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To Peter, with love

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Sixteen of Betty LaDuke’s life-size agricultural art pieces are now on permanent display at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. LaDuke, an Ashland-based artist and writer who has garnered an international reputation for her artwork, donated these pieces to the Extension Center and to Jackson County Master Gardeners in honor of her late husband, entomologist Peter Westigard.

LaDuke is well known for her lifelong dedication to activist art, expressed in photography, paintings and brightly colored wooden panels. LaDuke has traveled and exhibited all over the world, but in 2010, LaDuke needed to stay closer to home to care for her ailing husband, Peter Westigard, and found new inspiration in the fields, orchards and vineyards of Southern Oregon.

A selection of works from the “Bountiful Harvest” collection were placed in the Rogue Valley International Airport in 2013 and will now also grace the walls of the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center.

Peter Westigard was an entomologist at Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center from 1962 until his retirement in 1994. He studied bugs. Not just any bugs — Westigard specialized in the bugs that attacked pears: coddling moths, pear psylla, spider mites and others.

In 1962, orchardists applied lead arsenate, DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), diazionon and Guthion to control insects. Thanks to Peter Westigard and other entomologists, new research, more modern and less harmful pest control methods were emerging.

Historically, lead arsenate spray was used to control orchard pests, saturating the ground as it was applied to trees, leaves and fruit. Lead arsenate was absorbed by fruit and as early as 1919, was known to be harmful on exposure but no better product was available to protect orchard fruit. Lead arsenate was banned in 1988 and today we know that lead arsenate causes cancer and damage to the nervous system.

DDT was lauded as an agricultural secret weapon when it was first tested as an insecticide in 1944 by University of Washington extension agents. The chemical compound was more effective than lead arsenate on coddling moths and mites, though not much was known of its effect on humans. In 1945, DDT was approved for home use, and while products containing DDT required a warning, a poison label was not required. The Capitol Journal reported on the decision in September 1945: “Information presently available does not show DDT to be a highly toxic material and for this reason no poison label will be required on DDT products offered for sale in Oregon.”

DDT was a welcome alternative and augment to lead arsenate and was widely used for decades throughout Southern Oregon and the United States. It wasn’t until the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962 that public attention would lead to its ban in 1972.

Westigard was a leader in the development of integrated pest management or IPM, non-toxic methods of managing orchard pests. “His focus was how to control coddling moths without causing these negative side effects,” explained Rick Hilton, who inherited Westigard’s entomological mantle at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Station. “Westigard’s research led to mating disruption, led to the coddling moth virus. We can do it organically to some extent and a lot of what he learned is directly applied to organic production.”

IPM was more complicated that a soaker spray gun and would need a lot of cooperation among growers for it to work. According to David Sugar, SOREC’s plant pathologist, Westigard had an easy way about him and a good sense of humor that made it possible for Rogue Valley orchardists to accept Westigard’s new ideas and try them out.

“Peter was a very good friend of Ed Earnest in particular, but he spent a lot of time with growers in casual settings,” recalled Sugar “He was often a conduit to communicate with other growers. Peter was very intelligent but very comfortable in relaxed setting and he really loved being with those guys.”

“When Peter died in 2011, that was when Betty drew Peter’s Tree, the first time she’d done anything really with pears – that was always his thing and she wasn’t going to get into that,” Hilton remembered. “That was when Betty starting making contacts and working in local agriculture.”

Today, Betty LaDuke is passionate about the abundance of this place, the fruits of the land and those who work in the fields, vineyards and orchards. Her big, bright wooden panels honor the land, its bounty and people, and also her husband for his work to establish safer, more sustainable agricultural practices.

A public celebration of the installation will be held from 6-8 p.m. today, Oct. 8, at the Southern Oregon Extension Center at 569 Hanley Road in Central Point.

To see more of Betty LaDuke’s art, visit her website at www.BettyLaDuke.com. For more information on the Jackson County Master Gardeners’ celebration of Betty LaDuke’s bountiful harvest panels at the Southern Oregon Extension Center, call 541-776-7371.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Joe Naumes (center) and Peter Westigard (right) discuss pear mites, 1970. (Photo courtesy Southern Oregon Digital Archives)
Peter Westigard would bring pears home for Betty’s SOU art classes; the students had to finish their drawings of expressive pears before they could eat the fruit. Pear grower Ed Earnest would buy student sketches for $25 and hang them up in the hallway at Eden Valley Orchard when he owned that property. (Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella)