People's Homes (project contributor)
People’s Homes is a collaborative project that honors Portland’s longtime residents and investigates expanded notions of home. The project explores the often-overlooked experiences of Portland’s oldest homeowners and the local histories they carry. We have paired local artists with longtime residents to share their life stories and draw attention to the city’s quickly changing landscape. The artists and homeowners have worked together to create small-scale billboards that represent the elders’ experiences of home. The signs signify the artists’ interpretations and homeowners’ perspectives, the relationships they formed with one another through this project, and the ways in which their lives intersect. The signs are installed in the residents’ front lawns—asking passersby to reflect on their communities, interact more intimately with their neighbors, and acknowledge the past while recognizing the urban changes taking place around us.
As artists, we are interested in using creative practices to humanize, visualize, and reflect on complex, socially charged issues and explore the implications often associated with issues of gentrification, economics, and urban growth. As residents and neighbors, these concerns are present in our daily lives. While Portland is experiencing accelerated growth and rising housing costs, lack of affordable living continues to grow across the United States. Through this project, we consider the dynamic ways that artistic research, intergenerational exchange, and storytelling can illuminate the subtleties of a lived experience.
Thelma is ninety-three and has owned her Portland home in the Irvington neighborhood since 1960. Thelma and her three children—Dorris, Verlean, and John Jr.—migrated North from Louisiana to Vanport, Oregon in 1944 to reunite with her husband, John Sylvester, who was employed by the Kaiser Shipyards. Thelma’s first household in the Vanport housing projects was destroyed in the 1948 flood along with the city of Vanport. Her story is defined by resilience and perseverance. She watched the lilies blooming in her garden during our first conversation and, as we later talked about that first meeting, Verlean reminisced about the lily flower, “Even after a heavy rain, it stood up—it was there. To me that is powerful.” [Excerpt from Interview with Thelma for People's Homes project.]
— Lisa Jarrett