Statesman Journal BOOKS Sunday, October 14, 2001

Buildings Come Alive in 'When Buildings Speak'

By Dan Hays

Sometimes the making of books presents hazards that aren't immediately obvious.

Alice Cotton of Portland, as an example, found herself under intense scrutiny when she was doing some research. She was taking pictures of the exterior of the Governor's home in Salem, in fact, when she was approached by a security guard who told her that her prolonged presence outside the house was “making people nervous.”

That research was for her new book, When Buildings Speak. While the book has an accurate text describing and giving the history of the 20 Oregon buildings she covers, its real reason for being is the art it contains.

Cotton, you see, is a professional illustration artist who recently has developed a passion for drawing historical buildings.

And "Passion" is the operative word. You can feel and see and almost touch the love Cotton has for her subjects as you look through her book. Her lines are clear and precise, her renderings accurate of the outward appearance of her subjects. But what comes through most is the inner life of the buildings, their dignity and personality.

Sometimes she renders the buildings within their landscape, sometimes she separates them out and lets them stand alone. Her choices always are wise, her perceptions deep and compelling. That may be because she understands classic architecture so well - she does, after all, live in a Craftsman bungalow built in 1912 - or it may be because as an artist she can step inside things, see what they really are, then render them for rest of us, complete with the inner life she touched.

Because When Buildings Speak is self-published by Cotton's own Artemis Publishing (extremely well, published by the way, beautifully designed and printed, with perfect paper stock), it might be difficult to find. But it will richly reward all those who make the effort to find it.