A lifelong activist against war, torture, and racism, Deb Van Poolen has settled down in Ashland, using her art skills to fight for the environment with a painting of scores of the butterflies that call the threatened Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument their home.
Working in her studio upstairs in the Ashland Art Center, Van Poolen has painted a 4- by 8-foot acrylic work showing 42 of the 130 species found near the Cascade crest, which is where she lives. Some are endangered. Some are migratory. According to science, all need the larger monument to thrive, she notes.
Made a 65,000-acre National Monument by President Bill Clinton, it was enlarged to 112,000 acres by President Barack Obama. Now President Donald Trump, via his Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is poised to shrink it.
Posters of the art panel are being sold on her website, debvanpoolen.com, and at local stores, including Bloomsbury Books, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting nine sponsoring conservation organizations. The big original painting is being auctioned off on eBay starting Oct. 4, culminating with bids at the K-S Wild annual dinner on Oct. 14.
The painting took Van Poolen four months to execute, working with John Villella of Siskiyou BioSurvey and using his photographs.
Van Poolen just got back from a painting hike in the Trinity Alps and, when winter sets in, plans to do a similar painting of the fish of the Klamath River, illustrating how area Native Americans lived with and used them — and what fish would be like without the dams on the Klamath.
“The Cascade-Siskiyou and Klamath region is tied with Appalacian Mountains in being the only other region as rich in species of butterflies,” she says. “I’m talking about it and painting it because of the current threat to the Cascade-Siskiyou by this administration, which wants to shrink it.”
Dozens of scientists, she notes, have contributed to scientific papers establishing that the Monument needs the Obama expansion to maintain adequate viability of butterflies and other species, and to adapt to the regional geography.
Van Poolen, 48, a graduate of Calvin College, a Christian organization in Michigan, came to the Greensprings art community in the 1990s as a student with The Oregon Extension. She studied and lived with noted painter Harriet Rex Smith. She worked with Betty LaDuke, Peg Shogren and other noted artists, “learning to make people happy to see the beauty around us. A lot of people look for fulfillment in life. Art is a way to relax people and feel harmony.”
Next year, Van Poolen plans to take people on art retreats in the wilderness.
Van Poolen has a long record of speaking truth to power — and has been clapped in jail three times for it, she says. She ticks off her major campaigns:
—Shouted at a speech by CIA Director and General David Petraeus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, saying “You are a war criminal, responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children.” She was jailed.
—In the U.S. Senate chamber, called attention to “white silence” after the Ferguson riots, a situation the “equals state violence,” she says adding, “I did this in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” She was jailed again.
—Participated in a group protest of torture in Guantanamo, which, she says, was used to elicit confessions related to the 9/11 attack. This resulted in arrest.
—Painted every session of the trial of famed leaker Chelsea Manning and supported herself for a period selling her work in online auctions.
She finds Ashland a beautiful place to paint and life, meeting many liberal-minded friends, but, she says, is challenged by the ironic “privilege” of a whiter, wealthier community here.
Van Poolen shows her art, much of which deals with flowers, on weekends at Lithia Artisans Market. She sells her butterfly posters there. Her goal in two words? “To preserve biodiversity.”
KS Wild will receive 60 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the painting.
Posters are also available at the Pollination Place at 107 W. 1st Street in Phoenix. They are open from noon to 5 Tuesday through Friday.
For more information about the painting and posters, call 541-973-9037.
The KS Wild dinner runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St., Ashland. Tickets are $70 for adults and $35 for those 13 years old and under. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.kswild.org/annualdinner2017.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.