FOLLOW BURNSIDE until it turns into Barnes Road, until you almost run out of Portland entirely, and you'll find yourself at the Oregon College of Art and Craft, Portland's tiniest art school. Founded in 1907 and situated on a former filbert orchard, the campus is rustic and wooded, and admin buildings are located in former farmhouses. Overripe plums and blackberries dot the sidewalks, and everywhere on campus are accents befitting an art school: a chandelier shows off the metalwork of a faculty member; a statue of a little man sits on a stone bench overlooking a view of campus; a wooden bench on the porch of the admissions building bears the name of the student who built it.
OCAC's campus is like a daydream of an artists' colony come to life, a summer camp for grownups. (That comparison came easily to mind on the day I visited: The campus was full of children doing photography and printmaking projects, as part of the school's "Art Adventures" summer day-camp programs.)
Of course, all this ambiance comes at a price—tuition and fees for an MFA in craft push $40,000 a year, and most students live off campus and hold down jobs to offset tuition. (OCAC also offers need- and merit-based scholarships and financial aid.)
If you're fuzzy on the difference between art and craft, you're not alone—plenty of ink has been spilled over the years on whether pottery belongs in art galleries. It is a boring question for boring people, and at the Oregon College of Art and Craft, the BFA in craft you'll receive simply means that you've received an education in both the history and the practice of your chosen medium. (As of this fall, there's also an option to receive an MFA in craft from OCAC's brand-new graduate program.)
At OCAC, students pick from among seven areas of focus: photography, metalworking, ceramics, fiber arts, book arts, drawing/painting, and woodworking. The painting studios are high-ceilinged and full of windows, to soak up the daylight; photography labs are in the basement to avoid it; and the pottery studio boasts a giant, digitally operated, Blaauw kiln, tall enough to fit an entire rack of ceramics and the ceramicist herself.
An on-campus restaurant, Hands On Café, is a small, family-run spot that serves lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. It was closed on my visit, but it's got a 4.5 stars-average on Yelp and MANY breathless reviews using words like "fabulous," so make of that what you will.
OCAC's most distinguishing characteristic—more than the thoughtfully designed studio buildings, more than the artwork that embellishes campus—is that it's tiny, with a BFA enrollment of about 140 students. Obviously, this is not the school for you if you require any of the following: A dating pool. Parties. A broad curriculum with room to experiment with different majors. But for students who already know that they want to focus on their art, it's hard to imagine a more idyllic setting.