Quest for Beauty: The Architecture, Landscapes, and Collections of John Yeon

PORTLAND, Ore.—The Portland Art Museum is pleased to announce Quest for Beauty: The Architecture, Landscapes, and Collections of John Yeon, a retrospective look at an Oregon original. The exhibition opens May 13, 2017.

Few architects have influenced so many facets of a region as John Yeon (1910- 1994). Yeon is most widely remembered as an architect, in particular for a series of innovative houses—most prominently, the 1937 Aubrey Watzek House—that drew an international spotlight to regional modernism in the Pacific Northwest.

Yet Yeon had equal vision and influence as a planner, conservationist, historic preservationist, urban activist, and, perhaps most of all, connoisseur of elegance and craft. Largely self taught, and working independently, Yeon designed distinctive buildings, shaped precedent-stretching gardens, and fought to preserve some of the Northwest’s most treasured vistas—the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Coast, Olympic National Park.

In addition, he amassed a highly personal collection of Asian and European decorative arts.

Portrait of John Yeon by John Hinchliff, 1977; John Yeon Archive


Developed with the University of Oregon’s John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape, Quest for Beauty’s architecture and landscape section surveys two dozen projects and buildings designed between 1927 and the mid-‘50s, including a dynamic 1934 scheme for Timberline Lodge; Yeon’s inventive plywood houses of the late ‘30s; and the 1950 Shaw House, which elegantly anticipates the stylistic eclecticism of Postmodernism. The exhibition features original models and drawings, along with images by a trio of the midcentury’s greatest architectural photographers: Ezra Stoller, Maynard Parker, and Roger Sturtevant. Newly developed models and axonometric drawings will invite a greater understanding of Yeon’s careful siting of buildings and his cutting edge construction and sustainable design techniques. A high-definition time-lapse video records the changing seasons at The Shire, the stunning 78- acre preserve in the Columbia Gorge that Yeon saved from development and shaped into a unique landscape.

The exhibition features a wide selection of art, decorative arts and historic materials lent by Richard Louis Brown, who founded the Yeon Center in 1995 with his gift of the Watzek House to the University of Oregon. Yeon’s interests as a collector encompassed a range of materials from distant times and places, with concentrations of Chinese furniture and ceramics, Korean ceramics, Japanese screen paintings, Japanese lacquers and ceramics, and Indian miniature paintings, as well as European decorative arts of the 18th century. He had a keen sense of quality and an eye for detail, and he moved effortlessly across scale and scope, finding delight equally in small objects and vast vistas.

Jingdezhen kilns, Jiangxi Province, China, Baluster Vase with Peony Scroll Design, 15th/early 16th century, porcelain with underglaze blue painting and overglaze yellow enamel, 10 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches, Collection of Richard Louis Brown


Together the buildings, landscapes, art, furniture, and objects showcase a restless eye and mind that could absorb the lessons of centuries of Asian and European art while developing an original vision for the Pacific Northwest.

Quest for Beauty is accompanied by two books published by the Yeon Center with Monfried Editions, John Yeon: Architecture and John Yeon: Landscape. The Museum is presenting a variety of public programs and tours in conjunction with the exhibition, including an opening lecture by distinguished curator and architecture scholar Barry Bergdoll. For more information and updates, please visit

Organized by Portland Art Museum and curated by Randy Gragg, executive director of the University of Oregon’s John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape. Collection exhibition curated by Maribeth Graybill, Ph.D., The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art, and Dawson W. Carr, Ph.D., The Janet and Richard Geary Curator of European Art.

Video still of The Shire. Produced by Steve Rauner, 2017


PRESENTING SPONSOR: Exhibition Series Sponsors. MAJOR SPONSORS: Oregon Heritage Commission; Freres Lumber Co. Inc.; MTek Kiosk, Inc.; PLANAR; Rejuvenation; SuperFab. SPONSORS: Blakemore Foundation; Ed Cauduro Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation; Hoffman Construction Company in memory of Eric Hoffman, Sr.; Lever Architecture; North; Dan Wieden and Priscilla Bernard Wieden. SUPPORTERS: Asian Art Council of the Portland Art Museum; Opsis Architecture; Jo Whitsell; REX HILL; Nate Overmeyer and Sarah Dougher; The Acorn Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation; Anonymous.

Quest for Beauty is accompanied by two books published by the Yeon Center with Monfried Editions.

