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Eugene Weekly : 07.08.04

Sinking into Softness

Robb's Pillow Furniture invites rest.

By Aria Seligmann

If you've ever been to the Oregon Country Fair, you know Robb Bokich's wares. He's at booth number 73, and when you're that far down on the loop, hot, dusty, and tired, Robb's Pillow Furniture is so inviting, you just have to sink yourself into it.

There is a time limit for sitting though, says Bokich's wife, Emily Wille. "Robb's better at telling people than I am," she says. "He'll gently tell someone time's up for sitting and to come back later."

Bokich has been selling his pillow furniture at the Country Fair for 30 years. What makes his furniture unique is his process of working with the foam. He invented and patented the way it's cut.

"The way I cut it makes it different in size, shape and texture than that used in other filling, and because of that it creates more airspace around itself, giving each chair incredible support," he says. The foam is cut to produce many edges, which not only makes it malleable to each person's shape, but also prevents it from breaking down over time.

Bokich covers each piece of furniture — love seats, raindrop chairs, futons, pillows and footrests — with high quality upholstery made of nylon fibers so tightly woven they don't absorb dirt.

"One woman came up to me at last year's fair and said she'd had her pillow chair for 23 years," Bokich says. "Her son used to bring the whole football team home and they'd take turns jumping off the stairs into it. She says it still looks good."

He demonstrates how to refluff and sit in the furniture inside his workspace at 1851 River Road (which also houses Wille's Lavendar Corner gift shop).

"Here, try this," he says, as he tugs and prods at each piece. "Now it's a chair; now it's a loveseat. Lift up your feet," he says as he places a matching footrest under your feet, a pillow behind your head, and another pillow on your lap. "Now you've got a reading desk," he laughs.

The chairs are so comfortable and supportive they take tension away from the back, creating a feeling of floating.

As he moves around showing off his furniture and pointing out different types of upholstery, Bokich has a noticeable limp and uses only one arm. At age 16, he was asleep in the back seat of a car when it was struck by a drunk driver. He came out of a coma three months later, with limited brain function and no feeling on the left side of his body. His 14-year-old sister was killed in the crash; the driver had her legs severed. The drunk driver and his passenger were both killed.

"In an instant, that split decision made by that driver, that choice he made, affected so many lives," says Bokich.

Despite the severity of his injury, Bokich left home on his own a year after the accident and traveled around the world. "I learned to speak again in the Philippines," he says. He then came to Oregon to go to school, earning his bachelor's in psychology and master's in counseling.

But while in school, he needed to support himself financially, and no one would hire him with his disability. Then he saw someone making big pillows and wanted to give it a try.

"He said, 'Oh you can't do this, it takes two hands.'"

Bokich laughed at him.

"The doctors told my parents I wouldn't live. Then they told me I would never walk again. I told the guy, 'I think I can handle making pillows.'"

He sold his first pillow furniture at Saturday Market in 1973 and has been sewing ever since. His inventory has grown to be broader and to serve the desires of his

customers. From the first raindrop chair designs to the more recent futons and raindrop beds, everything is custom made.

After 12 years of making pillow furniture, someone from a hospital in Idaho saw it and was so impressed with the comfort, he asked Bokich to make beds for his patients. Bokich spent another three years designing and testing a higher level of foam to be used for medical furniture. "For a person who's physically damaged, the most important thing is to be able to sleep comfortably," says Bokich.

A clinic in Illinois has also started to use his furniture for clients undergoing occupational therapy. The therapist can sit in the furniture with the client, or the client can relax sitting alone, says Bokich. "One therapist said he's never seen his clients come into therapy smiling before."   

Bokich's eyes light up when he talks about helping others. "It's an exciting thing to give someone comfort and joy."     

 

 

Monster Dreams

Imaginary creatures take shape.

By Aleta Raphael-Brock

It's time again for Jeff Lake and Tamara Crafts to step out of their daily reality as Lane County nurses and into a world of imaginary characters, masked theater and enchanting melodies. As longtime fair-goers, puppeteers, mask-makers, and musicians, Lake, Craft and the other six members of their theater group, Trunkful of Faces, will join the hundreds of performers this weekend at the Oregon Country Fair, what Lake considers to be the Mardi Gras of the Northwest.

Masked theater and puppetry has become a fair trademark and embodies the grand theme of expanding the imagination, releasing inner fantasy, and expressing hidden realities. As Lake explains, "You don't have to be a hippie to enjoy the fair. You can be anyone you want."

This year, Lake will be the Ring Master, a pig pirate monster that hides under a young girl's bed in Bilirubin's Dream, a vaudevillian musical dealing with the monsters that people face, both real and imagined. Before a final confrontation with the Ring Master, Bilirubin is approached by Valliant Pipeline, a businessman; Cranium, an academic; and Crafts' character, Delicious Dernum, a fashion model. All these "monsters" try to persuade the young girl that she will be happy and have all she needs if only she becomes something that she isn't.

