Madras Man Curates Pacific Northwest Photographers – Portland Tribune | Candle Made Easy

The Bill Rhoades art collection shows an appreciation of art rather than a private collection

Bill Rhoades is not your typical art collector. While his collection includes well-known pieces by prominent artists, he does not collect for money or fame.

“I kind of grew up in an era in the ’60s where I was a Pete Seeger, John Steinbeck guy, so I never really had that big desire to make a lot of money,” Rhoades said.

Rhoades’ art collection spans the range of media from sculpture to painting to photography. He began a relationship with the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in 1998 to display his collection and has worked with them ever since.

The current exhibition, titled Depth of Field, focuses on Northwestern photography. It runs through April 23 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem.

“I have had this relationship with Willamette for a little over 20 years and their collection has grown greatly and like many museums in the region and across the country they are out of storage,” Rhoades said. “So I started thinking about how I could collect things that wouldn’t take up a lot of space, and photos go with that.”

Rhoades himself has been interested in photography since childhood. He got his first camera from an aunt when he was about eight years old, and after graduating high school, he bought a 35mm Nikon from the Meier & Frank department store in Portland, where his mother worked.

From there, Rhoades began a career in journalism, eventually moving to central Oregon in 1979. “A family friend was the editor of Eagle Newspapers and called me and said there was a job in Madras,” Rhoades said. “Well, I didn’t really want to move to Madras at the time, but he said, ‘Just go over there and fish for a few years.’ Well, joke is the fishing has turned out a lot better than I thought because I’m still here.”

Rhoades worked for the Madras Pioneer for 15 years and still lives in Madras over 40 years later. “I’m kind of a desert person. I am a nature person. I was an avid bird hunter and still fish and hunt for mushrooms. I feel like I live in a visual world. On this side of the mountain, it’s all natural beauty that attracts.”

Rhoade’s art collection began trading, which has since become Rhoade’s primary means of collecting artwork for his collection. His first trade was to inventory the work of a local artist in exchange for one of the works. From then on he met and befriended many artists and was invited to exhibitions and parties where he began to expand his collection.

The exhibit’s focus on Northwest photography stems from a love of photographic art as well as the views, artists and nature of the Pacific Northwest.

COURTESY OF HALLIE FORD MUSEUM OF ART - “I like to collect things with a Northwest tie,” said Rhoades. “When I choose art, that’s a primary goal, but I see people’s work in museums or magazines and I tend to be drawn to certain pieces, and I’m not afraid to approach people and talk about it.”

His particular interest in Northwestern photography began with Mary Randlett, a Washington photographer known for her landscape and nature photography.

“I kept going to museums and seeing photos that fascinated me and I looked at the line of credit and it was always her,” Rhoades said.

“I was so intrigued that I finally got in touch with her and we became very close friends. She is very important to me, a dear friend and a legendary figure in the Northwest art world.”

Her work “Mountain Fragments” can be seen in the exhibition. “I could name names, but I have many friends in Portland who have pieces in this show, and everyone brings something great, they all bring something unique to the world and to my collection,” Rhoades said.

His collection truly brings together artists across a variety of mediums and résumés.

“The main criteria is that they’re great photos,” Rhoades said. “There are people in the collection like Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Brett Weston, but there are locals in the collection as well. Mick Brisco lives in Redmond, Joni Kabana lives in Spray so it’s really a diversity.”

COURTESY OF HALLIE FORD MUSEUM OF ART - One of Chris Adolph's Younger Children, 1939, by Dorothea Lange, represents one of the most prominent artists in the collection.  Rhoades says he doesn't necessarily choose art for its popularity, but for the effect it has on the viewer.

Rhoade’s desire in collecting art is not to make money as we normally expect from an art collector.

“I am not seeking economic or financial gain. I think art deserves to be in a public collection,” Rhoades said. “I don’t trade pieces just to throw them away profitably in the future. I think art deserves to be public where it is appreciated.”

Rhoade’s desire to share art has grown beyond his physical collection into a new project called the Pacific Northwest Photographers Archive. The online archive contains hundreds of materials related to Pacific Northwest photographers, from slides to call sheets to magazines. They recently signed an agreement with the University of Washington to serve as the repository for the project.

His desire to make art public involves his entire collection and an ongoing desire to share the collection with museums and online for the world to enjoy.

COURTESY OF BILL RHOADES – Bill Rhoades sits with Coralee Popp and the late photographer Mary Randlett at the Michael Parsons Gallery in Portland at Randlett's exhibition.  Rhoades says Randlett was both a dear friend and a legend in the world of photography.

“We’re only here for so long. If you’re in any creative field, if you’re a writer, musician, painter, sculptor or photographer, you want to share that with people,” Rhoades said. “People don’t just post music for themselves, they don’t paint just for themselves themselves, they’re doing it because they want to share their vision. And so it makes sense that the more people see what you’ve done, the better.”


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