Volcano! title wall.

Land Acknowledgement

The Portland Art Museum recognizes and honors the Indigenous peoples of this region on whose ancestral lands the museum now stands. These include the Willamette Tumwater, Clackamas, Kathlemet, Molalla, Multnomah and Watlala Chinook Peoples and the Tualatin Kalapuya who today are part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and many other Native communities who made their homes along the Columbia River. We also want to recognize that Portland today is a community of many diverse Native peoples who continue to live and work here. We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities—past, present, future—and are grateful for their ongoing and vibrant presence.

Schnitzer Sculpture Court mural.
Photomural image by Richard Gordon Bowen, May 18, 1980. Courtesy of the Bowen Family.

Introduction

The Portland Art Museum proudly presents this tribute to Mount St. Helens on the fortieth anniversary of the eruptions of 1980. Spanning the period from 1845 to the present, this exhibition is the first survey of works of art inspired by the mountain. Although 175 years is barely a blip in geologic time, the art bears witness to an extraordinary era in the long, cyclical life of the volcano.

The beauty of Mount St. Helens has ranged from bucolic to savage. Before the eruptions, painters delighted in depicting its pleasing conical shape rising high above the verdant landscape. The 1980 eruptions challenged artists to capture the thrilling and terrifying displays of nature’s sublime power. When the smoke cleared, the new apocalyptic face of Mount St. Helens compelled the depiction of its haunting majesty. Since then, the rapid return of life to the mountain has captured the attention of photographers as well as scientists from many fields. Although the volcano seems to have reclaimed its serenity, some artists have begun to look to the future. Mount St. Helens will erupt again.

We are pleased to welcome you to this celebration of a great wonder on our horizon.

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Organized by the Portland Art Museum and curated by Dawson Carr, Ph.D., the Janet and Richard Geary Curator of European Art.

Installation photo of Ryan Molenkamp pieces.
Ryan Molenkamp (American, born 1977). Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!, 2017. Acrylic on panel. Courtesy of Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, L2019.90.1–3

I was three when Mount St. Helens blew, living well north of the blast in Lake Stevens, Washington. I remember visiting the area a couple of years later with my family and seeing everything pumice-grey, with all the fallen trees and mud-lines from the lahars on the trees that still stood. I wore out the Everett Herald’s short book Mount St. Helens Erupts, which had stories of victims and survivors alongside photos of the destruction. They were powerful images that stuck with me. These three paintings are inspired by the four time-lapse photos of the eruption taken by Vern Hodgson. The title of my paintings quotes the last transmission sent to the usgs office in Vancouver, Washington, by geologist David A. Johnston before he was overwhelmed by the blast.

These works are part of my series Fear of Volcanoes, which has a lot to do with the stubborn refusal of people to respect and pay attention to both our impact on the environment and how the environment is responding. If we don’t change, the destruction that Mount St. Helens caused will be nothing compared to what is in store for us.

Ryan Molenkamp
Installation photo of The Seething Saint.
Lucinda Parker, The Seething Saint, 2019.
Lucinda Parker (American, born 1942). The Seething Saint, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Lucinda Parker & Russo Lee Gallery, L2019.105.1
Seething Saint poem.

Lawetlat’la

Mount St. Helens has been a sacred place to Native Americans for thousands of years. It is known as Lawetlat’la (“Smoker”) to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. While the volcano figures prominently in traditional stories of all the tribes living within eyesight, it has special significance for the Cowlitz People because it is the most prominent landmark of their ancestral home.

Lawetlat’la’s intermittent eruptions over the ages determined not only its name, but also its character in numerous creation stories. These tales differ greatly, but all share the idea of the mountain as a supernatural being with the ability to unleash mighty forces, both destructive and generative. The volcano is not only a place charged with spiritual energy, but simultaneously a powerful entity, which Native people visit to seek guidance, whether on a personal quest or as part of community ceremonies.

In the years following the 1980 eruption, Lawetlat’la became a symbol of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s “mountain of resentment” that had built up due to the persistent, unfair treatment of their people and lands; tribal federal recognition was only confirmed in 2000. In 2013, Mount St. Helens was listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its significance as a Traditional Cultural Property of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the Yakama Nation, who now work with the Forest Service in managing the sacred upper reaches of the mountain.

Indigenous peoples along the Columbia River used the substance of adjacent volcanoes—particularly basalt, andesite, and obsidian—to create objects of great beauty for utilitarian, cultural, and aesthetic purposes. The extraordinary sculptures displayed here were made from various forms of basalt, the most common volcanic rock, which is formed by the rapid cooling of lava near the surface. These objects were selected from the collections of the Portland Art Museum to recognize the original inhabitants of our common landscape and the importance that Native peoples have long assigned to the many volcanoes in our area.

Installation photo of Lawetlat’la.
Bighort sheep bowl
Columbia River artist, Bighorn sheep bowl, pre-contact, basalt, The Fred and Rosetta Harrison Collection; Museum Purchase and Partial Gift of Mike Jungert, Shelley Engh, and Robin McGinn, 2001.21.2
Condor bowl
Columbia River artist, Condor bowl, pre-contact, basalt, Gift of Mr. Henry L. Corbett, 51.204
Rattlesnake bowl
Columbia River artist, Rattlesnake Bowl, pre-contact, basalt, Gift of George E. and Jerry A. Marshall in memory of George A. and Helen B. Marshall, 2000.67.27
Anthropomorphic figure
Columbia River artist, Anthropomorphic Figure, pre-contact, paint on basalt, The Fred and Rosetta Harrison Collection; Museum Purchase and Partial Gift of Mike Jungert, Shelley Engh, and Robin McGinn, 2001.21.1
Anthropomorphic figure
Columbia River artist, Anthropomorphic Figure, pre-contact, basalt, Museum Purchase: Caroline Ladd Pratt Fund, 55.286

Mount St. Helens before 1980

Volcanic activity often creates a mountain of unique beauty, which attracts the eyes of artists. Stratovolcanoes like Mount St. Helens are particularly famed for their pleasing symmetrical slopes and crater peaks. They are one of nature’s truest conical forms because they are built slowly in layers, or strata, by successive eruptions.

The first known depictions of Mount St. Helens were created by explorers in the 1840s; Henry James Warre visited in 1845 and was followed by Paul Kane in 1847. At this time, the mountain was nearing the end of an eruptive period (1800–1857). On view here are their remarkable records of the volcano erupting steam and ash from vents near Goat Rocks on the north side. These smaller eruptions presaged the wholesale destruction of this area in 1980.

After 1857, painters celebrated the beauty of Mount St. Helens by depicting it nestled harmoniously among its surroundings. Paintings of the great mountains of the Cascade Range were in demand to decorate homes and businesses in Portland, as well as to satisfy collectors who desired depictions of the American West. Displayed here are works by local artists and visitors showing Mount St. Helens up to its transformation in 1980.

Gallery view of Mount St. Helens before 1980.
Henry James Warre, Mount St. Helen's (Volcanic) from Settlement on Cowalitz [sic] River, September 1845.
Henry James Warre (British, 1819–1898), Mount St. Helen's (Volcanic) from Settlement on Cowalitz [sic] River, September 1845. Watercolor on paper. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts, L2019.41.1

Henry James Warre made the first known paintings of Mount St. Helens. The viewpoint for this watercolor sketch was the Cowlitz Farm, or Fort Cowlitz, an agricultural settlement of the Hudson’s Bay Company a few miles north of modern Toledo, Washington. It shows Mount St. Helens erupting steam and ash from a vent on the volcano’s north side, which was blown away in 1980.

Warre was a British spy, who was sent to the Pacific Northwest in 1845 to determine if a war could be won against the United States for the Oregon Territory. The dispute was settled with the signing of the Oregon Treaty of 1846.

