When Jen G. Pywell came west, she brought The Ugly Art Room with her.
The Ugly Art Room is a roving curatorial art project that Pywell and friends in Brooklyn started in 2010. The shows were held everywhere from restaurants and coffee shops to the middle of a boxing ring and the landing of an apartment building.
The idea behind it was that art displays could have a physical, conceptual or historical connection with each unique space, instead of just being in the same gallery. It's not that the art is ugly, Pywell said, it's that the room is — and the artwork beautifies the room.
The Ugly Art Room's first show here will be at the Poptart gallery inside the historic Wellsher Building in downtown Corvallis during Thursday's Corvallis ArtsWalk. The display is called the "Paradise" postcard show.
The paradise theme reflects Pywell's move to Oregon from Queens, New York when her husband got a job as an urban forester in the area.
"It really was paradise out here for me," Pywell said.
In some ways, Pywell's journey is not unlike that undertaken by Jacob H. Wellsher and his wife from New York to Iowa to Corvallis in 1852. The Wellsher building was named after their son Theodore, a blacksmith and carriage maker, who also ran a florist shop in the building.
While volunteering at the Corvallis Arts Center, Pywell met local artists Chelsea Foss Van Denend and Gabrielle Hahn, who run Poptart. They decided to share studio space with Pywell, giving The Ugly Art Room a place to make its mid-valley debut.
"Let me do a postcard show," Pywell told her collaborators, "so I can get a lot of them from different people. That would be super fun."
She reached out to local artists and friends in Brooklyn, as well as on Craigslist and art guilds all over the globe for original or print 4-by-6 inch postcards.
The call to artists highlighted the significance of postcards, used by travelers to keep in touch with loved ones. Over time they began to emphasize beauty, landmarks and tourist attractions, not necessarily places and imagery seen or experienced by the traveler. "The perfect place may bring the traveler away from home, but the postcard is a physical object that can contain images and words of paradise sought."
Pywell received submissions from all over the country and internationally. Some entries came from local sources, including Oregon State University art professor Yuji Hiratsuka and Michael Boonstra's Art 101 students. ArtWorks (CEI), an ArtsWalk participant gallery, also had artists contribute.
"When it's all said and done, because we still have some trickling in, it will be over a hundred pieces by seventy-five artists," Pywell said. Pywell categorized the postcards by theme, color and place — and used some other classifications as well. For example, one of the categories includes cards that she called "kitschy."
Pywell said ArtsWalk visitors should enjoy seeing other peoples' ideas of paradise, the various locales from which the postcards were sent and the variety of mediums used. Materials include woodcut prints, pen, ink and pencil drawings, photographs, oil paintings, embroidery and more.
A few artists wrote messages to The Ugly Art Room, Jacob H. Wellsher and loved ones.
Pywell hopes to set up a home base in the Poptart gallery, while continuing Ugly Art Room roving art projects in her paradise.