Category Archives: biography

Honoring the Warrior

Not everyone born on an Indian reservation who was sent to reform school and Vietnam ends up a renown, international writer, but Jim Northrup did.

It’s been nearly four years since Northrup passed away. He’s remembered for his syndicated newspaper column “Fond du Lac Follies,” books, humorous stories, cathartic war-poetry, and cruising the backroads in a 64 corvette his wife won at a casino.

Born on the Minnesota Fond du Lac Indian Reservation twenty miles west of Duluth, he was sent to a federal boarding school three-hundred miles away from his family when was he was six. There he was taught not to speak the Ojibwa language and learned how to fight. He had to. He was one of the smallest kids in school and lost a lot more fights than he won.

It wasn’t long before he took the path of a lippy street-fighter that eventually led to the Red Wing State Training School for Boys. When memories of his writer grandfather resurfaced, he decided to honor those memories by contributing to the reform school newspaper. He wrote with insight and humor. One time he pranked readers by asking ten questions on the front page and telling them the answers were on the seventh page of a six-page newspaper. He recalled getting a kick out of that idea during an interview.

He also remembered stories he heard around campfires on the Rez from elders about poison gas during WW1 or tales relatives told about fighting in Korea and WW2. Members of his tribe who risked death in battle were greatly respected so he signed-up to be a Marine when he was eighteen.

He survived the Vietnam War with his body intact, but the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he brought home stuck with him. He sometimes referred to PTSD as “party till somebody dies.” Talking with other Vietnam Vets helped him sort things out and so did writing — especially poetry and short stories. “I could just write a poem, get it in the book and close the page on it.” he mentioned it an interview.

Excerpt from his poem “Shrinking Away” below:

Survived the war but
was having trouble
surviving the peace
Couldn’t sleep more than two hours
was scared to be without a gun
nightmares, daymares
guilt and remorse
wanted to stay drunk all the time
1966 and the VA said
Vietnam wasn’t a war

He returned to the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation after working  a variety of jobs and resumed writing while developing a reputation as a funny story-teller, birch bark basket maker, Jeopardy freak and political smart-ass. Regarded as a man who wore many headbands, he embraced other Anishinaabe traditions including wild rice gathering, maple syrup collecting and moose hunting. Between writing, he found gigs as a radio commentator, newspaper editor, stage hand or anything else he found interesting or necessary. At one point he was a tribal court lawyer and lay attorney.

His writing, which focused on conditions and changes occurring within the Indian community, grew more powerful and he became an influential Native American voice through his award winning syndicated column, books, interviews, poems, radio commentaries and performances. He was know in parts of Europe and beyond.

Despite his political edginess, PTSD and success as a writer, Northrup remained a warm, folksy man who continued to tell his stories in a straightforward and humorous way until his death. In 2016, wearing a Marine Veterans baseball cap he told an applauding audience at Lambeau Field in Green Bay he used writing sometimes as a to way to deal with combat trauma and referred to that writing-process as “my brain taking a shit.”

Paiute poet Adrian C. Louis would later say “The main enemies of a warrior are the demons inside himself. Jim Northrup conquered most of those. He was a kind man, a good man, a traditional man, and my favorite Indian writer.”

Although Northrup didn’t call himself a pacifist, Artistic Director Ron Pelusu of the History Theater in St. Paul recently mentioned in an online chat he was “someone who seeks out peace.”

Northrup never achieved the luxury of continuous peace — at least not during his time on Earth. Yet he found direction, periods of solace and an understanding of himself in work, honoring the ways of his tribe and through an inside journey that inextricably connects the future to the past.

Or, as Northrup himself might say, “If you don’t remember your heritage, you don’t know where you came from — consequently, you don’t know where you’re going.”

A Story of Resurrection

Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose.
— Michelle Rosenthall

A feature on a local person usually doesn’t go down the rabbit hole of a person’s trauma and her battles scraping to get out of darkness.

A few artists I’ve interviewed  unleashed catharses into their personal journeys, including personal hells; however, after reading my drafts, many have declined to “expose” so much of their lives for public consumption. The exposing of one’s trials and tribulations is powerful to readers, but many times opening up in person is easy; seeing it in print is devastating.

