The “Enlightened Forest” is based on the writings of James D. Petersen, founder and editor of Evergreen Magazine, a forestry journal published by The Evergreen Foundation. Petersen first wrote about enlightened forest in a 1991 Evergreen article titled “The Sense of a Goose.” In it, he described an imaginary place called “The Enlightened Forest”…a place where people solve their environmental problems on the basis of what they know, not what they fear.
In February 1992, Petersen asked artist Ken Brauner if he could turn his writings into a painting, so people could see what the enlightened forest might look like. The result is this painting, appropriately titled “The Enlightened Forest,” which chronicles the blessings that flow from forestry’s partnership with nature…
Ken Brauner and Evergreen’s Enlightened Forest
Ken Brauner was famous long before I met him…
His oil paintings depicting historic logging scenes in the Pacific Northwest’s fir and ponderosa forests – sold for thousands of dollars.
But the big money wasn’t in the original oils that today grace many lumber company offices across the region. It was in the prints and Christmas cards that were copies of the originals.
Business was so brisk that his wife, Phyllis, worked full time filling orders in a garage they had converted into their shipping department.
We met in February 1992 in his Eugene, Oregon studio – above the garage. My first impression was that there was nothing about this gentle man that hinted at the fact that he was easily the best in the world at what he did – and what Ken did for decades was record the marvelous history of the region’s logging industry to oil on canvas. His renderings were of such painstaking detail that you could spend hours looking at one and not see everything his hand saw.
I had driven from Grants Pass to talk with him about doing a painting for our Evergreen Foundation that captured the essence of what we believed about the way forests should be managed. I could see what I wanted in my mind’s eye, but I have no artistic skill, but I knew that if I could describe it, Ken could paint it.
Creating a vision
“How about this?” he asked as he quickly sketched my imaginary forest scene in pencil on a large piece butcher paper. I was amazed at how he immediately saw that I saw. We spent most of the morning working on details. By lunchtime, I had a soft pencil sketch of what had been running around in my head for months.
We called the result “The Enlightened Forest.” There is a gin-clear stream in the foreground, migrating steelhead at the top of a riffle, and a couple standing on rocks across the stream. You can see a doe watching them from beneath towering firs that hide a new stand of timber. On a mountain slope in the distance, a Washington Ironworks tower at the top of a small clearcut.
Ken studied our sketch for a long time – it being the only one like it he ever painted. He then turned to me and said, “This is enlightening. We have all the elements of a working forest in one setting. Do you like it?”
Like it? I loved it – and nearly 30 years later, I still love it. We named it “The Enlightened Forest” after Ken’s comment on his penciled handiwork. I think it pleased him as much as it did me. In 1992, Evergreen had 1,500 [18X24] prints made – all signed and numbered. They sold quickly – but we have about 200 left.
Here is what I later wrote in Evergreen about what Ken and I together saw in our mind’s eye:
“We can never know all there is to know about The Enlightened Forest, and not everyone will see this forest exactly as Ken Brauner painted it.
But if we who are concerned about forests grow a management philosophy first – one that spans the distance between the ideal and the real – it will be much easier to grow the trees and other things we want and need from the Enlightened Forest. What Ken has done is put people and forestry back into the environmental equation, so we can all see what is possible.”
Together, Ken’s painting and First, Put Out the Fire! explain what we have in western forests that we are losing to wildfire.
The website that Phyllis created for Ken is long gone. You can still buy his book, Paintings from Timber Country, from his daughter-in-law, Susan Brauner. It features most of his work. Her telephone number is 503-767-2444. Our painting – The Enlightened Forest – is featured on Page 19.