An illustration of what John Maher’s ladder artwork will look like.

An illustration of what John Maher’s ladder artwork will look like.

Artist John Maher of Mosier, Oregon, is turning his talents to creating a huge outdoor project featuring dozens of colorfully painted fruit ladders that will appear in a conga-line formation, along highways in the Columbia Gorge.

“Getting the public’s attention for family farms is the goal of the project,” he said.

Oregon growers John Byers from The Dalles and Mathew Kiernan of Mosier have contributed ladders, but Maher needs more for what he calls Running Fruit Ladders—Large Art for Small Farms. A hundred would make half a mile of nicely spaced ladders for major visual impact.

Maher hopes to draw the attention of the one and a half million travelers who pass through the gorge annually to where their food comes from. “People won’t even have to leave their cars to see it—it’s art at 65 miles per hour,” he said.

For the last three years, Maher has organized the Columbia Gorge Open Studios Tour to bring artists and the public together. “Working with organizations and bringing people from different walks of life together was something I wanted to continue,” he said.

The project, which is being managed by the nonprofit Gorge Artists, will also feature a group art show on the theme of locally grown food. The ladder artwork will be installed first of all in Hood River, Oregon, next June and will move on at monthly intervals to Mosier, The Dalles, and finally Goldendale, Washington. It will be accompanied by a series of roadside billboards referring people to the project Web site where they can learn more about family farms. The art show will also move from place to place.

When asked why he chose fruit ladders as subject matter, Maher replied,  “Like a lot of us, these ladders have worked hard all their lives, and now I think they deserve to have a little fun.  What better way to bring our community together and celebrate art and agriculture at the same time?

“The fruit ladders I saw while driving around the orchards in my neighborhood seemed like the perfect way to create art using an agricultural tool. A line of them running alongside major highways would generate interest and curiosity.”

To contact Maher about ladder donations, e-mail For more information, check the Web site

Susan Clark writes about farming, gardening, and sustainability, and lives on an organic farm near Canby, Oregon.