“Out of sight, out of mind” is not a great place to find healing, though, and a person like Oregon Coast resident Kiera Morgan faces those demons head on. She embraces the good, bad and ugly of her totality.

The Central Oregon Coast (where I live) has remarkable narratives of people who face down homelessness, incarceration, depression, poverty, illness — what some call the school of hard knocks to the tenth power. Trudging out of the dark into the bright burning light serves up powerful survivors’ tale. It is a microcosm to the rest of the USA, the world.

Kiera Morgan fits this to a tee. I met her last year at Depoe Bay’s Neighbors for Kids (a non-profit for families in need of a place for children to be when parents are working) while I was giving a presentation on an anti-poverty program I am heading up in Lincoln County.

Her nose for news quickly motivated Kiera to get me on camera for her weekly show, “Coffee with Kiera.” This is a newish Lincoln County digital platform of her own creation: Pacific Northwest News and Entertainment.

A few months later, here I am talking to her on phone, my first interview conducted with the impersonal tools of social distancing.

I ask Kiera several times — “Are you okay with the dirty laundry aired and published in a newspaper?”

I am not ashamed of where I came from. I think my story could be a learning lesson for others.

ACES — the deck is stacked

Her story is one of reclamation — radio DJ-ing, theater and a newshound background. She has been out here since 1994. Setting down coastal roots entailed pain, struggle and personal discord. Kiera is now at her sweet spot — a good marriage to Tony Thomas (with Rogue Brewery in Newport  for 12 years) and her own involvement in civic and community programs.

She has been on (or is currently a member of) such diverse advisory boards as the Salvation Army, Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, Partnership Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Central Coast Child Development Center.

Sort of the “why” of Kiera’s involvement in these social services non-profits weaves back to her early years as well as her adulthood: she was born in Idaho 55 years ago; moved to Bend; ended up in Gresham by the age of five. She’s spent time in Portland, Pendleton, Sweet Home and, finally, the Central Oregon Coast.

Though she’s not “just” defined as a child of early divorce, Kiera recalls a stepdad who was an abusive alcoholic. She ended up emotionally and physically battered.

We bring up ACES — Adverse Childhood Experiences. I’ve worked in education, with gang prevention programs, newly released prisoners and foster teens. Training around ACES, I was galvanized to in understanding my students’ and clients’ childhood traumas. Those negative events early on have concrete outcomes — future violence victimization and perpetration, lifelong physical and mental health issues, substance abuse, homelessness and plethora of lost opportunities as adults.

The adage, “it takes a village to raise a child,” is pivotal in how society should create neighborhoods, communities and situations where children can thrive. Letting children fall through the cracks and live in abusive, impoverished homes nullifies many possibilities of a thriving adulthood.

Kiera emphasizes how our communities pay for this as fellow citizens get involved in substance abuse, are challenged with illiteracy and fall into myriad unhealthy lifestyle “choices.” As a community, we pay in many ways for these people failing through the cracks:

Poverty, violent parents, substance abuse in the household and being a foster youth are all high-influencing ACES.

Kiera ticks off all of the above. Her biological father was out of the picture, she says, not because that was his choice. Her mother was not emotionally sound to break away from an abusive husband, her step-father.

She moved in briefly with her biological father who was a chef and baker in Rhododendron at an operation centered around rental cabins.

“I would go to the restaurant for meals,” she says, emphasizing how she rode her bike to friends’ homes, and was able to hang with farm animals at her friends’ parents’ farms.

“My dad was good-natured, a very positive person. He would literally give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. He was a happy man, and everyone called him, Hap.”

Getting back up

Kiera’s time with her biological father ended when a private detective, hired by Kiera’s mother, stated he saw Hap letting his young daughter hang out by herself in their cabin while her father was just around the corner working in the restaurant.

More ACES: whipped by her step-father, and bruises on her body. “I literally had the design of his belt on me because he hit me so hard.”

