August 23, 2008
A Contemporary Family Vacation: The Velveteria
Portland’s Museum of Velvet Art: The Velveteria (click for larger image).
There are two types of families: the Communist Party Central Committee variety —those that plan their family vacations and the Jack Kerouac variety —those that don’t. Planning a family vacation takes time and forethought. Like a Soviet five-year plan. But some families are simply not wired that way. They like to wake up in a strange motel and decide at breakfast what direction to head. We are not that kind of people.
But we’re not apparatchiki, slaves to the Plan, either. We like a little “fuzzy room.” We’re open to a modicum of serendipity, but we like to scope out each day’s unique venues beforehand. We don’t want to miss anything important (we still can’t forgive ourselves for missing the National Bowling Stadium in Reno). A little bit of forethought can go a long way. So when we knew we’d be spending a few days in Portland, Oregon I consulted the Google Gods for advice.
Google’s special analytics made our number one destination immediately clear: The Velveteria, the Museum of Velvet Paintings. Susie and I like good kitsch, you know, so bad it’s good. You might remember last year’s foray to the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas. Yes, that’s the stuff vacation memories are made of. Family vacations are fun but we also see them as learning experiences for our children: a chance to impart our values on our progeny. And appreciations of the finer things in life like this are just the values we’d like our girls to have. Whenever possible we like to provide them with fodder for their own family stories-to-be. And we see it as one way to ensure our legacy.
Kitsch-based museums often are marked by a bit of stealth. Blending into their neighborhoods to filter the unappreciative (and calls for rezoning), while making “the find” more attractive to the kitsch cognoscenti is de rigueur. And the Velveteria was no exception. The Liberace Museum was in a strip mall; The Velveteria looked like its building had once housed a hardware store on the city’s east side. The open layout of the interior required the museum’s collection be housed behind a wooden partition with a bright pink shroud hiding the masterpieces from unpaying eyes. It was like I was being beckoned to enter the ape man’s lair at a carnival. The exotic called to me as I laid down our $5 entrance fees.
The owners were taking a day off but the man at the desk offered us an introduction to the collection. Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin had been collecting velvet art for ten years and, lucky us, they were showcasing their favorites at the moment: Banditos. I couldn’t wait to take some photos. But the sign at the entrance clearly stated the museum’s photography policy: NO PHOTOS were allowed. With their new book just out, our guide mentioned something about copyrights, book rights, yadda. Don’t these people know that sharing is the new Web 2.0? Photographing art (and sharing it online) is a great way to connect with the masses and build audiences. The more the merrier when it comes to appreciating these masterpieces. (Funny, I had just been discussing this very issue professionally when I spoke in Spain last month.)
Disappointed as I was I was not disappointed when I entered the exhibition. Caren and Carl were serious collectors. And I would have loved to talk with them about the finer points of their treasures over lattes. As great as the series of Bandito paintings were, the highlight was taking the kids into the black light room housed in the very back of the museum. The girls were transfixed. We laughed as our white socks glowed, each experimenting with various bits of clothing we were wearing (let’s just say I got a laugh when I briefly pulled down my pants zipper).
Back at the entrance I had to have a souvenir of my visit. They had a series of black t-shirts available and I quizzed my family and other like-minded visitors about my selection. I wanted the cheesiest of course so I picked one Paris Hilton would be proud of.
We had one last task before we departed for our next carefully chosen vacation stop. The Velveteria offered us a special challenge. Just before the exit was a velvet portrait of someone who looked vaguely familiar. Guess who this was and we’d win a prize. I pondered. I know I’d seen his face before. My children yelled out names from their favorite Nickelodeon shows. But it was my wife who correctly answered the question and took home our free departing gifts. Who do you think this velvet likeness is the spitting image of?
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