His creative legacy

Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Craig Coleman

SALEM — In a room on the second floor of Oregon’s State Capitol, Dan Cannon relaxes in a high-backed chair of walnut and leather.

“This looks very regal, doesn’t it?” Cannon asked.

He’s sitting in the office of Gov. John Kitzhaber — in his chair to be precise. Adorning the walls are a dozen paintings that Cannon, a former longtime chairman of Western Oregon University’s art department, has created since the late 1950s.

“Each has a story behind it,” Cannon, 83, said.

“War and Peace,” for example, was done while he and his late wife, Gail, were living in a houseboat on Lake Washington in the Seattle area.

“I came home one day, she had laundry at the edge of the davenport, and she said `to hell with laundry and ironing … I’m reading ‘War and Peace’,'” he said with a laugh.

A group of children enter the reception area on a tour. Cannon’s eyes light up.

“Hello there! I’m not the governor.”

Cannon’s irreverent humor was on full display at the capitol this day. A cross section of his painting career — he categorizes it simply as “eclectic” — will be here a bit longer.

Cannon’s work is the subject of a special exhibition through the Art in the Governor’s Office program. Organized by the Oregon Arts Commission, the program showcases the careers of influential and still-living artists in the state.

Artists are nominated by art curators across the state and invited to exhibit by the commission. Past featured artists include Gordon Gilkey and Manuel Izquierdo.

“It’s a `who’s who list’ of some of the most acclaimed and talented artists in our state,” said Megan Atiyeh, commission public art coordinator. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime honor.”

Dan Cannon, who spent 27 years at WOU, is a prolific painter and has a long history of involvement in local, state and national art efforts, including a stint as the executive director of the National Art Education Association.

But promoting himself was never a priority, said Paige Cannon, Dan’s daughter. He was more concerned with involving people in the artistic process, she said.

“We’re really excited for this opportunity for dad to be honored this way,” Paige Cannon said. “But also to share his take on art and what it means.

“Dad is down to earth and wants art to be accessible,” she continued. “He doesn’t want people to be intimidated by art.”

A native of Seattle, Cannon went to art school in Washington and Oakland, Calif., before he was drafted into the Army in 1950. He spent 1952 with a combat regiment on the front lines during the Korean War.

He earned a master’s degree at the University of Washington in art when he returned, taught high school art for a few years, then went on to receive a doctorate at Stanford University.

He eventually was hired at what was then Oregon College of Education in Monmouth in 1967, and chaired the art department until 1989. He retired from the school in 1994.

Cannon was key in developing WOU’s art department, said Hilary Russell, an Independence artist and a student of Cannon’s during the early 1970s.

“With the (faculty) he gathered, it was a place of amazing quality for many years,” Russell said. “And it still is.”

Cannon’s artistic legacy includes developing the Oregon Elementary Art Education Guide. Locally, he helped found the Monmouth-Independence Community Arts Association and the River Gallery in Independence.

In 2007, Cannon donated $100,000 to support WOU’s art students and the art gallery in Campbell Hall — now named after Dan and his wife.

Cannon’s paintings tend toward the abstract, but he’s worked in a variety of styles and mediums. He’s painted nearly nonstop, though has slowed down after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago.

The condition has deteriorated some motorskills, making it harder to keep a steady hand. Paige Cannon said it hasn’t prevented him from working; he’s simply evolved his style with bigger, bolder brush strokes. His penchant for vibrant color remains.

“It’s probably more controlled now,” Dan Cannon said last week during his first visit to the exhibit. “But it’s still pure me … painting is my favorite thing to do.

“Besides being the governor,” he continued, leaning back in the chair.

Check It Out

* “Then and Now,” an exhibit of Dan Cannon’s paintings in the Office of the Governor at the state Capitol in Salem, will run through Sept. 20. A reception with the artist will take place Thursday, Aug. 25, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. It is open to the public.

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