Renowned Ashland painter Betty LaDuke’s new book, “Bountiful Harvest: From Land to Table,” celebrates the agricultural richness of the Rogue Valley and the community of hard-working farmers who raise food for our families. The book’s publisher, Steve Scholl of White Cloud Press in Ashland, says the book’s art and themes reach far beyond our valley. “Although the book has a local angle, it is a beautiful overview of Betty and her life’s work,” he said. Throughout her career, LaDuke has traveled extensively to third-world countries drawing attention to issues of hunger, poverty, and inequality. 

The public is invited to a free reception celebrating the artist, her book and local farms at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27 at Southern Oregon University’s Schneider Museum of Art. LaDuke will sign books that are available for purchase. Light refreshments and beverages will be served. Many of the people mentioned in the book, including poets Lawson Inada and Alma Rosa Alvarez, students from Talent Elementary School, and farm workers featured in the stories, will be on hand to share their contributions.

“This reception is going to be big,” said Scholl. “It’s about Betty and all her amazing work, but it is also a celebration of the valley and the people who plant and harvest our food.” 

About five years ago, a friend invited LaDuke to visit her Rogue Valley flower farm. LaDuke spoke with and sketched the team of workers, following men and women up and down rows of vegetables, fruits and flowers while sketching their physical motions as they gathered the harvest. The experience helped inspire her series of vibrantly painted wood panels, “Celebrating Local Agriculture,” which capture the spirit, dignity and labor of farm workers.

Many of the panels are now on display at the Medford and Portland airports. Her book includes the full-color art from those painted panels, along with stories LaDuke heard in the fields and orchards, and letters from Talent Elementary School students who saw her paintings in a local exhibit.

“Bountiful Harvest” is visually delightful, with LaDuke’s signature bold images, photos and poems interspersed with the text.

“I think it’s a very sensual book in terms of the art and the human stories. You feel joy just holding it and looking at the pictures,” said Scholl. He adds that it also helps articulate the region’s strong local food movement. “This is a story of how our food moves from the land to our table. The valley is a hotbed of the local food movement and Betty’s images and stories capture it perfectly,” he said.

In addition to stories about her subjects, the now 82-year-old professor emerita writes of her own artistic beginnings and the arc of her career. It’s a first-person glimpse into the creative process and social conscience of the artist. Her story begins in the Bronx, where, even as a child, she carried around a sketchbook wherever she went.

She studied art at Denver University, Cleveland Art Institute and Instituto de Allende in San Miguel Mexico. Her time in Mexico, she writes, was a profound and formative experience. After several more years of study and adventure, she came to Ashland in 1964, where she taught art at Southern Oregon University until 1996.

LaDuke’s work with Rogue Valley farms celebrates the value and beauty of the largely Mexican immigrant workers, while recognizing the hardships they endure. “The book is a very compelling project artistically and socially,” says Scholl. “It not only tells a deeply human story about our local farm workers and where our food comes from, it reminds us how closely connected we all are.” 

“Bountiful Harvest” is available at local bookstores and online at www.WhiteCloudPress.com. Author royalties and a portion of White Cloud Press sales will go to the Betty La Duke Scholarship and educational programs for farmworkers’ children in Southern Oregon. 

For further information, email scholl@whitecloudpress.com. The Schneider Art Museum is on the SOU campus at 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Angela Decker at decker4@gmail.com.