Her biological father would show up to his sister’s house. They called the police once, and the step-father told the officer the marks were evidence of normal disciplining. Nothing happened to the abuser.

The young Kiera witnessed her stepfather’s heavy drinking. She had the marks of being swatted and belted, and she held in the emotional pain. The vicious cycle of a mother allowing the abuse of the child by a male step-parent put Kiera front and center into his rage. She was grabbed by the throat, her hair pulled and head slammed against the wall.

The next day the sixth grader showed a teacher the fingerprint bruises on her neck and welt on the back of the head.

Is this proof enough, or do I have to die before you believe me?

This journey has more twists and turns in Part Two published on the OCT website, but as one bookend to her life, Kiera reiterates, “I want to be like my dad — loving and a smile on my face. It’s important for me to expand my web site. It puts me at peace knowing I can help others through the news site.”

PTSD may stand for post traumatic stress disorder, but the label could mean Personally Tough Strong Dame after spending time with Kiera Morgan.

So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive

— Audre Lorde

Kiera is open about her life, about survival. She recounts how she was living paycheck to paycheck in Sweet Home. She was with an alcoholic, a husband who “did get physical with me, punched me.”

She emphasizes leaving an abusive spouse is not always an option. Kiera knows the psychological underpinnings of “battered spouse syndrome” by heart. She went back to this fellow many times.

One instance, Kiera’s sister came to get her, and Kiera spent her time couch surfing, virtually homeless. She lived in her car. “Nine months pregnant. Jeff found out where I was. He told me he missed me. I knew better, though, but I went back to him.”

The vicious cycle of believing a man can and will change when the bottle or the needle are more important in their lives is not atypical.

At the end of her pregnancy, she was quickly feeling massive heartburn. Eventually she went to OHSU where she was diagnosed with toxemia, which meant bed rest. On Sept. 10, 1992, a six-pound, nine-ounce Nick was born.

Foster parents bow out

Being put into a foster home and being told that you are just like their own daughter is powerful. More impacting is having these foster parents tell you they are done fostering and want out of the deal.

Kiera had that experience in 8th grade. Afterward, she got packed up and sent to a different foster home, this time in Gresham. “They had lots of kids. It was that they needed a babysitter for the other foster kids, and I was it.”

Kiera laughs, telling me she constantly listened to the Billy Joel song, “My Life.”

She had an older foster sister, aged 16, who stole and used drugs. “I could have easily gone down that path.”

Her Aunt Jean told her that she was going to be her daughter. Another change in schools. “It was tough, even though I knew Aunt Jean loved me. I really loved music and that what really helped me get through some rough parts.”

She was obsessed with record clubs, and she got into Queen, the Bee Gees, Journey, Cheap Trix and others.

My aunt always encouraged me to work. I babysat and worked at an after-school program for a Montessori School.”

Theater, she says, was a lifesaver for her. She was involved in the Overlook Acting Company that gathered in North Portland. She calls those people “my theater family.”

She also got involved in the Big Sister program. That sister, Lois, paid for a plane ticket to go to Alaska so Kiera could visit Lois’s family. But tragedy struck — her biological father was killed in a sandstorm in Idaho, hit from behind by a semi. Kiera had only been in Alaska two days when she got the news of his death.

She graduated from high school in 1983 at age 17 and went to work for a window treatment company.

More tragedy. Her foster mom was aged 60 when she was diagnosed with an inoperative brain tumor. Kiera took care of Jean for three weeks, before she passed away.

“I’ve been on my own since age 17.”

After she died, an ex-husband of Lois showed and took away the house.

Kiera was working in Beaverton for a dry cleaners, and then the day care center, and landed another job, at an Albertson’s bakery. There, she met a woman whose husband was director of the National Broadcasting School in Portland.

Work, buses from one side of Portland to the other, and this amazing school. She graduated as valedictorian. Her first gig was with KFIR AM/FM in Sweet Home.

It was a country station. “I had grown up on KGON since I was a baby. I was a rock ’n’ roller.”

Country Western music grew on her.

