Most Americans moaning about their taxes don't have as odd a tale to pay them off as the son of famed Indian activist Leonard Peltier, who's hoping his dad's painting of a buffalo will help solve his IRS woes.
Peltier's 41-year-old son, Chauncey, brought one of his long-imprisoned dad's oil paintings to an unusual First Thursday event in the back yard of Bonnie Kahn's Wild West Gallery on Northwest 23rd Avenue last week.
Chauncey Peltier hopes to sell the painting to settle a back-taxes debt he ascribes to his divorce last year.
"I owe them like $10,000," says Chauncey, who lives in the Washington County town of Banks, where he works as a hod carrier for a brick-laying company and attends GED classes two nights a week. "I don't really want to sell [the painting], but I need to," he said.
Chauncey says his favorite animal is the buffalo, and that his father knew that six years ago when he painted the large bovine while at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.
Leonard Peltier, who was a member of the American Indian Movement, has been incarcerated since 1976, when Chauncey was 10 years old. Now 63 and in the high-security federal pen in Lewisburg, Pa., the elder Peltier is serving consecutive life sentences for the murder of two FBI agents. The agents died in a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Irregularities in Leonard Peltier's case have been debated as long as he's been in prison, and some people consider him to be a political prisoner. Last week, he was officially nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, his second nomination in four years.
"I don't think they'll ever let him out of jail," says Chauncey, who bears a distinct physical resemblance to his father, though he keeps his hair short and his face clean-shaven.
Kahn listed Leonard Peltier's 2-foot-by-3-foot piece of art in her gallery for $9,500. "The piece is priceless," she said. "A lot of times with art, I also look at not only the art and the piece but the journey the artist took to get there."
In the mid-1990s, Leonard's paintings reportedly brought in as much as $5,000 apiece from buyers in Hollywood, money that went in part to the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.
Kahn says the $9,500 list price was based on the rarity of the piece as well as the fact it was painted especially for Chauncey. "I think if a person were to purchase that painting, they'd have a piece of history," she says.
Chauncey says he approached Kahn and her Wild West Gallery in February after the painting failed to sell at Elaine Falbo's Bella Flora Studio on Northeast Fremont Street.
On Thursday, guests wandered in and out of Kahn's Northwest Portland gallery in a post-Victorian house that has served as her exhibit space since 2003. They gazed at cases of jewelry as well as wood carvings, masks and colorful art that adorn the shelves and walls.
"I want my gallery to be not only about art, but I want it to be about political issues," said Kahn.
The assemblage of artists and Kahn's friends as well as First Thursday shoppers seemed genuinely interested in discussing Leonard Peltier's legacy. And Chauncey explained that he has become more interested in his heritage in the past five years as he's wrestled to control a drinking problem.
When asked what his father thought about his idea to sell the oil-on-canvas buffalo, Chauncey said, "He told me, 'Well, get rid of it if you can and I'll get you another painting someday.'"
As of Tuesday, the painting hadn't sold.