Hardcover pub. date
January 2009
ISBN 9780870715785 (hardcover)
12 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches, 48 pages. Color and B&W photographs.

Oaks Park Pentimento

Portland's Lost and Found Carousel Art

Jim Lommasson
Introduction by Inara Verzemnieks. Afterword by Prudence Roberts.

Oaks Park Pentimento captures the blurring of past and present, a moment when two generations of paintings collided to create remarkable new images.

Over two days in 1982, Jim Lommasson photographed the strange and beautiful paintings that decorated the center column of the historic carousel at Oaks Amusement Park in Portland, Oregon. The original carousel images—painted by anonymous German and Italian immigrants in the 1920s—were an exotic assortment of Edwardian pastoral scenes featuring western explorers, Native Americans, an Arab riding a camel, and idealized women. When these paintings began to show signs of wear in the 1940s, two itinerant artists—brothers from Vashon Island, Washington—were hired to paint over the eighteen panels with depictions of such local landmarks as the Columbia River Highway, Mount Hood, Multnomah Falls, and scenes from the Oregon coast.

Eventually, the surfaces of these new paintings also began to flake and fade, revealing parts of the original images in unusual and unexpected ways. The resulting double exposures or “pentimentos” included a ghostly sailboat gliding through a forest, an Indian chief looming over the Columbia River Gorge, and a parasoled woman with the road to Crown Point emerging from her loins. Each new image created a completely accidental, even surreal, story about the juxtaposition of two generations of paintings.

Just three years after Jim Lommasson captured these images on film, the original paintings were restored and the mysterious double-exposures disappeared under yet another layer of paint. Oaks Park Pentimento preserves these haunting photographs and also includes an appreciation by art historian Prudence Roberts and a look at Oaks Park, past and present, by journalist Inara Verzemnieks.

About the author

Jim Lommasson is the recipient of the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize from The Center of Documentary Studies at Duke University and author of the critically acclaimed book Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice, and the Will to Survive in American Boxing Gyms. An exhibit of his Oaks Park photographs was held at the Portland Art Museum in 2007. A recipient of regional and national awards with work in numerous collections, he lives in Portland, Oregon.

Read more about this author

“This lovely book focuses on the ornamental panels of an antique carousel as portals for meditation on the flickering meld of past and present. Jim Lommasson’s exquisite photographs of the twice-painted, much-damaged panels capture the surreal beauty of the original images emerging from and blending with the dissolving landscapes that covered them. The images are rich, intriguing, and poignant. They picture decay as its own vibrant form of life. The three essays that surround and contemplate the images add layer after layer of beautifully voiced history and meaning. The origins of carousels, the identity of the eccentric brothers who painted the second layer, and the shifts in culture that this particular carousel has survived, all add dimension to the images themselves. Oaks Park Pentimento is a timeless treasure about time.”

—Katherine Dunn

Sign Up for Our Newsletter