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Taking Shape: Allan McCollum And Delia Paine Celebrate The WPA


The installation, "The Shapes Project", is comprised of over 6,000 unique buttons, designed by Allan McCollum, and fabricated by Delia Paine.

The installation, “The Shapes Project”, is comprised of over 6,000 unique buttons, designed by Allan McCollum, and fabricated by Delia Paine.

April Baer/OPB

The High Desert Museum has an interesting exhibition on view right now, called “Art for a Nation.” It tells the story of creative projects in the Works Progress Administration, a federal initiative that put millions to work during the Great Depression — including artists.

But the exhibition isn’t just about history. The High Desert Museum also commissioned three new works in the spirit of the WPA by contemporary artists.

One of them is a collaboration between renowned contemporary artist Allan McCollum and one of Bend’s busiest makers, Delia Paine.

McCollum’s work is shown around the world, at MOMA, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and many other prestigious places.

McCollum designed each button with a unique character or glyph, and sent Paine the designs.

McCollum designed each button with a unique character or glyph, and sent Paine the designs.

April Baer/OPB

“Years and years ago I bought a book called ‘Art for the Millions,’” he told us, “which was dozens of essays written around the time of the WPA. The term really stuck in my mind, because I’ve always been working in large quantities, making references to factory work or working in quantities [whether that’s] making cookies with your family or working in restaurants. Anything in large quantities interested me.”

McCollum has devised installations that involve hundreds — sometimes thousands — of handmade objects. Each individual piece is a little different from the others.

From her storefront downtown, Paine produces a variety of handmade items. If you’ve been around Bend, you’ve probably seen her popular city logo buttons.

“I’ll start off with a graphic,” Paine explains. “I always have a black ring around the outside. It’s my signature in some ways. I’ll print it, graphically hand-punch every single graphic. And I have this collection of beautiful paper from all around the world. I have drawers and drawers and drawers of paper with glitter on it, shimmery pearlescence and all these wonderful things. For me, it’s a love of pattern and paper.”

Paine backed each button with iridescent shades of solid color.

Paine backed each button with iridescent shades of solid color.

April Baer/OPB

So here are these two people who have, more or less, made careers exploring a system of mass-produced items that are still handmade.

This is the story of their collaboration. Listen to the link above to hear them tell the story of their installation, “The Shapes Project, part of “Art for a Nation” at the High Desert Museum.

The exhibition also includes new works by Portland’s Marie Watt and David Willis. You can see them between now and October 2.

This Wednesday, art historian Lorna Cahall will discuss printmaking during the WPA and how populist images reflected the struggles of the working class during this time. More events celebrating the WPA are in the works. Find them here.

Paine, in her downtown studio.

Paine, in her downtown studio.

April Baer/OPB

Paine, by the way, has a very interesting story to tell about how her life was changed by making election year buttons. The audio below tells that story.

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