North Williams Avenue and the surrounding area have changed. For some this is an understatement. For others, it is simply the way things go. For us, it is a challenge.
Screw Loose Studio and Soapbox Theory’s creative partnership predates the marriage of their respective owners, having worked together since 2006. Our creativity is directly linked to this location; we have worked with schools, non-profits, small businesses, churches, families and individuals – many of whom recall our shop’s former incarnation as a restaurant. We have an uncut umbilical cord keeping us in suspended animation, just enough movement to create but yet an undying desire of keeping our feet planted firmly on Williams Avenue. We are committed to seeing our rich cultural history fully represented in a dignified manner, that our present story is told, as well as a plan and story of reconstruction for the African-American presence on William Avenue in our future .
Cleo Davis, Project Lead
When my wife and I first heard of this opportunity to create a public art piece on Williams Avenue, our hearts dropped. We were so excited to learn that we could be a part of honoring the history of the street where we both grew up on and currently own and operate our businesses.
In the late 80’- early 90’s the Davis family owned and operated 3940 N. Williams Avenue as a restaurant, serving the African-American community a creative fusion of Afro-Mex, a blend of gourmet soul and Mexican-American cuisine. In 2003, this location was passed to the next generation, allowing me to live out my dreams of creative expression through art & design. I put my life- long dream into action by starting Screw Loose Studio an art & design atelier, which combines multiple disciplines of cultural creative arts. Part of my aim was to provide the African-American community with access to professional design and printing services on a community level. Shortly thereafter, I met Kayin.
My artwork takes a critical view of social, political and cultural issues. In my work, I reconstruct the cultural view, modernizing while highlighting the traditions. Having engaged subjects as diverse as the civil rights movement, indigenous culture, and modernist object design, my work reproduces familiar visual signs, arranging them into new conceptually layered pieces. Although I use a variety of processes and materials in each project my methodology is consistent. Although there may not always be material similarities between the different projects they are linked by visual balance creating a unified whole and through the subject matter using typography/graphic design, industrial/product design architectural and fine art methods. The subject matter of each body of work determines the materials and the forms of the work. Though I began studying various forms, processes and materials since my youth, I have been formally educated in Architecture while attending University of Oregon, changing to Industrial Design at San Jose State and Stanford University.
Kayin Talton Davis, Project Manager
My path to art is a bit different. I, too, started to hone my artistic skills at a young age, trying various mediums and drawing portraits of my peers at age 12. Harriet Tubman Middle School is where my love of math and science developed into an interest in engineering after meeting a pediatric prosthetic designer. I saw it as a way of making children to feel “whole and able.” As part of my education at Portland State, where I earned a Bachelor’s of Mechanical Engineering, my design projects were influenced by this drive to be accessible to all. This was also the reason behind my work at Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA), a program for students underrepresented in Math Science and Engineering.
I started Soapbox Theory in 2001 as a way to express myself creatively while in the math and physics filled world of engineering. I have come to realize that many of the reasons I have continued with graphic design and product development are the same as to why I initially chose bio-mechanical engineering: to create something that is positive, helpful, and accessible to all – but especially children culturally underrepresented in the mainstream. It is incredibly fun seeing them react to my artwork; the moment they say “he/she looks like me!” is when it is reaffirmed that I am doing the right thing. To this end, I have written and illustrated a children’s picture book called “Flying Lessons,” a story about two young girls and the wisdom their great-grandmother instills in them. All of my work is culturally based and draws from pictures, memories, stories, and future hopes.
With a combined background of architecture, industrial design, materials science, mechanical engineering, graphic design, fine art and love of our community, our team of two is ready to step into the next phase of design. For each of us, art has been an expression of love of our history, culture, and community. Growing up in Portland (myself in the Irvington/Alameda area, Cleo in Sellwood and King), we each spent much of our childhoods in the Boise and Eliot neighborhoods. Many of the landmarks are no longer around and our friends’ families no longer live in the area. I grew up with stories about the Maxeys and the old crew on Gantenbein, going to Hank’s Dairy on Williams and Fremont, and attending Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church on Ivy and Rodney. Now we are property and business owners on N Williams Ave, and have a home in the Eliot neighborhood.
Honoring the history of Williams Avenue is something we strive to do in our daily lives. We are also part of the Williams Avenue present, and future.