Today at Nau we’re launching a new series of profiles that are part of the on-going project we call Portraits of our Friends.
These latest works are the result of an ongoing collaboration with the bold and beautiful photographer Eden Batki, the never-sleep filmmakers Thomas Oliver and Jordan Strong of Into the Woods fame, the composer Rocky Tilden of the band Wampire, and our principal stylist, the lovely Sarah Van Raden.
Last season’s theme was design; now we have the provocateurs.
I’ll be the first to admit that the theme can get a little heavy if taken too seriously (especially when it’s French, and in italics), but the sentiment’s real. We’ve selected 12 people, in 10 portraits, who are doing important work, and who are going about their work in a provocative, inspiring, and insightful way. They want to move, move others, and be moved. For Nau, these are the people who keep us in line.
The first four profiles are up on the site today. Here’s a bit more about who they are:
Jeremy Pelley is one of the three brains behind the Official Manufacturing Co. (OMFGCO). He and his friends Mathew and Fritz call themselves “thing-makers” for their work in branding and otherwise familiar agency-type stuff. But they’re making much more than just cool logos and clever type (although there’s a lot of that too, and it’s really good).
They’re being selective about the jobs they take. They’re getting up from their computers and making real things, like signs, leather-bound menus, and the bar, tables, chairs, and everything else for the only sports bar I’ve ever willingly set foot in (called the Spirit of ’77). They left secure jobs at larger companies to work on things they’re passionate about, things they can infuse with a human touch, and they’ve built a company on their own terms (that’s the crux). It’s starting to pay off. The quality of their work is as good, and as smart, as it gets, they’re getting noticed, and they’re having fun.
The team behind Truck Farm, our second profile, is equally smart about going its own way (a theme we clearly like), but towards a different end. Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney are documentary filmmakers and food advocates (and the recipients of our 2010 Grant for Change), and their Brooklyn-based production company, Wicked Delicate, is their platform for telling the stories of food and farming’s highs and lows.
Their work is funny but not without a proper punch. Through films like the Peabody Award-winning King Corn or Truck Farm, they show us industrial agriculture and the decline in small-scale farming, but they don’t leave us lost. Not afraid to be the first to dig their hands in the dirt, they offer tools for getting involved. Start a farm in your truck. Plant a garden on the roof. It’s really not that hard to grow your own food, they tell us, and you can even laugh while you do it.
We’ve also turned the lens on Camas Davis, writer and founder of the Portland Meat Collective, a traveling butchery school. We like Camas because we think she’s brave. After losing full-time work as a writer and editor, she spent the last few pennies she had to fly to France on her own, apprentice with a family of pig farmers and butchers, and return home to slowly carve a space for herself in Portland’s butchery scene (yes, Portland has a thriving butchery scene). Her initial motivation was simple: She wanted to eat well, to get smart about meat, and to help others do the same. She was also eager to source her own meat from local, family-run farms, and to share those contacts with friends.
Somewhere along the way, Camas’ passion for good food turned her into an activist, too. With butchery comes controversy – about where meat comes from, how it’s handled, and even whether we should be eating it at all. I think we know Camas’ stance on the latter, but the issues of responsible meat sourcing and processing are at the heart of modern agricultural policies on a local and national level. Through education and local-food advocacy, Camas is working to tackle these issues head on.
And finally, we highlight two of the women of PDX Contemporary Art, the acclaimed gallery for modern art that’s based in Northwest Portland but whose reach is nationwide. As the director of the gallery, Jane Beebe has been deep in the region’s art scene for over 20 years. She’s behind the careers of such phenomenal artists as Storm Tharp and James Lavadour, and her eye for new talent never falters. If the regional art scene were to declare its matriarch, Jane would be it.
As one of the youngest artists on the gallery’s roster, Nell Warren could be an example of where the visual arts should go – if only we all had her depth of commitment. She salvages the paint chips she scrapes from her palettes, and incorporates them into new works. She and her husband are also starting an art and ecology center in the Columbia River Gorge, called Kahnaway, where artists will attend residencies, and young students will learn how to create fine art with a smaller footprint. Jane describes Nell’s work as “distinctly Pacific Northwest”, which seems to be the case in more ways than one. She’s got her eye on the landscape as a thing to paint, and a thing to protect.
In many ways, we believe, these are some of the most important people around. They’re not inciting riots with the things that they do, their impact is quiet, but it’s lasting, and real.
You can see the first four today on nau.com, complete with photo and video, and check back next week, when we’ll post two more.