Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Velvet paintings not just about Elvis anymore

The oddities tour continued Sunday with a stop at the Velveteria in Northeast Portland, a museum devoted to velvet paintings.

I was prepared to embrace the tack of the velvet paintings, but I didn’t know I’d have so much fun doing it. After regaling friends and family with stories of the world’s largest hairball and Bobbie the Wonder Dog, I had no problem finding someone to join me on my museum tour.

We walked in and paid our $3 admission charge before we were allowed to enter the gallery. I didn’t know where to look first, but my eyes landed on a painting of a familiar face. But I was sure I had to be wrong.

“Is that Jack Kevorkian?” I asked Carl, the founder.

“Yes, that is Dr. Jack Kevorkian,” he confirmed. “And that’s the leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult over there.”

Sure enough, there was another of Marshall Applewhite looking wide-eyed and crazed. Carl explained that the two were sold as a set in Tijuana, Mexico. I’m not sure what the artist was thinking when he created those, and I wonder what others he had planned in that series.

Moving on to the next wall, I found the “Unicorn Combover,” which was one of my favorites, perhaps as much for its name as for the artwork itself. It featured a unicorn with a long flowing mane that covered the head of a person next to it. There were apparently plans by the Velveteria folks to make that one into a T-shirt, but it was cost-prohibitive. I hope that changes soon because I’d line up for one of those.

The main exhibit going on at the moment is of Polynesian beauties. The founders purchased several paintings from a Hawaiian artist who had been told they were too tacky. However, they were some of the more artistic paintings on the walls. We even were given leis when we walked in to set just the right mood.

The exhibits change regularly and have been featured on The Travel Channel and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Many visitors to Portland or recent transplants like myself are often the ones who clamor to the museum to take in the velvety goodness.

Of course, the Velveteria also had the obligatory Elvis and dogs playing poker paintings, but there were so many other interesting subjects to see. Another personal favorite was of Hulk Hogan, wearing his wrestling belt and a bandanna on his head. But what made this artwork particularly unique was the green hue to Hogan’s skin, making him look more like the Incredible Hulk. I have fond childhood memories of the Incredible Hulk, so that one was special.

Just around the corner from the Hulk are two paintings depicting Jesus. In one, he is sporting a gravity-defying beard that’s pretty spectacular, and in the other, he is wearing the crown of thorns. But as Carl pointed out, the likeness bears an amazing resemblance to Sammy Davis Jr. He even put a small picture of Davis next to the painting to show the similarity. Indeed, the painting was dubbed “Sammy Davis Jesus.”

And there’s a small room in the back that’s filled with paintings of nude and topless women, and another section for paintings that glow under blacklight. The museum has paintings of E.T., Mr. T., Michael Jackson, Mel Gibson and over 100 others. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, so as not to ruin the fun for everyone else. You’ll just have to check it out on your own.

At the end of my gallery tour, I was overjoyed to see that the Velveteria had souvenirs. At so many of the quirky places, that isn’t the case, and I leave with only my memories and maybe some photographs. But not this time. The museum offered T-shirts, post cards, bumper stickers and bracelets, among other items.

I purchased a shirt and a few post cards, but I couldn’t resist the hot dog earrings, which I’m sporting now as I write this. Especially at $1 a pair. At first, they seemed so incongruous with the theme of the place. But in an odd way, I realized, they fit perfectly.

The museum is open noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday at 518 NE 28th Ave. between Sandy Boulevard and Glisan Street. Portlanders apparently aren’t so quick to stop in, but they are definitely missing out.

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1 comment:

w_robison said...


I just read Tara's entry about the Velveteria and had a long-standing question of my own answered... Namely: I wonder who ended up buying my paintings out from under me? The Answer: The Velveteria!!

My name is William Travis Robison and I've been working on a project involving Tijuana Black Velvet Paintings since The Republican National Convention in August of 1996... Well, two projects actually: The Limited-Issue Velvet Republicans (the one I started in '96) & The American Tabloid Heroes Collection, Modern American Media Martyrs On Black Velvet (which I started in '97)... I won't bother taking up your comments section with a bunch of blahblahblah re. me, but regarding your mention of the Velveteria's velvet paintings of Jack Krevorkian and Marshall Applewhite... suffice it to say: Mine! Mine! Mine! and Mine!


Sometime around the end of 2001 I commissioned 3 velvet paintings in Tijuana to add to my Tabloid Heroes pantheon of Media Martyrs. They were: So-Called Doctor Death, Dr. Jack Krevorkian, Hale-Bopp Comet Afficianado Marshall Applewhite and Cuban Refugee Elian Gonzales and his Cuban Citizen Father...

However, before I was able to return to Tijuana and pick up my paintings I ended up getting carjacked on New Year's Eve 2001/2002 in Vence CA by a maniac with a ShotGun who ended up shooting me at point blank range with that shotgun very damn nearly dead. And I was unable to get back to Tijuana for almost a year... and when I finally did get back, my paintings were gone-gone-gone!

I couldn't blame the shop-owner for feeling like he had to sell them as he hadn't heard from me for almost a year and no doubt figured I must've just abandonned the paintings. But despite understanding why he had to do it, I felt heartsick nonetheless and from that day until the day I read your blog entry, I've wondered what ever became of my poor little paintings... (I never even got to see how they turned out!).

So, I guess I need to make a trip to the Velveteria myself and see my paintings in their new home. If you (Tara) ever talk to the couple that runs the place, please let them know what I just told you here.

And finally here are some semi-relevant links to back-up my story somewhat:

* Velvet Project in One Picture:

* Velvet Project in One PhotoSet:

* The American Tabloid Heroes Collection PhotoSet:

* CarJacking in 3 Pictures:
a.) http://www.flickr.com/photos/indignico/89436919/
b.) http://www.flickr.com/photos/indignico/71425903/
c.) http://www.flickr.com/photos/indignico/89428112/

The End.

Thanks Tara for writing about your Velveteria Trip and mentioning seeing Black Velvet Krevorkian and Black Velvet Applewhite and thus soothing my troubled soul a little... if only we knew about poor little Elian too! At least his father is with him...

--Thanks, Bill Robison
(My Tijuana Black Velvet Project's WebSite: Velvetpaintings.com)

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