Henry James Warre (British, 1819–1898), Mount Coffin and Mount St. Helen's (Volcanic) Columbia River, ca. 1845.
Henry James Warre (British, 1819–1898), Mount Coffin and Mount St. Helen's (Volcanic) Columbia River, ca. 1845. Watercolor on paper. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts, L2019.41.3

Warre visited Mount St. Helens near the end of an eruptive period that began in 1800 and ended in 1857. As this watercolor sketch demonstrates, he witnessed eruptions of steam and ash from a vent on the north side of the volcano.

The viewpoint is from present-day Longview, Washington. Mount Coffin is the promontory in the middle ground. It received this name from European explorers because it was a burial ground of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. Mount Coffin was leveled in 1929 so that its gravel could be used in constructing the port of Longview.

Paul Kane (Canadian, born Ireland, 1810–1871). The Cattle-putle [sic] River with Mount St. Helens in the Distance, March 26, 1847.
Paul Kane (Canadian, born Ireland, 1810–1871). The Cattle-putle [sic] River with Mount St. Helens in the Distance, March 26, 1847. Watercolor and graphite on paper. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Gift of Raymon A. Willis in memory of his mother, Emmie à Court ("Chelsea"), daughter of Allan Cassels and granddaughter of the Honourable G.W. Allan, L2019.42.2

Paul Kane is well known for his depictions of Native Americans in Canada and the Pacific Northwest. He followed the tenets of salvage ethnography, a nineteenth-century movement that sought to record cultures thought to be threatened with extinction owing to colonialism.

Kane visited the Pacific Northwest with the support of the Hudson’s Bay Company, whose main trading post was at Fort Vancouver. Kane set out from there on March 25, 1847, and traveled up the Cowlitz River by canoe. He made this watercolor sketch showing Mount St. Helens the following day. The volcano was quiescent at the time, but sometime in the next few weeks, he witnessed an eruption, as recorded in the sketch at far right.

Paul Kane (Canadian, born Ireland, 1810–1871). Mount St. Helens as Seen From the Cowlitz Farm, March–April, 1847.
Paul Kane (Canadian, born Ireland, 1810–1871). Mount St. Helens as Seen From the Cowlitz Farm, March–April, 1847. Watercolor and graphite on paper. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Gift of Raymon A. Willis in memory, Emmie à Court ("Chelsea"), daughter of Allan Cassels and granddaughter of the Honourable G.W. Allan, L2019.42.1

Kane created this sketch in the weeks after he made the watercolor at far left on March 26, 1847. While his first depiction of Mount St. Helens showed the volcano quiescent, this work shows an eruption from a vent on the north side. Once back in Toronto, Kane made the oil painting at left based on this study.

Paul Kane (Canadian, born Ireland, 1810–1871). Mount St. Helens, 1849–1856.
Paul Kane (Canadian, born Ireland, 1810–1871). Mount St. Helens, 1849–1856. Oil on canvas. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Gift of Sir Edmund Osler, L2019.42.3

This is the most famous depiction of Mount St. Helens prior to 1980. It was last exhibited in Portland in 1971 at the Oregon Historical Society. Kane painted this work after he returned to Toronto from his travels in the Pacific Northwest. It was based on the sketch he made from life, on view at right. Although his pencil and watercolor studies were made in daylight, he created a nocturnal scene in this oil painting. This was inspired by the European tradition of depicting Mount Vesuvius erupting at night to accentuate the pyrotechnics. Kane knew such paintings from his travels in Europe from 1841 to 1843. For an example of this type of painting in our collection, see Francesco Fidanza’s Vesuvius Erupting at Night.

Gallery view of Mount St. Helens before 1980.
Cleveland S. Rockwell (American, 1837–1907). Mounts Rainier, St. Helens and Adams, 1868.
Cleveland S. Rockwell (American, 1837–1907). Mounts Rainier, St. Helens and Adams, 1868. Watercolor and gouache on paper. Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society, L2019.72.1

Rockwell spent his most of his career as a survey engineer and cartographer for the United States Coastal Survey, but he was also an accomplished artist. He was first sent to Oregon in 1868 to survey and map the mouth of the Columbia River. It was at this time that he made this panorama showing the three volcanoes immediately north of the Columbia.

Cleveland S. Rockwell (American, 1837–1907). Mt. St. Helens from the Columbia River, 1894.
Cleveland S. Rockwell (American, 1837–1907). Mt. St. Helens from the Columbia River, 1894. Watercolor on paper. Pam and Charles Muehleck Collection, L2019.101.3

Rockwell’s employment as a survey engineer for the U.S. Coastal Survey brought him to San Francisco, his first home on the West Coast. After experiencing Oregon, he moved his family to Portland in 1879. He then surveyed and mapped the lower Columbia and its tributaries, including the Willamette River. His work helped ensure safe transportation to and from Portland. By the time he made this exquisite watercolor in 1894, he was well established in Portland as an artist as well as surveyor.

Olof Grafström (American, born Sweden, 1855-1933). View of Portland, Oregon, ca. 1887.
Olof Grafström (American, born Sweden, 1855-1933). View of Portland, Oregon, ca. 1887. Oil on canvas. Private collection, courtesy of Joel B. Garzoli Fine Art, San Francisco

This panoramic view of Portland was painted by Olof Grafström shortly after he emigrated from Sweden in 1886. Mount St. Helens dominates the horizon at center. From the painter’s vantage point in the undeveloped West Hills, it is clear why the volcano was known as the Mount Fuji of North America. Rising behind its left flank is Mount Rainier and at right is Mount Adams. The burgeoning city of Portland is divided by the Willamette River at center; note the absence of bridges. Vancouver, Washington, and a sliver of the Columbia River are visible at left.

Grafström’s six-foot-wide painting was purchased by local collectors shortly before we opened the Mount St. Helens exhibition. In spite of this, they generously agreed to lend it, but the Museum closed before we were able to hang it. We hope that you will be able to see it when we reopen.

James Everett Stuart (American, 1852–1941). Mount St. Helens from a Hill Back of Portland, 1885.
James Everett Stuart (American, 1852–1941). Mount St. Helens from a Hill Back of Portland, 1885. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society, L2019.72.3

This “sketch” of Mount St. Helens was made on October 6, 1885, as the artist recorded at lower left. On the back of the canvas, he described his vantage point as “a hill back of Portland.” It is not known if Stuart ever created a fully elaborated painting based on this sketch. The spontaneity of execution makes this work especially appealing to modern eyes.

James Everett Stuart was an itinerant painter for most of his career. He was born in Maine and moved to Rio Vista, California, with his family when he was eight. He studied at the San Francisco School of Design with Virgil Williams. In 1881, he opened a studio in Portland, where he remained for five years. After periods in New York and Chicago, he finally settled in San Francisco in 1912.

The late nineteenth-century American frame was generously loaned by Atelier Richard Boerth, Seattle.

William Samuel Parrott (American, 1844–1915). Mount Saint Helens, 1880s.
William Samuel Parrott (American, 1844–1915). Mount Saint Helens, 1880s. Oil on canvas. Collection of Suzanne and Paul Coon, L2019.98.1

Parrott was born in Missouri and moved with his family to Oregon in 1847 at the age of three. Growing up here, he developed a great love for the mountains. He opened his first studio in Portland in 1867, and his mountain landscapes proved to be very popular with collectors and other artists. He trained several painters, including Eliza Barchus and Grace Russell Fountain, and his inspiration can be detected in their works below.

