On the night he died, Terry Toedtemeier took the stage before yet another audience to talk about his life’s work, photography. Nearly two hundred people had crowded into the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River to hear the Portland Art Museum’s veteran curator of photography, a talented photographer in his own right, speak alongside coauthor John Laursen. Images from their new book, Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, 1867–1957, were on display downtown, at the museum, and Toedtemeier and Laursen had been in demand as lecturers.
The program ended with a long ovation, followed by a book signing. As Toedtemeier and Laursen were inscribing copies, Toedtemeier started to tremble, and, as Laursen remembers it, the light just sort of went out of his face. Toedtemeier collapsed and died without ever regaining consciousness.
This happened December 10. Toedtemeier was sixty-one. News of his death stunned the city’s art community. Terry? Dead? Impossible. He was too vital and gifted, too much a bon vivant—a scholar who could act like a tot gone wild. A great piece of art could make him roll on the ground, whooping; a mountain vista might prompt him to gesticulate like a maniac and weep; when confronted with an offense against art, he’d flee to his beloved basalt country, fire guns at the heavens, and rage like Lear on the heath. He died just as dramatically, of a coronary coup de grâce.
No other Portlander has left the city quite the kind of artistic legacy that Toedtemeier did. Here are five of his key contributions.