “Bathers,” the chilling Marsden Hartley seascape, the saucy bronze horse by Leo Steppat—these too belong in that category which any top museum would like to own, and which all possess more than what one would term “antiquarian interest.”

Less enchanting, however, is the oil “Two Bathers” by Eilshemius, the deadly Bierstadt “Seal Rocks” and probably the most undistinguished oil (“Equestrian”) that Albert Ryder ever did. The Eilshemius has the coloration and style of one of those murals one sees in a certain gay-nineties steakhouse in Portland.

In classes all by themselves are “Portrait of My Teacher, Fraulein von Preiser” by Florine Stettheimer and one of the museum’s latest acquisitions, “Orange Accents” by Hilla Rebay. “Accents” was given to the museum by the artist last summer.

Madame Rebay’s work is composed of vivid orange squares and rectangles caught up in a whirlpool of bluish-purples against a mottled white background. The effect, needless to say, is memorable.

If one has appetite for more work of the same character, then look to the Stettheimer. Mrs. Stettheimer, who died in 1944, painted the figure as if she had never attended a school. But the truth is she did and a catalog of her oeuvre which the museum has, indicated Mrs. Stettheimer was always in the center of the most creative circles. “Portrait of My Teacher” looks as if it were accomplished in a painting class by one of those elderly ladies who attend class but whom you know will never improve. The tiny hands and feet, the indistinguished breasts, head and hair carefully assigned—all are there. Fortunately, Mrs. Stettheimer has placed her teacher against a background of tassels, fancy lace, unbelievable iron grill work and other Victorian fripperies. Over-all, the painting possesses a naive charm which goes far to explain why it is hanging upstairs in the Ayer Gallery and not in the museum’s basement vault. Another area of the museum’s holdings not often exhibited is the collection of contemporary ceramics. Clay sculpture, pottery by Kenneth Shores, Leta Kennedy, Gertrud and Otto Natzler, Peter Voulkos, Bennett Welsh, Bernard Leach are included.

Andy Rocchia