Southern Oregon University and a Bit of Cabaret

These trips to Ashland have always felt like time-out-of-time to me.  Everything is leisurely — one is well-fed, well-walked, well-shopped, well-napped and well-entertained.  Thursday we had the appropriate cathartic moments in Amour (the movie) and King Lear (the play): Jer wept in the former, I in the latter. And I managed neither to trip the actors as we sat in front row center in the theater-in-the-round (where Lear was playing) nor to be beaned by the basketball that Edmund (the evil brother) dribbled and made baskets with as he plotted.

Friday was somewhat more visual and less theatric.  Jer photographed historic and contemporary sites around town, while I walked to the art gallery at Southern Oregon University. I have an ongoing, if somewhat sideways, interest in architecture; I find that small town and college buildings betray bits of cultural pasts that intrigue me.

At the north end of SOU, the first building one sees off busy Siskiyou Boulevard is what has got to be either the present or former Prez’s house. All small universities have such a structure, meant to give the University president a dignified dwelling as well as a place to host alumni and donors. Below is the structure that SOU presents to the world..

SOU house and entrance sign

SOU is about 7000 students, a bit larger than Emporia State in Kansas, where I taught long ago.

Further along Siskiyou Boulevard is the 1920’s  building, the Churchill, and its walk and gate. At one point in the struggling campus’ history, it was the only building on campus and I found it exuding a kind of Italianate Renaissance serenity. It too opens itself  to the town through its wide walk and pleasant façade.


The Schneider  Museum of Art  is an anchor for the other, south, end of campus, and it opened in 1986 — a strong addition to the visual arts on campus.



However, the gallery presents a different external view, a concrete wall containing a walkway whose entry is around the corner.  The walk leads, like a ponderous tunnel, to the courtyards of the art complex.


This entrance way is not very inviting, nor does it pull in the rest of the world. It makes the art gallery and surrounding buildings into a  fortressed area; pleasant enough once you reach the big plaza and steps with wide windows reflecting the sky. But for the casual observer off the street, the art gallery and that end of the campus is walled off.

The art exhibit inside was adequate — a faculty exhibit, including some quirky contemporary stuff — a wall of comic-book characters, chine colle prints of draped, partial human figures, fun projections through whirligigs.  The gallery is small, about  5000 square feet, but well kept internally. But externally it tells all who are not of the university that this is a place they probably don’t belong.

After viewing the art, I walked around campus, looking for the box office for the Rogue Valley Symphony Concert. The music department is in a building I would describe as 60’s Carnegie Hall (the building was actually constructed in the 70s). It was the most lively of all the campus spaces I encountered, with tootles and  tunings and chattering students, instrument cases strapped to their backs.


Music Building, Southern Oregon University

As I walked around campus, I was reminded of how inviting college campuses generally are for people on foot. The walkways go every which way, crossing and tangling and making pleasant patterns among trees and grass.

After being turned away from the sold-out symphony but being given advice on the Oregon Cabaret Theater, I wandered a bit more around campus.  A couple of pleasant sculptural pieces caught my attention:



I did not see the identification plaques for these art pieces and alas, cannot find any information on the web about them. Nevertheless, I was pleased for the way they enhanced the grounds, continuing the mostly open traditions of the small town college.

And when I headed back to Siskiyou Boulevard, past the westernmost buildings I saw a pleasant, almost certainly student-made, bit of installation art:


A twig, a feather, a string, a bit of detritus — not exactly a Caldwell, but something someone hung with care.

Then I walked back to town (stopping at Safeway for some Fuji apples), got tickets in the old church for  A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline at the Cabaret Theater, grabbed Jer from the motel, and we went off to a late lunch at the Black Sheep Pub. He got bangers and mash and I got a Pub Board (From the Sea).  Excellent on both accounts and a good way to conclude the morning of  exhausting  cultural investigations.

The Closer Walk with Patsy Cline in the Oregon Cabaret Theater was fun; the singer, Kymberli Colbourne, was quite good if not really Patsy Cline; the back-up trio (which also crooned) excellent; and the dessert and wine satisfactory. I did not dump the entire glass of wine on the diners below our balcony seat, although I mortified Jer in the attempt.

Some day, when I grow up, I will be too elegant to knock over my first glass of wine while talking with my hands. –June

This entry was posted in Ashland, Kymberli Coulbourne, Oregon Cabaret Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Southern Oregon University, Travels and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Southern Oregon University and a Bit of Cabaret

  1. terry grant says:

    I am probably becoming obnoxious with my additional Ashland comments, but you keep reminding me of things! The Schneider Art Museum was built when we were living in Ashland and I volunteered as a docent and loved having the museum there. One year they had part of the Quilt National exhibit there. We knew the Schneiders who funded the museum–wonderful community-minded people who had lots of money! They also funded the on-campus daycare center which is fabulous. The museum was designed by Will Martin, the Portland architect who designed Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland and won big prizes and recognition for the square. He was an up and comer, who tragically died in a plane crash during construction of the Schneider. It was his last building design. The walled entry walkway was added much later, after we had moved. I agree with your assessment that it really puts a barrier between the museum and the public. I can’t imagine that it was part of Martin’s original plan. The building is such a little post-modern gem. It deserves better, IMO. I think this was done also after the Schneiders died. I don’t think they would have liked it either!


    • june says:

      Terry, au contraire, m’dear — we are fascinated by the additions to the blog that you can bring. I’m so glad to hear that the egregious walkway may have been a later addition — certainly Pioneer Courthouse Square is a public space, and I think that the art gallery here should be too. So I will not blame the architect! The Museum building and plaza are indeed gems; glad to know you were a docent.

      Thanks for checking in — never hesitate. You might like knowing that my first version of this blog was, um, lots more snarky about that walkway. The ceramics studio windows line the early part of the walkway, and they have piled five gallon buckets (some with dusty dying plants and cardboard boxes against the windows. I felt again as if I were being told to mind my own business and stay away from the art making:-) So I’m doubly delighted to know that the original intent was not the fortress that has been made of it. Makes me like the campus that much more.


  2. Janetl says:

    I wish it wasn’t such a long drive to Ashland. It would be great to zip down for a winter weekend.


    • june says:

      We’ll be watching for your assessments, Janet, of the plays we saw. Jer like Two Trains best, but I was blown away by Lear (almost literally, given the Howling Storm scene. I often am bored by Shakespeare (don’t tell anyone) but this one caught me, even as I thought the contemporary dress was silly.


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