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Faces and Inner Life of Cottage Grove Revealed by Artist and Author Thi Nguyen in New Artist Book

By permission of the artist
Portrait of Terrisa

This is Sandy Brown Jensen, and you’re listening to Viz City, KLCC’s arts review program. I hope you have discovered The New Zone Gallery’s spacious new home at 110 E. 11th in Eugene. Today I’d like to bring to your attention a very unusual artistbook for sale in the New Zone Gallery gift shop.

By permission of the artist
A portrait of Kiefer

It is called Garden of People: A Portrait of Cottage Grove, by Thi Nguyen, a well-known member of the Plein Air Painters of Lane County. Thi works primarily in oils, although both pastel and charcoal portraits of Cottage Grove denizens are in this innovative book.

Thi calls the book a “collage,” and I don’t think I can improve on that description. In terms of art, this is a wonderful book of compassionately painted portraits of Cottage Grove men, women and children. In terms of the considerable text, you hear only the original voices of the many locals from all walks of life.

By permission of the artist
Portrait of Anna

If anyone had ever asked me my impression of Cottage Grove, I would have said it was an old dairy-farming town still struggling to reinvent itself. It has been recognized as both a Tree City and a Green Power Community. I’d have said I thought it battled poverty, addiction, abuse, immigration racism and broken families, but that there was a counter current of artists, gardeners, visionaries and social workers trying to get under all that to lift the community up, and Thi’s interviews with her community members proves all that as a fair assessment.

Some of the voices break your heart. A man who through a broken marriage lost everything says, ``I ended up like a dog, with nobody around.”

By permission of the artist
Portrait of a Cottage Grove resident, Don

Others gave me hope like the person who celebrates taking hold of every moment by making better decisions. “It’s that moment where you feel that shift. I love that moment. I’m calling it joy.”

This is a visually stunning book, so when you’re in the New Zone, seek it out and look at the details of faces, fingers, smiles on faces young and old. And also pause to read some of the voices telling you about the inner life of this Garden of People called Cottage Grove.

This is Sandy Brown Jensen for KLCC.

By permission of the artist
Thi Nguyen's evocative self portrait

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