It’s tricky balancing an art career with the demands of a growing family, admit these PDX artists, but when creativity’s in your DNA, you always find a way.
Photos by Chris Cearnal
Story by Denise Castañon
Crystal Schenk + Shelby Davis
You may not know their names, but if you’ve ever walked down Southeast Division Street, you’ve seen their work. Crystal Schenk and Shelby Davis, who met while pursuing Masters of Fine Art at Portland State University, created the small bronze figures that dot the busy thoroughfare.
“If it hadn’t been for their trust in us as artists, we would not have the career we do.” — Crystal Schenk on the Regional Arts and Culture Council
We caught up with the husband-and-wife team the week before they installed their newest and biggest project to date in The Portland Building, titled “Neither Here Nor There.” They used wood from a nearly 100-year-old silver maple tree in the Laurelhurst neighborhood to fashion three benches, five suspended sculptures and two sculptures on columns. Each piece is topographically accurate, with the wood depicting the real-life peaks and planes of various spots in Portland and beyond — the West Hills, the Laurelhurst neighborhood, Crater Lake and Mount Hood. They then cast blue glass pieces tied to particular memories of the place and strategically placed them in the carved wood. Lights affixed under the glass make it emit a gas-flame glow. In one sculpture, an oversized glass apple and pocketknife sit above the landscape of the Crooked River. Schenk and Davis picked that apple from a tree belonging to close family friends who live in that area. Schenk’s pocketknife is on the top glass piece and Davis’s pocketknife is on the bottom. “We like to do everything as shifts of scale,” says Schenk. The project speaks to how landscapes inform our sense of self and reminds us that, “We can live in the same town, but have a different experience,” says Schenk.
As Schenk and Davis worked on the sculptures at a friend’s warehouse in Tualatin, their son, 5-year-old Alder, often played nearby. Sometimes they’d help him use a specialized saw to cut a rhino or hammer out of spare wood pieces. And he’d find other cast-off parts to keep himself amused. In addition to Alder being present as his parents worked, they inserted him right into the art itself: Look for the green dot in the grid of Laurelhurst streets etched into maple. It’s a single stud from the top of a LEGO brick, and it’s embedded on the spot where Alder was born.
See their work at The Portland Building, 1120 SW 5th Ave., or learn more at crashstudioart.com.
The intricately beaded earrings in Jalynne Geddes’ Etsy shop are more than a way to earn income; they help her to connect with her Cree culture and to have a creative outlet while caring for 6-month-old Winnifred and 4-year-old Desmond. “My parents were shamed a lot for their culture and this [beadwork] is how we are connecting to our ancestors,” says Geddes.
Working out of her Southwest Portland home, she sits with her beads, playing with the colors and seeing what calls to her — not necessarily following a traditional pattern. She incorporates things like shells and porcupine quills into her designs as well, meticulously stitching each element into a stiff backing material. Her tribe is known for its beautiful beaded floral designs, but knowing their importance in her culture, she admits to being a little hesitant to attempt to replicate those patterns. She worries she would not do them justice.
Geddes says the best piece of parenting advice she ever received was to find a creative outlet so that she would not lose her sense of self when becoming a mother. She works around her children’s schedules, but did take the advice to heart. “When I nurture the creative part of me, it helps my mothering,” says Geddes.
“It’s been so healing for my mom to see her children and grandchildren flourish in their culture.”
— Jalynne Geddes
Ryan + Lucy Berkley
It doesn’t get any more Old Portland than the very first Crafty Wonderland show in the basement of the Doug Fir Lounge. It happened back in 2006, and Ryan and Lucy Berkley of Berkley Illustration were there. They showed up with 15 portraits of animals done in an Old West style. And that’s how Ryan’s now-iconic animal collection got its start. Ryan is the artist and Lucy handles the business end — including writing the funny backstories that accompany each animal print. Ryan’s also done work for the Discovery Channel, the Audubon Society and Nike (eagles on their Olympic uniforms). “Most recently we did a big project with Oregon State Parks and we’re excited to see that in the world soon,” says Ryan.
Amazingly, Ryan is a self-taught artist. “I drew very often from a very young age and took encouragement to heart,” he says. “I had a very accomplished artist grandfather and my brother is also talented, so perhaps it is hereditary.”
“Instagram didn’t even exist yet when we started out! … I would say there was more weirdness in the beginning. We like pretty, but we’re also pro-weird.” — Ryan Berkley
The Berkleys wouldn’t say that having kids changed the art, but it did change their business. When Ramona (now 8) was an infant they schlepped to an out-of-the-home studio with her and their hound dog every day for a year and half. They eventually moved into a home in Hillsdale with an in-home studio. After their son Linus (now 5) was born, they’d swap shifts of parenting and working. “It was not easy but we reminded ourselves constantly that it was incredibly special to both be around them in their early years,” says Ryan. “I say that, yet I can’t really remember any of it. Parental blackout. I can’t say the business flourished during that time, but we managed.” Linus is set to start kindergarten in the fall, so they are starting to envision what a regular five-day workweek will be like. They plan to work on a children’s book, too. “Will we be able to stop working before midnight? Spoiler alert: probably not, but a parent can dream,” says Ryan.
Find them at the Crafty Wonderland Spring Art + Craft Market, Saturday, May 2, 11 am-6 pm at the Oregon Convention Center and at berkleyillustration.com.
Chris Cearnal is a photojournalist currently working toward a Masters of Multimedia Journalism at the U of O. Chris has been a photographer and doula for over 20 years and loves nothing more than helping to capture precious family stories in an easygoing documentary style. Find out more at chriscearnal.com/family-stories.