At Portland’s Nationale, The Artist as Shopkeeper


While visiting Portland last month, I visited a number of excellent shops with Yeti editor/publisher Mike McGonigal. One of these spaces was Nationale, which offered both a smartly selection of books and zines and contained excellent art. (At the time that I was there, they were preparing for an exhibition of Carson Ellis’s work.) I also noticed a stack of books by Don Carpenter, whose novel Hard Rain Falling remains seared into my brain. The Carpenter novels, I learned, were there as part of their Merchants in Residence program, where a Portland artist selects items for the store to sell. (In this case, the novels had been selected by the Portland-based novelist and screenwriter Jon Raymond.) Intrigued, I asked Nationale’s May Barruel & Ty Ennis for more information on the project. Our conversation, conducted via email, follows.

Where did the Merchants in Residence idea initially come from?
May: Ty approached me with the idea of inviting artists he admires to share with Nationale their favorite objects, either in their every day life or studio practice. Merchants in Residence is a sort of show-and-tell meets self portrait; an introduction to the space and artists for some, and an intimate glimpse at a hero for others. It could also be seen as a “so-and-so recommends.”

We actually started the project with Ty’s personal selection (MIR01) and he went on to invite Storm Tharp (MIR02), Midori Hirose (MIR03), Norm Sajovie (MIR04), and Jon Raymond (MIR05) subsequently. This Saturday we will unveil the selection of our next merchants, the band Golden Retriever.

The initial idea behind Nationale when I opened the space was to offer a small selection of goods that I love and use everyday in addition to our monthly exhibitions. I therefore welcomed the project as I was excited to see what objects these artists and friends might find inspirational and I liked the fact it would offer a broader aesthetic to our clientele.

Ty: We see it as a way of bridging the gap that exists between Nationale the shop and Nationale the gallery.

Jon Raymond’s contribution involved a mixture of new books and used ones. What have past selections generally looked like?
MIR01: Ty Ennis — For the first installment of MIR, Ty Ennis presented a combination of art books (Paul Thek, Diver: A Retrospective; Luc Thuymans, Is It Safe?), music (William Basinski, A Red Score in Tile CD; Silver Jews, The Natural Bridge LP; Smog, A River Ain’t Too Much to Love LP), books (Herzog on Herzog; Tom Spanbauer, The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon; Carol Sklenicka, Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life; Raymond Carver, short story collections, including Cathedral), and everyday items (Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap; La Vosgienne, pine sap lozenges).

MIR02: Storm Tharp — Storm presented a selection of his favorite books, all in a matching paperback format with individual notes mentioning why the book was important to him (Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping; Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita; Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, John Cheever’s Bullet Park; Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio; Wallace Stevens’s The Palm at the End of the Mind; Joan Didion’s The White Album). He also had some vintage vinyl, all of different music soundtracks. And finally, he prepared some paints for us the way he does for his studio and sold them in mason jars with names such as “Dolores Green”, “Amalfi”, “Coalmine Canary”, “When Doves Cry”, and “May Jeune”.

MIR03: Midori Hirose — Midori created a special installation for the holidays last year with lots of warm wood. She had a couple wooden sculptures hanging under mistletoe (and more mistletoe bundles available to purchase). She made these little wooden blocks/sculptures for the baker’s twine she wanted to feature, as well as a few of her signature clay and plaster sculptures. She had cedar sachet available and she commissioned black walnut cutting boards from a local furniture designer, Grant McGavin. To round it up, she featured a few books from her friends: Free Spirit and Butt for a Face/Face for a Butt, as well as world poetry & fiction.

MIR04: Norm Sajovie — For his selection, Norm presented Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man DVDs; Huberd’s shoe grease; and a limited edition poster he had made of a play card he once found in the streets of Portland (of a smoking horse!). He also commissioned a few items from local craftspeople: Gretchen Vaudt made ceramics buckheads, Brendan Budge made wooden bows and arrows, and Sajovie himself made some hobo night lights that were sold to benefit the Sisters of the Road here in Portland.

MIR05: Jon Raymond — Jon was really excited about the idea of having a little shelf full of only Don Carpenter’s books, and so we did just that. Most of his work is out of print so it took a bit of searching but we were able to present five or six different titles.

What’s been the most difficult work you’ve had to procure?
All of the projects have been relatively easy, even for the out of print Don Carpenter books. We’ve always been able to at least find some of the items the merchants had selected to showcase and they’ve all been understanding when we couldn’t find a certain item at a price that would have made sense for retail.

How have you sought out participants?
So far all of the artists we have selected have been invited personally. Both of us having been involved in the Portland art scene for so long, we’re fortunate to know a good number of talented and interesting people.

Another aspect of the project to mention is the music mix: we ask our merchants to make a mix CD as a gift for people who purchase from their selection. It’s such a fun way to see what kind of music they’re into and it’s always so lovely to see how much work they put into these. love playing the different mixes in the shop! They always come with a B&W image of their choice, easy to photocopy, and credits for the songs.

Has there ever been any overlap between this program and the artists you’ve featured in the space?
Norm Sajovie, who had been included in one of our past group shows, commissioned some ceramics from Gretchen Vaudt, whose work we always stock in the shop. Midori Hirose had previously exhibited at Nationale when we asked her to participate and was this past month again showing some sculptures supporting Carson Ellis’s exhibition. She featured books by Edward Jeffrey Kriksciun, who had two solo exhibitions with us before. Jon Raymond had also been one of our first performers when we started the events, with a reading from his then novel in progress Rain Dragon. So yes, there has been some overlap, which illustrates the broader Nationale family we’ve been building these past four years.

From what Golden Retriever told us about their upcoming selection, it looks like they’ll have items from folks we’ve worked with in the past but no spoilers!

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