Oregon Harvest: Betty LaDuke

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Betty LaDuke sharing at her Portland Art Museum Opening of Oregon Harvest – March 28 2015

Betty LaDuke – elder painter of Oregon – bright and spring filled – with a contagious joy shared the story of her freshest paintings at her Portland Art Museum opening. Living in the Ashland / Rogue River area she has fallen in love with local farms and the workers doing the work. She found herself filling notebooks full of sketches of the workers in fields, orchards and vineyards. These in turn transformed into collages of inspired 3 dimensional wood cuts which are painted in a working of vibrant vital conversations of color using sand and acrylics. She described how the colors communicate and transform as she works… dance and music and the spirit of the work flow with an intuitive process … many of the works have invited companions to themselves and speak as a community.

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The project consists of over 60 works – a part of which has been installed in the Medford airport in honor of the regional workers. It will also become part of a book project.

During the project the news of mothers and their children, and sometimes children alone, crossing the southern borders of the USA in hopes of a better life were in the news. Women and children sometimes walking by foot from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to escape pervasive murder and rape connected to the Drug Cartels and turning themselves in to border patrol with pleas for asylum. They are being illegally imprisoned in for profit ($300 + a day per child) internment camps within the USA (the first facility in New Mexico was shut down but a 2400 bed facility is being built in Texas with over 500 women and children as of March 2015 – described by Oregon Law Students who recently visited to provide pro bono legal services as identical to Japanese Internment facilities of the WW II Era) unless deported at the time in a tragic play of state power politics (until 2 years ago only 80 beds met the needs of the entire USA). A tragic and shameful behavior toward victims of violence treating them as prisoners. The work below is one of two pieces at the show inspired by these heroic / tragic  journeys – made in search of opportunity – which so often brings to the fields those hands which harvest the food on our tables.

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In my own youth and young adulthood I worked in Oregon and Washington fields, orchards and forests as a field worker. Beginning at age 12 we  would rise at 4 in the morning for a 5 am bus ride to the fields. We harvested green beans the last year they were commercially hand picked. My father shared that they were paying the same price he had received 20 years earlier as a boy in the same fields. We were sent to picking strawberries when they were still damp after being sprayed with antifungals (which I now know is illegal and unsafe). I remember studying the hands of adult workers and learning that one could pick with both hands and almost doubled my speed so that I could make $24 a day instead of $12 on a good picking day. Later as an adult I worked in the fruit orchards & tree nurseries where there was often a tension between documented workers and the cut rates offered to marginalized farmers or forest contractors by undocumented workers.  The work was hard and conditions often severe yet we lived in the majesty of the natural world as we worked.

It is clear that if we are to make our way toward a healthy sustainable future – local sustainable food systems are the key. Local food systems break the addiction to carbon based global transport. They also give a people the resiliency to practice democratic sovereignties at the local level. If a people have shelter, food, health care and education they can afford to say no to corporate bullies – who would damage local ecosystems or political systems. Without a local food system people’s are dependent on others… usually of a corporate nature in these times… in which saying no may not be among the options that leave a way open for survival. The work of farmers is the foundation of a potential for dignity, freedom and sustainability.

Thank you to Betty LaDuke for ennobling the work of those who feed so many of us with profound and beautiful artistry!

Betty LaDuke at the Portland Art Museum Apex Gallery

A discussion of the for profit Detention of Asylum Seeking Mothers & Children with Lewis & Clark Law Students on OPB’s Think Out Loud April 8, 2015


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  1. Right on, brother Tree. I can relate completely.

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