Summer vacation bible schools don’t generally feature local art history tours, but kids attending the Riverside Community Church “Earth Camp” took a look back last week in downtown Hood River.
Volunteer Michelle Redmond guided groups of kids to paintings of the late Percy Manser, an English-born painter who emigrated to the United States in the 1920s. He traveled and painted, and owned his own orchard near Hood River. Manser widely painted Mount Hood and the Gorge, in addition to commercial work.
The Riverside camp kids started at Hood River Elks Lodge, where three large vertical Manser paintings — a fisherman in a river, a Mount Hood panorama, and a hunter and his dog — form a dramatic triptych along the stairway. They also stopped along Second Street and the old Kress Drug mural (now G Willikers Toy Shoppe) to which Manser added a Mount Hood scenic, and back to the fellowship hall, aka Pioneer Room, at Riverside Church, with its paired paintings of pioneers and farmers in the Hood River Valley, and the original church building at Fourth and State.
Along the tour, Redmond asked, “What do you notice about these paintings?” and “How do the paintings make you feel?”
“Some of the rocks are pinkish like the clouds,” one youngster said in the Elks lobby.
“A basket of something in the water. It could be a dinosaur face.”
Redmond had first talked to the kids about Manser’s practice of painting in the plein air, or open air, tradition, with the emphasis on natural features in lighting conditions of the moment.
One of the kids saw an orchard in the background of the Riverside painting and suggested “maybe he painted his own orchard.”
In the distance in the Elks’ mountain view, one kid said, “I see a tree that’s kind of like – messed up.”
“It is Hood River, I’m sure they had wind even in the early 20th century in Hood River,” Redmond said.
She also reminded them of art etiquette: “The thing about art is we don’t actually touch it. We don’t want to get out oils from our skin on it, so we just look with our eyes.”
The Elks panel depicting a hunter and his dog created ample discussion.
One youngster asked if the hunter was holding “a gun, or a stick, or a telescope?”
Redmond said, “We don’t know what he’s hunting but we see the dog.”
“Why would the dog be in front of him when he’s shooting?”
“He’d shoot over the dog,” Redmond assured them.
One child saw “an animal in there the shape of a raccoon.”
Another compared a dilapidated fence in a foreground to an intact one on the side of the hill.
Redmond asked, “Art makes each of us feel different things. We bring our own experiences and life into what we see. What do these paintings make you feel?”
“It makes me feel like camping, kind of,” said one child.
“And skiing on the mountain,” said another.
“They make me happy, to see all the beautiful color.”
Another commented, “This one makes me perplexed. I think it’s a dinosaur head in the water.”
Manser paintings can also be viewed at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, The History Museum of Hood River, and at Wy’east Middle School and Hood River Valley High School.
According to Oregon Encyclopedia, “Manser … established himself as a landscape artist in the plein air tradition, using highlights of light, shadow, and intense color. His artwork would bring him regional and national fame, particularly because of his memorable paintings of the Mount Hood area.
“Percy Manser first exhibited his artwork at local county fairs and then at the Oregon State Fair in 1925. That year also marked his participation in a benefit for Hood River’s community hospital, which featured 22 of his oil paintings, mostly landscapes of the region. Over time, he painted murals for the local courthouse, the hospital, Riverside Church, the Elks Building, and Odell’s Wyeast school.
“Beginning in 1934, Manser participated in the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) program. His mural that surrounds the auditorium stage at Hood River Middle School depicts Barlow Trail pioneers and Native Americans on the one side and the harvests of settlers in the Hood River Valley on the other.”