She ended up in an abusive relationship, but he was the father of her son. She ended in a domestic violence shelter in Pendleton. One thing led to another and she drove to Newport, found jobs and a house and ended up at the Shilo Inn as a DJ.

She was in a small trailer up the Alsea River near Waldport, Oregon.

Nick is 28 years old and had his first baby July 2019 with Amelia. Three years ago, Keira and Tony (they were married in 2001) bought a house in Newport Heights.

Kiera’s life is one of struggle, but with plenty of highlights too: working for KZVS-Toledo, KFND, delivering newspapers, retail work for the Chocolate Basket. She also works for KSHL — the Wave, 93.7 FM — doing sales and PSAs.

She and Tony have his son, Nathan, and girlfriend sharing the house with Rocky the cat and two shih tzus.

Her takeaway at the end of the interview:

I want people to feel hope.

Q & A Rapid-fire

PH: What makes you tick inside?

KM: What makes me tick, is work. I am a hopeless workaholic. I like to stay busy and be in touch with what is going on around me.

PH: What do you like about this county, this community?

KM: What I like about Lincoln County and this community is the willingness to help others when they are in need. When the chips are down for someone or an event creates a situation where people need help, like right now, we step up and help.

PH: What advice would you give a young woman who is in a viscous and abusive relationship? The elevator speech.

KM: I would say to a woman in an abusive situation that they should use their best judgement to protect themselves and loved ones. Don’t always believe everything your abuser says. If you can get out and do so safely there are those who can help you recover and get back on your feet. Most of all get counseling!!

PH: What are two big changes you have seen since first moving to Lincoln County almost 30 years ago?

KM: One of the biggest changes I have seen is the effort to help those and a better understanding of homelessness. I think people now realize that those who are homeless are not that way because they are lazy, they are families who work but simply can’t afford high rents and costs of getting into homes or apartments with fees and credit checks. I am also proud of the changes being made to have a better understanding between law enforcement, the community and those who have a mental illness and the work to get them the help they need.

PH: What are the top two issues that need addressing in Lincoln County?

KM: One of the top issues that concerns in Lincoln County, in my opinion, remains the lack of quality child care! Families often can’t afford the high cost of child care so they turn to the next best thing. This is not always a safe choice but when we live in a county that is not a M-F, 9-5 community it leaves parents with little choice. There is an extreme lack of infant care. This makes two parent families choose between only one parent working or having to work opposite shifts, which puts a strain on families. If I have said it once I will say it a thousand times “you can’t have economic development without childcare.” Families need a safe place for their kids to go for them to be able to work, it also defeats the purpose when the parent is working is paying nearly all of their paycheck to childcare. Help from the state or from companies is essential. Homelessness would be the second. There are many options that could be explored that have been done in other areas including creating small house communities, instead of trailer parks that would be managed by programs such as Grace Wins or the programs in Lincoln City.

PH: If you could do some things over in your life, what would they be?

KM: I am old enough now to realize that the mistakes that we make in our lifetime are what helps us to learn and grow as a person and become better. Love and appreciate those you have in your life, as we truly never know when things can change.

PH: What’s your basic life philosophy?

KM: My basic life philosophy is happiness. Do what makes you happy, treat others with the respect and kindness that you would like to be shown.

Down and Out in Portland: Retired in Style in Waldport, OR

The irony of this quote from the Dustin Hoffman movie, The Graduate, is not wasted on Duane Snider:

— One word: plastics.

That was Benjamin Braddock, just graduated from college, sitting in a swimming pool. Giving him advice on gaining the American dream, the neighbor’s statement says it all. Today? Hedge funds? Flipping houses? Coronavirus repossessions?

For Duane, that one word: artwork.

Duane as a child with his only sibling.

We’re sitting on the back porch of his brand-new Adair home on a third of an acre on the high land of Waldport. He and his wife Linda are proverbially happy, fat and sassy in this new iteration of their lives.

He went to Benson high school, when it was an all-male segregated school. It was during the Viet Nam, at the height of the draft.