John Yeon: Architecture features essays by Museum of Modern Art architecture curator Barry Bergdoll, UC Berkeley scholar Marc Treib, architect John Cava, and Yeon Center director Randy Gragg, as well as photographs by Ezra Stoller, Roger Sturtevant, Maynard Parker, and others.

John Yeon: Landscape surveys Yeon’s farreaching conservation work in the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Coast, the Olympics, and elsewhere in the Northwest. It features photographs by Susan Seubert and essays by landscape historian Kenneth Helphand, the founding director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge Bowen Blair, and Yeon Center director Randy Gragg.

Opening Lecture: Barry Bergdoll
John Yeon and the High Stakes of Regionalism in the 1930s (May 14, 2 p.m.)
Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University and former Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, will explore the work of John Yeon within the context of the 1930s and complex issues of regional architecture and American identity. Yeon’s work will be considered in relationship to well-known architects of the period including Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer.

Portland Visitors Information Center, 1948, Roger Sturtevant Collection, Oakland Museum of California


In the spirit of John Yeon’s holistic view of environment, design, and materials, the exhibition is infused with the energy of local partnerships and collaborations. The complexity of designing an exhibition around the many facets of Yeon’s long and varied career was expertly conceived of by award-winning Portland firm Lever Architecture. Lever is a progressive firm dedicated to realizing transformative projects that strengthen communities. They are also leaders in utilizing innovative building materials, like Mass Plywood Panels, a cutting-edge plywood product made locally by Freres Lumber.

A custom built table made with Mass Plywood displays objects in the exhibition. Portland has a long and successful history with plywood, and Yeon’s plywood houses built in the late 1930s to early 1940s remain influential examples of modular, innovative, affordable homes. During the exhibition, the Museum will host a plywood housing design event in the courtyard in partnership with Freres Lumber and Portland State University’s Center for Public Interest Design this summer. Architectural and landscape models play major roles in the exhibition as well. Intricate models built by Portland company SuperFab set the stage for visitors’ understanding of Yeon’s wandering eye.

Locally based Rejuvenation, a lighting and home parts company that has long championed architectural preservation, serves as a promotional partner and connector to new audiences. Rejuvenation’s work is strongly inspired by Yeon’s design legacy and Northwest Modernism; its Yeon Northwest Modern lighting series is inspired by Yeon’s fixture designs for the Watzek House.

Aubrey Watzek House, Portland, Oregon, 1937; photo by Jeremy Bittermann


About the John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape
The University of Oregon’s John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape is devoted to inspiring future acts of visionary design and conservation. A program of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts at the University of Oregon, the Center is the steward of the Watzek House, a 1937 modernist masterpiece and Portland’s only National Historic Landmark residence; and The Shire, a unique, 75-acre work of landscape design in the Columbia River Gorge, and the Cottrell House, a 1950 modernist home on an eight-acre landscape preserve near Forest Park. The Center was founded in 1995 by Richard Louis Brown to preserve works by the architect and conservationist John Yeon (1910-1984), and to further the ideals of Yeon’s civic activism. For more information, visit

About the Portland Art Museum
The seventh oldest museum in the United States, the Portland Art Museum is internationally recognized for its permanent collection and ambitious special exhibitions drawn from the Museum’s holdings and the world’s finest public and private collections. The Museum’s collection of more than 45,000 objects, displayed in 112,000 square feet of galleries, reflects the history of art from ancient times to today. The collection is distinguished for its holdings of arts of the native peoples of North America, English silver, and the graphic arts. An active collecting institution dedicated to preserving great art for the enrichment of future generations, the Museum devotes 90 percent of its galleries to its permanent collection. The Portland Art Museum recognized both Native American art and Photography as fine art years earlier than peer institutions, with a commitment to collection in these areas and the dedication of permanent galleries for displaying the work. This ongoing commitment is demonstrated in the arc of Native American exhibitions in 2016 and 2017 and a new space for showcasing Contemporary Native Art.

The Museum’s campus of landmark buildings, a cornerstone of Portland’s cultural district, includes the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art, the Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts, the Schnitzer Center for Northwest Art, the Northwest Film Center, and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Center for Native American Art. With a membership of more than 22,000 households and serving more than 350,000 visitors annually, the Museum is a premier venue for education in the visual arts. The Portland Art Museum welcomes patrons with disabilities. For information on exhibitions and programs, call 503-226-2811 or visit

The Portland Art Museum welcomes all visitors and affirms its commitment to making its programs and collections accessible to everyone. The Museum offers a variety of programs and services to ensure a quality experience and a safe, inclusive environment for every member of our diverse community. Learn more at


Images courtesy Portland Art Museum.