Field Notes 0 Page 8


When Buildings Speak

by Alice Cotton, Portland OR: Artemis Publishing, 2001

When Buildings Speak is a very attractive new book on selected Oregon historic houses. Alice Cotton is a Portland artist and preservationist who, as she states in her "Opening," began her love of old houses and buildings in New Orleans and then indirectly found historic houses in Oregon which spoke to her of their history and the histories of their builders and inhabitants. Buildings is Cotton's exploration of twenty Oregon National Register of Historic Places listed historic landmark homes and commercial buildings dating from 1856 to.1942, a pioneer farmhouse to a Coast Guard station. Many notable Oregon architects are represented as well as some vernacular and stock or pattern book building examples. Her point of view is a romantic one, an appreciation of historic buildings rather than an academic study.

The drawings have been artistically rendered in pen and ink with the use of some wash shading. Each building is shown in a single drawing, either a full frontal elevation or an oblique picturesque view. The drawings are sharp and clear with good contrast and detail. Where necessary, she has moved or removed obscuring trees and shrubbery so that the building is fully exposed, an advantage over photography. The buildings are rendered simply with enough detail to accurately represent them, to make them stand out in the drawing, and to represent their highlights and shadows while being set off or framed with sometimes meticulously rendered foliage.

Cotton had described her early experience in making drawings of historic homes for sale around Jackson Square in New Orleans, and her plates in Buildings are probably very like a collection of those souvenir drawings brought home for framing. I am sure that her book will be very popular with the owners of the buildings that are included and with many others who want an attractive guide to her circuit of Northwestern Oregon while searching out specific landmarks. The buildings which are included are very selective and personal to her. The Barlow House near Canby can't be missed if you are driving in that area on US Highway 99E; but most who drive between Portland and Astoria on US 30 have probably never detoured in Clatskanie to see the Flippin House or even seen it from a distance up on the western hillside above the school. The Mark Ashley house in Westover Heights, Portland, is likely to be not well recognized even by its Westover neighbors. I have to admit that I have never seen the Coast Guard Station at Garibaldi or noticed its officers' house although I have been through Garibaldi many times.

Cotton's text which accompanies her drawings and which introduces her collection of drawings, gives capsule histories of each, and explains some of her observations is very readable and detailed. She includes many relevant personal comments as well as anecdotes where those are provided by the historical record or from the current owners. Hers is a very personal account of a love affair with historic homes and their spirit. By a coincidence, I was just reading "The Spirit of Monuments and Sites," ICOMOS News, Vol. 1, 200 1, pp. 3 1 - 33, in which an article by Michael Petzet, President of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites/Unesco) discusses at length the same social dimensions of historic architecture which Cotton finds so attractive and which she so fondly exhibits with her drawings and the accompanying text.