"The monsters in our society don't always look like this," Lake says, pointing to his handcrafted gray and white Ring Master mask. They can be anyone from the guy next door who molests children to those who persuade people not to think for themselves. In April's Drunk Puppet Night at Sam Bond's Garage, Lake and Crafts featured George W. Bush as the monster in Twinkie Boy Slim, the story of a chubby baby who couldn't share with others.

Lake's background in sculpture has been particularly helpful in designing the original costumes and props for their shows. Past props include illuminated puppets and props that shine from the inside out and a huge moon creature that is worn as a backpack, covers the upper body, and has extendable arms that are operated from the inside. Lake and Crafts use these props in parades as well as shows.

Together, Lake and Crafts love of parade puppetry and masks naturally led to an interest in theater, where their creatures could be put to life. The entertainment remains significantly visual. In deciding on this year's theme, Lake explained, "Really, I just wanted to make funny masks. So I thought 'monsters!'"

Bilirubin's Dream will show Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Laughing Oak Stage in Chela Mela Meadows on Fun Way at 1:30 and 4:30 pm. Even though the show is not necessarily a children's show, the theater group will feature maskmaking workshops for children a half hour before each performance so that others can join in on the excitement of exploring their fantasies.

 

 

Spoken Word

Say it, hear it, do it.

While some may see the Oregon Country Fair as a three-day respite from the mainstream routine, a chance to soak in the sun, old friends, good tunes and great vibes, others attend for that and more. In these politically tumultuous times, when many are scratching their heads wondering, "What can I do?" the fair, naturally, offers some answers.

This year's Spoken Word lineup includes poets, activists, inventors, authors, scientists and many others committed to creating positive change in the world. Here's a chance to get inspired and hear from the leaders in the progressive movement who come to offer positive solutions and opportunities for becoming involved.

For a complete schedule of speakers and for times and locations of those listed here, see the Peach Pit or OCF website (www.oregoncountryfair.org/TheFair/spokenword.html).Updated schedules will be posted at each stage during the fair.

Here are just a few of the speakers who will set some sparks aflame.

 

ETHAN SCHAFFER

is the creator of Organic Volunteers (www.GrowFood.org),a national outreach and education program for sustainability and organic food systems. Surviving lymphoma at age 15 led Ethan to explore healthy and sustainable living by working on organic farms in New Zealand. In 2002, Ethan won the Earth Island Institute's Brower Youth Award for environmental leadership. Organic Volunteers now has more than 7,000 members in 47 states, with more than 600 educational opportunities available to those who wish to live, eat, and grow food more sustainably.

 

FRANCISCO LETELIER

is a painter, muralist, graphic artist and writer and is well known for his powerful spoken word, poetry and lectures. He is the son of Orlando Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the U.S. who was brutally assassinated in Washington, DC.

For more than 25 years, Letelier has created sociopolitical art using various media. His broad brush strokes many cultures, from Cambodian gang members living in the Bay Area to Ecuadorean farm workers to Appalachian coal miners. His tile murals adorn the Los Angeles Metro Rail Station and the historic Pioneer Bakery in Venice.

Letelier produced a mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland for the peace accords. He also created "The Snake Mound," an earthwork that winds through Temescal Gateway Park near L.A. He is currently directing "Light Among Shadows," a traveling interdisciplinary arts project that honors 25 years of human rights heroes in the Americas, and is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

 

HOLLY NEAR

is a skilled performer who brings to the stage an integration of world consciousness, spiritual discovery, and theatricality. Her strength as a performer led to creative collaborations with such artists as Ronnie Gilbert, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Mercedes Sosa, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Inti- Illimani, Bonnie Raitt, Cris Williamson, and Linda Tillery. In 1972, Near was probably the first woman in the U.S. to go "independent" when she founded Redwood Records, which became a major force in alternative music for nearly 20 years. Near's integrity earns her the reputation as one of the most powerful and articulate political artists of our time.

 

JEFF GOLDEN

host of The Jefferson Exchange, a daily talk show on public radio, left Harvard to homestead in southern Oregon. As a whitewater river guide, he took his first step into environmental politics and founded the Oregon Guides Association. After earning a degree in broadcast communications from Stanford, Golden returned to Oregon as a public television producer, winning acclaim for revealing the human issues behind the forest and water conflicts. In 1986, Golden was elected commissioner of Jackson County, at the center of the spotted owl battle, and became the first Oregonian nominated for the JFK Profile in Courage Award. Golden continues to work on forest issues as chief of staff to the Oregon Senate president. He is author of Watermelon Summer, Forest Blood, and numerous columns on conservation.

