by Dave Masko
DEADWOOD, Oregon At a time when seniors are fading away into their
retirement years, many are refusing to be quiet about the life they
lived and how they view today's generation. One woman here who's
earned national and international fame for her art speaks out about
being the "First Lady of Deadwood," and an original "Hippie."
Oregon Stories: encounters with extraordinary people
A vintage leather peace pendant hangs around her neck as if it were a
sign proclaiming "original Hippie." Friends who've known Mary Lou
Goertzen for upwards of 30 or more years said they can't remember at
time when she didn't wear this iconic symbol of the 1960s
At 83, Goertzen smiles with remembered pleasure at the time when
local Eugene TV newsman Rick Dancer "asked me if I was a Hippie. Yes,
I said, I'm an old one."
Goertzen said the stereotype that most people have of the hippie
subculture is about having longer hair or wearing clothing with
bright colors or certain unusual styles such as bell-bottom pants and
As a group, "Hippies" were primarily focused on the Sixties peace
movement and questioning traditional middle-class Western values.
"We're the ones who renounced the Vietnam War, and today I'd say
we're still a country that's addicted to war. So, yes, I'm for
peace," asserted Goertzen during a recent interview at her home in Deadwood.
"First Lady of Deadwood" also known as original first hippie
"Mary Lou has taken on the patriarchal role in our area. She has an
irrepressible sprit that's felt by young and old. I just can't say
enough about how important she is to this community," said Bill
Cirino, who moved to the secluded Deadwood Valley area six months
before Goertzen got here in 1975.
Both Cirino and other Deadwood locals have dubbed Goertzen the "First
Lady of Deadwood" and the "Keeper of the Flame" in tribute to more
than 33 years of service to people in West Lane County. "I've never
met anyone with a more single-minded dedication to service," Cirino added.
In addition, Beth Little has called Goertzen "one of the most popular
local artists that the Eugene Saturday Market has ever had."
Little, who's been the general manager for Eugene's famed Saturday
Market for the past nine years said, "I can't think of a more
deserving individual to tell West Lane people about than Mary Lou.
Next to the Saturday Market as a whole, nobody gets more hits on our
web site than Mary Lou. She's not only legend in Deadwood, Eugene and
throughout Lane County as well," Little added.
Berkeley Hippie life in the Sixties was a blast
In the early Sixties, Goertzen was a young woman living in Kansas
with her husband Ernie and three kids. "I knew that my strict
conservative lifestyle meant a woman's future was somewhat preordained."
Although Goertzen was raised as a devote Quaker, she was taught by
her "beloved" parents to accept the belief of others. "I always
thought that a mother's advice is the best kind you can get. I
followed what my mother said in terms of how to live one's life and
raise a family. To this day I thank my mother."
At the same time, the Hippie counterculture was growing in California
and Oregon. Like-minded people were called to diversify, and flee
their traditional urban settings. Moreover, the touristic influx that
accompanied the highly-publicized San Francisco "Summer of Love" did
nothing but intensify the counterculture.
Goertzen's sister also left Kansas a year earlier. "She asked us to
join her out in California. I know it sounds crazy, but we left our
life just like that and went west."
Still the adventurer, she jokingly explained that the "Zen" at the
end of Goertzen meant that they were open to change and the move west
and later to Deadwood, was a life changing decision.
When they arrived in Berkeley, the "place was alive with art and
expression," Goertzen said. "There was a core group who were
politically involved with the world around them. Our lifestyle
being good people and the art we created was our way of raising our
children in a politically and socially aware home."
The time and location could not have been better to incubate the
highly successful artist that both Mary Lou and Ernie Goertzen would
become. The sixties were a time of all-consuming desire by young
artists such as the Goertzen's to imitate, assimilate and then
innovate if something proved especially interesting in their chosen
art form. For Mary Lou it was ink and watercolor drawings, and for
Ernie it was simple yet provocative landscapes.
To progress to the heights of success in the art world, the hardest
path is the "long-haul approach" to producing something entirely
original, said fellow Deadwood artist Alice "Summer" Whitfield.
She notes how Goertzen art has been a regular item that's sold at the
Deadwood Community Center and the Eugene Saturday Market for more
than 30 years.
"What Mary Lou does is connect to people. You, in turn, get her and
that she's loving and very nice. It's been easier for people to walk
down Deadwood's rutted roads because of her," Whitfield added.
In turn, Goertzen's name is always met with high praise from Deadwood
citizenry and from others who've made contact with her and her many
art sales in West Lane County.
Goertzen is also well known in the close-knit 13-mile Deadwood Valley
area where Alpha Farm members and other post-1960s Hippies live.
"We first came to live at Alpha when we moved up from Berkeley to
Deadwood. It really helped to have people we knew in the area. And it
helped because we don't believe in the superiority of any culture or
religion over another but rather to take people as they are, as
individuals. That's why I think we were so happy and able to thrive
in Berkeley and now Deadwood," she said.
What the Goertzen's learned and honed in Berkeley helped them in
Deadwood where they homestead the centerpiece of "the valley
community." The Goertzen's home furnishing are purely sixties, with
many items first viewed as '60's retro and then explained as "an
"The Bay area was a place when new ideas about what a woman could do
for herself," said Goertzen, who at that time represented an
inclusive new model of the modern female by becoming a "natural
woman," and the "Earth mother."
"I wanted to become an artist, and Ernie and I thought we could do
that best in Berkeley," she said. "The people of the Bay area during
that time made you aware that you belonged. We stayed for 10 years,
and made our living off the art we sold before finding our home here
Goertzen and her family lived in Berkeley during those pivotal
moments for the civil liberties movement in the Sixties. "This was a
time for drastic lifestyle change and artistic freedom," said
Goertzen with an appreciative look on her face.
