Winter 2023 - Phoenix/Talent, from tragedy to revival

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Artist Spotlight - Betty LaDuke

Celebrating local farms and farmworkers

Story by Sandy Cathcart

If you’ve passed through the airport anytime recently, you’ve probably seen the colorful wood panels lining the high walls near the ceiling above the baggage claim. The installation of 26 mural panels is the work of Betty LaDuke, an Ashland artist. LaDuke followed men and women up and down rows of vegetables, berries and flowers while quickly sketching their bending and stretching motions as they gathered the harvest.

Returning to her studio, LaDuke outlined the basic harvest activity with brush and acrylic paint on a sheet of plywood that was cut, shaped and routed by her assistant, Barney Johnson. The varied routed surface depths emphasize the design pattern before she applies many layers of paint. LaDuke loves sharing her vision of the dignity, pride and hard work of Southern Oregon’s farmers and farm workers.

LaDuke’s personal story has always been one about human connection. She began life in the Bronx, New York, where, even as a youngster, she carried around a sketchbook and ventured all over the city. In 1964, she relocated to Ashland where she taught art at Southern Oregon University. She is university retiring professor of art emeritus, 1996.

In 1972, LaDuke took her first sabbatical, and her husband suggested she, “Do something challenging.” She did exactly that by traveling solo with her sketchbook to India for one month. She sketched an entirely new cultural experience including people working the land. That was the beginning of yearly trips to countries all over the world such as Rwanda, Uganda, Ecuador, Peru, Poland, Vietnam and Cambodia. Her most rewarding trips were with Heifer International, an organization that works with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the earth.

LaDuke’s travels ended temporarily when her husband became ill. Only able to leave for short periods of time, she visited Joan Thorndike of nearby Lemera Gardens and Steve and Suzie Fry of the Fry Family Farm. It wasn’t long before she realized that the themes she loved all over the world were right here in Southern Oregon. “I appreciate the dignity, pride and hard work and the nourishment these farmworkers provide for us,” says LaDuke. “When enjoying fresh vegetables and flowers, I see the hands that bring them to us.”

LaDuke is a woman who knows what she is about. “I want my work to have an educational and public outreach, to connect and inspire and raise questions. My work honors people and cultural diversity around the world.”

LaDuke’s work has been seen in hundreds of educational exhibits across the country and is featured in many books and museum collections. “I use my art in a way that makes me feel good,” says LaDuke. “I’m giving back in the best way I know how.” To learn more about this fascinating artist visit her website at

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable