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One killer orca returns
Photos and Story by James Hill
For more than 30 years, the orca design at the bottom of the Sylvania Campus diving pool greeted swimmers with a perpetual Native American story that has no ending. In 2005, though, this particular PCC story did have an ending.
Due to pool repairs in the Sylvania Campus HT Building, the orca was permanently removed. It had been there from 1974 up until 2005, originally designed and commissioned by the late Raleigh "Rollie" Butterfield, a graphics art instructor from 1965 to 1986. For the next 31 years, the Sylvania Campus enjoyed the distinction of being the only aquatic facility in the Portland metro area with a Northwest Coast tribal art graphic on the bottom of its pool.
Last summer, the orca and its story returned. In August, Sylvania President Linda Gerber made the decision to re-establish the orca graphic during the annual pool maintenance closure. Dave Traweek, Sylvania’s physical education facility manager, discovered that one of his lifeguards, J.D. Bump, was a full-time artist (and a pretty good one at that). Leading up to the August closure, Bump delivered a plan to Traweek and campus leadership to return Butterfield’s orca to the diving pool floor. The plan wowed everyone and he got the job.
"J.D. has recreated the orca in an interpretation that reflects, and pays tribute to, the spirit of Rollie’s original concept," Traweek said.
Bump was a good choice. As a kid in the 1970s, he visited the Sylvania Campus to use the diving pool and often looked at the orca design on his dives.
"I believe that the removal of the mural on the pool bottom a few years ago was a sad accident," said Bump. "Artistically, it was a prominent aesthetic feature of the physical education department that many people still fondly remember."
The design depicts a classic Native American story. Four characters: an orca, salmon, warrior and frog. The orca is a villain stealing the maiden (the salmon) who is betrothed to the warrior. The warrior is riding the orca trying to recapture his betrothed maiden, while the frog is the wise sage, watching this pursuit unfold.
Bump said the removal could have been a problem for the college. Besides being a PCC landmark (the design received world exposure on the Ramuc Paint Co. Web site), the painting served as a tribute to local Native Americans, who used similar images in their totems as family emblems. So removing the mural could have sent a bad message. But there were other difficulties, too.
"Lastly, not having a reference point on the bottom of the pool is a safety issue as well," Bump said. "Without anything there, there’s no way for divers to easily judge the water depth. Thus, the sides and bottom of the pool all look the same when they’re viewed from the deck, creating a potential diving hazard."
Bump is a 20-year professional artist who is represented by the Portland Art Museum Rental Sales Gallery. He won several local awards for painting and sculpture, and in 2006 was judged "Best of Show" at the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts. He has created large murals before, including a 25-foot backdrop painting used for the annual Cascade AIDS Project fund-raiser and two 10-foot banners used at the front entrance.
"Basically, I’m familiar with problems that can arise while designing and doing large paintings, and I take the necessary precautions in order to avoid these problems," Bump said.
The artist approached the work in three parts. First, he used photos as a reference in order to re-draw the image as closely as possible to Butterfield’s original design. Second, he enlarged the small drawing to the actual scale of the finished painting. He took the colored drawing and dissected it into a grid. Each of these grid pieces were then reproduced proportionately on much larger squares of heavy fabric. That final step meant Bump put down all 25 squares of the pre-cut grid on the bottom of the empty pool. When he did that, pool painters then re-painted the orca to his design.
The new orca brings back a vision set into motion by Butterfield, who was asked to create a design for the bottom of the diving pool in 1974. Butterfield taught both credit and Community Education classes and was interested in the art of Northwest Coast tribal communities. After he retired in 1986, Rollie was a regular attendee at the early bird 6 a.m. recreation swim at Sylvania.
"I remember him donning a mask, snorkel and swim fins and puttering around in the diving well every morning, and I’m sure it was a great joy to him to see his orca while doing so," Traweek said. "Rollie’s unique design was a part of PCC history. Many, many people expressed to me their disappointment and sense of loss at the removal of this small piece of history. (J.D) Bump has recreated Rollie’s orca in an interpretation that reflects and pays tribute to the spirit of Rollie’s original concept."To view more of J.D. Bump’s artwork, visit his Web site at: www.jdbump.com