 

KEVIN DANAHER

is a co-founder of Global Exchange, a human rights research and action center in San Francisco. Danaher is an active speaker on the university circuit and has written or edited 10 books dealing with U.S. foreign policy and the global economy, including Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power, Ten Reasons to Abolish the IMF and World Bank, Globalize This!: and The Battle Against the World Trade Organization and Corporate Rule.

Danaher lives in San Francisco with his wife, Medea Benjamin, and his two daughters.

 

JODIE EVANS

is an environmental activist and director of the non-violent direct action group Bad Babes and Their Buddies. As the U.S. moved toward the war on Iraq, Evans and others founded Code pink Women for Peace. Evans has traveled to Iraq to see the impact of the U.S. invasion and occupation.

 

ROBINA MCCURDY

from New Zealand is founder of the 20-year-old Tui Land Trust and Community, where Robina leads Planet Organic, a year-long vocational training in community-scale sustainable land-use design, management and facilitation. Robina has been involved in broadscale community development and social change for 35 years and teaches how to create processes for participatory decisionmaking and collective action. Human capacity building is one of her special skills — inspiring, guiding and offering specific tools and techniques for people to access their gifts, develop their potential, build their resourcefulness, and realize their dreams. She has taught in schools, farms, and eco-villages across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, Brazil and the U.S.

 

 

SHAROL TILGNER

is a naturopathic physician and herbalist. She is author of Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth, and the video series Edible & Medicinal Herbs. Tilgner founded Wise Woman Herbals, The Pacific NW Herbal symposium. She currently owns and runs an herbal educational center southeast of Eugene called Wise Acres. Tilgner is the former director of the Portland Naturopathic Clinic pharmacy, editor of Herbal Transitions and associate editor of Medical Herbalism.

 

 

TOBY NEWBURGH

is part of the organizing core of U.C. Davis's Whole Earth Festival. The student-led celebration offers cutting edge information on eco-sustainability. Hand-sorting of the entire waste stream (into reusables, recycleables, and compost), solar and biodiesel power, and an intensive reuseable dish and utensil program are only a few indicators of progress. Newburgh has been an organizer of WEF and part of the Whole Earth Reusables Cooperative for the past six years and has used his experience to help other events create their own path toward a greener future.

 

 

RADIO ACTIVE & WISDOM

perform concious hip hop. Wisdom has deejayed in the Bay Area for more than 10 years. Radio Active embodies the essence of hip hop as an emcee, beatboxer, writer and painter.

 

Clan of the Giants

A look inside the OCF's famous parading puppets.

By Aleta Raphael-Brock

Ever wonder where those magnificent creatures that lead the afternoon parades through the dusty streets of the Oregon Country Fair come from? They've always embodied such mystery. You never really know who (or what) is inside or where those energetic and lively characters go when it's time to close up shop. It might be better for some to keep their mystery alive and know them only as Odo, the man of the fair, and Coyote, the mischievous canine that channels such excitement. Others might be too curious to stop there.

Puppeteer Jill Birmingham recalls children often looking up at her while she's in suit asking, "Are you real?" While inside she feels as real as she could possibly be. "They're magic, they're fantasy and they are real because when you wear them you become that character. They do become real," she says. Coyote is the most interesting puppet to operate because "you never know what he's gonna do," she says.

The giant puppets at the Oregon Country Fair started in the 1980s with the giant puppet group, Risk of Change. It was this group that bore Odo, the huge man with a yellow face and flowing colored ribbons. Birmingham joined Risk of Change in the '80s and later branched off with a group of four named The Illuminated Fools. Finally, she landed with Coyote Rising, the community puppet clan that she works with today.

Birmingham recalls the first time she supported a puppet on her back. "I put one on and that was that. We keep building puppets, we can't stop."

Birmingham works with Frank Anderson and the several other members of the group out of their red Takilma barn in rural southern Oregon to bring us the 20-foot characters that intrigue children and adults alike while heightening the fantastic theme of the fair. Their largest puppet making its debut this weekend is Ray Dance, a 20-foot sun with a 26-foot arm span and an 8-foot head. Also new to this year's fair is the River and Salmon parade that will celebrate the river from Coyote Rising's new home base of Chela Mela Meadow.

Coyote Rising will host pre-parade puppet workshops where people can try on the creatures and learn how to operate their arms at Chela Mela Meadow. They're constantly soliciting volunteers to wear the puppets in the parade. "You do sweat, but it's fun," says Birmingham about supporting the giants through the crowded dusty paths.

Constructed from mostly papier mâché, soft fabrics, and aluminum frames, the puppets often have to be operated by three or four people. They are well known at fairs and festivals all around the West Coast such as Burning Man and Cirque de Soilel. Just last month, Coyote Rising was hired by Horning's Hideout to build burnable effigies representing hate, ignorance, greed, and crooked politicians. After being paraded the puppets were burned in front to 5,000 people. "Now they're gone," said Birmingham with a hint of sadness. "But, we're hired to do weird things. The Country Fair we do because we love it."