Velveteria Museum, Portland Oregon.'

I wasn’t just surprised to find a gallery of velvet paintings, I was further surprised to learn they were hosting a show of Valentines velvet works by local artist Juanita and had cards advertising a show of LA artist Arnold Pander’s oil on velvet works at the local Vault Martini Lounge.

But the fact is, Carl Baldwin and Caren Anderson’s Velveteria is the place, if ever there was such a place, where such forces will collide.

Sadly, my visit Saturday evening was at a time when the owners weren’t hosting, and the woman who was there wasn’t able to offer much to explain the works. Fortunately, artist Arnold Pander (whose works span a broad range of media, including oil on velvet) lays out this history of velvet painting in his personal gallery:

For hundreds of years velvet paintings have been created in various ways, dating back to the fourteenth century when Marco Polo discovered samples of velvet paintings in Kashmir, where velvet was first woven. During the Victorian era, painting on velvet became a popular hobby amongst the British upper class with floral and still life subjects. It later came to the U.S. during the post revolutionary period where biblical scenes and landscapes were the dominant themes of this romantic medium. Edward Leeteg revolutionized the velvet painting in the 20th century with his figurative “pin-up” style of Tahitian native culture in the 30s 40s and 50s. Leeteg transformed the way velvet painting was perceived, solidifying it as a part of American pop-culture.

(Pander’s works can also be seen at the Mark Woolley Galery.)

The Velveteria stands in northwest Portland and offers about 150 works in two rooms. My knowledge of the medium was limited to badly rendered paintings of Elvis sold along with bull skulls out of the trunks of big American cars from decades past.

Portland Picks tells me the genre is typically represented by a “Elvis/Jesus/Clowns trifecta,” but we both agree that the range represented in the museum is almost beyond words. I say “almost” not because I’m going to attempt to describe them, no. I say it that way because I have this further link to the Portland Mercury about the whole thing (though it’s worth noting that they apparently couldn’t begin to report the story without quoting Dave Hickey‘s famous “good taste is the residue of someone else’s privilege”).

But the Mercury did also explain the Velveteria’s nude room, saying “buxom lasses” as are the dominant subject of the black velvet medium.

Painting on velvet (paint is applied either by brush or air gun, or frequently a combination of the two) results in a unique luminosity when done well, and skin tones highlight this quality best.

The owners are said to have over 1000 velvet works in their collection, so this is clearly a passion for them, I’m just sorry to have missed the opportunity to meet them. Admission is $3, and the bumper sticker is $2. Tee shirts, postcards, and keychain peepers are also available.