Grace Russell Fountain (American, 1858–1942). Mount St. Helens, ca. 1890.
Grace Russell Fountain (American, 1858–1942). Mount St. Helens, ca. 1890. Oil on board. Collection of Matt and Judy Wilder, L2019.99.1

Grace Fountain grew up in Ashland. She later spent time in Klamath Falls and participated in expeditions to document Crater Lake for the Park Service. She subsequently moved to Portland, where she studied with William Parrott. Although he inspired her, she developed her own distinctive style, as can be seen by comparing this painting with Parrott’s work above. Fountain shared a studio in Portland with her artist sister, Mabel Russell Lowther, until 1907, when Fountain moved to Oakland, California, with her husband.

Eliza Barchus (American, 1857–1959). Mt. St. Helens, Wash., Noon Day, 1886–1891.
Eliza Barchus (American, 1857–1959). Mt. St. Helens, Wash., Noon Day, 1886–1891. Oil on board. Pam and Charles Muehleck Collection, L2019.101.1

Eliza Barchus was born in Salt Lake City and settled in Portland in 1880. She studied with William S. Parrott, whose work appears above, because his style greatly appealed to her. She painted thousands of works up to 1935, when arthritis and failing eyesight finally ended her career. A stamp on the back of this painting lists the title and the downtown address of her first studio in Portland, where she worked from 1886 to 1891. In 1971, the Oregon Legislature recognized her as “The Oregon Artist.”

Eliza Barchus (American, 1857–1959). Mt. St. Helens, Wash., Sunset, ca. 1920.
Eliza Barchus (American, 1857–1959). Mt. St. Helens, Wash., Sunset, ca. 1920. Oil on slate. Collection of Pam and Charles Muehleck, Scappoose, L2019.101.2

Eliza Barchus was an enterprising and prolific painter in the early days of Portland. After her husband’s death, she had to support her family from her work as an artist. She painted scenes of the Pacific Northwest and the great sites of the West in general, but also printed popular views that virtually anyone could afford. This work on slate illustrates her desire to appeal to all segments of the art market, including reasonably priced souvenirs. Many painters of this period represented landscape scenes at either midday or sunset, in line with the conventions of the time.

Gallery view of Mount St. Helens before 1980.
Albert Bierstadt (American, born Germany, 1830–1902). Mount St. Helens, Columbia River, Oregon, 1889.
Albert Bierstadt (American, born Germany, 1830–1902). Mount St. Helens, Columbia River, Oregon, 1889. Oil on canvas. Collection of L.D. "Brink" Brinkman, LDB Corp, Kerrville, TX, L2019.94.1

Bierstadt was tireless in his pursuit of splendid scenery for his paintings. He was already internationally famous when he visited Oregon and Washington for the second time in September and October, 1889. During this second trip, he likely made sketches that he used in creating this painting in his New York studio. The autumnal foliage of the deciduous trees would seem to confirm this date. However, the artist regularly adjusted the appearance of sites as well as seasons to create a beautiful picture.

Gallery view of Mount St. Helens before 1980.
Greta Allen (American, 1881–1921). Mount St. Helens from Portland, ca. 1910.
Greta Allen (American, 1881–1921). Mount St. Helens from Portland, ca. 1910. Oil on board. The Miranda Collection, Courtesy of Randy Dagel, L2019.91.1

A native Bostonian, Greta Allen studied with Frank Benson (1862–1951) at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Benson had adopted the Impressionist style while training in Paris in the 1880s. His work inspired Allen, who became a distinguished American Impressionist in her own right. Allen visited the Pacific Northwest around 1910 and painted this lovely work from a vantage point in Portland’s Northwest Hills.

Clara Jane Stephens (American, born England, 1877–1952). Mount St. Helens, ca. 1920.
Clara Jane Stephens (American, born England, 1877–1952). Mount St. Helens, ca. 1920. Oil on board. Collection of Jane Knechtel, L2019.92.1

This boldly painted view of Mount St. Helens poignantly highlights the encroachment of human infrastructure on the once pristine landscape. It was made by one of Oregon’s most outstanding women painters, Clara Jane Stephens, who was born in Land’s End, England, and arrived in Portland in 1894. After training in New York and in Italy, she became an exceptional American Impressionist. Her exhibitions in New York and on the West Coast consistently received enthusiastic reviews. She was also a devoted educator. In 1916, she taught children’s classes at the Portland Art Museum, and in 1917, she joined the faculty of the Museum Art School, serving until her retirement in 1938.

Clyde Leon Keller (American, 1872–1962). Mount St. Helens, 1922.
Clyde Leon Keller (American, 1872–1962). Mount St. Helens, 1922. Oil on board. Collection of Dr. Mark and Angela Reploeg, L2019.102.1

Keller was one of the Pacific Northwest’s most distinguished Impressionist painters. A native of Salem, he was precocious and enrolled in drawing classes at Willamette University at age 12. In 1894, he became a cartoonist for the San Francisco Examiner, but continued painting landscapes, seascapes, and portraits. He lost everything in the 1906 earthquake and returned to Oregon. He sustained himself by selling his oil paintings and watercolors, and by running an art and frame shop on Southwest Washington Street in Portland from 1907 to 1936. His favorite subject matter was Oregon scenery, and he particularly favored Sauvie Island. He retired to Cannon Beach and continued to paint until his death, leaving a large body of work. This is his only known depiction of Mount St. Helens.

Ray Stanford Strong (American, 1905–2006). Mount St. Helens, ca. 1950.
Ray Stanford Strong (American, 1905–2006). Mount St. Helens, ca. 1950. Oil on board. Collection of Doug Calvert, Vancouver, Washington, L2020.3.1

Ray Strong’s earliest encounters with Mt. St. Helens occurred during his time with the YMCA. Strong’s most notable trek with the group occurred in 1921, when they were bogged down in six feet of snow on Christmas Eve. The trek culminated in an arduous ski and snow shoe slog to their newly erected cabin on the edge of Spirit Lake. Afterward, they circumnavigated the Loowit Trail. A few years later, Strong had established a reputation as a “Mountain Painter,” known for summiting many of the Cascade Mountains, paint box in hand. In the early 1950s, he spent three summers painting extensively throughout the Cascades with his young family in tow. He scaled up many of the resulting oil sketches, such as this one, in his California studio.

Mark Humpal
Fritz G. Kempe (American, born Germany, 1909–1988). Mount St. Helens, June, 1980.
Fritz G. Kempe (American, born Germany, 1909–1988). Mount St. Helens, June, 1980. Oil on board. Collection of Jean Kempe-Ware, L2020.13.1

Fritz Kempe immigrated to the United States from Germany by himself at age eighteen and eventually settled in Salt Lake City to be near family. This painting was created after he visited his daughter in Portland in April 1979. At that time, he toured southwestern Washington and made studies of Mount St. Helens. He was at work on this painting when the great eruption radically altered its appearance. The event compelled him to finish the work in the following weeks to record his memories of the beauty of Mount St. Helens as it once was.

The Eruptions of 1980

Mount St. Helens inspired art as never before when it awoke on March 27, 1980. Impressive eruptions continued until 2008, but the great eruption on May 18, 1980, surpassed all the others by far. The top 1,300 feet of the mountain collapsed in a massive landslide, releasing the blast that gutted the north side. The eruption and resulting effects decimated human infrastructure and killed 57 people and countless animals. Human fragility in the face of nature’s might was made abundantly clear, and those witnesses who escaped immediate danger watched in wonder at the grandeur of the event. Artists were compelled to render one of nature’s most stunning displays of power. The 1980 eruption remains the most amazing and destructive geologic event in North America in modern times.

This room displays works created by artists in Portland and Seattle in the years after the eruption. These depictions of Mount St. Helens erupting are distinctive for having been created by eyewitnesses to the event. The works demonstrate the complexity of conceptual approaches present in the Pacific Northwest art scene in the early 1980s. The eruption and its effects became a long-term focus of expression for two Portland artists interested in landscape and city views: George Johanson and Henk Pander.

