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home : arts & entertainment : arts & entertainment May 27, 2016

8/19/2014 12:56:00 PM
Sisters artist featured at High Desert Museum
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Kathy Deggendorfer has been painting Oregon farm-scapes for the past eight years, honoring the specialty farmers and ranchers who provide fresh, locally grown foods from beef to berries to local tables.

Starting this month, the extensive project will be featured at the High Desert Museum in the exhibit "Painting Oregon's Harvest." The exhibit runs August 30-November 30. Deggendorfer will be on hand for an artist reception at the Museum on Thursday, August 28, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The reception is the best opportunity to hear the artist describe the unique and compelling stories that lie behind the paintings.

"Farming is people's passion," Deggendorfer told The Nugget. "I love listening to people's stories. A farmer's got an amazing story because it's all about where they live and what they do."

A couple of the paintings in the High Desert Museum show feature the story of Sisters Country farm Rainshadow Organics, operated by Sarahlee Lawrence.

"She's a force of nature," Deggendorfer said. "She has a compelling story, because she's the next generation that's come back (to the land)."

Another compelling story is that of Gilkerson Orchards. Patty Gilkerson was part of a Japanese family that started one of the first orchards in the Hood River country. They lost the orchard when the family was interred during World War II. Patty was born in an internment camp.

It's an Oregon story," said Deggendorfer. "She married a guy she went to high school with and went back and started again. She ended up just loving the land and wanting to stay with it."

She noted that "they raise the most beautiful cherries and pears, and they have a spot that's just gorgeous."

In a sense, the project chose Deggendorfer. She and several other artists were allowed to visit Oregon vineyards to paint, and she was struck by the connection between the kind of art she practices and the art of growing things from the soil.

"The winemakers said they had one canvas a year - and that was the harvest," Deggendorfer said.

The experience sparked a passion that has led to travel all across Oregon, looking for picturesque spots, extraordinary farm and ranch products and compelling stories.

Each of the paintings selected for the show is connected with a farm or ranch whose products can be sourced by those interested in the food.

Deggendorfer is still coming to terms with the honor of having an exhibit of her work at the High Desert Museum.

"I've been really struggling with the "why the hell did this happen to me?'" she said.

She figures there are many artists with more technical skill - but that it is the message, the story that makes the work compelling enough to warrant such an honor.

"That's my deal - it's a message; it's not necessarily a skill," she said.

For her, the exhibit is a way of repaying farmers and ranchers "by telling their story in a way that would bring them more business or honor them in some way."

One of those she honors is Connie Hatfield, who with Doc Hatfield started Country Natural Beef on a ranch in Brothers. Connie lives in Sisters now.

"They took a piece of scrub land and did an amazing job with it," Deggendorfer said.

The Hatfields not only had to produce quality, healthful beef, they had to find or create a market for it. They tapped health-conscious folks who wanted good protein that was hormone-free - people who didn't eat beef but would try theirs.

For Deggendorfer, that story is a classic example of what makes modern specialty farming work.

"It's a pretty amazing story of farmers' initiative," she said. "It's not that they can just fix their tractor and make it run with baling twine. They have to be marketers and understand the nuances of the marketplace."

On October 4, many of the products featured in Deggendorfer's exhibit will be on the table for a special dinner prepared by chef T.R. McCrystal of Sisters, at the High Desert Museum.

While Deggendorfer recognizes that the exhibit is a benchmark for her as an artist, it does not mark the culmination of her project.

"I'm going to keep doing it," she said. "It's interesting."

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