Theater, Music and Art
THE history of fine art in Oregon is a brief one. Yet a good deal of
art has been created in the state during the past fifty years. The
early inspiration of this work was mainly the romantic interest aroused
in artists of eastern communities by the primitive and frontier life of
the Rockies and the regions beyond.
Among the settlers themselves the urge for self-expression most com-
monly found release in the singing of homely songs brought from the
East and from Europe. Instrumental music for such occasions was
largely provided by "fiddles" and accordians, many of which had first
enlivened the camp-fire gatherings on the "road to Oregon," or had
eased the nostalgia of gold-seeking miners in distant Eldorados. Only
occasionally in the early decades was itinerant entertainment available.
The visit, then, in 1855, of Stephen C. Massett, impersonator, singer,
song writer, and globe trotter, journeying from San Francisco by boat,
for readings and concerts at Astoria, Vancouver, Portland and other
interior Oregon towns, today seems symbolic. While he was giving a
concert in the small Salem courthouse, lighted by six tallow candles,
all were dramatically extinguished by a gust of wind as he was singing
"The Light of Other Days." At the close of his performance at Cor-
vallis he was obliged to shake hands with half the frontier population
before they would let him depart. Appreciation for the arts was in-
herent in Oregonians from the beginning.
Later, with the growth of settlement Oregon came into contact with
the general development of art in America. Theaters were built in the
larger towns, and applauding audiences, their eagerness for entertain-
ment often exceeding their artistic discrimination, viewed the produc-
tions of the professional stage or listened to the voices and instruments
of the world's great musicians. Symphony organizations and choral so-
cieties were organized, employing almost entirely local talent. Art mu-
seums came into being, their services supplementing the activities of the
few artists who sojourned for a time amidst the western scene, or re-
mained to settle among the native-born craftsmen.