Roots and Branches: A grand mural


Guadalupe Valderama, Yasui Orchards employee; a series of murals will depict orchard workers and farmers in the Hood River Valley.

Photo by Maija Yasui
Guadalupe Valderama, Yasui Orchards employee; a series of murals will depict orchard workers and farmers in the Hood River Valley.



Last month I had the pleasure of wading through the archives of the Hood River County Museum, Diamond Fruit Growers, Inc. and Yasui family photos in search of some detailed historical photographs. I was looking for gems that would help tell the story of our valley’s fruit industry and the impact it has had on creating a strong sense of community.

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Early 20th century packing house image.

This deep dive into the rich history of our fruit industry, from seed to blossom, was thoroughly enjoyable, bringing back fond memories of Ruth Guppy when she first took me under her wing, sharing photographs, old magazines and news articles that gave life to the historical document on Diamond Fruit. Ruth always said it was the story behind the pictures that helped people understand the significance and conversely, it was the pictures that gave depth to the written word. Ruth was picky about getting the written word right and railed at those who rewrote history, making it something that it was not.

This new journey was sparked by my good friend Patrick Rawson in a casual conversation over a cup of coffee. You need to know that there is seldom a conversation with Patrick that doesn’t end in a major project involving hundreds of people in service to their community and its livability. Chapter one of the story begins.

Patrick is the patriarch of a remarkable family, the entirety of whom are dedicated to serving others. Patrick assists people across the age span, founding St. Francis House, a youth drop in center in Odell, teaching English to young Hispanic adults at Columbia Gorge Community College, and easing the way of the elderly through Hospice of the Gorge. His wife Becky mirrors this service in her work as a nurse at Providence Hood River, her support of the young college graduates from the Jesuit Corp serving areas of greatest need, and participates in multiple service projects providing for the basic needs for all. Their children continue the family tradition of social justice, health equity, compassion and service across the globe as well as in their home town.

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MURALS will employ images of fruit harvesting and processing, by workers including Japanese and Finnish immigrants. Above, a promotional photo of Hood River apples.

Patrick reveals his idea in bite-size portions so as not to frighten away potential participants with the sheer immensity of his vision. He begins with a series of questions: Had I seen the empty concrete walls on the new cold storage building in Odell? Don’t they just beg for the hands of community artists to express their creativity as well as highlight the diversity found within the fruit industry and surrounding community? Wouldn’t it channel the creative urge of the graffiti artists in search of blank walls to tag?

Okay. He has my full attention now. He peppers me with more questions: Who could I approach at Diamond Fruit Growers, the schools, Arts in Education in the Gorge who might be able to put this project together? Wouldn’t it increase pride in the growing Odell community, and honor those who planted the seed and help the valley blossom?

Patrick has this gentle “Godfatherly” manner which draws you in, and you simply can’t refuse.

Yes, I knew the farming community at Diamond Fruit; it was the co-op that my family and my husband’s family had been engaged in since the early 1920s. Yes, I knew someone at Arts in Education. Shelly Toon Lindberg was the director. Yes, I knew how to raise money for such a project and yes, it was something I was passionate about from a cultural, economic and historical perspective. Of course, Patrick knew all the answers to these questions before the first drop of coffee was poured.

Chapter two. We begin meeting with the significant players and putting some meat onto the bones of Patrick’s vision. Shelly Lindberg, muralists Michelle Yamamoto and Allison Fox, Diamond CEO Dave Garcia and Human Relations Mike Moore. Creative juices begin to flow, and deadlines for grants begin driving us faster. Last week we shared Michelle’s preliminary sketches and outline of the supporting players with the board of directors and Diamond Fruit Grower’s staff.

Michelle shared three sketches depicting the progression of fruit grown in the valley over the century, first apples, then pears and cherries. It also depicts the diversity of the workforce, European, Finnish, Japanese and Latino. Old photographs, fruit labels and poetry were the inspiration for Yamamoto’s sketches.

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A packing house employee and 1940s wooden box.

The ink was barely dry on the historic sketches and we are seeking input from these fruit growing experts when I can see Patrick’s wheels racing behind those twinkling eyes. Remember, this is just the beginning of a collaborative affair that will last at least two years. I brace myself for more questions.

What about the cold storage walls owned by Duckwall, Stadelman, Lage, Wells, Moore, Webster?

What about the cideries, wineries and breweries, the fruit stands, the sides of the market, Gehrig’s Chevron?

Why not paint on the sides of the enormous stacks of bins along the highway?

What about a series of murals that encompass the entire Fruit Loop up and down the valley and on the old packing houses that line the railroad?

The canvas for his vision was expanding exponentially.

When I think he is done, he pulls out a picture of a mural he had seen lining the highway along the fields of Salinas, Calif.

Why couldn’t we put a series of smaller murals depicting the workers harvesting the crop to enhance the Farm Bureau signs that tell what is being grown in the orchard, vineyards and blueberry fields?

Questions, questions, questions.

I am just along for the ride. If it will enhance the children’s pride in their parents work and the community in which they live, I can double down on this vision. I understand that it will increase the livability of their lives, their chance for success and the beauty of our community. That is a trifecta!

With Patrick raising more and more questions, I can tell this is just the beginning of a journey that may take us a lifetime to create. But leaving it in the hands of the children will carry it forward long into the future.

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A group of Japanese-American orchard workers and their bosses.

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Diamond Fruit board members and officials in a 1950s photo.



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