Birdie Hamilton: an Accidental Retrospective
@937 Offsite Gallery
Presented by Ditch Projects
Gallery hours on Saturdays, 12 – 5PM or by appointment
Preview event on Wednesday, May 4, 6 – 10PM
Opening event on Thursday, May 5, 6 – 10PM
937 NW Glisan Street, Portland, Oregon
Ditch Projects invites you to view the previously unseen work of Oregon sculptor Birdie Hamilton (circa 1935 – 2009).
Birdie Hamilton’s sculptural work is balanced between minimalist perfection and Oregonian authenticity. Birdie gravitates toward the visual components of west coast minimalism, including floating surfaces, dissolving textures, and physical emptiness - minimal forms abstracted into air. And yet Birdie’s inspiration is taken from the central Oregon coastline, putting the forms of wave-polished timber in place of the highly glossed cars and surfboards preferred by her Finish Fetish peers. Sharing their obsession with reflective and malleable plastics, however, Birdie engages the potential for opening immaterial vistas within her sculptures, offering a view of the forest made absent. Birdie interrupts her translucent forms with rings and grains, the pattern of slow growth embedded within the appearance of plastic eternity.
Birdie came to the attention of Ditch Projects through an accidental discovery by Ditch member Tim Meyer. In the spring of 2010, Tim was employed by White Glove Cleaning LLC, a company sub-contracted by All Safe Mini Storage, to clear All Safe’s central Lincoln City location. While working in the storage facility, Tim came across Birdie’s work in an abandoned storage locker, a collection of dusty objects wrapped carefully in felt. Unpacking the sculpture from the 12’ x 12’ unit, Tim found the work to be soundly intact, the components of sculptures named and sorted by a simple numbering system. The work was undated, although the numeric system offers a sequential trajectory. Storage records showed that Birdie had rented the space for 19 years, paying her rent in 2-year lumps through 2007. Ditch Projects, on Tim’s recommendation, purchased the work for the back rent due on the storage space.
Hours spent in the Tillamook and Lincoln County records departments have amounted to only an incomplete understanding of Birdie Hamilton’s life. Birdie (her legal name) was not born in Oregon; it is not known where she was born, although it is clear that she graduated from Tillamook High School in 1953. Birdie owned a home on the east side of Lincoln City from 1961 until just before her death in 2009. No marriage certificate is on file for Birdie, although seven construction permits for improvements on her home, dated between 1964 and 1987, were drawn the name of Clifton Thoms. City records show that Thoms worked as an assistant Harbor Master in Depoe Bay, Oregon, during the summer and fall of 1963, and the address listed on his city employee payroll file is that of Birdie’s home. No other mention of either Thoms or Hamilton exist in county hard files.
Newspaper records (courtesy of the Lincoln City News Guard) show that Birdie died in March, 2009 at the Samaritian North Lincoln Hospice in Lincoln City. She had lived in the Lakeview Senior Living Center since 2007, the Westmont hospital taking ownership and selling her home in late 2009 for due medical bills. Birdie was cremated after her death, her ashes remaining on the list of Oregon State Hospital’s list of unclaimed cremains. Attempts to locate the rightful heir of Birdie’s sculptures have been unsuccessful; attempts to place the collection in a public sphere are ongoing.