David Drenth is at O.S.P. in Salem. All inquiries about his work should go to Nella Abbott who is acting as his agent. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Her office phone is: 541-824-0777.
One of the most prolific and extraordinary artists to be discovered in the Oregon Prison system, David Drenth has made a thorough study of painting history and techniques during his 27 years in prison.
He incorporates realism, Surrealism, Expressionism, and Cubism into his paintings, which explore his own life (most of it spent behind bars), the judicial system, wildlife, nature, Native American ways and the evils of mankind. After seeing his work in the OREGON PRISON ART show at the Coos Art Museum in 2009, Nella and Steve Abbott first began to purchase his work, and Nella has since become his agent. Please see the biography which she wrote about this true artist and most unusual man.
Click here to see Nella Abbott’s bio about David Drenth
David Drenth is an orphan from Superior, Montana, where his well educated, strict Protestant adoptive family disowned him many years ago. According to his 91 year old, amazingly energetic, adoptive father, Henry, with whom I have had many telphone conversations, David was a “troublemaker” from the beginning. He was a little over a year old when adopted by the Drenths, and a beautiful , healthy looking boy. But… he turned out to be hyperactive, irrational, impulsive,…a willful child in perpetual motion.
In retrospect, he probably had ADHD, which afflicts over five million American children today. But in 1960 there was no such awareness or treatment.(see art entitled “MOM & DAD”. His mother Hazel died in 2006 and she was the only family member who had continued to support David.)
The Crime: He was in Oregon a avery short time…just out of the Air Force, an alcoholic bumming around and badly in need of friends. He went with the wrong “new” friends, to the wrong place, and two people were killed. He did not kill anybody, but under Oregon Law was sentenced to a Life Sentence.
By l987 he had discovered a natural ability to draw and from that he persevered until he received an AA degree from Chemeketa Community College with a grade point average of 3.75. David loves to learn and create. He is a self-taught musician who has written many tunes on his funky used guitar. That is his favorite way to spend time when he is finished with his shift at the prison laundry….his other pastime is chess and sometimes he even beats the OSP Chess Champion.
He has served 27 years and been “flopped” by the Parole Board four times though he has been a model prisoner for the last 7 years. Curious, but not uncommon. He’s the kind of prisoner who insists on his Constitutional Rights and often researches at the prison law library and presents legal documents to prison authorities demanding those rights. Occasionally he wins, but I wonder if he isn’t risking his freedom by irritating people in power.
At David’s parole hearing this year the law was changed and “confidential” letters were disallowed. At his 2009 hearing the Parole Board was allowed to review confidential (clandestine and unsigned) letters dating back to 2001. This was the first year that only signed letters could be reviewed by theBoard. The legal system is sometimes slow to catch up with what is right, fair and just.
In April of 2011 his parole plan included a studio apartment, several part-time jobs, an art studio and an Artist-in-Residence position next door to a county parole office…. and he was still turned down and has to wait two more years to try again.
David Drenth is 53 and may never paint again. The Hobby Shop is closed (note: it has since re-opened) and he does not have access to canvas or paints, but he still draws with colored pencil whenever he gets a chance and can afford the materials.
Well known and highly respected art curator Victoria Tierney said this in a letter to the Parole Board early in 2011:
“The work of David Drenth, who is once again seeking parole, is some of the most extraordinary I have come across. A mostly self-taught artist, during his 27 years of incarceration, David has carefully studied the techniques of the masters, tried out many different styles, acquainted himself thoroughly with color theory, and done some of the largest and most powerful canvases I have come upon, including works by very successful professionals. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he possesses artistic genius.”
Nella Reed Abbott
Representative for David Drenth’s art
Old City Hall
99 E. Second St. Coquille, OR 97423
Click here to see Victoria Tierney’s letter to the Parole Board about David Drenth
*NOTE: David Drenth’s parole was not granted.
March 6, 2011
To Whom it May Concern:
As an “arts curator” it is my job to find artists and mount art shows in a variety of locations. Since 1998 I have mounted probably close to a hundred shows, for the Coos Art Museum, the Southern Coos Hospital & Health Center in Bandon, and for the Watercolor Society of Oregon all around the state. I have occasion to see the artworks of hundreds of artists working in all varieties of media.
The work of David Drenth, who is once again seeking parole, is some of the most extraordinary I have come across. A totally self-taught artist, during his 27 years of incarceration David has carefully studied the techniques of the masters, tried out many different styles, acquainted himself thoroughly with color theory, and done some of the largest and most powerful canvases I have come upon , including works by very successful professionals. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he possesses artistic genius.
He is also, undoubtedly, a highly strung and over-sensitive man, perhaps in the tradition of VanGogh. For this reason I gather that the parole boards of the past have been loathe to let him leave the prison. However I do believe that the situation which Nella and Steve Abbott are willing to create for him, offering him sanctuary and a “buffered” environment where he can once again paint (the fumes in the Hobby Shop have caused an allergic reaction so that now he is forced to work in his cell, using only colored pencils) are such that he could make a successful transition back into society, and be able to offer his very special gifts to us all.
I have been presenting shows of works by artists in the Oregon Prison system since 2008, and am currently overseeing a show called “TIME” –A Statewide Traveling Show of Oregon Prison Art. David’s remarkable large canvases are the backbone of the show, which includes some extremely fine work by 18 different inmates. Last year I invited some of these artists to participate in a special show called “PELICANS!” at the Southern Coos Hospital & Health Center (the town had an unprecedented visit of thousands of pelicans , which caused great delight and excitement). David was the only one to take advantage of the opportunity; he created four beautiful colored pencil pieces, carefully putting each one together from four small sheets of paper, protecting and packaging them with a craftsman’s thoroughness, and sending them accompanied by color wheels explaining the color scheme for each. I believe that Mr. Drenth is not only a very gifted artist, but that he also has the potential to become an excellent framer, a skill that could provide him with a steady source of income. It is my understanding that the Abbotts would be willing to help set him up in this line of work.
If ever there were a time when it would be possible for this man to successfully leave the prison system, I do believe that time is now. From the letters I have received from him, I know that he has reached a level of maturity (he is now in his 50’s) and self-awareness where he has the tools to be able to function in the outside world, given the help and protection of patrons such as the Abbotts and people such as myself who appreciate his talents and would continue to try to help him with his career.
I do hope that you will see fit to give this long-time prisoner a second chance.