Gallery view of The Eruptions of 1980.

Henk Pander

When I arrived in Portland by boat and train from the Netherlands in 1965, I was utterly unprepared for the grandeur of the Northwest landscape. Riding the train early in the morning through the Columbia River Gorge is forever ingrained in my mind as an otherworldly experience. I had lived in the flat, damp, ditch-riddled Netherlands my whole life, and I loved it, but I had never experienced such immense volcanic landscapes. In those early years, the great volcanos intrigued me and I often wondered what an eruption would be like. So utterly un-Dutch.

In the 1970s I lived in a small house on Cable Street in Southwest Portland and had a stunning view of Mount St. Helens, the Mount Fuji of the Northwest in its perfection. The eruption of Mount St. Helens was fantastic. On May 18th 1980, I first saw the eruption cloud far away through a crack in the overcast. It loomed immense and mysterious. As an immigrant artist and a chronicler of contemporary experiences, I immediately started documenting the events surrounding the eruption in the form of works on paper and slides. Sometime after the big eruption, an ash cloud drifted over Portland. That night, I drove around in silence in the cement snow, the streets disappearing, the blossoming trees turning to stone. At that time, there was talk of nuclear war and fallout. In my mind, the eruptions became a metaphor of what could be.

Henk Pander
Henk Pander (American, born Netherlands, born 1937). St. Helens from Sauvie Island, 1980.
Henk Pander (American, born Netherlands, born 1937). St. Helens from Sauvie Island, 1980. Watercolor on paper. Collection of John Laursen and Michele Glazer, L2019.100.1

This work depicts Mount St. Helens on the evening of the great eruption of May 18, 1980. I took my wife Delores and my sons Jacob and Arnold to watch the spectacle from an ideal spot on Sauvie Island. I made the watercolor from life late that afternoon, when the eruption plume had subsided and drifted northeast across the landscape.

Henk Pander
Gallery view of The Eruptions of 1980.
Henk Pander (American, born Netherlands, born 1937). View of Portland with Eruption, 1980.
Henk Pander (American, born Netherlands, born 1937). View of Portland with Eruption, 1980. Watercolor on paper. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.68.1

Henk Pander made a number of watercolors from life during the various eruptions of Mount St. Helens. This work was painted from his yard on Cable Street during the eruption of July 22, 1980. He later used it in creating the oil painting below.

Henk Pander (American, born Netherlands, born 1937). Eruption of Saint Helens from Cable Street, 1981.
Henk Pander (American, born Netherlands, born 1937). Eruption of Saint Helens from Cable Street, 1981. Oil on linen. City of Portland Public Art Collection, courtesy of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, L2019.45.1

This painting is the culmination of a great many works I did in response to the eruptions of Mount St. Helens. The work was based on studies I made on July 22, 1980, when the eruption appeared against a clear summer sky. One of the studies is included in this exhibition. The view is from my yard on SW Cable Street. The painting is a reflection on the experience as seen in a mirror. It also recalls that it was a huge media event at the time.

Henk Pander
Barbara Noah (American, born 1949). Tag III, 1981.
Barbara Noah (American, born 1949). Tag III, 1981. Oil on photolinen. Collection of the artist, Seattle, ©1981 Barbara Noah, for changes and additions to a Mount St. Helens image courtesy of USGS, L2019.93.1

When Mount St. Helens first erupted with small emissions, I visited frequently, driving up logging roads to photograph it. I was amazed by the sublime spectacle, but also amused by the picnic atmosphere of crowds in lawn chairs lined up to watch it like a reality TV show. It became personified, a mighty and even benevolent sentient being communing with onlookers.

On the morning of May 18, 1980, I was in Seattle. When I drove down later in the day, access to the volcano was blocked. The mood was somber, no longer celebratory. The glorious spectacle had been transformed. The volcano, a dispassionate force of nature, had taken on a new persona. Tag III represents this transformation through the lens of pareidolia, which is the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, e.g., seeing faces in things. The ensuing altered and anthropomorphic image alludes to Mount St. Helens’ transformations, from the ridiculous to the sublime and from Muppet to monster.

Barbara Noah
Lucinda Parker (American, born 1942). Magma opus, July 1980.
Lucinda Parker (American, born 1942). Magma opus, July 1980. Mixed media on paper. Collection of Stephen McCarthy, L2019.69.1

Lucinda Parker watched the great eruption of Mount St. Helens with her family from a vantage point on Sauvie Island. Not long thereafter, she submitted this sketch to a competition for a mural at Portland State University. She did not win and subsequently gifted the painting to her husband Steve McCarthy, as the inscription notes. The distinctive energy of the artist’s style is here beautifully matched with the subject.

Mary Davis (American, 1907–1989). The Mountain Speaks—Softly, ca. 1983.
Mary Davis (American, 1907–1989). The Mountain Speaks—Softly, ca. 1983. Oil on canvas. Collection of Peter and Cyndie Glazer, L2020.1.1

Mary Davis studied at the Museum Art School and later worked in the studio of noted artists Hilda and Carl Morris. She became a successful Portland painter in her own right and is best remembered for her emotive style, which sought to express the mystical qualities of her subjects.

Ken Weeks (American, born 1942). Untitled, early 1980s. Mixed media on Japanese paper. Collection of Miriam Hecht and Ivan Zackheim, L2020.14.1.
Ken Weeks (American, born 1942). Untitled, early 1980s. Mixed media on Japanese paper. Collection of Miriam Hecht and Ivan Zackheim, L2020.14.1

Ken Weeks lives in Lyle, Washington, and was deeply affected by the eruption of Mount St. Helens and its impact on people and animals in the area. In addition to the loss of fifty-seven human lives, countless animals, large and small, were killed by the eruption over a vast area. The artist wryly included human dwellings encroaching on the volcano, pointing to our short memories and desire for expansion even where it is unwise.

Gallery view of The Eruptions of 1980.

George Johanson

The eruption of Mount St. Helens was a wake-up call, a reminder in stark terms that the very firm solid earth on which we rely is not what it seems. In reality, it is only a thin crust with a fiery molten beast lurking underneath that is ready to break out at any time.

Volcanos are not supposed to be in our backyard. They are supposed to stay far away, in stories and fables and on exotic islands. Suddenly this one was interrupting our own personal existence, for a time spewing its ash over Portland so that we could not drive without wrecking the car engine, or breathe outside without a protective mask.

The volcano began to be a motif in my work almost immediately after the eruption. It appears as a reminder of our subordination to nature. Over time, I have used it in various ways as a visual-emotional-intellectual device. As with my other subject matter, the volcano is transposed in painting, and can stand for qualities other than what it is in a strictly literal sense.

George Johanson
Gallery view of The Eruptions of 1980.
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Self as Baby (Volcano), 1980.
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Self as Baby (Volcano), 1980. Color etching. Lent by the artist, L2019.108.1

I had been teaching for 25 years when I retired in May 1980. I was only 52, but had decided that, whatever the financial challenges, I needed to devote full time to my studio. The mountain erupted that month, in fact within a day or two of commencement. If I had asked for a sign from heaven to validate my decision, this would have been a pretty potent one. Linking the baby self with the volcano in this print is my way of suggesting a new beginning, perhaps a new self.

George Johanson
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Cat Lady, 1980.
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Cat Lady, 1980. Color etching on paper. Portland Art Museum, Gift of the Artist, 90.29.4

In the early ‘80s, my wife Phyllis had already been involved with animal welfare work for over 25 years. Partly as a result of that commitment and also because of our love for cats, we had up to 10 living with us at that time. Phyllis used to take them all for a walk on a wooded side street near our home. She was like the pied piper with all the cats strung out and zig-zagging along behind her, following her up the lane. In this etching, the cityscape is an interpretation, as it might have looked from our house. The landscape is crowned by the volcano posing as a giant cauliflower.

