The Conjurers

by Lyle Hehn, 2010

Inspired by a black-and-white photograph from 1943, artist Lyle Hehn gave color to some questionable characters from Portland’s shady underworld of the 1940s-50s. The redheaded lady seated left is “Little Rusty,” aka Leona Kronberg, a real-life madam who ran a notorious Portland brothel for decades. Despite her coziness with the head of the Portland Police vice squad, a raid in 1971 landed Lil’ Rusty a stint in Rocky Butte Jail. In the background wearing a yellow dress is Phyllis “Torchy” Jessing, another spicy redhead with a sordid past. Torchy’s rap sheet included arrests for writing bad checks, stealing, vagrancy, and most shockingly, stabbing her boyfriend with a knife in a Portland tavern in 1958. 

The men depicted at the bar represent the pimps and gangsters who frequented Club Mecca, later renamed the Desert Room in 1950 (now McMenamins Hal’s Café), the lively late-night jazz club with an illegal gambling den in the basement (now the music venue Al’s Den, named for former owner, Al Winter).