Preserving History 

The Dill Pickle Club Revives a Long-Forgotten Arts Institution

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"THRU THE HOLE in the wall Down Tooker Alley to the Green Lite over the Orange Door," read posters for the Dill Pickle Club, a Chicago-based arts and culture center run by union organizer Jack Jones from 1914 to 1934. Those through-the-rabbit-hole directions were followed by a diverse demographic—from professors to hobos, including folks like Sherwood Anderson, Emma Goldman, and Carl Sandburg—who came to the Pickle for theater, debates, literary readings, food, and more. While the Pickle was a diverse and vibrant place, it ended with Depression-era financial problems and was quickly forgotten.

And this is where the modern-day Dill Pickle Club comes in—with a Portland transplant named Marc Moscato who decided to revive the club's history. Not only did Moscato write a chapbook about the original Pickle (entitled Brains, Brilliancy, Bohemia: Art and Politics in Jazz-Age Chicago), but he started a new organization in its name, and with its original goal: to encourage discussions about "art, literature, drama, music, science, [and] social or political economy," as Jones put it many years ago.

Since its inception in June of 2009, Moscato's Pickle has had no physical home, existing through chapbooks (the aforementioned history of the Dill Pickle Club, as well as the self-explanatorily titled Art for the Millions: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA), and what Moscato calls "field trips"—outings that explore topics like "How Are Things Made?" and "Where Does Food Come From?" But on Thursday, December 3, the Dill Pickle Club will debut in a physical space: the Eyeful Gallery at the Everett Station Lofts. The event marks the opening of a temporary bookshop, as well as an art show featuring 24 established and emerging artists who were asked to take on the show's titular theme, Work | Progress.

The theme is well represented in the collaborative photographs of Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen. In an untitled print, a young man and woman—presumably Gray and Paulsen—stand in a garden. The woman holds a placard with a photo of steak, while the man holds one depicting potatoes. These artificial images contrast with the lush garden, highlighting our distance from the work involved in food production, while simultaneously questioning the progress implied by industrialized food.

While Work | Progress is centered around this art exhibit and temporary bookshop, in true Pickle form, it will also entertain various fields of study and learning experiences. On December 13, Michael Munk, author of The Portland Red Guide, will be leading a "walking tour of [Portland's] activist history"; a comedy night takes place December 18; and Work | Progress closes on January 3 with a dinner party that will feature presentations from bookmaker Matthew Stadler of the Ace Hotel Publication Studio, among others.

While Work | Progress is a promising start, much of the new Dill Pickle Club exists in the future. Moscato wants to establish a permanent nightclub location to house lectures, music, art, and whatever else the Picklers come up with. That's at least a year out, Moscato says, and $30,000 away from happening. In order to raise the needed funds, Work | Progress doubles as a membership drive—$30 for a six-month membership, $50 for a year, which gets patrons copies of Moscato's chapbooks, as well as first crack at signing up for future field trips.

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