Bruce Conkle - The Grand Calabash
Bruce Conkle - The Grand Calabash
The Grand Calabash
Portland Community College Southeast Campus

Bruce Conkle - The Grand Calabash

The Story of The Grand Calabash

          The Grand Calabash is a well-wisher that was inspired by observations made while researching the history of Portland Community College’s SE Campus location. Specifically I became interested in an old cistern, an altar left behind in a Chinese restaurant, and also the present-day incarnation of this site as an institute of higher education.  What I see in common with all of these is a shared desire for good fortune, abundance, health, and prosperity.

          An altar to the God of Earth is an artifact left over from the expansive Legin Restaurant, and is now on display in the PCC library. Within the altar one can see a small gourd depicted on the central gold vessel. The gourd, with its humorously fertile shape, represents happiness, success, and refreshment to people across many societies, and is commonly associated with good health and well-being. While excavating the restaurant site, a plaster and brick lined cistern was revealed from this location’s earlier use as home to a German community. After the cistern had stopped functioning as a water reservoir, it was used to incinerate waste; consequently objects that did not burn remained intact, including numerous bottles and horseshoes. The horseshoes symbolize good luck in various cultures and plenty were found right here. Bottles are based on the gourd for both shape and function, and several bottles found here had auspicious names (Golden Wedding) while others were of a healthful or medicinal nature (Milk of Magnesia).

          Geometric shapes in the figure’s hand signify mathematics, geometry, and architecture as well as artistic training. Native Americans inhabited this area long before the Europeans arrived, and the cone alludes to their presence although local tribes mostly lived in wooden lodges, so the cone is an oblique association here. This type of conical shelter is used by other cultures around the world, and the pyramidal and cuboid structures are familiar forms as well.  

          The base is a stylized tree stump that speaks to the resources used as the foundation to further the development of knowledge and progress, and is ornamented with hand drawn symbols relating to science and education. The proportions of the base were calculated using the golden mean, and these formal design elements offer a counterpoint to the looser overall structure of the surface treatment of the sculpture.

          The Portland Community College campus that is now here was constructed to offer a place for learning, to conduct educational research, and provide instruction to individuals from diverse backgrounds, offering multiple pathways to success and prosperity to the Southeast Portland community.

Bruce Conkle 2016

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