John Teply doesn’t have anything against Portland property developers. He just wishes they’d leave the trees alone.
“They’ve been good neighbors,” Teply says about the greenery he sees all over the city. “They’ve added to the neighborhoods where they live.”
Last year, Teply founded the Tree Emergency Response Team, a combination letter-writing campaign and art exhibit that hangs in his Pearl District gallery, Elisabeth Jones Art Center (516 NW 14th Ave., elisabetharts.art). Teply commissions artists to paint endangered trees that stand on soon-to-be-developed plots of land, then turns the paintings into postcards with pre-printed messages on the back asking the property developer to leave the tree intact.
Some of the subjects so far include a group of Douglas firs on a residential property in Canby and a maple on the corner of a Flanders Street parking lot that’s about to be become a hotel. Last fall, artist Loretta Sampson painted a cluster of maples that surround four pioneer gravestones in Scappoose, in an area Portland Community College has long eyed for development. The painting is a cinematic, almost eerie scene, placing the mossy, gangly trees underneath a veil of fog.
Since the program is still fairly new, the fate of many of the trees still hang in the balance. But at least one Pearl District developer has agreed to preserve a tree after a receiving one of Teply’s postcards. And so far, none has been cut down.
“There’s all these beautiful trees that we’re always passing and you don’t notice them,” Teply says. “The time to notice them is before the bulldozer is there.”