Like a benevolent deity, Portlandia holds out her hand, offering to pick up those who have stumbled.
The City of Roses’ patron “Copper Goddess” owes her existence to the One Percent for Art program, which mandated in 1975 that all public buildings must allocate a portion of the construction budget toward the acquisition of artwork.
When architect Michael Graves began to ponder ideas for the Portland Building, he set his sights on the city’s seal. On it, “Lady Commerce” is surrounded by symbols of Portland’s agricultural, commercial, and natural riches — including a trident, a sheaf of grain, a cogwheel and sledgehammer, a steamship, and a forest.
With $200,000 and a design missive to work with, the Metropolitan Arts Council put out a call to artists across the country. Ultimately, the Portland Building Selection Committee, a coalition of local creatives and citizens, selected Washington, D.C.-based Raymond Kaskey’s proposal, which stood out among the rest due to its powerful pose (inspired by his own wife).
So in 1983, he set to work in the nation’s capital, using an arduous and archaic process called repoussé. This inside-out method required at least 50 hammer strokes for every square inch of the metal; only one other figure of such magnitude had ever been shaped this way, and it stands on Ellis Island.
Time and budget constraints threatened to scrap the project by the summer of 1985. The price of transporting such a massive sculpture to the Pacific Northwest was substantial, but the Portland City Council approved the use of $150,000 in donations to do so.
By rail, and eventually by barge, Portlandia made her way up the Willamette River escorted by a flotilla of private boats. The 35-ft-tall, 6.5-ton (that’s 14,330 pounds) statue was paraded through town and installed three stories above Southwest Fifth Avenue on October 6, 1985.
To this day, Raymond Kaskey retains the copyright, preventing mass reproductions. A miniature scale model is housed across the street in the Standard Insurance Center.