Just a few weeks earlier, Duane and I ran into each other on the beach near the Alsea River emptying out into the Pacific. Loons and eaglets started the conversation, and quickly Duane recognized me by my by-line for this newspaper. He had purchased a piece of art from one of the people I have featured in a Deep Dive column for Oregon Coast Today – Anja Albosta, artist and environmental refugee from Yosemite  see Dec. 16, 2019, “Art in a changing climate”).

Duane’s 68,  and his wife — originally from Sonora, CA — is 67. Duane’s work life is quintessential drudgery millions of Americans called working stiffs have face. In his case, 39 years working at one place, grinding optics for an optical service in Portland. It was for Duane 20 years in a hostile work environment where his boss bullied him. There was no real upside to the job — a repetitive job tracing lenses and frames and low pay.

He conveys to me that for more than a decade was highly depressed, even suicidal.

I could see the Ross Island bridge. Daily, I would look out the window and fantasize jumping off it. Even planning out in my mind how I’d have to aim my fall just right as to hit the bike path just to be sure.

Alcohol and drug abuse were a big part of his life, but to his credit Duane’s been clean in sober going on three decades. His addiction to substances was eclipsed by another addiction – art collecting. He’s been a fixture in Portland’s art scene for decades —  a gallery gadfly, and someone who ended up with smart and strategic ways of appreciating art and purchasing it.

He’s a veritable encyclopedia of Who’s Who of the Oregon art world.

It’s not so unusual Duane would have gained this proclivity for art appreciation and deep regard for art’s role in society as something bigger than commerce, industry and day-to-day drudgery of commercialism.

When he was a youngster, he studied guitar. He was good enough to end up switching over to classical guitar in the style of Andres Segovia. He’s taken a master class from the best – Christopher Parkening. That was 1975.

I knew I was going to have to take a vow of poverty if I was going to try and pursue being a musician.

Duane’s father was a union baker and not very involved in the boy’s life. For the just-turned-18-year-old Duane, his cohorts were going to be drafted but he was talked into enlisting. “A friend said the Navy, since it wasn’t the Army. Anything but the Army. But that was nuclear submarine duty and I was claustrophobic. There was no way I was going on a submarine.” Instead, he ended up in the Air Force. He even tried the conscientious objector route.

Military life was short-lived when he was drummed out as a 4-f. They found traces of codeine in his drug test. “Ironically, I had done all sorts of party drugs.” It wasn’t the LSD he dropped they discovered, but the codeine the psychedelic from which it was titrated.

Music Out, Optics In

If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past.

Everything excellent is as difficult as it is rare.

― Baruch Spinoza

He was homeless for a few months. Coming back from Lackland AFB, Duane ended up working with the crippled children’s division of OHSU. He took a second master guitar class at Berkeley. “I knew poverty was going to be a regular part of my life. I wasn’t that good. I took classes with trust fund babies. Money wasn’t an issue for them.”

Here’s where things really get prescient – “I had a poster of Picasso’s Old Guitarist on my apartment wall in Portland. I was studying with extraordinary musicians. I wasn’t about to spend 10 or 15 years in poverty.”

The Old Guitarist was painted in 1903, just after the suicide death of Picasso’s close friend, Casagemas. Picasso was deeply sympathetic to the plight of the disenfranchised and downtrodden. He painted many canvases depicting the poor, sick, and outcasts of society. In fact, Picasso was penniless during 1902.

It’s an amazing painting in the style of El Greco. That moment for Duane Snider turned into a life passion – sacrificing part of his soul in that daily grind in order to enter another world: one that was rarefied, filled with the passions and creativity of artists just like Pablo Picasso. Except his art ersatz it was Portland based.

When he returned from Berkeley, he ended up in a friend’s parents’ house. He applied to Portland Community College, talked to a counselor, told her he wanted to find a steady job, one that was reliable. “I wanted something recession and depression proof. Optician fit the bill.” He ended up taking psychology and philosophy classes awaiting the term to start for his major.

He grabbed a job at a lab his second term. He parlayed that into a full-time gig at Columbian Bifocal. The first 20 years it was a family run place, and the last 19 years it ended up as one of 17 labs for Hoya, a Japanese investment group.

