FROM ITS PERCH on a wall at the Portland Art Museum (PAM), Molly Cliff Hilts’s Sky Rolled, Salty & Free, a moody, brooding, multihued landscape fashioned with melted colored wax on canvas, regularly leaves visitors with their mouths agape. And so does the painting’s price tag: $8,250. Of course, curators know that not all art lovers can afford to spend as much on their décor as they did for, say, their first car, which is why it makes sense to let potential buyers test-drive the art. PAM is one of a handful of museums in the country that let prospective purchasers—or simply cash-strapped art fans—rent pieces. The museum’s rental gallery boasts nearly 2,000 works by more than 250 Northwest artists. Any museum member with a credit card and wall space can borrow a piece for three months at a time for between $40 and $400, with the option to buy (and part of the rental fee applied toward the price). Since the program was started 49 years ago, the adoption rate for artworks has hovered around 35 percent per year; some pieces, like the three below, take a few years to find the perfect roost. We followed them across the city—and sometimes the country—on their journeys from a gallery wall to a good home.
Journey to Nowhere, by Arletha Mueller Ryan
PURCHASE PRICE: $1,900 Permanent home: Private Northwest Portland residence
HOW IT GOT THERE: Months after leaving Ryan’s easel in 1997, this oil painting—inspired by an area near The Dalles—embarked on a voyage to Washington, D.C. (never mind the potential irony of the painting’s title), where it hung in Senator Gordon Smith’s office for 10 months. From there it passed through the hands of local collectors before finding a home with a Northwest Portland couple looking to bring some life back into the bedrooms of their children, who had grown up, moved away, and left behind an empty nest.
Mt Hood from Eastern Oregon, by Thérèse Albert
PURCHASE PRICE: $2,400
PERMANENT HOME: Law
office of James R. Cartwright
HOW IT GOT THERE: Albert’s oil landscape is one of the gallery’s most rented pieces. After arriving at PAM in 1988, the painting eventually was rented by Multnomah County Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s office, and from there hung in a series of local law firms and local collectors’ homes. Finally, 14 years after its gallery debut, the portrait of our local volcano was snatched up by Cartwright, who designed his conference room around it—a symbol, perhaps, that he and his clients should keep eruptions in check.
Gray Hat & Half Figure, by Michele Russo
PURCHASE PRICE: $12,000
PERMANENT HOME: Umpqua Bank’s downtown office
HOW IT GOT THERE: After appearing in a commercial by Euro RSCG, this abstract acrylic moved to the West Hills’ infamous Vista House Condos in 2003, 2004—and again in 2005, the same year Vista House forked over $5.5 million to home owners for shoddy stuccowork. (The condos were built with fake plaster, so they suffered wood rot and leakage.) Fortunately, Russo’s painting was unharmed and eventually found its way to Umpqua Bank’s posh digs, where it hangs today in the CEO’s office, under a well-made roof.