It's an odd day to be meeting up with the heiress to a lumber fortune.
It's noon on Thursday, November 17, and a helicopter tethers to a point in the sky that loosely signals the unfolding Occupy drama. I walk past Elizabeth Leach Gallery and approach the door to Sarah Miller Meigs' Lumber Room—a private, multi-use art condo which today opens for a rare stretch of regularly scheduled public hours for the exhibition Interior Margins.
A quiet door bears the name of the show, as well as a street-level security camera that inadvertently conveys the opulence ahead. Inside, a motion sensor beeps while hardwoods and pristine white walls run up the stairs and to the main floor—interrupted only for strategic east/west windows and interspersed clusters of artwork throughout the 6,300 square feet.
In the downstairs foyer, the exhibition begins with the fluid colors and organic protrusions of a collection of paintings by Nell Warren. On a nearby wall, an assemblage—a painted archival print wrapped in fabrics—by Michelle Ross begins to establish the dialogue between the works in the show; a conversational back and forth regarding surface and interior, intended as a brief impression of Northwest female artists working in abstraction.
"I think [with] women, because of the way we're connected to our bodies, there is a lot of interior imagining," says Interior Margins curator Stephanie Snyder, remembering pregnancy. "It's like you're carrying your child inside of you, who's growing, and you're feeling them grow and you're just constantly visualizing that person."
It's this abstract imagining of inner processes that most outwardly ties the works together.
Moving up the stairs, the first in a series of permanent wall drawings by Léonie Guyer is found, looking part spearhead, part fishing lure, part urn—executed as a solid red shape (these drawings by Guyer were the impetus for the show). Another small drawing by Guyer is found farther up the flight, and then finally a subtle piece by Midori Hirose (twin tubes filled with colored sand, wedged where two walls meet).
At the top of the stairs, exposed wooden beams lattice where a ceiling might cap off the collection of works by Judy Cooke, Blair Saxon-Hill, Kristan Kennedy, Heather Watkins, and others. Collector/patron Meigs greets me. She sits at a long table with Warren; Meigs relaxing behind a MacBook, Warren tapping an iPad. Meigs spent six years silently constructing the space, which was launched just as quietly at the beginning of 2010.
Meigs says it's a project she's been thinking about since her 20s, back in the early days of her 30-year streak as a collector. Behind her is a mesmerizing collection of line drawings by Linda Hutchins and ahead, a series of photographs documenting installations by Victoria Haven. She speaks of her patronage in terms of both profession and spirituality. She preemptively deflects uncomfortable questions with a cotillion grace. She talks casually of her daily life in a way that makes it sound like a wonderfully orchestrated relay race between varying forms of relaxation and enrichment.
The space is fantasy realized, furnished with a bedroom, library, kitchen, multiple chill areas both indoors and out, and gallery spaces large and small.
"There are Murphy beds back that way for when my kids stay here," explains Meigs. She's thought of everything, creating a space that can function flawlessly as a personal domicile (for when she stays in Portland), artist residency site, performance/lecture/gallery space, and chic nest for discreet get-togethers with artists, fellow collectors, and various friends of the arts.
"This is my way of giving back," she says. And while, yes, there would be more direct ways to contribute to the community than buying art and setting up a condo to stage museum-quality exhibitions for private guests, this moneyed approach is a way to build enticing infrastructures that encourage other collectors and larger-name artists to visit and contribute to the region both culturally and financially.
It's a way to help the proverbial 99 percent, however indirectly. And at this point, I don't blame the wealthiest folks for maintaining a healthy buffer.