Good benefits, steady work, and a bully boss. “We hated each other. It’s amazing I survived.”

He hands me a DVD of an Oregon Public Broadcasting special featuring Portland art collectors. Duane is profiled. He laughs, recalling how he had read about the great philosopher Spinoza’s life as a lens grinder. What was good for the father of rationalist and deductive reasoning had to be fine for Duane Snider’s life.

Not so ironically, the dust from lens grinding led to Spinoza’s early death from tuberculosis.

The amazing number of artists Duane has met propelled him to write essays on art for a local art rag – NW Drizzle. Here’s what he penned in 2005, as he emphasizes he was “just coming out of a four-year bout of suicidal depression.”

When I gave up the guitar, I couldn’t give up my need for a place to put my passion. It seems natural that my passion migrated toward the visual arts. Giving up playing music meant letting go of a sizable part of what I thought was my identity. My search for a new sense of self played a major role in pushing me toward the idea of collecting.

That’s when I started learning that the real value of art is not determined by the price on the sticker, but by the strength of the connection between the viewer and the object of interest.

Deeper Dive in the Mind of a Collector

Early-20th-century philosopher Irwin Edman gives a remarkably simple bit of insight into what art offers us in everyday life:

Painters speak of dead spots in a painting: areas where the color is wan or uninteresting, or the forms irrelevant and cold. Life is full of dead spots. Art gives it life. A comprehensive art would render the whole of life alive.

Duane Snider is the embodiment of turning life into his own art project:

“Instead of using pigments and a canvas to make an artwork, I told myself that I would turn my life into a conceptual art piece to create a lifestyle that’s sustainable and comfortable,” tells me twice: once on the beach on our first meeting in Waldport and then up at his new 1,900 square foot single level home.

The beauty of my own life-force is I get to get under people’s layers, follow the act of serendipity, and then sculpt with words conceptualized, philosophized narrative. Story.

In the middle of a beach with harbor seals sunning along their haul out on Bay Shore, two very different guys run into each other and start a deep conversation. I am a radical social worker and revolutionary writer (some couldn’t tell that from my regular gigs as a newspaper and magazine) and educator. Marxism is more than just a conceptual point in economic history for me.

Here is Duane Snider, saying he too is a Marxist, but emphasizing he was dealt a hand of capitalism’s cards, so he successfully learned to play the game within those constraints. He tells me he feels guilty for getting he and his wife Linda down here on the coast with zero debts and a custom home that is paid off.

I reassure him that he is kosher with me, and no one should begrudge he or his wife this little slice of paradise.

The dream in Waldport was germinated 36 years ago. They purchased a home in Portland (Richmond District) for $48,000. That was 1984. Thirty-two years later they pulled up stakes in Portland with a $517,000 sale price. No permanent lines of credit needed. He even got their nest egg out of the market and put into cash two years ago. “I saw this coming.”

He didn’t predict the SARS-CV-2 virus outbreak, but he did see a faltering Stock Market.

“He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.”

His tutelage in art began at a most unlikely place – Menucha which was an estate created by the Meiers of the Portland department store fame. Near Corbet in the Columbia Gorge, Menucha (Hebrew for rebuilding, restoring and renewing) hosted camps for youth.

 

According to the website: “In 1950, First Presbyterian Church of Portland purchased the property from the Meier family, who were pleased to see it dedicated as an ecumenical center, a gift in perpetuity to communities of people from around the world.”

Duane began collecting art before he ended up  buying the Portland house. The art bug drilled into his consciousness when in 1967 he went to a high school arts camp at Menucha. His parents always took off for Reno and Vegas during summer vacations, and they opted to put the young Duane in a summer camp.

That was serendipitous.  He told me that he had never been to an art gallery until after high school. He met Jackie West who ran Graystone Gallery in the Hawthorne District. “I went inside and I was looking around the half gallery/half store. It was an old house. Actually, it became part of the Oregon Potters Association. My eyes landed on this water color. It was as if time stopped.”

He ended up purchasing his first piece, a hyper-realistic water color of an iris by Kirk Lybecker.

