This week marks a big change for a Portland icon that has graced the city’s waterfront for years. The beloved Made in Oregon sign is recognized as a symbol of Portland, the gateway to a great state. It has inspired artists, authors, hoteliers and politicians; the image has been incorporated into everything from fine photography, posters and woodblock prints (see below) to hotel décor and the Mayor’s website. Its subtle message that Portland is an indie city endears it to those bohemian and mainstream alike; Time and Travel+Leisure have used the Made in Oregon image to represent the city.
The sign has a long history in Stumptown. Originally installed with as "White Satin Sugar" in 1941, it was changed to read "White Stag" to reflect new ownership in 1959. In 1997, building tenant H. Naito Corporation edited the sign to "Made in Oregon," the name of its retail stores. Over the ensuing years, as several generations of Portlanders came of age and the celebrated waves of young creatives arrived on our shores, the sign’s inclusive message was adopted by both natives and transplants. We are all, in ways both poetic and literal, made in Oregon.
Fast-forward to September 2010: after a long debate over who would maintain the sign (including a controversial proposal by the new tenant for it to read "University of Oregon"), the City of Portland took ownership of the sign and approved changing the wording once again. The sign’s leaping deer, a fixture since the its White Stag incarnation (complete with red nose during the holidays), will remain, but the lettering will now read "Portland Oregon."
Will this new incarnation be embraced by Oregonians of all stripes, by natives and newcomers, by those who document and interpret our fair city? We’ll find out the day after Thanksgiving, when the revised sign is illuminated. Culture watchers, be on the lookout!