Oregon Native Saints

Solo exhibit
April 3 - June 1, 2019
Karin Clarke Gallery
Eugene, Oregon




"We need to respect nature.
We need to understand ecosystems.
These are the most important things we need to do, right now."
-- Olga Volchkova

Trained as an icon painter and conservator -- she was part of the first wave of new painters that revived iconography and painted new iconostasis in churches after the collapse of the USSR -- artist Olga Volchkova uses her knowledge of orthodox iconography, along with her love of botany, and experience with subsistence farming, to create complex paintings that could be considered a secular extension of the icon tradition. They tell stories about the history and present deep importance of plants and their ecosystems, encouraging people to better understand the responsibilities of their supportive roles as participants in the diversity of the natural world.





The Oregon Native Saints





"St. Camas"
2018
20" x 24"
wood & acrylic

In the end of spring I walked around Mount Pisgah’s arboretum. Grasses were still lush, filled with moisture. The hot Oregon summer hadn’t started yet. Most of the spring flowers were already done with blooming. But bright blue stars were glowing inside of the green pastures, buzzing with young bees and insects. I see a beautiful blue crane, flying very very slowly, looking for the little shrews that love to eat camas bulbs. These bulbs were used for millennia by local natives, as a stable source of sugar and starch.




"St. Aquilegia Formosa"
2018
20" x 24"
wood & acrylic

The brilliant orange-red blossoms of western columbine shine like little flames on the dark Oregon forest floor in spring. The flowers’ sugary nectar provides long-awaited and welcome food for hummingbirds. Columbine is also a primary habitat for pollinators, including bees and hawk moths. Aptly named, Aquilegia means “water collecting,” formosa means “beautiful,” and columbine means “like a dove.” Columbine is a widely used medicinal plant in European and Native American herbal traditions.





"St. Beargrass"
2018
20" x 24"
wood & acrylic

In the early summer in eastern Oregon, where the altitude is higher and the landscapes are breathtaking, you can see this tall, gorgeous, floating, lace-like, club-shaped flower. The plant blooms once every five to ten years, so seeing many at once is miraculous and magical. Beargrass is one of the first plants that grows on land scorched by fire, which helps to bring the rest of the vegetation, fungus, and animals back after a fire, clearing dead and dying plant matter from the surface. Beargrass provides food for mountain goats, nesting material for bears, and excellent weaving material for baskets and clothing. The fibers are flexible and tough.





"St. Fireweed"
2018
20" x 24"
wood & acrylic

In the midsummer, higher altitude pastures look like transparent pink seas of Fireweed’s candle-like flowers. They are called ‘fireweed’ because they’re one of the toughest plants that grow on scorched land, and they bring life back to that land. Not everyone knows that all parts of this plant are edible: young spring shoots are especially delicious. They can be eaten raw or steamed, just like asparagus shoots. Young fireweed leaves make a delicious, high in vitamin C tea. In Russia and most of the earth’s lands of the north, including Oregon, fireweed was what ‘tea’ meant before black tea was imported. Fireweed also provides habit for many insects, and food for birds and other animals.





"St. Salmonberry"
2018
20" x 24"
wood & acrylic

Rubus spectabilis is edible, providing food in various stages for all creatures, with the same fruit structure as a raspberry. Made into jams, candy jelly or wine, they were an important food for indigenous people. Traditionally the berries were eaten with salmon, but they also look rather like salmon roe or caviar. Its beautiful magenta flower looks absolutely stunning.





"St. Wild Ginger"
2018
20" x 24"
wood & acrylic

In early spring, the attractive dark red flowers of wild ginger appear on the Oregon forest floor. They look like advanced alien ships hiding from view behind heart-shaped foliage. Although not related to culinary ginger, the roots produce a scent that is similar. Fresh or dried roots of wild ginger were used as a ginger substitute in times past, but the plant is not normally used today for culinary purposes, as it can contain poisonous compounds. Wild ginger’s seeds attract ants, which carry the seeds to their underground homes where they eat the tasty outgrowths of the seeds and leave the seeds themselves to germinate.





"St. Rhododendron"
2018
20" x 24"
wood & acrylic

The first time I saw a rhododendron in bloom I couldn’t believe that nature, the source of all beauty, could make something as incredibly beautiful as this. We have so many native rhododendrons here in Oregon, turning back time for every forest, towards our tropical past. Rhodies always transport me to these ancient times, when dinosaurs roamed and flew, on an earth undisturbed by modern development. When they bloom all kinds of life is blooming, snakes and bees are waking, fern fiddleheads are emerging, the ecologies buzz with the joy of new beginning.





"St. Sword Fern"
2018
20" x 24"
wood & acrylic

Our high mountain sources of water are key to Oregon’s lush environment. One of the most stunning native plants, the Sword Fern glows a fluorescent green near the creeks and rivers and forests of Oregon. Young fiddleheads of the sword fern provide an early spring source of food for many animals, including the mountain beavers, when they just awake from their winter hibernation. Sword Ferns are a painkiller in the native traditional medical toolkit. And they are gender fluid: they can be self- fertilizing as hermaphrodites, and they can take either gender in the cross-fertilization process.





"St. Nootka Rose"
2018
20" x 24"
wood & acrylic

When I sense the gentle sweet fragrance of the wild nootka rose floating in the forest underbrush, or along the edges of wetlands, I know that Oregon’s summer has truly begun. Incredibly tender and beautifully modest, simple roses, they’re also naturally hardy. They produce rose hips in the autumn that glow throughout the winter in the forest. If you live in a cold climate, instead of going to the drug store, you go outside, pick 3 - 4 rose hips a day, and they’ll be your vitamin C pills. All kinds of birds also make use of the seeds in the rose hips. And the rose provides gorgeous, unforgettable, fragrances, that have inspired many poets and musicians and artists through the centuries.





"St. Oak"
2018
20" x 24"
wood & acrylic

The Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana) is a keystone species in the ecology we call oak savanna: a jewel in Oregon’s natural heritage. The white oaks of the Oregon savanna provide acorns, young buds, and shelter for insects, birds, rodents, and deer, as well as leaves for fungus, mosses, soil invertebrates, and animals further up the food chain. Oak savanna is a highly endangered light-density forest-prairie habitat, native to the Pacific Northwest and the Cascadian bioregion. The habitat includes camas and fritillaria, major native food sources, and other species that thrived in the controlled-burn stewardship of indigenous peoples. Oaks also provide beauty in fall, and shade in summer. The older Oak trees are, the more carbon they need, and the more they remove from the atmosphere. They are doing their best to save us.






The Saints of the Flying Ointment



Saint Belladonna


Saint Datura


Saint Hemlock


Saint Aconitum





Sacred Herbals



The Holy Spirit of Herbs


Saint Cannabis





Garden Saints



Saint Watermelon



Saint Calla Lily



Santa Gerania



Saint Passion Flower



Paeon