Duane emails me a couple of his essays in NW Drizzle – “Embarking on a journey of discovery: The life-affirming qualities of art” & “Art’s true value: Aesthetics vs. commerce.” In his essays he reiterates how art came to save him and how collecting became a true emotional and spiritual line to the artist, to the art. Here is one  passage:

The gallery from which I bought my first artwork made the sale because the gallery owner made an effort to make the pricing and sales process as transparent as possible. She gave me a short but thorough explanation on how galleries set prices. She explained that great art comes in all price ranges, as does mediocre art. That’s when I started learning that the real value of art is not determined by the price on the sticker, but by the strength of the connection between the viewer and the object of interest.

He launches into several iterations of how art —  the actual object — is more than what it is in your hand or on the wall; that it is something that “holds great value for us as individuals and for all cultures of the world.”

Red is the Color of Egalitarianism

Duane and I talk about the friction and dichotomy  between the high-highfalutin rich “patron of the arts” and the middle-class view of art – we need the rich folks to support the arts, but we also need to invest in regular people getting original artwork in their homes. “Conceptually, I am a Marxist working in a capitalist system.”

That means he wishes our society from top to bottom was more egalitarian.

Duane Snider has no angst when it comes to what a thinker like Michael Parenti might say about capitalism: “It’s the powerful who write the laws of the world– and the powerful who ignore these laws when expediency dictates.”

We met the first time during a voluntary social distancing because of the cornonavirus, and then shortly afterward when the state of Oregon pushed more draconian measures to shut down business, interactions, meetings, and public gatherings.

Then we shift to all the artists he knows, has known and will know. He has over 200 works of art in his home, most of them on display. I had to look through some of the windows from the outside to view many fine works on the couple’s walls.

His goal is to have the collection donated to a non-profit like Art in Oregon, whose motto is “building bridges between artists and communities.” The engine there is to get businesses to purchase and show art, and for there to be that bridge between the artist and the community.

Duane is less an enigma than he is kind of Every-man. He puts on several hats – he knows most of the gallery owners in Portland, is friends with the director of the Portland Art Museum, spent time with Dennis Hopper and Danny Glover, and finds solace watching a warbler feed from his new backyard.

“I connect with anyone who knows what arts is. We need to get young people into discovering our unique art. Unfortunately, unique objects are under threat in the digital age.”

He repeats how he played the hand that was dealt him. He came from a working-class family. He himself was poor and homeless for a time. He learned the value of art through “figuring out the game you have to play to survive, to be comfortable.”

No contradictions there, and Duane Snider would smile at one of Karl Marx’s doozies: “The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs.”

Q & A in a Nutshell

Paul: Why have the world’s super powers and despotic regimes always deployed the bombing of museums, cultural landmarks, and looting the arts and important symbols of a country’s artistic and historical (archaeological) output?

Duane: The easiest way to destroy a society or a culture is to destroy its art treasures.  When you take that away, you take away their history and sense of identity.  Also, historically, art has huge inherent value because of its ability to offer meaning to people beyond those of the culture that produced it. Also, unique and rare art objects that are considered beautiful and meaningful are valuable because they are rare or unique.

Paul: Riff with this — “So here we are in the 21st century. The forward march of labour ended some time ago. How do today’s artists portray poverty? Interesting question – for perhaps wealth has never been more raw and obvious in the art world. This is the age of the diamond skull. Compared with the compassion of a Caravaggio or Van Gogh, contemporary art really does seem to take the rich collector’s view on life. Where’s our Luke Fildes? For images of economic injustice in today’s art you probably have to look outside the gallery world.”

Duane: In general, most artist don’t even address the issue in today’s market.  Social commentary is more aligned with journalism and documentary efforts.  Much of the art market doesn’t want art that shines a light on social inequities of the darker side of our culture.  There are huge exceptions of course in museum installations and high-end art by big named artists, and there is a lot of art that is beautiful, but not pretty that skirts around the big issues but doesn’t show up in fine art galleries.  Photography is the most common place to find imagery of social injustice because of the connection to journalism.  The sad fact is that most art is a commodity and with that comes the necessity for broad acceptance of work for it to be marketable.  How many Diego Rivera’s do you see out there these days?

