PORT TOWNSEND — In Richard Jesse Watson’s 2010 commission, “Sharing Their Journey,” children ride a coho salmon across a starry skyscape, planting native seedlings and sprinkling magic.
Watson’s image will be seen all over town — from neighbors’ refrigerators to shop windows — as well as distributed internationally as tree cards for Plant-A-Thon 2019.
An award-winning illustrator of more than a dozen children’s books, including “Tom Thumb,” “High Rise Angel Food Cake,” and “The Magic Rabbit,” Port Townsend-based Watson created the ink and acrylic image for the 7th annual Plant-A-Thon, and it will be revived again this year.
It is the first time ever an artwork has been brought back, said Jude Rubin, stewardship director of the nonprofit Northwest Watershed Institute (NWI), which sponsors the annual February Plant-A-Thon, the largest fundraising/environmental service project in Jefferson County.
The cards are being sold now in anticipation of a “green belt-scale” tree-planting work party when 200 students and parents from five local schools will plant 5,000 native trees on the site of Concerts in the Barn, the former site of the Olympic Music Festival in Quilcene.
For each tree they plant, students sell a corresponding Tree Card at a sliding scale of $5 to $10 to family and friends.
The person who buys the card in turn sends it to honor someone special. Thus they are disbursed far and wide.
“People use them as holiday greetings, to recognize births, deaths, birthdays, and special occasions,” Rubin said. “Businesses send them to clients. Suitors send them as valentines.”
Back in 2004, when organizers were scrambling to create the first Tree Cards, Rubin pitched the project idea to the Watsons in their downtown gallery.
“Richard is in high demand, and has incredibly long project lead times for complex book projects. He just wasn’t available,” Rubin said.
But all three remembered the conversation when they discussed the idea again in 2010, when Watson agreed to take it on.
“Now, the card is making a comeback, just like the salmon,” Rubin said.
The original artwork hangs in the entry of Earll and Rena Murman’s Port Town home. The couple won the art in a 2011 auction to benefit the program.
Other artists who have created Plant-A-Thon cards include Hannah Viano, Amanda Kingsley (2017, and 2005-8), Jesse Joshua Watson, Don Tiller, Audrey Miles Cherney, Max Grover, and Lucy Congdon Hanson.
“It was Amanada [Kingsley]’s original idea to use artwork. That gave the project wings,” Rubin said.
Cards are available for $5 each through schools that participate in the Plant-A-Thon. The schools are Swan School, Chimacum Pi Program, Port Townsend OCEAN Program, Quilcene Primary, and Port Townsend High School Students for Sustainability.
Through cards sales and business sponsorships, schools can raise up to $30,000 a year, collectively. Business sponsors also can contribute to individual schools to support their tree planting and get a certificate for their storefront or office.
Tree Cards are available from students and parents in participating schools, or through their school’s representative:
• Swan School: 360-385-7340.
• OCEAN School – Port Townsend School District: 360- 379-4251.
• Chimacum Pi Program: (360) 732-4090 ext. 265.
Quilcene Elementary: 360-765-3363.
Cards are also sold at Chimacum Corner Store, Chimacum Crafts Fair and the Final Saturday Farmer’s Market.
This year’s salmon habitat restoration site is an important stronghold on upper Tarboo Creek for coho salmon, Rubinsaid.
In 2006, NWI and its partners replaced a culvert with a full spanning bridge that allowed adult salmon to spawn in the upper reaches of the watershed for the first time in 50 years, she said.
Along with planting trees, students will have in-class education and field trips to learn about the important connections between salmon, wildlife, shellfish, and trees.
The site has gained full protection under a conservation easement, a project NWI completed with landowner Leigh Hearon/Concerts in The Barn, and the Jefferson Land Trust.
The 5-acre area to be restored during the upcoming Plant-A-Thon is a tributary that connects with the main stem of Tarboo Creek, which was planted by schoolchildren in 2006 in the second year of the event.
The project is coordinated by NWI, founded in 2001, as part of a larger effort to restore salmon and wildlife habitat in the Tarboo Watershed.
Grants to Northwest Watershed Institute pay for seedlings and materials, so schools keep 100 percent of profits they earn selling cards and soliciting business donations.
To support NWI directly, go to www.nwwatershed.org.