George Johanson
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Black Cat—Mountain, 1982.
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Black Cat—Mountain, 1982. Oil on canvas. Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette University, Salem, Oregon, Partial gift of the artist and Maribeth Collins Art Acquisition Fund, L2019.57.1

In Black Cat—Mountain, the volcano is stylized and set far back in the landscape. It is subordinated in color to other surrounding elements, but it is also a royal presence rising up majestically into the heavens. Everything in the painting is teetering and in flux. It is a statement about impermanence. And the volcano watches over it all like a monarch.

George Johanson
Gallery view of The Eruptions of 1980.
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Mirrored Porch, 1984.
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Mirrored Porch, 1984. Oil on canvas. Lent by the artist, L2019.108.3

In Mirrored Porch, the volcano is a big event, but not solely a threatening one. It is also something like a celebration, like fireworks on the 4th. So, in this painting it becomes both menacing and a visual feast.

George Johanson
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Under the Volcano, 1984.
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Under the Volcano, 1984. Color etching on paper. Portland Art Museum, Gift of the Artist, 90.29.3

For many years, I have made a practice of doing a print from a painting, using the same composition. But the print is more than a reproduction of the painting. It has its own demands and interests. It is always drawn freshly, not traced from an image of the painting. Some shapes are added or changed. In an etching, I am involved with the way lines mass and how edges are arrived at in a different way than in a painting. Also, the black color is printed first with an oil-based ink. Then, further colors are added with brush and transparent watercolor. So, the sense of light is often quite different from the painting.

George Johanson
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Mirror Room, 1987.
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Mirror Room, 1987. Hand-colored relief print from etched plate. Portland Art Museum, The Vivian and Gordon Gilkey Graphic Arts Collection, 2016.115.96
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Departure, 2007.
George Johanson (American, born 1928). Departure, 2007. Ceramic tiles mounted on plywood. Lent by the artist, L2019.108.2

Not in Exhibition

A virtual exhibition offers the possibility of including artworks that we know exist, but could not locate. Here are photographs of two significant works created soon after the eruption of May 18, 1980.

Roger Brown, First Continental Eruption, 1980.
Roger Brown (American, 1941-1997). First Continental Eruption, 1980. Oil on canvas, 72 x 72 inches. Location unknown, Courtesy of Kavi Gupta and Venus Over Manhattan. © The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Brown family.

By 1980, Roger Brown had become well known for his wry commentaries on modern life, including numerous depictions of natural disasters. He quickly responded to the eruption of Mount St. Helens with this painting, which considers the reactions of relatively recent settlers to the awakening of a powerful natural force nearby. In the highrise towers, Brown’s trademark silhouetted figures gesticulate with both shock and indifference. People also populate the hills around the volcano, appearing like ants in the vast wilderness. The ironic title, First Continental Eruption, reflects the arrogance and short memories of humans in the face of geologic time. Brown’s distinctive style was largely inspired by popular culture, including the comics, art deco theaters, and the work of self-taught artists.

Judith Poxson Fawkes (American, 1941-2019). May 18, 1980, Portland, Oregon.
Judith Poxson Fawkes (American, 1941-2019). May 18, 1980, Portland, Oregon, 1980. Linen tapestry, 48 x 42 inches. Location unknown, image courtesy of Russo Lee Gallery, Portland, Oregon, and the Estate of Judith Poxson Fawkes.

Tapestry weaver Judith Poxson Fawkes settled in Portland in 1972 with her artist husband Tom Fawkes. Over the decades, she produced a large body of work, including many large-scale tapestries for public buildings in Oregon and around the country. Fawkes is also fondly remembered as a teacher at four local colleges. She was fascinated by the interplay of light and color in Portland’s weather and this is evident in her interpretation of the effects of the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. She returned to the subject in 2013 in a linen-inlay tapestry now in the Cleveland Museum of Art: https://www.clevelandart.org/art/2014.387

After the Cataclysm

When the great eruption subsided, utter devastation was revealed. The blast had completely scoured the landscape north of the volcano down to the bedrock. Dense, old-growth forests had been blown down or incinerated up to nineteen miles away. Mud and ash clogged the land and waters, turning their vivid colors an almost uniform putty grey. The scene was as apocalyptic as the eruption itself.

Photography’s capacity to capture vast vistas, fine detail, and minute variations in light and atmosphere made it the perfect medium for recording the aftermath. Numerous local and international photographers were drawn to the mountain; most chose black and white to heighten the drama of the bleak, almost monochrome scenes. Over the following years, they captured sudden as well as incremental shifts in the terrain. While their works are ostensibly documentary, they are highly emotive in expressing the terrible beauty of the desolation. The renowned landscape artists Frank Gohlke and Emmet Gowin were especially inspired by the subject, winning acclaim for creating extraordinary photographic essays over the following decade.

[Unfortunately, it has not been possible to illustrate ten photographs by Frank Gohlke and two by Emmet Gowin. We hope to be able to add images of these works after the current lockdown eases.]

Gallery view of After the Cataclysm.
Gallery view of After the Cataclysm.
Frank Gohlke. Aerial view: Landslide—debris flow area—looking east toward Spirit Lake, 5 miles north of Mount St. Helens, 1982.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Aerial view: Landslide—debris flow area—looking east toward Spirit Lake, 5 miles north of Mount St. Helens, 1982; printed 2005. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.7
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Spirit Lake and Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1983.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). St. Helens Lake, Spirit Lake and Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1983; Gelatin silver prints Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.24
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Crater and Magma, Mount St. Helens, 1980; Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.13.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Crater and Magma, Mount St. Helens, 1980; Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.13
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Debris flow at the Northern Base of Mount St. Helens, Looking South, Washington, 1983. Gelatin silver prints. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.22
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Debris flow at the Northern Base of Mount St. Helens, Looking South, Washington, 1983. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.22
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Erosion on the floor of a drained lake formed by debris flow in the Toutle River Valley, Area of Mount St. Helens, 1983. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.17
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Erosion on the floor of a drained lake formed by debris flow in the Toutle River Valley, Area of Mount St. Helens, 1983. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.17
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Eight Miles North of Mount St. Helens, 1980. Gelatin silver prints. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.15
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Eight Miles North of Mount St. Helens, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.15
Gallery view of After the Cataclysm.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Ash from Mount St. Helens at the Confluence of the Cowlitz and Columbia Rivers, Longview, Washington, 1984.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Ash from Mount St. Helens at the Confluence of the Cowlitz and Columbia Rivers, Longview, Washington, 1984; Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.8
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Ash from Mount St. Helen as the Confluence of the Cowlitz and Columbia Rivers, Washington, 1984.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Ash from Mount St. Helen as the Confluence of the Cowlitz and Columbia Rivers, Washington, 1984. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist; Museum Purchase: Funds provided by the Photography Council, 2017.33.2
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Toutle River Valley, near Mount St. Helens, 1980.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Toutle River Valley, near Mount St. Helens, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.34
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Ash and Snow on the South flank of Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1983.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Ash and Snow on the South flank of Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1983. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.31
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Mount St. Helens, 1983.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Mount St. Helens, 1983. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.38
Lawrence Shlim (American, born 1954). Volcanic Ash, Centralia, Washington, 1980.
Lawrence Shlim (American, born 1954). Volcanic Ash, Centralia, Washington, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Portland Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 81.41.2

From Ash to Art

The ash from Mount St. Helens is 65% silica, and at 2600°F it can be fused to form volcanic glass. The 1980 eruptions occurred as the art glass movement in the Pacific Northwest was burgeoning. Two glass studios and artist Paul Marioni took advantage of ash that had literally been deposited on their doorsteps.

