I have been reflecting on how this time two years ago, I wrote about the Jantzen Beach RV Park —a community that I still live in today— in the 2019 SOFA Journal: Exchange issue. I was new to both the RV lifestyle and the Pacific Northwest, and very preoccupied with getting acclimated to a new culture and way of operating in graduate school. My first interaction with a resident when I initially pulled into the park was with Michelle Grimes, my next door neighbor. She has been a huge influence on my time here and taught me how to look out for other neighbors and to be a better listener within my artistic practice.
Because I am a sentimental person, It’s only natural that I begin my final year of graduate school with an interview with Michelle and her granddaughter, Cece, to talk about art and what we value within our lives and our tiny homes.
The scope of my practice has scaled down to my individual relationships with my neighbors, and cultivating conversations of exchange, for survival. My neighbors and I lived through toxic forest fires that required us to keep within our small confines, ice storms that left many of us without power while tree limbs shattered our windows, and finally within a global pandemic that shut down programs and businesses that we rely on within Hayden Island.(1) We have relied on each other as support systems whenever someone needed help— wandering out of our RVs to lend a helping hand.
In October 2021, I initiated a project called “The Art We Value,” a project where I ask my neighbors to share a piece of themselves by selecting an item from their house to talk about using the lens of art. I take their picture and then draw them together with that item. When I approached Michelle to participate in the project, she was interested, but only to have a portrait done of her granddaughter. For the almost three years I have known her, Michelle has lived through so much stress and grief with her family; I wanted to convince her to get a portrait of both of them together. I argued that it would be a valuable thing to look at and reflect on for years to come.
She loves to see my dogs (and they her), so we found many great opportunities to chat in passing. Michelle would share her passions for teaching herself about stocks and NFTs, or finding great deals on groceries or artwork at garage sales. While talking about the project and setting up times, she would casually ask me for permission to spray out the leaves in my driveway, or clean up my garden box, both of which I’ve neglected over the last few months. Since the death of a parent figure in my life in February 2021, I had slowly pulled myself from my passion of gardening and allowed things to go wild. Since we live so closely together and her kitchen window overlooked the jungle of vines and leaves I left while I was healing my broken heart, she asked me to allow her to help. I agreed if she allowed me to draw her.
We set up a time when I could come over to her place for our photo shoot and a brief conversation.The conversation ended up being three hours; we talked, laughed, and she pulled out notes and artwork she usually keeps tucked away. We’ve continued the dialogue since that time we spent together, and have decided that once the portrait is completed, I’ll turn it into a non-fungible token (NFT) for her. We agreed that she could receive royalties on her likeness every time it was traded, much like a stock, in hopes to support herself and her family in the future.
Shelbie: Okay. Tell me a little bit about the piece that you selected that I’m going to be drawing you with.
Michelle: The piece I selected is a photo I took of my son, my daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter. She was maybe two, two and a half, and we were walking in downtown Portland, Oregon. And something just tells me like, Hurry, you know, take this picture because this… you know…
Shelbie: So it looks like it’s a candid picture. They didn’t know that you were taking it. It’s like this perfect moment where Cece is just learning to walk. And you guys are out on a family outing. And so you had it printed in black and white. So tell me about that.
Michelle: I actually do a lot of black and white. I think there’s something about bringing them here [into my house]. There’s something about black and white. It’s timeless.
Shelbie: So you, I’m just noticing that you have a lot of artwork in here.
Michelle: I have a lot of artwork! Yes.
Shelbie: So tell me a little bit about how you select the artwork you keep, because this [gestures to the living room] is curation. You’re a curator.
Michelle: Right? So that’s— I don’t know, what do you call those, caricatures?— Anthony [husband] and Alex [stepson]. And then those are pictures that Alex drew when he lived with us. He actually drew those freehand. He’s very talented. You know, he also made that whole boat picture thing over there that you could go look at, if you want. Yeah, there’s tons of artwork.
Shelbie: What I’m interested in is when you live in an RV, you have to be very selective with what you put in the space. And then you have to justify the value right now. You and I, we don’t move our RVs, right? So we don’t have to think about it like some people who are travelers.
Michelle: Snowbirds, like Gary and Jeanie, right, yeah.
Shelbie: Right! So the towing capacity is different for us. But yeah, I’m interested in how you keep your space and how you select the art that you have.
Michelle: So there’s a story behind those two pieces. If you want to go look at that one on the floor, you can take pictures of the one back there. We have to move. I have tons of art and I hope someday [it brings value]. But to be honest with you, Shelbie, I’m very “art like” but I can’t draw, like, stick people. I can’t draw anything. [However], when I go thrift shopping or something, I have this eye for things. Like I have a $165 Italian wallet that I paid $1 for. [I just have] this weird eye about things.
Shelbie: I definitely agree with you. I’ve noticed just by the way that you even work through the yard. It’s like you have an eye for form. You see the way that things kind of transition, and so, you’re kind of curating, I just feel like you’re a curator. If I were to give you a title, I think it would be a curator.
