And if you’ve been a constant reader, you know what that means — we’re getting weird today.
Every week, we celebrate elements of Portland’s wonderful weirdness in collaboration with Weird Portland United.
If you haven’t read any features from this series yet, you can find our archive of Weird Wednesdays right here. Previous features have profiled The Unipiper, the Portland Sleestak, Spencer Sprocket, Carlos the Rollerblader, Strawberry Pickle, and many more colorful local characters.
Today we’re waltzing down Thurman street and walking through the doors of a long-beloved Portland institution of weird: The FreakyButTrue Peculiarium, a local gallery devoted to collecting the strangeness of our city and celebrating it loudly and proudly. They held a soft reopening this past weekend and your editor here had the awesome experience of checking it out! We interviewed owner Mike Wells about the history of the Peculiarium, how it survived as a business during a brutal pandemic shutdown, and what’s in store for the future.
What follows is our interview, edited for length and clarity.
How would you describe the Freakybutbrue Peculiarium to a stranger?
It’s an interactive art gallery that celebrates anything peculiar; myths, urban legends, weird Portland history, and anything strange or you probably wouldn’t find
in any other “art” gallery. We got one-of-a-kind products, art pieces and our own swag you can’t find anywhere else.
How long has the Peculiarium been part of Portland’s weird landscape?
The Peculiarium has been in Portland since April 15th, 2011.
Many businesses were hit hard by the pandemic and the regulations that came along with it; how did the Peculiarium pivot during this time, and what were some challenges you faced?
We were the epitome of the COVID effect. You really couldn’t think of a better fit for a total COVID slam. We’re just like any small theater or venue, so we were totally dead in the water: Shut the doors and turn off the lights. We are a small, intimate hands-on gallery, so we had to completely close for 13 months and move to web sales. We were also in the middle of a big expansion, which we had to unfortunately curtail.
But, a lot of people lost their businesses completely and more than half a million Americans lost their lives, so we were happy to be well and holding off on expanding just yet, as well as being back in our original location on Thurman Street.
Say hi to fine folks like Sasquatch during your visit. (📸: Cassie Ruud)
What are some things you’re looking forward to as the state and city begin to reopen?
We can’t really begin to explain how our fans and supporters saved us; this isn’t hyperbole. And people misuse “literally” now, but our supporters, artists, friends and customers, literally saved our asses with their purchases and support, so we want to give back what it was that got them so excited about us to begin with. And of course, personally we want to go do all the fun Oregon summer things, Sandy River, coast, movies, dinners, etc.
Any upcoming events, additional exciting things coming down the pipeline for the Peculiarium?
Yes! There were a few of our interactive pieces that were just too intimate and probably not safe for COVID preventiveness, so we retired a couple of exhibits that were too tight. But this allows us to have a few new interactive exhibits throughout the summer, and we’re refiguring our space so we can have more small events, screenings, performances, lectures, etc. So we’ll be cranking and hitting the street fairs and all the cool stuff we used to be involved in.
Make sure you bring a magnifying glass when watching the World’s Smallest Theater. (📸: Cassie Ruud)
How can Bridgeliner readers best support you?
Just come see us! Spread the word: We’re still cheap to go through, and people who aren’t able to come visit can go to our site. But if you can, come check it out. And we will be debuting all sorts of new gags throughout the summer and fall, so keep an eye out for us in street fairs, festivals, cons, and more.
Thank you to our Bridgeliner Unabridged members. Stories like these are made possible with your membership and support.