Berkeley is a city on the east shore of San Francisco Bay, and the
site of the University of California, Berkeley. The city is noted as
one of the most politically liberal in the nation, with one recent
study by the university placing it as the third most liberal city in
the United States next to Eugene and Boulder, Colo.
Goertzen developed a motto during those Berkeley days that she said
is still relevant today. "Before you speak to someone, ask yourself
is it kind, true and necessary."
In addition to sorting out a personal code for herself and her family
who she proudly said "are all socially aware" she went against
Hippie convention by not giving into the partying scene.
"I still honor my religion that asks us not to do certain things. For
instance, I've never smoked or done drugs or drunk," said Goertzen
with amusement that still lurked in her eyes. And, this from someone
who was friendly with local legend Ken Kesey, and fully understood
the sixties as a psychedelic period as well.
Creating a unique art from native Oregon flowers
After moving to Oregon and finding their home in the old Deadwood
School House where Goertzen still lives today Mary Lou and her
husband Ernie focused on lessons learned from their sixties lifestyle
One good example is they took on the job of helping to build and
later manage the Deadwood Community Center. The center's huge wooden
sign features lettering designed and hand-cut by Ernie Goertzen. "I
always like to point our sign and the art displays around the
grounds, and tell them about Ernie. We both spent a lot of time at the center."
There's been a Goertzen living directly across the street and
watching the center for all of its 35 years. Today, the center and
the Goertzen homestead across Deadwood Creek Road, connect what can
only be called as an outside living art museum that features all
sorts of art created by both Ernie and Mary Lou.
In turn, the center has served as a base camp for both displaying and
launching their art.
"We had developed a good following. Ernie was a landscape painter and
he painted with acrylics. I created my art with ink and watercolor
that reflected the local Bay area environment. When we moved to
Deadwood I decided to find something else to paint and what I found
were the native plants," she said.
In the intervening years, Goertzen created a unique art form that
celebrated the lowly Trillium flower. This plant is native to Oregon
forests in Deadwood and other parts of West Lane County.
In particular, she's focused on the large-flowered Trillium with its
large, often white, three-pedaled flower.
Since 1982, tens of thousands of ceramics produced by the famed Block
Bernarda Company of Portugal have carried her signature Trillium
flowers that Goertzen still paints today.
It's interesting to note that one Block ceramic basket -- that was
decorated with native Oregon Trillium and signed by Goertzen --
recently sold on eBay for $1,200 and that's just the tip of an iceberg.
A recent New York Times antiquing column highlighted a rare sale of
ceramics that included "flowered mugs and dessert plates designed by
Mary Lou Goertzen."
In turn, the artist recalled "going to sign her signature plates and
bowls at Macy's in New York back in the early '80's. I didn't
understand why there were so many people wanting to see me."
Today in 2010, there are dozens of "Goertzen" collectors clubs in the
U.S., Europe and Asia where fans of her Trillium creations meet to
share their Goertzen treasures and speculate about what the artist is
like. "I've heard about them, sure, but I'm interested in traveling
outside of this area right now."
Beth Little said she's happy about that news considering the fact
that Goertzen has been a top draw at the Eugene Saturday Market for
more than three decades.
"When Mary Lou calls about her space, I just say whenever and
wherever you want it. She's a celebrity but doesn't show it. She's as
down to Earth as you can get," explained Little who's reminds readers
that they can find Goertzen's art work at the Market that's open
every Saturday from April through mid-November on the park blocks at
8th and Oak in downtown Eugene.
This location, and other areas in West Lane County, to include an
upcoming art show at the Deadwood Community Center, all "have
included the light that is Mary Lou Goertzen," said Marlene Solomon,
who's one of many fan who praises the artist.
"Mary Lou was instrumental in promoting the Saturday Market in the
day when it all started. You look at any small or large art show in
our area, and if Mary Lou was involved, you had something special
because she's so very special. She's our senior citizen of the
highest order," added Solomon.
An artist in winter who never forgets her "Ernie"
"To speak about me and not Ernie is to miss the one that we are,"
explained a teary-eyed Goertzen of her late husband of 54 years who
died in 2004. "I'm still in a state of morning. I'm still not over
Ernie, nor will I ever be."
Near to their eclectic home with a blue school bus in the front
garden and works of Ernie's art all around, Goertzen points upward to
the hills behind their Deadwood home where her late husband now rests
and where she said "I will be buried when it's my time."
During the 30 plus years that Ernie and Mary Lou lived in Deadwood
they exhibited their collective art work at the who's who of national
galleries. But, their first love was the Oregon art scene. Examples
of the Goertzen's art have been on display at the annual Oregon
Country Fair, the Union Concourse Gallery at Oregon State University
in Corvallis, the Erb Memorial Union Gallery at the University of
Oregon in Eugene and at the Springfield Art Museum.
To help find some solace in her late husband's passing, Goertzen has
turned to her art for comfort.
Her 3-D piece "Sketches of My Snuggery" showcases drawings of
"Ernie's side of the bed with just about everything in our room that
I miss." This work of art earned recently earned high honors at the
Mayor's Art Show in Eugene.
Goertzen said she's pleased that people appreciated her attempt to
come to terms with the poignancy of her loss, "and everyday life
without someone you love."
Today, when viewing Ernie's art -- that reflects their appreciation
for rural landscapes in Deadwood -- Goertzen fills up with emotion
and cannot be comforted.
Instead, she points to her husband's acrylic paintings that line
almost every inch of their Deadwood School House home.
"There's Ernie's view of the meadows nearby, the trees that surround
us and all this landscape," she said. "This is where I'm now, with
Ernie in our beloved Deadwood."