Michelle: What is the actual definition of a curator?
Shelbie: I define a curator as a person who makes visual or artistic decisions on how to place things, or directs how to place things together.
Michelle: Yes, so yes, if I had to do life over again, I’d probably be something like an archaeologist. Or, believe it or not, in the last six weeks I’ve been learning the stock market and cryptocurrency. I have notes on my bed and watch both TVs blasting. I have the stock market on all day and I can’t believe how much I’ve learned and taught myself.
Shelbie: We need more people who know the stock market and the financial world. It’s actually that we need more women.
Michelle: It’s hard to figure it out. And so I was trying to find it for myself. I re-downloaded my Twitter, so I could follow things on Twitter. I read all these notes because I did go to college. I mean, notes from hell. One of the Bitcoins is on the real stock market now. It was the first Bitcoin EFT and of course, then this guy comes on, he’s like, Yeah, well, you know, they, the old school people of stock market, need to learn that it’s crypto currencies, really a big deal.
Shelbie: Yeah, it’s really interesting because you have a lot of people that are older… Older investors who want to keep gold as a standard wealth investment.
Michelle: What is that I have? Oh, there was a story behind it [image above]. Her name is Marcia Brown. Looks like this is an anonymous woodcut…So like I told you, I just have this weird eye or whatever. This [artwork] was in Goodwill in Wilsonville, probably four years ago, before I moved here. [These woodcuts] were numbered. They were [by] the same person, blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, I’m just buying them. So then I go home and I Google all this stuff. Well, come to find out this lady here is famous. She is. I can find all this stuff. I have notes everywhere. I remember. She was a children’s book… What do you call that? An illustrator? Yeah. She also has, there’s the Marcia Brown Museum in New York. I don’t know where my notes are. I don’t know where the big note is where I wrote it down, you know? Right here, University of Albany, New York Department of Social Special Collections.
Shelbie: So she has been collected by the University?
Michelle: Yeah, they actually have a museum there because she was a famous children’s books illustrator.
Michelle: And because you’re artistic, you caught those in my house, which nobody ever does.
Michelle: Yeah. And I’ve been meaning to call them for like three or four years. Yeah. And then I’m like, but I like them. But then I want [them] to go to the museum.
Shelbie: Well, here’s the thing. You could at least have them appraised, because what you could do is, you still have ownership over them. But depending on if they’re looking for this special collection, for example, you could send them to be a part of a show. Or they can just appraise them, so that you know where they are and how much they’re worth.
Michelle: I like to watch Antiques Roadshow all the time. I get really upset when there’s like this 200 year old, you know, Cherokee blanket that belonged to some tribe, I feel it needs to go back to the tribe. Sure. That’s how I feel. Sure. So if this lady has a museum in New York, and this can be hung in that museum, and there’s something about her, that’s why I want them to go back.
Shelbie: I can understand that!
Michelle: And that’s another thing. Another reason why I don’t get rid of some of my stuff, you know, is because my son wants to throw everything away. Cece’s dad and I had this really big picture in my room at their house. I told them I don’t give two shits about you throwing away my mean uncle’s barbecue or all that stuff, [but] you are not going to get rid of that picture up there, ever. Right. One thing I’ve learned about watching Antiques Roadshow, almost every single episode, 99.99% of the time, oh, somebody in their local hometown appraised it and didn’t know what it was worth. They came to find out, it’s worth half a million dollars. Right. And you know how pissed I would be if something I had and dropped off at Goodwill was on an Antiques Roadshow special? I would lose it. You know? Yeah. So that’s probably why I just hide it all over.
Shelbie: Well, I think it would be kind of cool for you to know what you have, and create an inventory list.
Michelle: Well, I have so many health problems now and I’m sick all the time and everything. If you don’t see me outside [it means] I’m sick, you know. And just, yeah, the bills, the stress, you know, life— something always breaks our income. I just gotta figure something out. You know, try to make money. Yeah. [Looks at Cece] Grandma’s been addicted to the stock market thing.
(1) Hayden Island: an island that is between Vancouver, Washington (South) and Portland, Oregon (North)
Shelbie Loomis (she/her) is a socially engaged artist and illustrator. She makes projects and drawings with communities and participants about complex grieving, alternative housing, and exchange culture through times of crisis. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico she now lives in Portland, Oregon.
Michelle Grimes (she/her) is originally from Los Angeles. She loves to cook, garden, and clean and spend as much time with her granddaughter by taking her everywhere and doing things with her.
The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.
Created within the Portland State University Art & Social Practice Masters In Fine Arts. Program, SoFA Journal is now fully online.
Conversations on Everything is an expanding collection of interviews produced as part of SoFA Journal. Through the potent format of casual interviews as artistic research, insight is harvested from artists, curators, people of other fields and everyday humans. These conversations study social forms of art as a field that lives between and within both art and life.
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program