Picture a logger. The typical, American image is a Paul Bunyan portrait: blue jeans below a red plaid shirt, white hands wielding a brown axe handle, a white face below a ruddy beard. This cultural image, however, excludes faces from what was and continues to be a diverse industry.
“In addition to African Americans, there were Greek loggers, Japanese loggers, Chinese loggers, Filipino, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Latino and Native American loggers,” said Gwen Trice, founder and director of the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center. “If you look at the way history is told, we’re excluded from telling those stories.”
Unveiling this concealed history became Trice’s mission when she learned that her Black father, Lafayette “Lucky” Trice, was one of these loggers. Although Trice refers to her father as a storyteller, his logging background was not a subject he broached often.
“The one time he brought it up was when I saw a scar on his back and I asked him what happened. He said that there was a logging accident and they had to wire him back together. And all I could think of was a coat hanger,” Trice said.
Lucky worked in Maxville, a long-since abandoned logging town in Oregon’s far northeastern Wallowa County. The municipality was home to one of Oregon’s most diverse populations when people of color were excluded from living in the state. Compiling and educating Oregonians about Maxville’s stories has been Trice’s motivation for over a decade.
Today, her Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center’s traveling exhibit helps to tell a more inclusive American narrative throughout the state. “Timber Culture,” now at the University of Oregon’s Erb Memorial Union, features six Maxville photos that seek to provide perspective and pride for its eclectic population.
“More accurate images”
“The purpose is to kind of unlearn that it’s only white people logging in Oregon, historically, and instead present more accurate images about what those communities and cultures looked like,” UO junior Audrey Kalman said.
Kalman works as a gallery assistant with UO’s Visual Arts Team, helping to choose and to hang different expositions on campus. “Timber Culture,” for example, is in a prominent, public location in the EMU’s Aperture Gallery.
“Other spaces are more sanctioned off for art whereas the Aperture Gallery, there are tables right in front of it where people will sit and work,” Kalman said.
For Suzanne Hanlon, assistant program director for student activities, this shared public show can reach everyone who shares this public university.
“We want to represent everyone who goes to this school and then feels welcome in the space,” Hanlon said. “The broad reach is to represent a lot of voices and a lot of different art styles in the gallery.”
For Trice, this point hits home, reverberating back to before she even knew about Maxville.
“There were not a lot of black kids in La Grande (southwest of Wallowa) when I was growing up,” Trice said. “I didn’t know what my ties to the community were.”
Trice camped in Wallowa County as a kid, following her Earth science passion into frosty mountains, but had no idea that Maxville existed or that her father had migrated there as a 26-year-old man to earn money as a logger.
During a 20-year career working for Boeing in Seattle, the company paid for graphic design and video production training. This led to film school post being laid off by Boeing.
“And that’s when I found out that my dad was a logger. I had a camera in my hand and I started capturing it,” Trice said. “Back then, most of the people I interviewed were in their mid-90s. It was very clear that I needed to get them in the can right away.”
In 2008, Trace took the handful of things that she’d collected — interviews, newspaper articles, booklets and other ephemera — and sat down with Oregon Public Broadcasting’s team.
“I’m crying. I’m telling my story and nobody’s saying anything,” Trice said. “Finally when I was done, they’re like, we got to do this story. That put us on the map.”
Living now in Joseph, Oregon, Trice has found an audience across the state, beginning with OPB’s “The Logger’s Daughter,” moving into a permanent exhibition in Joseph and now developing a secondary school curriculum that embraces the multitude of Maxville heritages.
“We want to build a more inclusive outdoor study. What exists now doesn’t have diversity, equity and inclusion nor does that reflect the cultural heritage of the area,” Trice said. “The point is to get kids connected to the story of where they’re from.”
The goal is to get this rolling in Joseph and move out into other Western Oregon districts. Trice has already received requests from charter schools and additional nearby school districts. In response, all of Maxville’s resources are accessible online.
“I wanted to use my skill set to create a more inclusive American narrative. That’s really the catalyst for all of this — it’s very healing to be included in your own history and it’s empowering to our young people, when they’re represented in stories in the communities where they grow up,” Trice said.
Hanlon hopes “Timber Culture” and other exhibits can reflect this attitude.
“How do we still continue to serve the students?” Hanlon said. “This is just an extraordinary time for helping them cope with stress and, at the same time, come up with creative solutions.”
What: A six-photo expository photo exhibit describing Maxville, a long-since abandoned diverse logging town in Wallowa County. During a time when people of color were not even allowed in Oregon, myriad cultures lived and worked side-by-side in Maxville’s woods.
When: On display now through Nov. 6.
Where: Erb Memorial Union, University of Oregon, 1230 E. 13th Ave. and online at maxville.squarespace.com.
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