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Walking art: Journeying from PSU to Timberline

Students from the PSU School of Art and Design experience communities on foot


Art comes in many forms. To one group of classmates from Portland State University, even walking is a form of art. For their final project, they walked from PSU to Timberline.

The class, titled "On Foot: An Educational Art and Social Practice Journey from Portland to Mt. Hood," is co-taught by Eric Steen and Harrell Fletcher. As a summer course, it lasts only a few weeks. The first weeks lead up to the more than 65-mile walking group project at the end.

As part of the PSU School of Art and Design, the class focuses on walking as an art form, drawing from artists such as Richard Long, Hamish Fulton and Eve Mosher.

“We think of the walk itself as a form of art,” Steen said. “The idea is that we’re all participating in an art project together.”

Before starting on their walk, students did personal walking projects in Portland. Projects could be anything, from picking a point and trying to walk there in a straight line, to drawing a shape on a map and trying to follow the shape as closely as possible.

Students also researched certain landmarks they would pass on the way to Timberline and prepared a 10-minute presentation.

Steen said this is his first time teaching the class at PSU, but he did similar programs during his time at the University of Colorado.

The class is based on the idea that you would walk out your door, pick a spot on the horizon, and walk there — in this particular case, Mount Hood.

One group member, Derek Hamm, who traveled from Kansas to participate in the class, said it was exciting to see the mountain show up in the distance rhythmically every day as they walked. Each day they watched it grow larger and larger as they came closer.

Steen said they set out from the classroom at 8 a.m. Wednesday, July 16, traveling through campus and then walking the Hawthorne Bridge. “It was awesome,” Steen said.

They finished their walk in the afternoon Sunday, July 20, in the heart of the Mt. Hood National Forest. by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Despite trying to stick to trails as they got closer to Mount Hood, the group did cross Highway 26 in Rhododendron after stopping at Dairy Queen on a hot afternoon.

On Thursday, July 17, the group of 11 stopped at East Orient Elementary School in Gresham for a break and to talk about what they saw the day before as they passed from an urban to suburban to rural environment.

They met with Ethan Seltzer, interim director of the School of Art and Design, who is very supportive of the class and the project, Steen said. Seltzer went over a map of the area’s urban growth boundaries.

After assuring that everyone was drinking plenty of water — “We hydrate in the School of Art and Design” — Seltzer congratulated them on crossing the Metro urban growth boundary.

Averaging 15 miles a day, the group walked the gamut of pathways, Steen said, from sidewalks in residential areas to roads without sidewalks, side trails and hiking and biking trails.

When they passed through Sandy on Thursday, they stayed at the Sandy Community Center for the night and then continued on their way, walking single file down Ten Eyck Road.

Steen said that while Portland was better at accommodating foot traffic, the group found that people in farm towns are very friendly.

Along the way, the group saw plenty of livestock, including a herd of alpaca, which they thought was the most interesting farm animals they passed.

Steen said that at one point, a rock got stuck in his shoe and he ended up carrying the rock for several miles. He said the group joked that this was something that artist Hamish Fulton, who believes it wrong to change the landscape for the sake of art, wouldn’t agree with.

Fletcher, who helped Steen with the project when it began at the University of Colorado, said his background in photography got him interested in the idea.

“I’ve been walking since I was about nine months old and I always enjoyed it,” said Fletcher, resulting in chuckles from the group, which had stopped for lunch. “You see the world differently when you’re walking with the idea of taking photos … in the end, I just feel better. I like to take my practice out into the world.”

“It’s been nice not exactly knowing where we’re going and being surprised,” Hamm said.

The class will have one final meeting to wrap up what the participants saw along their journey.