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Vampires of Oregon

Springfield Museum hosts Portland artist Anna Fidler’s haunting exhibit
‘Mary,’ 72 inches by 99 inches, acrylic and colored pencil on paper.

Vampires are not dead (OK, technically they’re undead). Even with the final nail in the Twilight coffin, they still walk among us: True Blood’s sixth season premieres this June, Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires in the City will be released in May, a remake of the 1992 cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer is in the works and an adaptation of the video game Castlevania is slated for 2014. Portland artist Anna Fidler, however, is taking the bloodsuckers out of commercial culture and sinking them into fine art with her upcoming exhibit Vampires of Oregon, which opens at the Springfield Museum for the Downtown Springfield Second Friday Art Walk.

“Vampires in general have become an important pop culture reference, but really it’s been around for quite a long time,” says Fidler, who is more a fan of Anne Rice’s fanged folk than Stephanie Meyer’s. Her process for the show, which features eight multimedia paintings (including five colossal pieces at 6-by-8 feet), began at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland. “I was conducting research into former inhabitants of the state of Oregon,” she says, “like combing through photographs and composing a fictitious history just by the way they looked.” Fidler took these Victorian-era photographs and developed a theme: the individuals in the photos were actually vampires, but people didn’t know it in their lifetime.

The result is at once stunning and haunting. Fidler, who works with a team of assistants in her Portland studio, begins with a watered-down acrylic wash (made with mica minerals, which adds a subtle sparkle to the paint) on paper, then layers a blown up copy of the photograph and completes the piece by adding topographic lines in colored pencils to match the “linear contours of the facial planes.” The process can take up to two months per painting, but it’s worth the wait. Take “Mary.” The once prim subject with her hair elegantly piled in a Gibson tuck, outfitted in a modest dress, takes on an otherworldly air; swirls of aubergine and slate gray juxtaposed with her neon blue irises and fiery red pupils create an effect that is part-psychedelic, part-decay. 

Fidler wants her work to be exposed to different audiences, big and small, which is why she was delighted when Springfield Museum Director Jim Cupples reached out. Cupples had seen the exhibit at the Portland Art Museum, where it originally showed last fall, and it aligned with his ethos for the museum: to bring bigger exhibits from cities like Portland and Seattle to a local audience who may not have a chance to travel to see them. “I know the kids around here will really like it,” Cupples told Fidler, “but the odds are that they’re not going to get up to the Portland Art Museum to see it.” 

Vampires of Oregon runs Friday, April 12, to Thursday, April 30, at the Springfield Museum, 590 Main St.; free. Opening reception with artist Anna Fidler and refreshments runs 5 to 8 pm Friday, April 12.