Monthly Art Walk offers alluring vendor finds

Photo of an art walk booth with jewelry
Eli Kessler / The Mossy Log

Starting in 1986, Portland’s First Thursday Art Walk event has grown to see about ten thousand visitors each month. As the name suggests, this event occurs on the first Thursday of each month from
5 p.m. to 9 p.m. throughout the Pearl District, a neighborhood in the north of Downtown. If you are passionate about supporting your local artists and makers (or are an artist yourself), this event might just be right for you. 

Parking is said to be difficult, and that had some truth to it. When I attended First Thursday, my friends and I drove around in circles for 10 minutes looking for a place to park. We eventually parked on a street cornering an art gallery. I took out my camera to calibrate its settings and snapped a few over-exposed photos of the gallery.

On that same corner where we parked was all the action. We stepped inside a shop with a long entrance and a floor layout that went back around 50 feet from the street. Immediately greeting us at the entrance were two vendor tables with a boatload of merch on display.

The first table I saw was the art and design work of Damon Sheeley (“SheelyCo”). Sheeley’s display consisted of denim patches, wall art and posters, beanies and baseball caps, mugs, water bottles, keychains and pins. Many of the items, including “PDX Coasters” and magnets, had designs revolving around iconic scenes and things known to the Portland area.

The next vendor I visited was a painter. He had hung up five or six of his original pieces on the wall behind his table, selling anywhere between $300 to $800. He had a very unique and abstract painting style depicting strange faces, wavy bicycles with cats riding them and random kitchen utensils. He was also selling a collection of small, envelope-sized prints.

One vendor sold soft kitchen towels with gardening-themed patterns, as well as wool dryer balls with assorted designs, such as a bee, a rainbow, a sloth, a cat and a sheep. Another vendor was selling candles in a closet-sized room next to this booth, but I did not think I could squeeze myself into that tiny and cramped space.

Another local vendor, known as A Stone’s Throw, had a variety of jewelry, including necklaces, bracelets and earrings on display. What caught my attention was the arrangement of pearls and stones they had. I almost bought myself a pearl bracelet, but it ended up costing more than I ever intended on spending that night (once I am a rich millionaire, I will shower myself in endless pearl bracelets and jewelry — but that is way too far
in the future). 

A Stone’s Throw also donates five to ten percent of every sale to local nonprofits supporting women, children, refugees and racial equity. They report that they have raised over $50,000 for these causes over the past four years.

At the back of the store a vendor carved designs into rubber stamping blocks and showed us how he makes his prints. It was fascinating to see him demonstrate his artistic techniques in front of everyone. I love watching people make art; it is so mesmerizing. 

Next to his table was another vendor with photorealistic prints of acrylic paintings of a rainy car window and a set of silverware. They also sold a bunch of stickers, and I bought one featuring two cats in scarves snuggling each other.

The last vendor I noticed before leaving was tucked away in a small room, which was not particularly inviting. The booth displayed creepy doll head lamps and night lights. I wanted to look at their work, but unfortunately the vendor was nowhere to be found, so I was unable to get more context about the eerie art. The room’s desertion was the only negative experience I had that evening, but though I was not able to purchase anything from the stand, the room’s barrenness was an experience in
and of itself.

Overall, the First Thursday Art Walk was an immersive experience in a massive variety of art styles, as well as a way to support local artists and small businesses. I would recommend taking some of your friends with you. It is a great way to get to know your city and feel like you are a part of the community. Despite my better financial judgment, I will definitely be returning soon. 

Check out the next Art Walk in downtown Portland on March 7, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pearl.

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