Flaxen: From Flax to Linen in the Willamette Valley, Oregon

Caterpillar-drawn flax puller, head on, 1930s, OHS Research Library, Portland Public School Collection

October 8 – March 31, 2020

  • Family-friendly
  • Free for Members
  • Researchers
  • Teachers
  • Handicap Accessible Friendly
  • Hearing-impaired Friendly

Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave
Portland, Oregon 97205
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This photography exhibit features reproductions of hand-tinted glass lantern slides from the Oregon Historical Society’s Portland Public School (PPS) Collection. From harvesting and retting to combing and weaving, the images — all dating from the early 1930s — document how flax was grown and processed to make fabric. The slides were shown to schoolchildren to illustrate various Oregon industries and, in this case, children learned about making towels and napkins at the Oregon Linen Mill in Salem.

A direct descendant of magic lantern programs of the mid 1800s, the 4” x 3” slides consist of a black and white positive image sandwiched between two pieces of glass. Color was applied manually or using a stencil directly on the emulsion. Eventually replaced by Eastman slide film by the 1940s, these slides were used in classrooms, lecture halls, and theaters around the country through most of the first half of the twentieth century.

When PPS originally produced the slides, farmers had hoped that flax would become a cornerstone crop of Oregon’s agricultural industry. Despite a fertile growing area and government support — including a flax processing plant built at the state penitentiary in 1915 — the industry collapsed after World War II. Since that time, there has been continued interest and excitement in reviving the crop in Oregon.