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OCF Story Pole Gets Closer to Completion

Brian Bull

A new art installation is complete and slated to debut soon at the Oregon Country Fair. But as KLCC’s Brian Bull reports, the “Story Pole” is still a year away from being erected.

Along the northwest end of the Fair’s “figure 8” walking trail, a tall, carved wooden log lies propped against a small viewing platform.  Kathryn Weit describes it:

WEIT: “It is a 36-foot, Alaskan yellow cedar pole that has been carved to tell the story of the Ritz Sauna and Showers, and the people who are part of that.”

Weit also is with the Ritz Sauna and Showers, one of the country fair’s perks for visitors.  She makes it clear that this is not to be regarded as a Native American totem pole, though the style of carving is largely inspired by Northwest coastal tribes, with some novel touches here and there.  There’s a flamingo that represents the Ritz workers’ self-proclaimed Flamingo Clan; a Greek wrestling symbol since many past workers were involved in high school wrestling; and a jaguar.

WEIT:  “The jaguar is a copy of a Central American tattoo that was on one of the members of the Ritz crew who died in the plane crash many years ago.  He had it on his ankle.  And his father was involved in helping carve that jaguar tattoo.”

Weit says the goal was to put the Story Pole up sooner, but proper permits had to be obtained.  An estimated 300 people have worked on the pole since 2013, including kids. 

Brad Bolton is the pole’s designer and primary carver. 

BOLTON: "But we made it where, everyone can come and take chips a little bit here and there.  I hope the young folks here do kinda take on this tradition and keep carving and painting.  Everyone’s an artist in some way and I think it’s great if people pursue that even if it isn’t something they do financially.”

Bolton says once it’s erected in 2017, he hopes that generations of fair goers who helped carve the Ritz Story Pole will be able to bring their children and grandchildren to see it.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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