The O’Connell Code, part 2

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Art Clough (not the right carving)

CLICK HERE FOR PART 1

Last I was on the trail of the O’Connell code, I’d explored forgotten corners of the Knight library, browsed the pages of a Japanese tween girl magazine and managed to get into the locked Browsing Room, all in search of “two amazing wood carved panels” that Ken O’Connell told me about by email. O’Connell said the panels were, “All about the depression and CCC camps in the NW… done in the 1930′s.”

“They could be the panels,” said Sheila, the library lady who let me into the Browsing Room. They were by the right artist, Art Clough, but the images of elvin natives sitting passively in forests just didn’t fit the bill.

Back at Library Administration, Sheila dug up a stack of yellowing papers full of information on the library’s art and architecture. One page listed the famous subjects of all of the busts rimming the library’s roof. Did you know St. Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, John Locke, Buddha, Christ, Beethoven, Charles Darwin and Dante have been watching you all of these years, UO students? That’s when I saw another name. Leonardo da Vinci is among them, too. I knew I was on the right track.

On the very next page, there was information on “WOOD CARVED MURALS” with lots of mentions of the CCC, but no word on the art’s exact location. That’s when Sheila sent me upstairs to check in the rare books section, which was closed.

I returned the next day, mounted the staircase, turned the corner and-

“Shhhhhhhhhh,” said the librarian, though I hadn’t been talking. “Please put your bag over there, and no cellular phones.”

I’d forgotten about the rare books librarians, fabled hellhounds of the library’s most precious treasures. After putting my bag next to the coat rack, I turned around to finally discover….

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Art Clough*, west panel

I think I let out a little gasp, because the pieces truly are amazing. The carvings were smooth, sharp and incredibly detailed, but also soft and mottled, as though Clough had effortlessly swooped a knife through a giant pan of butter.

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Art Clough, “Trails in the Shadow of Hood” (west end)

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Art Clough, untitled (pack mules beneath Mount Thielsen)

Most impressive are Clough’s compositions, which smoothly integrate stunning, craggy landscape scenes with ghostly processions hanging in the mists, and tightly packed and layered forests filled with straining figures. The charm is in the little details, like the pack mules who wade through wood rings that mimic ripples of water, or a miniature self portrait of the artist sitting with his sketchbook in one of the corners.

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Art Clough, “Trails in the Shadow of Hood” (“Employment”)

Only now, long after my adventure, did I read to the very bottom of the information sheet about the carvings. At the end, it says:

“Beneath the panels… Art Clough attempted to relate the stories of various young men. These stories were told to Clough and he carved them to depict the incidents of the men prior to their journey west. It is a type of social protest and Mr. Clough said he is most proud of these small carvings.”

It’s the only echo of an interview I’ll ever have with Clough, as he’s now “passed**,” said one of the rare books librarians (who actually seemed quite nice). I don’t know if Clough was a part of the CCC, but I think it’s wonderful that these panels are based on real stories, that ghosts might hide among their grains.

Code cracked, Mr. O’Connell. Watcha got next?

*Also involved were Ross McClure, an assistant, and Jim de Broekert, an apprentice who possibly still lives in Eugene. hmmmm…

**Clough passed away in 1977.

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