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Garden Art Installation on Permanent Display in Northeast Portland

Photo by Erica Heartquist
Two handcarved power boards recently on display at Portland Japanese Garden reflect commonalities among indigenous people. Mamoru Kaizawa, an artist of the Ainu of Japan, carved the power board on the left; Greg A. Robinson, a Chinook artist, the one at right/ Photo by Jonathan Ley

On Aug. 17, two hand-carved wooden planks known as power boards were installed alongside the Sapporo Bell just outside the Oregon Convention Center. Ingrained with symbolism and dedicated to the spiritual and natural worlds, these thematically similar artworks were created by members of two far-flung cultures: the indigenous Ainu of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, and the tribes of the Lower Columbia River Basin.

Both peoples are reclaiming their traditional arts to embrace once-forbidden identities.

Portland Japanese Garden CEO Steve Bloom addresses the crowd outside the Oregon Convention Center on August 17, 2019 at the power board rededication/ Photo by Erica Heartquist

“They’re looking at a void,” said Dr. Laura Mueller, Curator of Art at the Portland Japanese Garden, which hosted the exhibit, Forest of Dreams: Ainu and Native American Woodcarving. “So not only are they trying to repackage it, but they’re trying to find it, they’re trying to discover what that tradition is because it’s been lost. It’s been gone. It’s been eradicated, or suppressed at least.”

Two power boards are unveiled outside the Oregon Convention Center on Aug. 17 / Photo by Erica Heartquist


Ainu power board at its original location on the eastern overlook at Portland Japanese Garden/ Photo by Jonathan Ley

The power boards were commissioned for Forest of Dreams, on display at the Garden’s eastern overlook. Portland Japanese Garden itself was conceived during the aftermath of World War II as a way to heal the pain of internment and war. In addition to the power boards, the exhibition showcased woodcarvings by contemporary artists working in both traditional methods and modern motifs.

Originally Ainu and Chinook pieces were to be displayed separately, but Mueller and her staff intermingled the works after realizing the artists had created art which communicated across the Pacific.

Close-up of Chinook power board by Greg A. Robinson/ Photo by Jonathan Ley

“It shows you these peoples who, on both sides, have this rich connection to the land and environment. It’s very spiritual. It’s that connection that they’re one with the environment,” Mueller said.

Now, the power boards from both cultures are displayed outside the Oregon Convention Center next to the Sapporo Bell, recently rededicated in honor of the 60th anniversary of the sister-city relationship between Portland and Sapporo, Japan.

(Left to right) Tai Kataoka, Economic Strategy Promotion Manager of City of Sapporo; Sada Uchiyama, Garden Curator of Portland Japanese Garden; Keiji Imai, Executive Director of Sapporo Tourist Association; Steve Bloom, CEO of Portland Japanese Garden; Takatoshi Machida, Vice Mayor of City of Sapporo; Craig Stroud, Executive Director of Oregon Convention Center; and Michael Bacon, President of Portland-Sapporo Sister City Association/ Photo by Erica Heartquist