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Inside Portland’s “Outsider” Art Studio

Discover the Portland Art & Learning Studios (PALS), an art studio and gallery for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Presented by Albertina Kerr By Sebastian Zinn October 28, 2019

Art by PALS artist James Enos

Enter the Portland Art & Learning Studios (PALS)—a 10,000 square-foot art studio and gallery for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)—and discover a hub of creative artists producing evocative work in every media imaginable at an unflagging pace.

PALS is a program of Albertina Kerr—a local, nonprofit that empowers people with IDD, mental health challenges, and other social barriers to lead self-determined lives and reach their full potential.

Part of an international consortium of studios endeavoring to co-create a philosophy of care and empowerment, PALS is a liminal space–-simultaneously a studio, a gallery, a community space, and a bedrock of socially progressive action.

Weaving by PALS artist Ricky Bearghost

Among the studio’s regular practitioners, you may chance upon textile artist Ricky Bearghost weaving polychrome tapestries from yarn, handmade ceramic beads, and found materials, including grass; and book artist James Enos who creates stories by combining elements from disparate pop culture narratives using full-page illustrations, text, and comic-book style panels.

Native American weaver Bearghost, who taught himself how to weave at PALS, designed a 3’x4’ loom to create large, labor-intensive, sculptural works. His “breastplate looking” pieces have been on display at Webb Gallery in Waxahachie, Texas. According to the gallery curators, Bruce and Julie Webb, “We are in awe of his pieces’ composition and the way he exudes joy.”

Thanks to the resources provided by PALS, Enos has succeeded in launching his career as a professional book artist. The collector and artist Dov Kelemer (of DKE toys, a bootleg toy company) encountered Enos’ work at an art and design convention in Southern California, and purchased one of his multimedia books.

Today, Enos is represented by a book publishing company based in Brooklyn, New York, and an art restoration specialist at the MET is rebinding a selection of Enos’ one-of-a-kind books for commercial sale. 

For years, Enos’ mother, Beth Enos, assumed her son would never have the same quality of life as neurotypical people. The sheer pleasure James takes in his life as an artist has shifted her perception. She now realizes he has everything any parent wants for their child: overflowing self-esteem and self-confidence, that’s not dependent on other people’s opinions of them.

Ricky Bearghost posing with his art.

The growing interest in outsider art runs the gamut from artists who are savant-like to people living in relative rural isolation who haven’t received a formal arts education. Outsider art is an umbrella term for art produced by groups who have traditionally been marginalized by the high art world, and who don't receive the same kind of attention as trained artists working within or against an understanding of Western-European art history.

The attribute shared by all of these individuals is an impulse or need to make art, an impulse towards creativity. Outsider art has come to the forefront in the fine art world with the advent of the discourse on inclusivity. As a result, studios like PALS are becoming more competitive in the mainstream, as the value placed on outsider art by collectors is increasing steadily.

PALS endeavors to promote freedom, self-expression, socialization and professional growth among their artists. Refining their own artistic practice gives the members of PALS autonomy, as well as tools to combat and work past social isolation.

Don’t miss the Holiday Art Show and Sale at PALS—4852 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland—Dec. 7, 8, 14, and 15. Original works are also available online at PortlandArtandLearningStudio.com.

PALS is funded by the generosity of the community. Proceeds from Kerr’s social enterprises (Albertina’s Place and Kerr Bikes) also help support PALS, as well as Kerr’s services for people with IDD and mental health challenges. 

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