Gallery view of From Ash to Art.
Paul Marioni (American, born 1941). Mount St. Helens Vase, 1980.
Paul Marioni (American, born 1941). Mount St. Helens Vase, 1980. Blown glass. Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Paul Marioni, L2019.70.1

I made this vase from pure volcanic ash collected on the day of the big eruption. As soon as we heard about the ashfall, Rob Adamson and I drove to eastern Washington and collected a barrel of the stuff. That night, we melted it and I blew the vase. It looked black, but was actually a very dark green. The iridescent color came from a metallic fuming agent. This piece is the only one blown from pure ash that I know of.

Paul Marioni
Gallery view of From Ash to Art.
Glass Eye Studio, Seattle. Fused Christmas Ornaments, 1984. Blown glass. Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Paul Marioni, L2019.70.3

Glass Eye was founded in 1978, and their use of ash from the 1980 eruption helped establish and maintain the studio. Christmas ornaments are a mainstay of their business. When these two were accidentally fused together in 1984, glass artist Paul Marioni spotted a fine little sculpture. Ash from Mount St. Helens was combined with clear glass to achieve the light green color.

Bullseye Glass Company, Portland. Mount St. Helens Volcanic Glass Dish, 1980. Cast glass. Courtesy of Bullseye Glass Company, L2020.7.1

The glass chemists at Bullseye collaborated with artist Curtis Jewel in making this commemorative rendering of the mountain in its new shape. The dish was hand-cast from Mount St. Helens ash.

Gallery view of From Ash to Art.
Glass Eye Studio, Seattle. Mount St. Helens Dish, 1980. Cast glass. Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Paul Marioni, L2019.70.2

Similar to another souvenir dish made by Portland’s Bullseye Glass, shown nearby, this work depicts the newly modified shape of Mount St. Helens in volcanic glass made from ash.

Gallery view of From Ash to Art.
Glass Eye Studio, Seattle. Cosmos Sphere, 2005. Glass, 1/2000. Courtesy of Glass Eye Studio

This was one of Glass Eye’s most popular designs and sold out immediately. As with all glass made by the studio, it contains a small amount of Mount St. Helens ash.

Gallery view of From Ash to Art.
Charles Arnoldi (American, born 1946). Untitled, 1983.
Charles Arnoldi (American, born 1946). Untitled, 1983. Acrylic, modeling paste and branches on plywood. Portland Art Museum, Bequest of Marcia Simon Weisman, 1997.191.1

A major figure on the West Coast in the movement to redefine the nature and materials of painting in the 1970s, Charles Arnoldi was mesmerized by the television coverage of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. The images of thousands of felled trees and the ragged crater prompted him to reintroduce actual sticks in combination with painting in his post-eruption works through the next decade. In Untitled, 1983, Arnoldi creates a dense, powerful work that is clotted in highly fluid, directional arrangements of sticks that overlap and collide to define both the painting's surface and silhouette. The cultivated disequilibrium of the work’s elegant veneered surface of modeling paste and sticks produces a formally beautiful yet poignantly emotional evocation of the triggering event.

Bruce Guenther
Gallery view of From Ash to Art.
Marilyn Bridges (American, born 1948). Hand Shadow, Mount Saint Helens, 1981.
Marilyn Bridges (American, born 1948). Hand Shadow, Mount Saint Helens, 1981. Gelatin silver print. Portland Art Museum, Gift of Guy Swanson, 2011.156
Marilyn Bridges (American, born 1948). Mount Saint Helens, Cracked Earth, 1981.
Marilyn Bridges (American, born 1948). Mount Saint Helens, Cracked Earth, 1981. Gelatin silver print. Portland Art Museum, Gift of Steven Soter, 2011.173.2
Marilyn Bridges (American, born 1948). Swirl, Mount Saint Helens, 1981.
Marilyn Bridges (American, born 1948). Swirl, Mount Saint Helens, 1981. Gelatin silver print. Portland Art Museum, Gift of Steven Soter, 2011.173.3
Marilyn Bridges (American, born 1948). Dead Trees, Live Trees, Mount Saint Helens, 1981.
Marilyn Bridges (American, born 1948). Dead Trees, Live Trees, Mount Saint Helens, 1981. Gelatin silver print. Portland Art Museum, Gift of Steven Soter, 2011.173.1
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Clear cut, 5 miles Southwest of Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1982.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Clear cut, 5 miles Southwest of Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1982. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.18
Mark Ruwedel (Canadian, born 1954). Untitled (Mount St. Helens), 1986.
Mark Ruwedel (Canadian, born 1954). Untitled (Mount St. Helens), 1986. Gelatin silver print. Portland Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 93.26
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Area of Mount St. Helens, 1980.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Area of Mount St. Helens, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.29
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Area of Mount St. Helens, 1980.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Area of Mount St. Helens, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.5
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Elk Rock area of Mount St. Helens, 1981.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Elk Rock area of Mount St. Helens, 1981. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.16
Gallery view of From Ash to Art.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Floating logs on Spirit Lake, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Floating logs on Spirit Lake, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009; printed 2019. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artists, L2019.84.1
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Log, Pumice Plain, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Log, Pumice Plain, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009; printed 2019. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artists, L2019.84.3
Buzzy Sullivan (American, born 1979). Man behind beached log, south shore of Spirit Lake, approximately four miles north of Mount St. Helens, 2017.
Buzzy Sullivan (American, born 1979). Man behind beached log, south shore of Spirit Lake, approximately four miles north of Mount St. Helens, 2017. Pigment print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.107.2
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). My Camera above Bear Cove, Mount St. Helens, 1980.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). My Camera above Bear Cove, Mount St. Helens, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.26
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Bear Cove, Spirit Lake, Mount St. Helens, 1980.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Bear Cove, Spirit Lake, Mount St. Helens, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.11
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Spirit Lake, Mount St. Helens, 1980.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). Spirit Lake, Mount St. Helens, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.32
Gallery view of From Ash to Art.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Looking SE across lahar (mud flow area), 6 miles SE of Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1983.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Looking SE across lahar (mud flow area), 6 miles SE of Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1983; printed 1994. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.9
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). The Crater of Mount St. Helens, 1980.
Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941). The Crater of Mount St. Helens, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.71.20

Ursula K. Le Guin and “The Lady”

Mount St. Helens fascinated Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018), the renowned author best known for her science fiction novels. The volcano was visible from her house in Portland’s Northwest Hills and she was enthralled by its many moods in the ever-shifting weather and light. She watched the great eruption all day, declaring it “the biggest thing I ever saw or hope to see.” Le Guin referred to the mountain as “the Lady” and chose to depict it visually:

When “the Lady” started shaking and doing strange things in 1979, my love of her beautiful presence became a driving interest, almost a fixation. While she was dormant I had made sketches trying to catch the pure line of her almost-but-not-quite symmetrical flanks and the clouds that wreathed around her head like veils. As activity increased and ash eruptions began to blacken the cone, I drew what I saw as best I could, sitting at my study window, using binoculars to bring details close. Experimenting then with chalk pastels, I found them a good medium for the drama of ash and cloud and snow going on there, 60 miles away overland and 9,000 feet up in the air.

From In the Blast Zone: Catastrophe and Renewal on Mount St. Helens, Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, 2008

Le Guin’s family has kindly allowed a selection of her pastels to be shown here for the first time.