Paul:. If you could do your youth and high school years over again, would you? Yes, why and how? No, why?

Duane: When I was in my forties and fifties, I wished I could have changed a few things, but now, not so much.  I suffered some in getting here, but it turned out well enough that there is little I am not grateful for, on a personal level.  I am comfortable and largely free of any feelings of guilt.  What should I change? I don’t know.

Paul: Tell the average consumer and retail-loving American why art is valuable to them and to our society especially now in 2020?

Duane: Art is one of the last places we have where we can freely explore our identities and the meaning of the lives we inhabit, where we can express ourselves in simply possessing and object or identifying with a performance experience.  Art offers insight into who we are, how we are unique, and what we believe in.  Art gives us context for understanding the content of our lives.  How do you put a dollar value on that?  For way too many Americans, money is what they look to for those answers.   What a shallow existence that is.

End Notes — I talk with Duane a lot, and I have met him a few times on the beaches near Waldport. He and I have this sort of “out on our own Covid-19” relationship. We talk long and hard about the failure of capitalism. The failure of Western nations to move aside and not only give back what they’ve stolen but for complete reparations.

The quandary is I work three gigs. I lost $39K in a measly retirement account because of the perverted whims of the masters of finance on Wall Street. That chunk is a huge push back on my life.

My spouse is out of work because of despicable management in her job that laughed at the idea of washing hands and who constantly berated my spouse, who is a professional with 20 years in her field.

We have tried for more than 8 weeks to get her unemployment — she’s worked like since she was 14 years old, paying into this muck. The state of Oregon is a joke. Those Zoom motherfucking meet-ups by politicians at the state level and locally are what I can only characterize as infantile, disconnected to real struggle, and bizarre.

Duane Snider won’t disagree, and he repeats how he feels guilty for setting himself up with a paid-for-home and some money in the bank and his social security, along with his wife’s.

I assure him that his sacrifice in life — working 39 years hating the job, hating himself for some of that time, and his deep depression larger issues with substance abuse, well, man, he respects artists, and he wants art to be shared by the masses.

He is quick to deride the “business of the art world,” where the artists are literally screwed and art is a trading commodity. He loves each piece he has, and we go over each one. He knows the artist for each piece and for those he purchased at openings, he spent time talking with each artist.

Pieces he bought in group shows, he went ahead an hunted down the artist. He touches the images with his vision, his heart and his intellect.

Capitalism destroys people, and sometimes eat eats at the soul and sets a course of disengagement, resentment and a dog-eat-dog retribution. It creates people who say, “I have mine, and screw everybody else.” It is a violent system — just the act of sending in Sheriff deputies to homes, parading the evicted and foreclosed upon citizens to the squad car, well, what sort of violence does that breed? What sort of lived and relived trauma will that have not only on the parents but the children?

That mentality is seeped in all of them at the proverbial top — Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Trump, Obama, the entire lot of them.

Imagine how many presidents have failed to pardon Leonard Peltier? Thinks of the structural violence of bailing out banks and Wall Street while taking SNAP away from families. Imagine a society where people have no health care, and the shit coverage they have is so violently mean and expensive, they opt not to go to the for-profit hell that is modern US medicine.

Duane is all there, in the fight in heart and mind. I see his artwork addiction has both magnificent and something deep inside, where he is finding some landing pad for his emotions, and all those years where he was about to jump off the Ross Island bridge.

I wonder if he’ll ever get that image from Portland — maybe I’ll head out from the coast to my old stomping grounds and shoot it and mess around in Photoshop and give it to him before more evolution unfolds in each other’s lives.

That’s communism — no expectations for the things given, and no bullshit competition to trade up whether it is material things or ideas and discourse.

Duane’s learned the lexicon of Marxism and has played his cards in a mean as cuss Capitalist system. I repeat that good commie’s love their wine, their music, food and art. Not as a bourgeoisie thing, but as a tribute to the enduring nature of struggle and persistence, even in the most horrific gulags and dungeons.