This week’s work of art comes courtesy of Eric Steen, who also writes the beer blog Beer and Sci-Fi. We got to talking about beer and art during the recent Beer Bloggers Conference in Boulder last month and Eric told me the story of how the Portland Art Museum commissioned him to do an art & beer project the last two years as a part of their Shine A Light, a non-traditional one-night experience showing art in a different light. For the project, Steen “invited three breweries to tour the museum. They each selected an art piece and then brewed beer inspired by that artwork. For the first Shine A Light exhibition in 2009, Chad Kennedy, from Laurelwood Public House & Brewery, chose Homesteaders, by Arthur Runquist, which was painted in 1939.
Homesteaders is an oil painting, on canvas, 38.5 in. wide by 32.5 in high and is the Fine Arts Collection, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration. It was created as a part of the WPA, or the Works Progress Administration, back in the day when the government actually cared about art and supported it. Today, the painting is owned by the Portland Art Museum.
For Steen’s art & beer project, he curated his concept by putting together art with beer to fulfill his concept of the two being paired together.
Chad Kennedy with the beer he made, inspired by Homesteaders, that was served for free to museum guests. (photo by Vivian Johnson)
As Kennedy explained his choice of the Homesteaders:
Homesteaders by Arthur Runquist drew me in for several reasons. The simplest and perhaps most obvious connection between my beer brewing and this painting was the corked bottle sitting on a log in the foreground of the painting. While this piece is about the hard work and perseverance of pioneers and laborers (this is a WPA funded piece), the bottle in the forefront signals the rewards of hard work – this is very similar to how I see our beers’ role in society.
Secondly, the subjects in this painting are working as a team to achieve a common goal. As a small brewery this reminds me of our work environment. Not only are we a small team of brewers, but as craft brewers, we’ve made the conscious choice of striking out on our own; sometimes taking big risks in hope of new experience, and if we’re lucky others will follow us and the journey will be a benefit for the greater good — In our case, making our beer culture stronger, moving away from mass marketed, lifeless beer.
Drawing inspiration from Homesteaders meant designing a beer that was out of the ordinary, took chances and struck out on its own. I considered the historical perspective of the painting and decided to utilize some non-traditional brewing ingredients – ingredients that likely would have been used by people in the painting to create a drink to help them relax when all the work was done.
Our beer still uses malted barley, but also contains malted wheat, corn and molasses for sources of sugar to ferment. In a nod to the fermentation vessels of the paintings day — we added a small dose of American oak to the fermented beer giving it a slight “woody” character. The beer doesn’t fall into a style but tries to take us flavor-wise to a place we’ve never been. In doing so, I hope the beer, as well as the painting, take you on a unique and inspiring journey.
In the video below, local artist Carson Ellis gives a short talk about Homesteaders, by Arthur Runquist.
To learn more about Runquist, the Laura Russo Gallery has a biography and a small gallery of his work.