Andy Strickland heaves back the heavy wooden Art Barn door, and blinding daylight exposes a gaggle of paralyzed, sparkling pixies and the floating ribs of a half-swaddled papier-mâché polyhedron. Outside, a spooky rocking horse with bulging eyeballs glares at a nearby wheelbarrow large enough to lug a Ford Gremlin.
“I couldn’t have planned all this,” Strickland says.
The strict natural laws governing what’s physically possible on Earth seem to bend in all directions on Strickland’s farm, a place peculiar enough that explaining it to anyone who hasn’t experimented a little with psychedelics is a waste of time.
Strickland’s famed workshop is the birthing center for bizarre, recurring Oregon Country Fair art installations, like the radiant, interdimensional Rubik’s Cube–looking thing that is Strickland’s take on the Mayan calendar. The Adirondack chair he built, large enough to seat the Jolly Green Giant, is one the artist regularly trucks to festivals around the state, just to see people’s eyes light up.
Less conspicuous, however, is Strickland’s nonprofit organization — the Dodeca Art Farm. The Dodeca Art Farm, set up a couple of years ago on the same defunct chicken farm as the Art Barn, aims to strengthen and perpetuate the swirling creative gyre already circling Strickland’s rambling outpost in Veneta. By providing members, artists, craftspeople, and small-business owners with the tools, materials, and barn space necessary for their work, Dodeca hopes to help restore the withered bond between art and agriculture.
Strickland bought the half-dozen yawning pole barns and land 12 years ago. The Art Barn, and by extension the nonprofit, came together organically over more than a decade, he says. “It feels like I just tapped into something that was always here.”
Divining the point at which Art Barn ends and the nonprofit begins is as tricky as parsing the shared percolating vision and combined elbow grease of dozens of Strickland’s most dedicated collaborators, as well as the scruffy scads of vagabond artists drawn to this neck of the woods by the neighboring Oregon Country Fair.
Strickland joined OCF as caretaker in 1988 (he has since retired), four years after moving to Oregon. Certainly, his Art Barn and Dodeca wouldn’t exist in their current forms without their proximity to the fairgrounds. Nevertheless, Strickland’s world abides by different tenets. “We breathe the same air, but our focus here is more on the spiritual and the creative,” he says. “We’re not so much about sex, drugs, and rock and roll on this side.” Strickland’s premises are strictly drug and alcohol free.
The spiritual and creative pathways Strickland refers to led him and his team to install a glass shop and ceramics studio in the nearby outbuildings, a steam sauna, and in the last couple years, a wellness center. The apiary is just getting going, and the community garden is new. The unavoidable construction zone near the Dodeca entrance gate is the forthcoming community farmhouse for workshops, lectures, dinners, concerts, and other celebrations. Strickland says it will always be a work in progress, but Dodeca nonprofit should open officially next year.
Its heart is a 12-sided chamber, off of which stem a commercial kitchen, a guest room, a small grotto for bathing, and a permanent apartment for the Dodeca executive director––presently Strickland himself––to live. “This building, to my mind, legitimizes the whole thing,” Strickland says.
In a rustic office adjacent to Strickland’s modest solarium, Tulsi Elizabeth Wallace, president of the Dodeca Art Farm board, has a desk buried under leaves of onionskin paper, scribbled with her ongoing brainstorm for the permaculture garden that will someday greet visitors. A trained landscape architect, Wallace has given much thought to the ways art intersects with land cultivation.
Given how alienated many of us are from the places our food grows, and the myriad ways in which art has been downgraded to occasional societal afterthought, Wallace thinks places like Strickland’s farmstead are too few and far between.
“Art and agriculture used to be more intertwined and play a more central role in daily life,” Wallace says. “People need a place away from urban environments to connect with and to ground their psyches.”
“This world needs help,” Strickland adds. “Art is one of the things in our society that’s getting short shrift. I can’t change the world, but on my little postage stamp of it I can plant the seeds that I want to see grow.”