East Portland Branch, Public Library, painted at last

I’ve been wanting to paint an A.E. Doyle building, the “East Branch,  Portland Public Library” for a year now, ever since someone pointed out that it was just down the street from Southeast Main, at SE Alder and 11th Avenue. These are old stomping grounds for my paintings — I did a whole series at SE Alder and 6th, so this building and perhaps some of its surrounds were an apt subject.

Wikipedia has a nice article on the building. But painting it isn’t easy. The front facade, with various ornamentations and wonderfully kept flower boxes at the windows, is hidden by trees. It faces north, on a street not often traveled, and is surrounded by industrial and commercial buildings. It hasn’t been a library since the ’60’s, but being part of the Carnagie Library system, it has character that remains, even as its function has disappeared. I am particularly fond of the rounded back section, still intact with its high ceiling. It’s been truncated by renovation, but is a space that is rented by the Shambala Meditation Center, so I suspect it feels good, even if ill-proportioned.

EastBranchPortlandLibraryPlI painted it from a parking lot, sited next to a chain link fence, that separated the Security Alarm Service cars from the Plaid Pantry that is on Morrison and 12th Ave. I got lots of visitors, including one fellow who wanted me to take his fist full of quarters and buy him a beer from the Plaid Pantry. I declined, and then subsequently learned that he was probably banned from the business — at least one of the clerks told him to stop bothering her customers. I also encountered a number of workers in the building, who told me its layout and why there was a bicycle  leaning against one of the windows. It seems that the original grand hall of the building, with 20 foot ceilings, had been made into two floors, and the bicycle in the window wasn’t on a table, as it looked. It was actually on the floor. I haven’t put in the bike yet in my painting, but it will appear in the window on the right. This is, after all, Portland.


East Branch, Portland Public Library Building from the east side. 18 x 24″, oil on board, 2009

That was Thursday. Then Friday, I returned and found another spot from which the rotunda could be painted. So I set up on a sidewalk on Morrison Street, where I could listen to the bicyclists yell at the drivers, the pedestrians yell at the bicyclists, and the drivers boom their stereos so they couldn’t hear either. I didn’t have anything but casual and comfortable encounters with passersby– not a single panhandler came along. This painting was finished just an hour or so ago (I’m writing this Friday evening), so I haven’t had a chance to work it over. I do need to indicate that the smell of roasting coffee comes from the concrete block, brightly painted set of buildings, that sit behind (facing Morrison) of the back of the old library.


East Branch, Portland Public Library Building, from the south side, 18 x 24″, oil on board, 2009.

I have started another painting of the front facade. Last fall I took photos of it when the leaves were off the trees, so some of its architectural features can be seen. I may cover them over with full foliage, but I will know that they are there.

The last two days of paintings have been great — I’m back to my wonky city-scapes and the weather has been perfect. The wind on Morrison Street almost dumped my palette and mineral spirits, but I caught the easel in time and no harm was done. I impressed a couple of whippersnappers who didn’t think I could move that fast. Or at least I like imagining that I impressed them. I certainly impressed myself! –June

This entry was posted in Art, painting, plein air, Portland, representative, southeast Portland and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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