From Hippy to Hip at the Portland Saturday Market
By Bonnie Caton
Stepping off the Max train at Skidmore Fountain on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you'll notice a colorful commotion. White tents line the cobblestone streets and brick buildings of the historical Skidmore district. In them, Portland artists and artisans arrange their hand-crafted wares as shoppers and street performers meander about. Music filters through the streets while people sip their fresh coffee and eye the goods. It's impossible to take it in at once, you have to slow down to see it all and let the smells of spicy chicken or frying cinnamon sugary elephant ears tease you. At Portland Saturday Market, you might want to give in and taste one of the international home cooked treats or pick up a hand-crafted gift for someone back home. To come here is to experience authentic Portland, for all things Portland seem to converge on the very spot.
Every artist, artisan, musician, and restaurant is chosen by a jury for the market and can be found on the East side of the Max light rail tracks. On the other side is an international import market, offering jewelry, art, clothing, and other interesting objects from afar.
Overflowing with unique artwork and crafts, the market is also a place for constant weekend entertainment. Music saturates the air from all directions, whether from the scheduled stage performances every Saturday and Sunday or the talented and sometimes quite colorful street performers. Here, you'll come face to face with the likes of Jimi Hendrix in a purple velvet suit as he and others collect around the Skidmore Fountain, guitars in hand. Nimble fingered balloon artists twist together quick versions of your kids' favorite cartoon characters, flowers, animals, and crazy hats. Wherever you look in Portland Saturday Market, there's something fun going on, and it all takes place in the center of Portland's Historic Skidmore District, with its original cobblestone streets, iron-frame brick buildings, and a vintage trolley rattling by.
A product of the '70's, Saturday Market was long known in Portland as a place to find racks of brightly tie-dyed clothes and patchouli oil. While the market still offers these rainbow-colored relics of its past, it has remained popular by keeping with the times. The products on display are as fashionable as any you'll find in boutiques and department stores in town. "It's not hippy, it's hip," says Saturday Market's PR director, Reid Decker, adding that "People come here who are looking to buy local, rather than go to Marshalls or Pottery Barn." And though you may also find things of beauty and quality on the shelves of those stores, at Saturday Market, what you get is unique, original, and made by the person who hands it to you.
Quick to smile and always willing to tell a story about their wares, the artists and artisans at Portland Saturday Market are reason enough to visit. Mike Kelley, better known as Spoonman, has been with the market since it opened in 1974. You'll hear where he is before you see him by the chiming of his spoon and fork mobiles. When you do get to his stand, you'll know him by his brightly tie-dyed spiral t-shirt and a pair of salad tongs that appear to be going through his head.
Sitting behind a table, he creates pieces of art out of spoons, knives, forks, and other kitchen items. The walls around him shimmer with fashionable spoon and fork bracelets, rings, candle holders, prank knife-through-head headbands, and other things made from re-used items.
"Re-purposed," is the word Suzanne Keolker, of Mugwump, chooses to describe the materials she uses to make her playfully hip handbags and wallets. As she used to be a grade school teacher, she found inspiration in the things around her and makes her creations from classroom wall maps, board games, and children's book covers. While her accessories may speak to the child in you, they also have a very cutting-edge design look about them.
If you're looking for fine art and photography, you'll find it here. Many, though not all, of the artists and photographers have a Portland or Northwest theme to their work, and each adds their own twist.
After chatting with local artists and feasting your eyes on trendy accessories, you may want to feast on something else. Luckily, the Portland Saturday Market not only chooses talented local artists and artisans, but fills its international food court with 23 booths of home made cooking.
Hit Portland on a rainy day? Not to worry! Saturday Market is covered and accessible by Max train, which stops right in the middle of the action.
About Portland Saturday Market: In 1974, a group of artists and artisans from Eugene, Oregon, traveled north to Portland to establish the Portland Saturday Market. Since then, it has been the prime spot in town for locals and tourists alike to find hand made crafts and fine art, buying them directly from the artist. Today the Portland Saturday Market (open on Sundays, too) is the largest and longest running market of its kind in the country and when you go you'll see why it's still a major Portland attraction.
Tips: Portland Saturday Market is a great place to find gifts for friends and family. Make sure to bring cash with you to pay the artists directly. You won't need to eat before you go, because the international food court is packed with home-made food. Plan to spend a few hours, there are plenty of things to see and do. Remember to bring your parking ticket to have it validated at the information booth - two hours free parking for $25 dollars spent at the market.
What to Bring: The kids! You'll keep them entertained with balloon artists, games, face painting, and free childrens' activities on the first Sunday of every month. Grab the camera for snapshots of balloon hats or painted faces. Remember, it's Portland and much of the market is outside, so pack an extra layer of clothing just in case.
Open every weekend from March through December 24th.
Getting there: Portland Saturday Market is located under the Burnside Bridge, between SW Naito Parkway and SW 1st Ave. The easiest way by car is to park in Old Town/China Town and walk toward the Burnside Bridge, where staircases down to the market will be marked "Portland Saturday Market." You can also take the Max train to the Skidmore Fountain stop in Fairless Square. You'll get off right in the market.
For more information about the Portland Saturday Market, contact them at 503-222-6072.
All photos provided by Bonnie Caton