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Take an Art Walk: Downtown Bend Booms with Art in Public Places

This spring, COVID-19 shuttered downtown galleries. While many of these businesses are reopening this summer, the warm season is also the perfect time to appreciate just how very many pieces of art are around us outdoors every day. Grab a map from VisitBend and take a lap around downtown to experience the abundance of public, outdoor art.

The back alleys may be the most artistic part of downtown Bend. Or maybe they aren’t. If you don’t mind the view of the back side of businesses with recycling and trash cans lining the street, a treat awaits your eyes. Between Oregon and Franklin Avenues, art flourishes in the form of murals, weather-proof paintings and multimedia pieces.

Plaques tell about each piece in the the Tin Pan Alley Art Collection. Local photographer Carol Sternkopf presents a blue owl in a storybook page format. She pulls together photographic collage, vinyl, paint, twigs, wood, metal and salvaged home décor to engage viewers with, “What’s this owl up to, anyway?”

Bend pioneer and ski legend Emil Nordeen got a 21st century brushing by contemporary Bend artist Sheila Dunn, known for large vibrant portraits and figure paintings. Nordeen was a Swedish immigrant who moved to Bend in 1920 along with other Scandinavian mill workers. To commemorate his cross-country ski races between Fort Klamath and Crater Lake and other accomplishments, the Nordeen Shelter was named for him.

Experience two pieces in the covered walkway between Wall and Brooks Streets. A painting by Bend’s first creative laureate, Jason Graham, aka MOsley WOtta, explores “the four seasons in relation to the four directions in relation to the four core archetypes: warrior, teacher, healer, visionary.”

In contrast with the intensity of MOWO’s piece, Bend’s Sweet Pea Cole portrays a girl and dog frolicking in a landscape filled with bubbles. The girl in the painting is opening her pocket, “letting loose her innermost ideas and feelings…letting them mingle with the world around her,” the plaque states. This quirky piece is part of a large collection of Cole’s graphic design and illustration body of work.

At the east end of Minnesota Avenue is a fountain and the sculpture of two large bronze cranes, “Dancing for Flossie,” by Danae Bennett Miller, installed in 2003. With a home studio in Tumalo, she takes inspiration from farm animals and wildlife. Her bronze sculptures pepper the Central Oregon landscape in roundabouts and other public and private places.

Wander through the city’s iconic Drake Park where you’ll find a large, abstract sculpture on the south end near the take-out spot for river floaters. The 1991 stainless-steel sculpture, “Cascade Landscape,” by Portland artist Bruce West was originally installed at Kenwood School but roundabout construction required its removal and relocation to a new home. One local calls it “cocktail ice without scotch.”

Bend’s iconic and most photographed sculpture is probably “Art,” the nickname given the man seated on a bench staring into his empty wallet. The life-size cast-aluminum sculpture was created by Seattle artist Richard Beyer and placed at the corner of Wall Street and Franklin in 1982. He’s rarely alone. In addition to the ducks who keep him eternal company, Art loves posing with people who sit with him, stuff all manner of things into his wallet, wrap their arms around his shoulders or dress him in everything from Santa hats to lingerie.

To map your route, go to visitbend.com.

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