Gallery view of Ursula K. Le Guin and The Lady.
Henk Pander (American, born Netherlands, born 1937). Ursula K. Le Guin in Red Zone, 1981.
Henk Pander (American, born Netherlands, born 1937). Ursula K. Le Guin in Red Zone, 1981. Ink on paper. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.68.2

In October 1981, three friends—artist Henk Pander, photographer Ron Cronin, and author Ursula K. Le Guin—managed to finagle a one-day pass into the Red Zone, the restricted area around the mountain. Le Guin later described the experience:

…the fear I felt that day went deeper than the physical. After driving miles up through the endless green vitality of a great forest, to turn a corner and enter a world of grey ash, burnt stumps, and silence—from the complexity of flourishing life into the awful simplicity of death: the fear I felt was metaphysical. And the scale of it all was beyond comprehension. I tried to write about it afterwards, in poetry and essay. I never felt I could describe it adequately, hardly hint at it.

From In the Blast Zone: Catastrophe and Renewal on Mount St. Helens, Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, 2008

Henk Pander made this drawing shortly after the trip. He explains its most unusual feature:

Ursula used the great Northwest landscapes as inspiration for her description of alien worlds. Coincident with the Mount St. Helens event were the first Voyager flybys of Saturn, which greatly interested us both. One of its most beautiful moons was Enceladus, an icy world lacking craters, but covered in mysterious cracks. More recently it was discovered that salt water exists beneath its surface ice. There is speculation about primitive life forms in its dark, deep oceans, so it has become even more appropriate for Ursula.

Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). Before snow, February 15, 1979.
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). Before snow, February 15, 1979. Pastel over graphite on paper. Ursula K. Le Guin Family Trust, L2019.971a
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). [Untitled], November 27, 1979.
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). [Untitled], November 27, 1979. Pastel over graphite on paper. Ursula K. Le Guin Family Trust, L2019.971b
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). Ash eruption: Mt. St. Helens seen from Portland, March 30, 1980, 5:30 pm.
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). Ash eruption: Mt. St. Helens seen from Portland, March 30, 1980, 5:30 pm. Pastel on paper. Ursula K. Le Guin Family Trust, L2019.971f
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). Ashfall, June 13, 1980.
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). Ashfall, June 13, 1980. Pastel on paper. Ursula K. Le Guin Family Trust, L2019.971e
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). First snow and river fog, October 28, 1980, 8:30 am.
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). First snow and river fog, October 28, 1980, 8:30 am. Pastel on paper. Ursula K. Le Guin Family Trust, L2019.971d
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). [Untitled], January 18, 1981, 3 pm.
Ursula K. Le Guin (American, 1929–2018). [Untitled], January 18, 1981, 3 pm. Pastel on paper. Ursula K. Le Guin Family Trust, L2019.971c
Gallery view of From Ash to Art.
Henk Pander (American, born Netherlands, born 1937). St. Charles Lake with Lightning, 1980. Watercolor on paper. Courtesy of David Schiller, L2019.106.1
Harrison Branch (American, born 1947). Blast Zone, Mount St. Helens, 1983. Platinum/palladium print. Promised gift of Dan and Joan Kvitka, Portland, T2019.185.1

I had flown over the Red Zone, but it did not prepare me for the experience of being there on foot. It was extremely difficult to walk because the landscape was covered in spherical pieces of pumice. We stumbled across a small lake. Because of the immense ash falls, the chemical composition of the lake had changed. The water was blood red, and dead trees were all around.

I have long been interested in the tension between American technology and the wilderness. For better or for worse, America has long held a war-like attitude toward dominating the sublime natural world. This cultural characteristic is seen in NASA, which used wartime missile technology to open up the wilderness of the solar system. That irony is explored in much of my work and this watercolor is an early example.

Henk Pander

Harrison Branch served as Professor of Photography in the Art Department at Oregon State University from 1972 to 2013. The subject matter of his work has varied over time, but he is especially attracted to undeveloped natural areas. In the early 1980s, he was becoming convinced of the superiority of platinum/palladium prints for capturing subtle tonal variations, as this photograph demonstrates.

An Active Landscape: Recovery and Future

Mount St. Helens and its surroundings have dramatically changed in the last forty years. The volcano has begun rebuilding itself; two lava domes now sit in the crater, surrounded by a growing glacier. Significant rockfall and debris flows continue, requiring frequent revisions of topographic maps. Color has returned to the once-bleak vistas as plants and animals now thrive where life seemed unimaginable. The area around the volcano has rebounded far faster and with greater diversity than scientists had thought possible. We are reminded of something that Native Americans have long appreciated: eruptions bring not only destruction, but also renewal.

Frank Gohlke returned to Mount St. Helens several times in the decade following the eruption, visiting some of the same viewpoints to record the evolving saga of rebirth. His photographs illustrate both short- and long-term changes. The majestic landscapes emerging at Mount St. Helens are considered in the photographs of Diane Cook and Len Jenshel, who visited in 2009, and those of Buzzy Sullivan, who visited in 2017. Brad Johnson and Cameron Martin reflect on the instability of the mountain, pointing to when the epic cycle of destruction and regeneration will begin anew.

Gallery view of An Active Landscape: Recovery and Future.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Visitors on the rim of Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1990.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Visitors on the rim of Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1990; printed 2005. Gelatin silver prints, diptych. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.8
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Ten minutes later, 1990.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Ten minutes later, 1990; printed 2005. Gelatin silver prints, diptych. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.8
Buzzy Sullivan (American, born 1979). Volcanic bomb and dust from landslide, approximately one mile north of the lava dome, 2017.
Buzzy Sullivan (American, born 1979). Volcanic bomb and dust from landslide, approximately one mile north of the lava dome, 2017. Pigment print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.107.5
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Aerial view: Mount St. Helens rim, crater and lava dome, 1982.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Aerial view: Mount St. Helens rim, crater and lava dome, 1982; printed 2003. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.3
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Rockfall—Mount St. Helens crater, 1990.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Rockfall—Mount St. Helens crater, 1990; printed 1992. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.5
Gallery view of An Active Landscape: Recovery and Future.
Brad Johnson (American, born 1964). Mount St. Helens Thin Place, Inferno, 2019.
Brad Johnson (American, born 1964). Mount St. Helens Thin Place, Inferno, 2019. Oil, graphite, hide glue and gampi paper on archival pigment print. Collection of the artist, L2019.87.1

Celts described “thin places” as locales where the distance between heaven and earth is closest, where another dimension is right there, looming and palpable. Mount St. Helens is one of the thinnest places I’ve encountered.

I’ve been drawn back to the volcano many times since I first photographed it in 2009. Climbing into the crater is to ‘ascend to the underworld’ where dynamic geologic forces are breaking down and building up new interior landscapes. To observe these cyclical workings of the earth is to witness deep time, a transcendent experience that photography alone never seems to capture. In manipulating the surfaces of photographic prints of the crater I’ve attempted to inject, impress, and reveal the volcano’s many conjurings—in this case hell as described by Dante and rendered by Botticelli.

