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Paint a bird on it! Popular 6x6-inch bird art back at Portland's Wild Arts Festival

By Jamie Hale
The Oregonian

Every year original canvas paintings by some 200 local artists sell out quickly and almost completely, according to festival organizers. At $45 per painting, that makes the "6x6 Wild Art Project" an easy $9,000 part of the fundraiser that last year raised roughly $175,000.

As much as we don't want the old "Portlandia" joke to be true, the old "Portlandia" joke appears to be true: People in Portland (and elsewhere) still love having images of birds on things.

But that trend exists outside of the twee boutiques, infiltrating our culture for a much better cause at Portland's two-day Wild Arts Festival, where 6-inch-by-6-inch bird paintings have become a major fundraiser for the Audubon Society of Portland.

Every year original canvas paintings by some 200 local artists sell out quickly and almost completely, according to festival organizers. At $45 per painting, that makes the "6x6 Wild Art Project" an easy $9,000 part of the fundraiser that last year raised roughly $175,000.

This year there will be 204 canvasses in all, taken over by professional painters, amateurs and even kids. Artists have painted everything from serene landscapes of duck on ponds to a scene of owl TIE fighters alongside the Death Star.

The idea for the project came from the folks at Portland art supply shop Art Media (bought in 2011 by Dick Blick). The store would donate 6x6 canvasses, artists would volunteer to paint birds on them, and the end results would be sold to benefit the Audubon Society.

That was the proposal 10 years ago – long before "Portlandia" came to town – and it's largely the same today.

"We really liked the idea right away," Gandolfi said. "It really took off."

The project was one part of a larger overhaul of the Wild Arts Festival, which nearly fell apart a decade ago, Gandolfi said. That's when he stepped in, creative ideas to revitalize the event were welcome and bird art began its fortuitous climb into our Pacific Northwest zeitgeist. The rest is feathery history.

But amid the flock and flurry, a maddening question remains: What is it about birds?

Nobody at the Wild Arts Festival knows for sure, but it appears that the "6x6 Wild Art Project" has risen separately from the cultural successes of "Portlandia" and "Angry Birds." It's become an insider tradition at the Wild Arts Festival, thriving on low price points and collector appeal.

"A lot of them get sold the first hour," Gandolfi, who has 10 of the 6x6 paintings himself, said. By the end of the weekend only 25 or 30 remain.

So what's his take on the avian popularity?

"They're fascinating, everybody likes watching them and they're beautiful," he said. It's that simple. "Everyone loves birds."

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WILD ARTS FESTIVAL 2015

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