Visual Art » Art

The Magic of View-Master



We all have the usual litany of Stumptown bragging rights that we bust out when any poor saps from less-cool burgs come to behold our fair city. We talk knowingly about The Simpsons genesis while cruising down Flanders; we point out Gus Van Sant's apartment building and mention how our ex-coworker pops up in the background of his latest film; we boast of the strip-club-per-capita ratio then wait to see if our guests exhibit even the slightest whiff of prudishness. Now, thanks to an informative and fun exhibit at the 3D Center of Art & Photography, we can add one more bit of Portland trivia to that list: PDX is the birthplace of the View-Master, and many of the classic old reels were made right here in Portland.

The Magic of View-Master is an informative little show that timelines the history of the stereoscopic toy, which was developed in 1938 by two men, William Gruber and Harold Graves, who bumped into each other and brainstormed the idea at the Oregon Caves National Monument on the south coast before returning to develop the concept in Portland. Although we think of the View-Master as a child's toy, the 3D Center points out that the familiar circular reels possibly constitute the largest collection of 3D photographs ever compiled, and in 1942, the US military commissioned 5.6 million custom training reels on subjects such as ship identification.

Until the late 1970s, when the company switched to reels made primarily of photographs and paintings, the View-Master stories were told with handmade sculptures, which were then photographed in 3D. These constitute the "golden age" of the View-Master, and were principally sculpted by Portland resident Joe Liptak. The highlight of the 3D Center's show is an assembly of Liptak's original sculptures from his own private collection: Fred Flintstone, Huckleberry Hound, dinosaurs, and assorted creatures are all on view, with their corresponding, eye-popping View-Masters. Aside from being a sweet nostalgic treat, The Magic of View-Master is an engaging refresher course in stereoscopic vision, an informative history lesson about a ubiquitous childhood toy, and yet another thing you can casually brag on Portland for when your friends come in from Des Moines.


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