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30 Years of Portlandia: Portland's Quiet Leading Lady

Posted on 10 October 2015

You wouldn't be alone if you thought Portlandia was a recent invention by Carrie Brownstein and that other guy. But you would be wrong. Portlandia is the largest lady you've probably never heard of. This week our biggest homage to the graceful patron saint of Portlanders turned a brassy 30 years old.

On October 6th, 1985, golden Portlandia herself glided along the Willamette River to the downtown waterfront. From there she was carefully raised up, and moved the short distance to her permanent perch in front of the Portland Building. The massive statue is based on the design of the Portland city seal, with all the windblown classical styling and dramatic trident-holding of a renaissance painting. Though a symbol of northwestern strength, she was (in a time-honored sculptural tradition) built in pieces thousands of miles away by DC-based sculptor Raymond Kaskey. She traveled in pieces by boat to the Northwest, where assembly took place at a foundry and machineworks on the Willamette.

Crouched at 35 feet tall, she is the second largest copper repoussé statue in the nation, dwarfed only by that tall green lady in NYC. If she stood up it's estimated she'd pass 50 feet. 

Despite years of anathema thrown at the Portland Building - as Michael Graves's pioneering example of incredibly impractical postmodern architecture - Portlandia is a quietly beloved figure. Unlike our airport carpet, she isn't a widespread consumer icon or heavily hashtagged landmark. This is in huge part due to Raymond Kaskey holding the copyright to her image and aggressively restricting all rights to her likeness and reproduction, despite public commission and funding of the work.

However unknown the large lady may be, her grand presence gives the city building more gravitas and she is still a favorite face of the city. Her gleaming copper colors have cooled over the decades, but the city's love of the statue hasn't. Her birthday was marked with sculptural cake (likely unlicensed), speeches by regional figures like art-loving former Mayor Bud Clark, and games of pin the face on Portlandia. A pretty solid birthday, by all accounts. 

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