Portland’s Lost and Found Carousel Art

Oaks Park Pentimento captures the blurring of past and present, a moment when two generations of paintings collided to create remarkable new images.

Over two days in 1982, Jim Lommasson photographed the strange and beautiful paintings that decorated the center column of the historic carousel at Oaks Amusement Park in Portland, Oregon. The original carousel images—painted by German and Italian immigrants around 1912—were an exotic assortment of Edwardian pastoral scenes featuring western explorers, Native Americans, an Arab riding a camel, and idealized women. When these paintings began to show signs of wear in the 1940s, two itinerant artists—brothers from Vashon Island, Washington—were hired to paint over the eighteen panels with depictions of such local landmarks as the Columbia River Highway, Mount Hood, Multnomah Falls, and scenes from the Oregon coast. Eventually, the surfaces of these new paintings also began to flake and fade, revealing parts of the original images in unusual and unexpected ways. The resulting double exposures or “pentimentos” included a ghostly sailboat gliding through a forest, an Indian chief looming over the Columbia River Gorge, and a parasoled woman with the road to Crown Point emerging from her loins. Each new image created a completely accidental, even surreal, story about the juxtaposition of two generations of paintings. Just three years after Jim Lommasson captured these images on film, the original paintings were restored and the mysterious double exposures disappeared under yet another layer of paint. Oaks Park Pentimento preserves these haunting photographs and also includes an appreciation by art historian Prudence Roberts and a look at Oaks Park, past and present, by journalist Inara Verzemnieks.

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