Brad Johnson
Mathias Van Hesemans (American, born 1946). Eruption, 1983, Mount Saint Helens, 1983.
Mathias Van Hesemans (American, born 1946). Eruption, 1983, Mount Saint Helens, 1983. Gelatin silver print. Portland Art Museum, Gift of Stu Levy and Cris Maranze, 2011.115.4
Gallery view of An Active Landscape: Recovery and Future.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Crater and shadow of Mount St. Helens, with Mount Adams in distance, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Crater and shadow of Mount St. Helens, with Mount Adams in distance, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009; printed 2019. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artists, L2019.84.6
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Glaciers at summit, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Glaciers at summit, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009; printed 2019. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artists, L2019.84.7
Buzzy Sullivan (American, born 1979). Loowit Falls, approximately one mile north of the lava dome, 2017.
Buzzy Sullivan (American, born 1979). Loowit Falls, approximately one mile north of the lava dome, 2017. Pigment print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.107.1
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Roosevelt Elk, Debris Avalanche Zone, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Roosevelt Elk, Debris Avalanche Zone, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009; printed 2019. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artists, L2019.84.8
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). North Fork Toutle River, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). North Fork Toutle River, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009; printed 2019. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artists, L2019.84.5
Gallery view of An Active Landscape: Recovery and Future.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Valley of Clearwater Creek, salvage and replanting completed, trees left standing to provide wildlife habitat—10 miles NE of Mount St. Helens, Wash., 1983.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Valley of Clearwater Creek, salvage and replanting completed, trees left standing to provide wildlife habitat—10 miles NE of Mount St. Helens, Wash., 1983; printed 1993. Gelatin silver prints, dipitych. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.2a
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Regrowth in valley of Clearwater Creek—10 miles NE of Mount St. Helens, Wash., 1990.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Regrowth in valley of Clearwater Creek—10 miles NE of Mount St. Helens, Wash., 1990; printed 1993. Gelatin silver prints, dipitych. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.2b
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Blowndown on Slopes above Hoffstadt Creek—11 miles NW of Mt. St. Helens, Wash., 1981.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Blowndown on Slopes above Hoffstadt Creek—11 miles NW of Mt. St. Helens, Wash., 1981; printed 2004. Gelatin silver prints, triptych. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.1a
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Timber salvage on slopes above Hoffstadt Creek—11 miles NW of Mt. St. Helens, Wash., 1982.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Timber salvage on slopes above Hoffstadt Creek—11 miles NW of Mt. St. Helens, Wash., 1982; printed 2004. Gelatin silver prints, triptych. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.1b
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Regrowth after timber salvage at Hoffstadt Creek—11 miles NW of Mt. St. Helens, Wash., 1990.
Frank Gohlke (American, born 1942). Regrowth after timber salvage at Hoffstadt Creek—11 miles NW of Mt. St. Helens, Wash., 1990; printed 2004. Gelatin silver prints, triptych. Courtesy of Artist and Gallery Luisotti, L2019.74.1c
Gallery view of An Active Landscape: Recovery and Future.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Moonrise over Mount St. Helens, Hwy 504, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Moonrise over Mount St. Helens, Hwy 504, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA, 2009; printed 2019. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artists, L2019.84.2
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Mural of Mount St. Helens, Castle Rock, Washington, 2009.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Mural of Mount St. Helens, Castle Rock, Washington, 2009. Pigment print. Gift of the Artists in honor of Terry Toedtemeier, 2011.64
Buzzy Sullivan (American, born 1979). North Fork Toutle River through smoke from the Diamond Creek wildfire, approximately six miles northwest of Mount St. Helens, 2017.
Buzzy Sullivan (American, born 1979). North Fork Toutle River through smoke from the Diamond Creek wildfire, approximately six miles northwest of Mount St. Helens, 2017. Pigment print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.107.3
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Autumn snow, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington, 1980.
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel (American, born 1954; American, born 1949). Autumn snow, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington, 1980; printed 2019. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artists, L2019.84.9
Gallery view of An Active Landscape: Recovery and Future.
Cameron Martin (American, born 1970). Remission, 2006.
Cameron Martin (American, born 1970). Remission, 2006. Acrylic on canvas. Saint Louis Art Museum, The Henry L. and Natalie Edison Freund Charitable Trust, L2019.44.1

I was ten years old and living in Seattle when Mount St. Helens erupted. In retrospect, it was my first experience of the sublime—never before had the natural world excited a feeling of such awe in me. I have vivid memories of the clouds produced from the discharge. They were otherworldly forms that uncannily anticipated the Cloud City that would appear in The Empire Strikes Back, released a few days later. My grandparents’ Eastern Washington home was covered in a thick layer of ash that people feared would become like glue if it rained. It terrified me to think that the earth was capable of such wrath. As an adult, when I became an artist making work about how we picture nature, at first I resisted depicting the mountain that had made such a deep impression on my psyche. When I was finally ready to take it on, I spent several months painting what remains the largest work I have produced. It’s painted in a way that is meant to conjure a certain amount of instability, where the dark section, which reads as the foreground from a distance, becomes a possible void as you get closer. I titled it Remission, because you never know.

Cameron Martin

Learning Space

Welcome to this digital version of the Community Partner in Residence gallery organized in collaboration with the Mount St. Helens Institute.

Founded in 1996, the Mount St. Helens Institute is a nonprofit organization that connects people of all ages to the volcano through outdoor youth education programs, expert-led field seminars, guided exploration programs, and meaningful volunteer opportunities. Programs take place at the Science and Learning Center on Coldwater Ridge, approximately 10 miles from the volcano, and out in the field across the Mount St. Helens Volcanic Monument and surrounding Gifford Pinchot National Forest. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic, many programs have been postponed and moved online through the new portal MSHInside.

We invite you to enjoy this online learning space where we have brought together different resources to better understand the past, present, and future of Mount St. Helens. Through maps, books, scientific equipment, and geological materials, we encourage curiosity and exploration as you learn more about this incredible place.

Also, thank you to the U.S. Geological Survey - The David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) in Vancouver, Washington for their support in developing this learning space.

For even more Volcano! Learning Resources, we encourage you to visit the “Learning” tab on the exhibition page of the Portland Art Museum website.

Gallery view of the Learning Space.
The Volcano Monitoring Spider.
The Monitoring Spider. On loan courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey, David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory, Vancouver, Washington.
Diagram of the Volcano Monitoring Spider.

The Monitoring Spider, designed by USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory, is recent technology that helps scientists quickly monitor an active volcano while reducing risks to scientists. The sturdy Spider is deployed by a helicopter, and is designed to transmit data in real time to the Cascades Volcano Observatory. The Spider can detect small changes in the ground shape (or deformation) with GPS, lightning and/or low-frequency sounds from explosions, gas emissions, and shallow earthquakes.

Breadcrust Bomb. Dacite erupted from Mount St. Helens, May 1980.
Breadcrust Bomb. Dacite erupted from Mount St. Helens, May 1980. On loan courtesy of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Breadcrust bombs are volcanic rocks ejected as semi-molten lava during an eruption. The outer surface begins to harden while traveling through the air and becomes brittle. Meanwhile, the hot molten rock inside forms gas bubbles and begins to expand causing the outer surface to crack, like a piece of popcorn.

Diagram of Mount St. Helens.
Map of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Map of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Select Mount St. Helens Eruptions and Monitoring, 1980-2018. Video courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey, David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory, Vancouver, Washington.

This ten-minute loop combines short historic and contemporary video clips drawn entirely from the archives of the U.S. Geological Survey:

  • Timelapse of Mount St. Helens, April 9, 1980 – Length: 0:22
  • Timelapse of Mount St. Helens, April 28, 1980 – Length: 1:11
  • Ash Plume of Mount St. Helens, May 18, 1980 – Length: 0:40
  • Mount St. Helens 2004-08 Eruption: A Volcano Reawakens – Length: 4:36
  • Timelapse of Dome & Glacier growth at Mount St. Helens, 2004-12 – Length: 00:21
  • USGS Unmanned Aircraft Systems Monitors Gas Emissions at Mount St. Helens, 2018 – Length: 4:29

The David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) in Vancouver, Washington is home to about 80 scientists, technicians, and support personnel devoted to the study and monitoring of the active volcanoes in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The scientists have a diversity of interests and expertise needed to study the past eruptive histories, develop new tools and ideas to understand volcanic systems, monitor current volcano behavior, assess future impacts, and communicate with officials and people at risk. CVO works closely with other government agencies, public officials, emergency response groups, the business community, educators, and concerned citizens to accomplish its mission.

CVO is one of five volcano observatories in the United States supported by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program. The David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory is dedicated to David Johnston, the USGS geologist who was killed on May 18, 1980 at Mount St Helens.

For more information on the Cascades Volcano Observatory, visit volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/cvo

Gallery view of the Learning Space.

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