History Light in PDX

History-Light in PDX, an installation proposal

Economies are the stories of people.  Millions of people. Oregon has long been a place where things were made, where raw and processed resources came from, where people worked to create, acquire, and innovate.  Portland’s economics reflect this, and this work aims to interpret its place in the Northwest and the world.


Fort Vancouver was a trading center.  Furs were collected, to be shipped to Guangzhou in the Far East. Thereafter a gold rush came.  The Oregon Trail. A state that started as forests to be hunted in grew to a source of lumber, and fish.  Then beef, and electricity, and ships. Contemporary Oregon produces microprocessors and machine parts. A hospital employs the most people in the state.


This installation attempts to coalesce the experiences and lives of millions of people doing thousands of jobs over 150 years into a cohesive visualized history.


The individually created installed glass pieces will be divided among designs representing economic factors and industries significant in Oregon’s history. Those factors include:

  1. Forestry
  2. Fishing
  3. Food service
  4. Greenhouse agriculture
  5. Field agriculture
  6. Cattle agriculture
  7. Electrical power production
  8. Medicine
  9. Software
  10. Semiconductor Technology
  11. Education
  12. Athleticism / athletic design
  13. Machinery production
  14. Ship building
  15. Mining
  16. Mineral production
  17. Tourism
  18. Fur trading
  19. Beer


Each of these forces has waxed and waned in importance through the history of Oregon. At the beginning of Oregon’s statehood trading and mining were the lynchpins of commerce. Over the course of time, these forces were supplanted. For significant periods, logging, fishing and agriculture were the primary forces driving the state’s economy. This has evolved into a contemporary Oregonian economy, which combines almost all of these industries and forces.


These individual factors will have a plate design with a diffused LED matrix behind it, bringing it subtly to life with softly moving light. The installation will tell the story of Oregon and the Northwest once an hour, by slowly cycling between the brightness of various influences on everyday life. From its beginnings in the fur trade and gold rush to its production of world distributed semiconductors.


Example Designs:

  Field agriculture: yellow lined glass platters with a slow, sussurating play of light mimicking the wind playing through wheat in the summer sun

  Fishing: a plate showing the occasional glinting of fish in a river, silver on blue

  Medicine: pure white platters with two slowly pulsing red heartbeats, one larger and one smaller, representing a mother and child

  Athletic Design: a lined plate with staggered lights, representing runners on starting blocks, that course together and reach an endpoint

 Brewing: the bubbling of fermenting grains projected on a platter, describing a dark Amber carboy in action.

 Electronics: a green and yellow lined work resembling a PCB, with occasional dots of white light representing data flow.


Installation technical overview:

The 60’ x 60’ areas will each have a 40’ x 40’ offset grid of objects suspended in a plane above the ground plane. Each object will consist of a hand blown glass platter, an LED screen with an Arduino microcontroller behind this platter, and a diffuser between platter and screen.

Each microcontroller will be networked to a controlling program telling it which light pattern to run and how bright to make that pattern.

The microcontrollers will send a REST API call to a Django server once every ten seconds, and the Django server will tell it a: which numeric ID has been assigned to it, and b: which configured display set to use.  It is assumed that extensive management and programming will go into each display’s setup.